I made my first trip to Africa — South Africa, to be precise — the first week of April and it was nothing short of amazing. I’ve broken this Travel Log down by city, as the places we visited — Johannesburg and Cape Town — were pretty distinct. Be sure to click through the slideshow to see some of the images I took on my vacation.
First off, the 20-plus hours of flight time from Los Angeles was crucial. I went with a group of about 25 people from my church, and we arrived late on Thursday so our fun didn’t really begin until Friday. After enjoying breakfast at the hotel, our group took a brief walk to Nelson Mandela Square and the attached mall. The South Africans could definitely tell we weren’t from there, as seen in the looks of confusion/judgment on their faces. However, I remained impressed by their impeccable style. I loved all the head wraps the women donned with pride. So many patterns and intricate ways of styling them. I was taken aback by the sheer magnitude of the Nelson Mandela statue in the square. This is a country that really loves, respects and appreciates its late former president. That Mandela has made such a profound impact on the world was evidenced by how Africans and Americans and other foreigners alike lined up for photos with the ginormous figure. Later that night, we attended a service at Rhema Blessings House Church, where my pastor, Wayne Chaney Jr., was speaking at the church’s five-year anniversary celebration. It was such an awe-inspiring feeling to see South Africans worshipping Christ in their native dialect. I think it was Zulu. Suddenly the world felt small. Also, it was lit! The worship team had the most energy I’ve every seen of any choir and by far the best dance moves.
Saturday morning, we woke up bright and early to go on a safari at the Pilanesberg Game Reserve and National Park, about a two-hour drive from Johannesburg. That deserves its own post, so stay tuned for it! But in short, it was phenomenal. On Sunday, we took a tour of Soweto, where we saw the Hector Pieterson memorial for a teen who was killed during an apartheid uprising. For lunch we feasted on authentic South African cuisine at the famous Wandie’s Place restaurant, where a local performer serenaded us and gave us a brief history lesson. Fun fact: “In the Jungle” by The Tokens — you know, the one with the infectious chorus of “a-weema-weh, a-weema-weh” — was taken from a tune sung in Zulu. They actually aren’t pronouncing the lyrics correctly. Who would have known cultural appropriation could be so catchy? SMH. I digress. That day, we also went to the Apartheid Museum, where we took a deep dive into the horrors of that dark time in the country’s history. Among the appalling things I learned was that government officials enlisted people to spy on their neighbors in interracial relationships in the hopes of catching them having sex. It was illegal for black and white South Africans to be together romantically back then. And we took a quick stop at the Mandela House, where he and his family lived from 1946 into the 1990s. It was an eerie, sobering feeling to be in his home and see the bed where he slept, and even the tree that he planted.
On Tuesday, we boarded a plane for an hourlong flight to Cape Town.
Johannesburg and Cape Town are night and day. Cape Town as a destination was more travel/tourist friendly, as establishments there stayed open late. Our hotel was a couple of blocks from the beach. The scenic city itself reminded me a lot of Hawaii, in that there were palm trees everywhere and the backdrop of Table Mountain that gave a tropical feel. On Wednesday, we visited the Langa township, an under-resourced but vibrant area. Our tour guide, Sugar, gave us a brief history of the neighborhood and even demonstrated her native tongue, Xhosa (the clicking language). We stopped by an art school of sorts and purchased wares from the young artists, then walked over to the Langa Dompas Museum, where we learned about the atrocious system that governed the way black Africans lived. Our group also was invited inside one of the houses. Even though it wasn’t very spacious or well furnished, the residents welcomed us in with great hospitality and warmth. It saddened me to see the conditions that the locals lived in, but the kids we encountered showed us that they had a reason to smile. The highlight of that day for me was visiting a preschool and listening to the students dance and sing the South African national anthem. I didn’t want to leave. We also had the chance to buy some items from a neighborhood stand. Then, off we went to the District Six Museum, where we learned more about the searing affects of apartheid.
Robben Island, the prison where Mandela was held from 1964 to 1982, was the big event for Thursday. After a 30-minute ferry ride, we made it to the island and began with a bus tour that explained the history behind the prison and other island fixtures like the graveyard, school, cannons, lighthouse and such. Once inside the deactivated prison, a former prisoner led the tour of the actual facility where Mandela lived while serving his sentence. What struck me the most was that the political prisoners were deemed the most dangerous, as opposed to people doing time for violent crimes. We also learned about the inhumane conditions and got to see Mandela’s (empty) former cell. Upon our return, we were able to do some shopping inside The Watershed, a huge tent with different booths and vendors selling everything from dashikis to magnets to traditional dolls. I copped a head wrap for myself and some gifts for family members.
The next day, we left for home. The 17-plus-hour flight from Johannesburg to Atlanta was insane. It was definitely the longest I’d ever been on a plane. That was my least favorite part of the trip, but the memories I made and the bonds formed with the other people on the trip were more than worth it.
I was delighted to be on the continent of Africa and thoroughly enjoyed my time there. It still blows my mind that I went to the Motherland! I wish we had more time to shop from local artisans in Johannesburg, and I was kind of bummed that we didn’t get to see the penguins of Boulders Beach or go wine tasting at Cape Point Vineyards. Nonetheless, the trip was still incredible, and it has given me food for thought that I’ll be pondering for months to come. Guys, you have to visit South Africa! It’s such a beautiful place.
To see previous places I’ve jetted off to via my Travel Log, click here.