My 30th is coming up soon so I’ve been thinking about the list that I’ll be putting up underneath my mandatory annual birthday selfie. Usually, I share the list of things I am grateful for that year. I would do that again but with everyone doing cool things like 30 for 30 this year, I am being hit with a level of FOMO that is proving hard to shake. So here I am, with my own 30 for 30 in the most chronological order I could get them. I will call them:
30 best travel memories from a wandering soul!
An appropriate number one for me as a South African I believe. Durban was such a popular destination while I was growing up that I was convinced that it was the South African equivalent to a pilgrimage – the place we would all go at least once in our lives. You can imagine my shock when I found out that my sister-in-law had never been in her youth and had made the trip at the ripe old age of about 37. Getting older is teaching me about the privileges that I take for granted. One of my earliest photos is of me enjoying Durban life with my family in a park near the beach.
Every trip to Durban since then has managed to present us with new and unique memories. Once it even turned into a ghost adventure, well at least for my mom. Having rented a self-catering apartment near the beach, the black sheets and shadiness of the building had my mom convinced that she was being strangled by the ghost of some lady in the middle of the night. So why is this place, that I’ve been to enough times to cover every year of my life, on my list? Cause trips to Durban make me appreciate my family so much more. Every trip to Durban has taught me something new about my family members. It’s these trips and the things I learnt about the people that I thought I already knew pretty well that taught me early on in life that you don’t truly know a person until you have travelled with them.
2) Bela-Bela -Badplaas
I loved living in Witbank as a child. I think one of my favourite semi-memories (these things happened pre-7 years of age so I’m not sure if all of them are real memories or just dreams I had about my time there), is of going to Badplaas. Badplaas is in Bela-Bela, an area that is known for its hot springs. This is also my mother’s favourite place and I can’t tell you how many times she has told us about the time when we went as children and she let the hot water shower her back as she enjoyed the hot-spring bath that they have there.
We went back a few years ago and I was able to create some concrete memories for myself as an adult. The hot spring is as great as my mother remembers it. The big red slide at the outdoor pool, though I never dared to ride it, is still as tall as I remember it.
3) Bela-Bela – Warmbaths
Another one for Bela-Bela. Warmbaths is a water park not so far from Pretoria. It’s an easier trip for someone from Joburg, like me, and it’s designed for a younger crowd, e.g. more water slides and general good times to be had. My best memories might be from the time I went with my brother and his wife’s family. Leading up to the trip I was apprehensive because I low-key hated my sister-in-law’s youngest sister (last born things) who was going to be there that holiday. Luckily things didn’t go left and it now goes down as one of my best memories of the place, and I’ve been there more times than I’d like to admit. Heck, I’ve even been there with my varsity residence house (Sorority house? Pledge house? I am not sure what the universally understood name would be but basically this).
My first memory of this South African town in the North-West province is from my brother’s wedding preparations. I didn’t get much time to take in the town at that time as we were there on official wedding business so we kept to my sister-in-law’s home for most of that trip. When we went back to visit a few years later, my sister-in-law’s siblings took us around and introduced us to Mafikeng. I was underwhelmed, it’s a really small town for all the hype it gets back in Joburg. So why is this on my list? Well, because, despite its size, I’ll never forget how suburban it was and how small their mall was. This was one of my first introductions to how the words “big city” can mean different things to different people.
5) Waterval Boven
This was one of my first trips without my family. Waterval Boven, which translates from Afrikaans as “Above the waterfall” is a tiny town situated near a really old railway pass that goes through a mountain and an awesome waterfall. We went here for grade 7 camp and as I look back on this place and all the activities we did here, I realise that this one holds a special place in my heart because of all the firsts I got to experience. It was my first time hiking (yes I almost died and yes this was the beginning of my lifelong feud with the downhill climb); my first time sleeping under the stars in a sleeping bag; my first time having a roasted marshmallow; my first time going on a king swing (i.e. my first time rebelling against my intense fear of heights); and my first time experiencing how travel changed my friends (one of my friends, who somehow later turned into my best friend, lost her mind over people flashing their light in her eyes on the night we had to play a scavenger hunt game). When I left camp, my friendship with one of my other childhood friends was strengthened so much that I was convinced that we would be best friends forever (oh to be a child. Here’s looking at you Tam :]). The camp was that amazing.
For grade 11 camp we went to South Africa’s strangely named Parys – basically the Afrikaans translation of the name Paris but with similarities in exactly zero aspects. It’s a small one-street town at the tip of the Free State province, just below where the border of the province meets Gauteng province (where I live). I think it was about a 2-hour drive from my school and the whole camp was sold to us as an excursion that was meant to sift the wheat from the chaff and find the next Prefects for my high school. Needless to say, I was chaff, but this chaff had a darn good time. I loved loved loved our time in Parys mostly because of the people. We got split up from our usual friends and were placed in the most random groups for the camp but it made the whole thing even more fun. We played a lot of leadership games and got the most out of the camping grounds but my favourite part from the whole trip was when we played capture the flag in the dead of night. That night I saw the Milkyway in all its glory for the first time. As a city girl from Joburg, I don’t get to see the night sky as it is because of the light pollution. Despite our electricity issues, Joburg is usually lit up like a Christmas tree and that dulls the stars considerably. Even now I am convinced that Parys has the best night view for stargazing in all of South Africa (the benefits of being a small one street town).
My sister is 5 years older than me and we have spent most of our lives side by side because we are the youngest children in my parents household. Our age gap also means that we have spent a few years attending the same primary school together. Of course, at some point during life, I was separated from my sister because of varsity. She decided to go study in KZN and later got a job in Pietermaritzburg (PMB), the capital city of the KZN province. PMB is roughly a 5-hour drive from Johannesburg, so driving down was easy enough but because of tolls and petrol money, it’s a trip we would only do once in a while. Usually, visiting my sister involved my mom, dad and I jumping into the car, booking a few nights in a hotel in Durban and driving down for a visit. These trips would happen about 4 times a year and I loved them. We’d usually go down to the beach and enjoy the waves before heading back inland. So why is PMB on the list seeing as most of these trips were spent in Durban, an hour away? Well because PMB is an architectural masterpiece. Built-in the 1900s, the Victorian-styled buildings in this town are a marvel to behold, and with them being set alongside green and leafy parks around the city, with their bronze statues, they are perhaps my favourite in South Africa.
8) Satara rest camp – Kruger National Park
When we as a family graduated from our annual beach trip to Durban, we started making annual trips to game reserves. Kruger National Park was our first as a family, after a few misses, we finally found the best camp. A marvellous feat considering that Kruger National Park is one of Africa’s top 10 biggest game reserves (with an area of around 19500km squared – approximately the same size as Israel) and has so many camps to choose from. Disclaimer: “Best” in this case only applies to big game hunters (but like hunting with your eyes cause we about conservation here). For bird people, I would suggest you go North. No animals but oodles and oodles of birds.
Anyway, Satara rest camp is probably the best place I’ve been for game viewing. All the lions live in that neighbourhood of the park, often interrupting traffic outside the camp gates. In the 3 times, we’ve stayed here we’ve also managed to see a leopard (the ninja of the wild – with the capability to hide in plain sight); a few cheetahs; and lots and lots of hyena. If you happen to be heading to the park, I’ll always suggest this place if you want to spot all of the Big 5.
Wow, okay so this post has been longer than I anticipated, much like this life. In the spirit of not overloading your brain with information, I’ll have to split this post up over a few uploads. Now that you know what this is all about, you can decide if you want to come back for part 2,3 and 4. Of course, please do.