This is Africa (TIA): My First Steps and Impressions of South Africa

Over the past couple of years, I have been fortunate enough to travel to many foreign countries and experience the sights, smells, and cultures of new lands. One could think that because of the dwindling amount of free pages in my passport that I am travel savvy. It’s a reasonable thought but one that I continuously test by arriving for flights a day early, getting lost and missing intended busses, and most recently, upsetting the feared customs officers.

I’ve been in South Africa now for three weeks or so and much has already happened but I’ll start with my very first steps on the continent. I had been traveling for 30+ hours already thanks to a 15 hour layover in Doha, Qatar (sleeping in airport chairs is not the most comfortable experience) and a delayed flight from Johannesburg to Cape Town. Simply put: I was exhausted. And, I looked it. I arrived to South Africa with all sorts of excitement and anxiety but the moment the plane hit the ground all I could think about was my coming hostel dorm room bed. The customs officers had different plans for me though. And, I had about three more hours until I would finally reach my bed.

Turns out, South Africa has this policy (one that is NOT widely publicized) that a person arriving in South Africa must have a return ticket. My style of travel thus far has been very flexible and I go where the contacts develop. So, because of that reason, and my impending attendance at the first annual conference on Aging on the continent, I was not exactly certain when I would leave South Africa and to which country I would go. This explanation was not suitable and I was told I must return to Doha. I won’t deny that I’m a sensitive person–tears happen–but not usually in public and usually not in moments of crisis. But here I was crying in Cape Town’s airport because someone just told me I had to get back onto a plane. It’s reasonable to think that because I have been traveling so much that I do not mind flying. Fun fact: I dread flying. I get anxious. My palms start to sweat. And, if there is any turbulence lord help the person next to me because I am going to subconsciously reach out for their hand. This last flight had particularly bad turbulence. And, I was NOT getting back on a flight.

Thankfully, a man took pity on me and my newly formed South African pals were looking out for me. We convinced the customs officer to allow me to purchase a return ticket on site. This was stressful, a man was hovering over me telling me to hurry, and I was certain my shuttle bus to the hostel had left already. I bought a partially refundable ticket to Istanbul for about two weeks earlier than I should have. Oh well. You win some, you lose some. And, I was about to spend a few weeks in a city that has scenery like this:

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It’s safe to say that my first impression of South Africa was not the best but since then I have been genuinely impressed and awed by the kindness of people, the cost of a nice glass of wine, and the scenery. That’s not to say that South Africa doesn’t have it’s problems but for today, I’m going to focus on the good things. I am well behind in my blog posts–which in large part can be attributed to my lack of wireless internet and my living at an old convent for the last two weeks.

I have done a number of fantastic things in my weeks in South Africa related to Alzheimer’s and dementia and ageing. My passion for this is definitely being fueled and I can’t get enough. In posts to come, I’ll talk about my experience at the IAGG First African Regional Conference on Aging and Gerontology that took place at this venue:

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And then my resulting experience with Margie from Geratec, a leading and innovative Aging care company, exploring different Alzheimer’s and elderly care facilities in Cape Town paired with my experiences with Jill from Alzheimer’s South Africa exploring a different care facility in the Cape Town region. And eventually, I’ll touch on my experience at St. Joseph’s Home in Port Elizabeth. Before those posts though, I’mma post some pictures and brief explanations of some fun tourist things I did in the Cape Town region.

On the last day of the conference, a woman named Jo Anne (who I met at the opening ceremony while stuffing my face with deserts and chasing them down with deserts) brought me to her friend Margie (the same woman mentioned above) for some tea. We had a great tea and cake at this place:

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Margie then took over and brought us to some of the most awe-inspiring places I have ever seen. We started at Hout Bay beach where Jo and I played with kelp and were pushed into a beach run by the wind:

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We then began a drive up Chapman’s Peak–voted as one of the most beautiful drives internationally–and oh my god, was it ever. I am STILL (three weeks later) in disbelief. We drove with the mountains to the left and the ocean to the right and the sun was doing incredible things to all of the different colors and flowers.

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The adventures of the day could have stopped right then and it would have still been one of the best days of my trip thus far but Margie had different plans for us and we carried on to Boulder’s Beach–a place where PENGUINS hang out! I think you can actually go swimming with the penguins when the weather is right.

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We finished the day getting a lovely dinner on the waterfront. It really was an exceptional day and I am so grateful to Margie and Jo for including me in their day–and keeping me in their thoughts and plans afterwards. I’ll be writing more about both of them in coming posts.

I then had a week in Cape Town before I needed to move on to Port Elizabeth. My week quickly became full of meetings, site visits, and morning coffees. One of my tourist priorities for South Africa was to see the whales. And, I needed to get down to Hermanus–just a few hours away from Cape Town–to see the whales before I left for PE. So that Monday, I went on a whale hunt! AND, I found a whole bunch and even saw one breaching. The pictures here don’t really capture it but you can see some of the whales dotting the water waving hello.

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It was an unforgettable day. And, I would love to go whale searching in the future on a kayak.

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Alright, I’ve got to run and I just want to get this one out there! So, I’ll abruptly end here!

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About tomakingitcount12

I'm a recent college graduate studying cultures of Alzheimer's care giving throughout the international community thanks to a generous fellowship from Hendrix College. My fellowship with enable me to meet with leading Alzheimer's disease, dementia, and aging professionals, attend a number of conferences, and to learn from caregivers in Ireland, Western Europe, and South Africa. My fellowship was inspired by my Auntie Mare and Grandma Louis, both of whom passed away in May of 2011 after suffering from the disease for several years.
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