8 things I’ve learned Travelling in South Africa

Travel Journal Entry

Date 29/9/15

“Don’t tell me how educated you are tell me how much you have traveled”.

While on this trip and past traveling I have learned a lot about histories and wars of various war struck countries. From walking through the Killing Fields in Cambodia where over a million people were killed only a few decades ago to visiting the Cuchi tunnels in Vietnam to touring a WW2 concentration camp in Germany the sense of connection to the event, overwhelmed sadness and frustration you experience is never anything I will gain from reading a textbook. Visiting South Africa has been no different. Deciding to make a stop in South Africa on this trip was a not very thought about decision. Inspired by a friend who recently visited and suggested I visit Capetown to shamingly my addiction to The Australian Bachelor last year where the final episode was filmed my mind was made up. I needed to go here. No deep rooted reason in wanting to explore different cultures or know what I would learn and feel. I simply wanted to see a few cool sights.

So here are 8 things I learned while travelling South Africa:

1. In South Africa the population is made up of 80% black people and less than 10% white. This surprised me. Before coming here I thought the ratio was more even. While watching the rugby world cup one evening in a small pub in South Africa I got taking to a local South African. After a bit of conversation about the culture here I asked them what they thought the percentage of white to black was. They thought is was pretty much 50/50. How does someone live in a country all their life and get the ratio so wrong. Many of the places we have visited where a lot of the black population reside this person had never been too. Does segregation still exist in an informal way? I don’t know the answer but what I do know is watching the South African team playing rugby it would seem the white population is more dominant. Billboards and advertisements mostly have white people in them. Why is this is when most of the population are black. Something’s amiss here.

2. Visiting the Nelson Mandela capture site reminded me of what was amiss here. Apartheid ended not so long ago. Similar to the stolen generation in Australia it will take many generations for the oppression of black people in South Africa to recover. Middle class is still predominantly white. Visiting this site also reminded me how one man could make such an impact on the world. It’s clear that freedom in South Africa would have happened without him solely. But it was the quality of his character. His compassion, courage, integrity and hope that made him an inspiration to millions of people around the world. It reminded me of my career. As much as I enjoy traveling and want to extend my trip I’m very passionate about my work and want to return. I too want to instill hope in people and fight for change.

3. I’ve learned that the disparity between the haves and have not is massive here. One minute I am surrounded by people who have very similar culture to my own and a few hours later there is people who are living in huts and shacks and do not have running water or electricity. Once you leave the main cities and towns the wealth is surely declining. Hair salons with no roofs, trucks pilled with people, women in traditional dress selling everything from fruit to live chicken’s, kids playing soccer in empty fields with scraps for clothes. How is it a few hours ago I was in a place so like home now I am in a foreign land. Yes ever country and city has a poor population but it seems as though the South African government are struggling to achieve both redistribution of wealth and economic growth. South Africa is actually ranked as an upper middle income by the world bank however poverty and equality remain widespread . A quarter of the population are unemployed and living in poverty.

4. South Africa has the highest number of hiv/aids than any other country in the world; 6.3 million people. As we drove by a huge graveyard on the outskirt’s of Port Elizabeth our tour guide informed us that someone is employed full time just to dig graves as there are funerals everyday from people dying of aids. Seeing signs in small villages “we go to church together so lets get tested together” didn’t make sense to me until explained. How is the world allowing this epidemic to still exist.

5. Visiting the countries of Swaziland and Lesotho has inspired me to visit the rest of Africa. Lesotho is a land locked country completely surrounded by South Africa and ruled by a king. 40% of the population are living below the poverty line. Visiting the local village and school and seeing the local band and dancers was definitely one of best cultural experiences I’ve had yet. As good as Europe was it was more about the sights. The cultural is very similar to my own. While watching the mulaluelue band I realized that my travels in the future will concentrate on finding cultures completely different to my own. I want to visit the lower Omo valley in Southern Ethiopia to see the most indigenous cultures, dance with the Masai tribes in Kenya, to see the aftermath of the Rwandan Genocide, go gorge swinging in Zambia, hike with silverback gorillas in Uganda, snorkel with whale sharks in Mozambique and kiss giraffes in Kenya. And do it solo. Apparently Uganda Malawi and Zambia are backpacker hubs with a healthy independent travel scene. Travel plans will also include some volunteer work. Seeing the children in school in Lesotho has reminded me of how I’ve always wanted to do this. Travel can also be not only about experiencing different cultures but making an impact on them by helping local communities.

6. I’ve learned that if I had been traveling alone in South Africa keeping myself safe would have had to be a top priority. I would have needed to research areas I could and could not have went. The tour guide and several locals warned us of cities towns and streets that were not safe to roam. From traveling through Europe Asia and Australia this was my first experience of safety issues. While chatting to a guy in a hostel near Jeffreys Bay, a popular surf town on the west coast, he talked about how lots of girls get raped here. After looking up some statistics online, this guy was right. “The average south African women is more likely to be raped than completing secondary school.” From reading blogs of female solo travelers who backpacked through Africa they exercised caution, were smart , proactive about personal safety, took taxis at night, carried few valuables, did their research and kept alert. One cannot let fear stop them from going to these places. In the words of Nelson Mandela” may your choice reflect your hopes not your fears”.

7. As great as this tour has been its given me the confidence to explore and travel solo. I’ve learned that I wont need to do a tour like this again. These tours are great for people who are not yet ready to travel alone and like the comfort of having everything pre- organized. It also allows you to see a huge amount of sights in a short space of time. After doing independent solo travel its hard to re- adjust to pre-planned travel. I miss getting lost. I miss not knowing where ill wake up tomorrow. I miss talking to locals meeting and talking random strangers. I miss taking local public transport while people watching. Nothing beats independent travel.

8. Finally one of the biggest learning’s for me while I have been here is the impact solo travel is having on my health . Time for a check up and get some R&R.


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