Through seven time zones. I cried. Through a flight so long a refueling stop was necessary. I cried. Across oceans and equators and continents. I cried. And then I cried some more.
Ok, well maybe not really the whole way.
Maybe just part of the way. I can’t really remember
Maybe I am being a bit melodramatic. Hyperbole is good for blogs, isn’t it?
Ok, fine, so maybe I just cried a little bit, sitting at the gate in Boston, reading through my last batch of emails from friends and family on my Kindle 3G (still resolutely taking my anti-smart phone stand).
That poor teenager sneaking sidelong glances at me must have been wondering one of three things:
- how old is that lady that she is checking her email on a black and white kindle?
- will that be me some day?
- do those big sloppy tears plopping right into her glass of free international flight red wine really make it taste better?
And the answer is no my dear, no they do not.
But somewhere along the route from Boston -> Washington, DC -> Dakar -> Johannesburg, the tears subsided. And then when the plane touched down, landing in the hazy aftermath of a humid summer storm, the pricks of excitement finally began. Tingling in the corners of my eyes as I squinted out at the jetway and trembling in the pen clenched between my fingers, filling out the first of many, many, many customs forms.
The dreaded customs form with the dreaded “employment” blank.
I hadn’t been expecting it but, there it was. The existential question I had been mulling over for the previous 18 hours of flying so poignantly summarized on a simple government form.
World traveler? Writer, photographer, adventurer extraordinaire? Sad unemployed nomad? Wonderful One Woman Wanderer?
Yes, I like that one, that has some ring to it. After all, South Africa is where that club began, the wonderful one woman wanderers. Anyone is welcome. Any adventure-seeking, independence-loving, attitude-wielding woman.
You see, “Solo in South Africa” is perhaps a misleading title. I was, in fact, greeted on the other side of customs by one of my all time favorite one women wanderers. And my arrival, laden by backpacks full of tech gear and quick dry clothing, was followed shortly by the arrival of another few of my favorite feral wonderful one woman wanderers who were remarkably unladen by bags, lost as they were in transit. Don’t worry, the bags did eventually arrive, a month late, just in time to travel back to Australia with their owners.
But it was this coming together of strong, independent, curiosity-driven women that made me realize what a unique and wonderful thing I had stumbled upon. What strength of personality and spirit and kindness and resoluteness I had found in these ladies who were out catching mini-busses through Malawi and cargo ferries across African borders.
I was fortunate to begin my trip as I did, wrapped up with these wonderful women. We reunited here, paths crossing between China and Kenya and Australia and homes near and far, to celebrate Christmas.
And celebrate we did!
As any true Southern Hemisphere inhabitant would celebrate, with sun burns and pool games and frozen cocktails and “shrimps on the barbie.” But after the wrapping paper was swept aside, the festive cocktails consumed, the christmas crackers popped, and the last of the left over prawn and avocado salad was made into a midnight snack, it was time to get adventuring.
I remember the moment I realized we were in Africa. All this time, it had just felt like a really strangely warm Christmas with palm trees and cold ham.
And then suddenly, we were in Africa.
The adventure we embarked on together before we scattered to the wind was a journey to the Drakensburg Mountains, to Tugela Falls. When you think South Africa, you probably think a few things. Vineyards and shark cage diving and Table Mountain and perhaps the dangers of Jo-burg. Not Drakensburg, which is, fun fact, Afrikaans for “Dragon Mountains.”
But let me tell you, if you leave out Tugela Falls, you need to make some adjustments.
So, road maps in hand, we piled into a friends car and were off. I sat in the middle of the back seat, gleefully clutching a bag of lychee and slowly working my way through a quantity of these fleshy fruits that would eventually make me a bit ill.
We were road tripping. Us wonderful, wild, wandering women.
And road tripping.
And road tripping.
And then, I bolted upright.
Was that a zebra?
No, it couldn’t be. But, could it? It is Africa. No. Maybe. About 30 whole minutes of the drive were devoted to this discussion of the zebra. And the verdict was, either way, WE ARE IN AFRICA.
And that was the moment I finally felt like I was doing this trip. Not when I sold my furniture. Not when I shipped the rest of my belongings to my parent’s house. Not when my mom cut my hair 30 minutes before going to the airport. Not after 24 hours of transit and my first passport stamp.
It probably wasn’t a zebra. But, it wasn’t totally out of the realm of possibility. Even if it was a very lost zebra, and it would have to have been VERY lost, it could have been and by virtue of that possibility, I suddenly arrived, warp speed, in Africa.
Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore.
So, to Drakensburg we went. And oh what a mighty sight, even through the mist and rain that settled over us for most of the day, turning to chilling downpour creeping down the backs of our jackets by the end.
And when I say jackets, I mostly mean trash bags. We’re in Africa, why would we need raincoats? Didn’t some band bless the rains in Africa back in the 80s? Doesn’t that mean that it, like, doesn’t rain?
Luckily I had a few tropical destinations on my journey so came fortified with a little H2NO protection. But the other wanderers were not so lucky. So, wrapped in black trash bags, we embarked. Perfect hiking apparel. Really. It traps the clammy sweat against your body nicely.
Through fields of wildflowers,
along mountainsides hidden in fog,
across a flooded boggy river bed,
we hopped, skipped, and slipped our way to the top of Tugela Falls, the second highest waterfall in the world.
There is some controversy over whether it is in fact taller than Angel Falls in Venezuela, but Angel Falls typically takes the cake. Having never been to Angel Falls (bucketlist!) I cannot fairly discuss, but I think it can be agreed that both are pretty darn impressive. Tugela Falls is typically visible from the drive into Drakenburg Park but considering our weather predicament, we had to take the guide book’s word for that.
Weather aside, this trek was far and away one of the most bang for your buck hikes I have enjoyed, and I have enjoyed many. It was tough but not grueling. There were some exciting bits with rock scrambles (made all the more exciting by the deluge of rain flowing off the mountain), a long rickety ladder descent, and some moments when it seemed the mountain side was rising to meet your outstretch hand. There was adrenaline and a slightly elevated heart rate, but a large portion of it was just darn pleasant walking.
Like clockwork, the rain and clouds and mist parted for our “summit” and we were able to enjoy views of the falls uninterrupted. And after the nice sweat we worked up in our trash bags (I was decidedly less sweaty thanks to my breathing Patagonia Torrent Shell), we were thrilled to wade into a small “pool” formed at the top of the falls. Not for the faint of heart as these falls proceed to drop a combined total of 948 meters.
Hold on tight.
The return journey was filled with a bit more rain and a final descent in a fit of shivering fury, racing to the vehicles for warmth and snacks.
After two overnights in Drakensburg, I parted with the wonderful wandering women with promises to meet again in another African country soon. From there I began my true solo adventuring, kicking it off with a flight to Cape Town and a hike up Table Mountain.
Table Mountain was great. Go do it. But everyone knows that. If you take one piece of advice from Solo in South Africa, it is to find your way to Tugela Falls, pray to the weather gods, and get hiking!