I really don’t know where to begin recapping these last few months. That is pretty evident by the fact that I’m starting with Johannesburg, despite it being my absolute last stop on the trip. What started off as a simple photo dump escalated into explosive photographic diarrhea. I clearly don’t have a beautiful way with words, which is why I opt for pictures to tell stories.
However, the sheer number of pictures I posted at least needed some context and details. That escalated into me sitting in my dorm bed for eight straight hours, to the point that my friend asked me if I was depressed from having my phone pickpocketed the other night. I mean, it did put a little damper on my mood but despite it, I am leaving South Africa with a full and happy heart and a lifetime’s worth of memories.
Here are those memories, except the ones that I forgot (and the ones that were forever lost on my phone).
Beneath its rough and gritty exterior is a city bursting with life. The dilapidated buildings and decrepit walls splattered with beautiful murals define the city. It lacks the natural beauty that blessed so many other parts of South Africa, the tourist hubs that many travelers understandably skip Johannesburg for.
It may not be naturally beautiful but there is beauty everywhere. However, that beauty wasn’t gifted to the city, it was crafted by it. It was created by the inspired voices and the adept hands of its people. Each mural you see wasn’t painted overnight. It was a process that took years of grit and dedication to one’s craft.
Those murals are a metaphor for Johannesburg. Every wall, every musician, every artist, every shattered window and tired face has a story to tell. What you see on the surface only tells a fraction of the story. The tenacious hustle of each individual is what brings Joburg to life. Hustle’s not just a word here. It’s their entire culture.
A trip to Soweto was my first real venture into a side of South Africa that many travelers choose to ignore. I’ll save you the clichéd travel tale of how such an experience changed my life. Seeing the scars of apartheid still so present is a hard reality for anyone to process, yet seeing the happiness and humanity in what some might consider inhuman conditions brings hope for a brighter future.
I started this epic journey with a month and a half in Cape Town. The first month was spent with PACK. Coworking Retreats as our group of rough-and-tumble digital nomads took on the city together. We shared sunsets and cervezas, sob stories and sleepless nights, and built bonds that would last as we jetted off to our respective homes at the end of the month. Except me of course. I missed my flight, an impulse decision that led to a sweeping whirlwind adventure.
Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens
Jonkershoek Nature Reserve
Side Adventures Into The Winelands
Garden Route Adventures
Following the impulse decision to remain in South Africa, I opted to leave Cape Town (which is basically Europe). The first leg of the journey was the Garden Route. I landed an awesome project with Baz Bus, a popular door-to-door transportation option for backpackers all the way from Cape Town to Johannesburg. I commandeered their Instagram for the following weeks as I weaved my way along the Garden Route to the Wild Coast and eventually all the way up to Johannesburg.
Robberg Nature Reserve
Knysna, Wilderness, Sedgefield
A Little Foray Into The Klein Karoo
The Wild Coast indeed. Whether it is called that for its violent coastline, untamed countryside, or lack of any of your usual comforts, wild might be the only way to describe it. A few days here spent in the Xhosa village of Rini was my first real experience outside of the tried-and-true tourist trails. I gorged myself on stunning views and on pap, a cloud-like food that could only be described as a rice-bread-potato hybrid that is also somehow none of those things.
Eastern Cape Drive-by Views
My first stop in KZN took me to the muggy hub of Durban, madness compared to the serenity I had gorged myself on along the safe confines of the Garden Route. Behind the city’s chaotic exterior lies a unique charm, one that took a while to grow accustomed to but one that drew me in regardless. Despite the initial reluctance to step out on my own, I ended up exploring as many corners of the city as I could.
From its surprisingly modern downtown areas to the extremely traditional muthi market, I found Durban to hold an impressive range. I spent a morning exploring a modern space that reimagined trash and waste in a unique way to create one of the most beautiful urban gardens I had ever seen. Then in the afternoon, I held my breath as the stench of dried animals, skinned monkeys, and god-knows-what-else filled the air of the local healers market. Thankfully, I was able to catch a breath of fresh ocean air along the endless strip of beach where thousands of people gathered to wind down and remember to enjoy life. Durban is a vibe that can’t be missed out on.
Do you ever think about how many different crazy things have to happen for you to end up where you are? Going with the flow has always been my thing, whether it’s being too lazy to plan or being too chill to care what happens. However, this South African expedition was the least prepared I had ever been.
It was also my first real time traveling during a peak holiday season. What was I going to do for Christmas? For New Year’s? My usual method of taking things day by day was all of a sudden no longer an option. Everything was booked and I didn’t feel like waltzing off into some random party by myself.
Rewind two years ago to Cusco, Peru. Actually, no, let’s take it back further to a few weeks before in Colombia. I was on my first real solo trip and very lost and clueless. I meet a group of British backpackers and decide to tag along for a bit. I assumed they had a plan (they probably didn’t) and I was an orphan so why not?
We split off at some point, reunited in Lima, hiked Machu Picchu together and then found ourselves back in Cusco, Peru. They had met a South African a few weeks prior and we all decide to meet up. The Brits catch their bus to Bolivia later that night, leaving me with Andrew. We drank on the steps of an old church for a few hours before parting ways. We would reunite once again in La Paz, Bolivia a few weeks later on the last night of the British girls’ trip. A mandatory exchange of Instagram handles and a teary farewell later, I thought that was that.
Until I set foot in South Africa. Andrew had moved to London at this point but had been religiously following my Cape Town adventures via Instagram. Our paths were not meant to intertwine but thanks to my missed flight and the holiday season, fate played its hand. We had not really spoken in two years, but does that stop someone like Andrew from being the most stand-up guy you could imagine?
I spend a few days at his family’s beautiful farm in the lush countryside of KwaZulu-Natal, preparing for a New Year’s festival that thankfully took care of my New Year’s worries. Two years ago, I found myself drinking outside of a church with a random guy in Peru and next thing I know, I am helping the same guy build a flippin’ dragon in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. Life comes at you fast.
That festival was one of the best damn times of my life, by the way. In all my years of traveling, I don’t think I have ever felt so welcomed and loved by a massive group of people who really had no obligation to even acknowledge me. South African hospitality, man. It is something else. Love you guys.
My Brus and Bru-ettes
Like really, I mean it. This trip would not have been remotely as good as it was if it weren’t for all of you insanely amazing people that were with me every step of the way. From my PACK. fam that I spent a month with to my fellow backpackers that I might have just shared a beer and a laugh with, all of you have made it an unforgettable trip. All of the locals who have made me feel like home and shared your love of South Africa with me, thank you. Or shot bru or whatever you weirdos say. It wouldn’t have been the same without y’all.
To maintain the integrity of this immense photo dump, I have opted to only publish pictures I deemed pretty enough to post. So to all of the friends I have made that only appear in drunken Snapchats and ugly selfies, I apologize that you didn’t make the cut. I still love you guys regardless.
PACK. Cape Town
Island Vibe – Jeffrey’s Bay
Smoking Dragon Fam (like 10% of the fam)
And because I don’t want to end it on such a cheesy note, here’s some badass pics of lions and cheetahs and shit.