Your early twenties are like the beginning of a great journey. Careers are starting, degrees are being obtained and adventures are being had all around you. Sometimes, those adventures mean leaving the comfort of your home, city, or even country.
As massively exciting as it may be for the backpackers, the contikki-ers, the emigraters, the soon-to-be-South-East-Asian teachers, their goodbyes often leave those who stay behind with an equally massive sense of anticipation for their homecoming.
The beginning of 2019 will see me saying goodbye to my best friend of the last 7 years, as he packs up his life in South Africa and boards a flight to London to settle there as he completes his articles over the next three years. Over one of our usual G and T’s (for me) and Castle Lites (for him), we spoke about the adventures South Africa has to offer and all that he would miss about home.
Without hesitation, he declared that he would miss his frequent trips to the Kruger most. A favourite place for many South Africans, the park has a way of capturing your heart and never letting it go. The blood red sunsets, the majesty of the wildlife or the power of a thunderstorm, which would you miss most upon leaving home? As one of his most enjoyed places to adventure to, and in, he was sure that he’d miss the call of the wild during his time in London.
Just a few Engen stops away from Johannesburg, the Kruger National Park is one of the most breathtakingly beautiful destinations our country has to offer. Whether your budget is Ivory Lodge Lion Sands big, or self-catering-at-a-chalet-14km-away-from-the-park humble, the magic of Africa still has its way of finding you. Early mornings, rooibos tea, Ouma rusks and game drives through the veld, followed by sundowners in your Camp Master chair near an open fire, nothing can quite compare to a day in the bush.
For many, however, the heat of the veld may be too much. Instead of journeying up northeast from Joburg, they head down southeast to KwaZulu-Natal to cool off in the waves. “Did your family also compete to see who could spot the ocean first?” he laughed. Whose didn’t? It’s a tradition in most families, and a reward for getting up in the dark to start the seemingly unending journey, peppered with Wimpy breakfasts and padstals.
Eventually the air gets balmy and the smell of the ocean fills the car and you know you’re getting close. Close to sandy toes, salty hair and sunburnt skin. From St. Lucia to Richard’s Bay to Durban to Margate, KwaZulua-Natal has all types of beaches for all types of adventures. What would one give to enjoy a Crème Soda on their towel in the sun after being away from home for too long?
Compared to Durban’s domesticated beach fronts, the sunshine coast of the Eastern Cape can seem like unchartered territory. In fact it is here that five centuries ago the Portuguese simultaneously marked the landing of their boat and the beginning of modern South Africa’s diverse and tumultuous history.
We both agreed that it’s what gives this province its charm; sometimes, excursions there make you feel like you may very well be the first one making them. The Eastern Cape’s ethnic diversity is perhaps only rivalled by the diversity of its landscape. From hiking at the highest highs of the Ben Macdhui Pass right down to kayaking in the mouth of the Boesman’s River, the expanse of things to do, see and experience is unparalled.
Heading south, south and south some more, you’ll find yourself in one of the most beautiful places in the world, Cape Town, another area of the country that my friend knows well. Having spent his undergraduate days at Stellenbosch, the luscious vineyards and pebbly beaches have been a second home to him. With the area offering world-renowned food and wine, picturesque scenery and an abundance of local confidence, it’s no wonder that the Cape is adored by both foreigners and South African’s alike.
It’s mountain ranges look like something described in legends. Table Mountain, Lion’s Head, Signal Hill and Devil’s Peak, towering over the vibrant suburbs below. Cape Town is an enchanted place where the gin is hand-crafted, the gatsbys are served hot, the views are breath-taking and the people are unapologetically unique.
In one quick flight, you can travel from Cape Town to Johannesburg with just enough time for a joke or two from the Kulula staff. Driving from the airport into town, the mine dumps give way to reveal the place of gold, Egoli. As people who call this very place home, we both agreed that there’s something about seeing the historical signs of the gold rush side by side with buzz of a city in bloom that makes Johannesburg one of a kind.
Where else in the world can you watch a rugby game in the stadium of your favourite team, visit a long-forgotten mine stope, attend an art exhibition and visit the constitutional court of the country all within the span of a few hundred metres?
Johannesburg is a beautiful mix of old and new, grunge and style, class and crass, and has a feeling of being alive with possibility. Hipster coffee stores are neighbours to spaza shops and multi-storied multinationals. It’s a city that can make your morning commute feel like a journey in itself! Speeding taxis, tiny tuk tuks and flippant pedestrians are traffic-time obstructions that only the bravest of South Africans can stomach.
But whether you call Johannesburg, Cape Town, Bloemfontein, Bhisho, Mahikeng, Kimberly, Pietermaritzburg, Polokwane or Mbombela home, the feeling of returning to South Africa is the same no matter where you are from. Quite simply, it’s the people that make the place, and it’s the people who make South Africa home.
Coming home when you’re South African means smiling to yourself as you hear the familiar accents once again. It means being greeted at passport control with a “How are you?” from someone who is actually waiting for a reply. It means balloons and flowers and perhaps even a welcome-home-hug that comes with a running start. It’s chats with the petrol attendants and buying roses/naartjies/cell phone chargers/ sunglasses at the robot. It’s calling a traffic light the robot!
Home is where you see 4 or more races of people before you get to work in the morning, and hear 11 or more languages being spoken before lunch. It’s where the majority of the people around you are nothing like you at all, but make you feel like there’s nowhere else in the world that you could belong but here in South Africa.
I know that despite how hard it may be to find cheap flights to and from London, my friend and I will make do over the coming three years, just like we always have. And when his contract is up, he’ll board a plane filled with eager tourists and even more eager South Africans, and before we know it he’ll walk through the doors of OR Thambo International Aiport’s arrivals terminal, and he’ll be home.
Disclaimer: This post was written in collaboration with Travelstart to celebrate Heritage Day and promote Tourism Month in our country.