South Africa fit the "more" category. Though it was not for the faint-hearted. The flight to Frankfurt was eight hours, with hotel rooms waiting for us there after our early morning arrival. That same night we flew another ten hours to Johannesburg, then connected to Cape Town. The trip back was seven hours by bus out of "the bush" to Johannesburg, with reverse plane trips to Frankfurt and on to Boston, after a six-hour layover.
Our group of fourteen alumni from various colleges went under the auspices of A(lumni) H(oliday)I(nstitute). The tour company handled visa and shot procedures, all modes of transportation, tickets (with better airfares than we could get individually), itinerary reservations, and suggested reading. With us for the entire trip was travel director Joanie, our "mother-hen." It was a good thing, since one of the group fell getting off the escalator with her luggage in Johannesburg, and ended up in a hospital with sixty stitches. This fearless traveller rejoined us the next evening in CapeTown.
Also with us was Nancy Jacobs, Associate Professor of Africana Studies and History from Brown University. Nancy had lived in Africa and been a U.N. observer during the 1994 elections. She was insightful and funny and a wonderful companion (also a mother of two who left the kids with her husband while she travelled with us on sabbatical, doing resesarch). She provided three fascinating lectures, in addition to those of local experts in various destinations.
Did I mention the average IQ of the group was probably 150? Apologies if I got this wrong, but I counted seven PhD's among us, one LLD, one retired surgical ophthalmologist, one retired city planner, among other degrees. Everyone was an experienced traveller and really cared less about degrees. We all bonded well, laughing till I peed in my pants, helping each other with luggage, pushing from behind onto high jeeps or buses, getting the lighting just right for couples' photos, identifying birds and wildlife so Kay could check them off in her Guidebook, counting heads when Wendy miscounted, and sharing insights.
At each destination, we picked up local guides who stayed with us until we departed for the next location. Wendy, Mary, Mark, had full days planned in the Cape Town region, the Victoria Falls area of Zambia and Botswana, and Johannesburg. There was no sleeping in on this trip, unless you wanted to miss a tour...which Charley and I did in CapeTown. We skipped the wine country tour in favor of spectacular Kirstenbosch Botannical Gardens and, as it turned out, that was the ONLY morning we slept past 7 a.m. In the South African bush, we were on a jeep every morning at 5:45 a.m., followed by breakfast at 10 a.m., followed by a lecture, then lunch. Back out on the jeep at 4 p.m., unless you wanted to miss tracking the elusive leopard. Why did they think we had to eat so much?
Neither was there any shopping time (except at hotel gift shops), or time to wash out our undies, or shower (except maybe 5 a.m. or 10 p.m.), or answer all our emails. Somehow, though, the shoppers among us managed to bring back enough souvenirs to claim "VAT" (shopping for souvenirs will be the subject of another blog post).
Amazing what we accomplished in two weeks!! We stood in Nelson Mandela's prison cell during a tour of Robben Island with one of Mandela's prison contemporaries as a guide; we cablecar -zipped to the top of Table Mt., then whisked out to the Cape of Good Hope; sampled wineries' products; stayed at Victoria Falls, Zambia, then crossed via "ferry" into Botswana for a daylong safari along the Zambezi River; lunched at a private home/restaurant in Soweto (Johannesburg), then planted a tree in front of another home not far from Mandela's and Desmond Tutu's first residences on Vilakazi Street; toured the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg, followed by four days in a private game preserve on the edge of Kruger Park (northeastern So. Africa). Not only did we see all of the "Big Five," we told our guide to "Drive On!" when impala herds or kudu passed by. They became mundane!?
What didn't I do that I wanted to (besides sleep and shop)? I wanted to take an outdoor shower in Thornybush Game Preserve, but it would have been 5 a.m. or 10 p.m., with the monkeys and who-knew-what-else accompanying me. And I wanted to swim in one of the gorgeous pools at our hotels or venture out of the hotel in Johannesburg (only by vehicle!) for dinner. Too tired...
Stay tuned for humorous glimpses of group travel in future posts. We're still reliving the experience!