January 2, 2009.
I’m not sure how else to write about my trip to South Africa, except by starting at the beginning. I’ll have to delay my stories about safari jeep wars, chasing lions, hitch hiking, and coasting alongside leopards, for now.
At the time of I trip, I’d known my friend, Regan, for over 5 years; however, this was the first time we met in person. I was going to stay with her for 11 nights, yet I wasn’t nervous at all as I’ve met lots of people from the internet. Some are now my dearest friends while other relationships fizzled out for various reasons. I never felt my safety in jeopardy, crediting my intuition and suburban street smarts with my ability to determine if someone was a gem, worth a meet, or a complete freak. Regan was a gem and frequently invited me to visit. One day I asked if she was serious. Yes, she was.
What would possess me to fly to Africa and either rely completely on a stranger or be left on my own on a continent I was unfamiliar with, helpless to fend for myself? For as long as I can remember, my heart longed to be there. Sometimes I’d envision bonfires on the beach, other times a desert or a Savannah. My body ached to be in tune with the raw energy I intuitively associated with Africa. I’m not sure how I could be so drawn to a place I’d never been, and to a continent that is and has been ravaged every way a continent can be ravaged. When people reacted negatively to the news I was going- I didn’t understand it. I still don’t.
Flying to Africa sucks. Sure, it could have been worse; however, the fact that it could have been worse doesn’t make it any better. Why does it suck so much? The airtime alone is 22 hours, 26 hours with layovers. Flying home was even longer- 24 hours in air for a grand total of 34 hours. There is no sugar-coating it, it sucked ass. Factoring in the screaming babies, annoying and rude adults, people in the row behind me pulling my seat and my hair to get up and sit down every half hour so I couldn’t sleep, airlines trying to feed this vegetarian chicken while promising me it was not chicken, the dry air, aching joints, the constant hum of the jet engine, boredom,being cramped into a tiny seat created for little people, anxiety over having no control over my situation- I was in a veritable hell. And I loved every single second of it. At least, I loved every single second on the way to Africa. My 11 nights in South Africa were worth the 60 hours of travel.
I flew into Johannesburg and by the time I got through customs and baggage claim, it was close to midnight on January 2. The moment my eyes met Regan’s, I knew it was her. Regan removed the guard so we could rush to meet. She brought her daughter, Lauren, who was a bit leery of having a stranger from the internet come and stay at her house. We chatted away- I’m sure she did most of the talking as I was pretty disoriented, hot, exhausted, overwhelmed, excited, jet-lagged and wired.
We found her car and she walked to the right side. I paused, wondering who was driving, terrified that it might be me. First lesson- they drive on the wrong side of the road from the wrong side of the car. Knowledge that this happens doesn’t change 30 years of habit and I would be reminded, “other side” several more times throughout my trip.
We had an early start the next morning, so we didn’t stay up too late. We were going to Pilanesberg National Park for 3 nights to stay in a chalet at the Manyane Resort with her family. I couldn’t sleep that night. Excitement and jet-lag wouldn’t allow it. I couldn’t believe that I was finally there. I wanted to savor every moment and not waste too many of them sleeping.