30.10.2016 - 31.10.2016
Sunday, 30 October
My last full day in Africa… This was a difficult day to get through, far more difficult than I thought it would be.
Max and I were up early; it had been a cool night and we were both bundled up in our sleeping bags. After breaking down our tent for the final time (farewell Rhino tent! … yes, we’d labeled our tent “Rhino” so we could identify it in the truck), we went down to the restaurant area to use the wifi for a little bit before breakfast.
Breakfast was – again – cereal, but Norman had also made fried eggs. We also packed lunch before leaving so we wouldn’t have to make a lunch stop on the road. What was for lunch? Norman’s lunch specialty: sandwiches! I know he skimped on the breakfasts and lunches to provide us with good dinners (T-bone steak one night; springbok steak for our final meal), but the basic food got old quite fast.
Max, Chris, Svenja, Rafa, Joana and I gathered at the front of the truck to play cards during today’s drive. We’d not played cards up from for several days (probably due to the crazy heat), but today we made the most of our final day. Rafa got out her portable speaker and we played our music. We’d not had music on the truck since the first day with the larger group and we’d had enough of it; we didn’t play the music too loud, just loud enough for us up front to enjoy. I refrained from playing cards and I was feeling slight motion sickness, but I sat with them so we could all chat.
A few hours into our drive we made a brief stop for some petrol (the truck had developed a steady gas leak at the dunes, so we had to make frequent stops to fuel up). To our delight, there was a KFC right next to the gas station. Chris, Svenja and I headed over there to buy something for lunch – screw our prepacked sandwiches! I bought a chicken sandwich and they bought some chicken bites. The food was *delicious* - though probably only because we’d been deprived of such food for so long.
We drove on to our first event of the day: wine tasting at a local winery. The place was packed, but luckily we were able to get right in (we’d arrived an hour early). We got to try six different wines, each one pairs with a cheese. The wines were decent, but nothing particularly amazing. The entire event was clearly aimed at getting tourists to spend money. One or two people in our group bought something, but we left shortly after the tasting concluded.
We reached Cape Town in early afternoon and drove to our final sight: Table Mountain View, which afforded us some amazing views of the city, along with Table Mountain and the water. We were all blown away as we stood around taking pictures. The wind coming off the water quite strong and several people were flying kites.
We then drove into downtown Cape Town, where the tour formally ended outside the Nomad office. My hotel was a five-minute walk from the office, thankfully. We all unpacked our luggage, which happened far quicker than I had anticipated. Besides myself, only Siri and Jasmin were staying at the nearby hotel; everyone else had made other reservations. Rafa, Joana, Chris, and Svenja all decided to walk over to my hotel with me so they could use the wifi access. Max grabbed a cab to drive over to his hostel; he promised to come out with us later that night though. I was worried that he wouldn’t show up and that we wouldn’t get to say a proper goodbye.
I checked into my hotel and we all went up to my room, which was gorgeous! I had a spectacular view of Table Mountain from my window; the bathroom was huge; the bed was uber comfortable. I was in heaven.
Rafa and Joana used the wifi to find a hostel to stay in; they’d been trying to find a place via CouchSurfing, but had no luck. Thankfully they found a place and decided to head over to check in; we planned to meetup at the waterfront later. I arranged for an Uber car to take Chris, Svenja and me over to their hostel, which was less than ten minutes away. We were all amazed by how nice the hostel was: there was a bar, a huge kitchen and lounge area; their private room resembled a hotel more than a hostel! They quickly changed clothes and then we took another Uber down to the V&A Waterfront.
The waterfront was packed with people out shopping, getting food and enjoying themselves. The three of us wandered around for a while, heading inside so Svenja could do a little shopping. I kept trying to access the wifi networks so I could communicate with Rafa via WhatsApp, but my phone couldn’t get a stable connection; the result was that we missed meeting up with the girls. We went back outside and walked across the rope bridge before grabbing a taxi back to my hotel.
We went up to my room and dropped off our bags before heading out to walk to dinner. We’d made plans for a group of us to meet up at the Beerhouse at 19:00. Soon after turning down Loop Street we ran into Rafa and Joana – a happy coincidence! They stopped in at a hostel to inquire after their rates and they ran into Norman and Fadz.
The Beerhouse was a great bar with a large beer selection and a decent food menu. We were the first to arrive and I was wondering if the others (Max, Fabian and Tamara) would show up. A few minutes later I was excited to see Max walk up the stairs – he made it! I felt joy and relief at the same time. The bar had quite a wide selection of beer from around the world; I was surprised to see Innis & Gunn from Scotland listed; I ordered one of them (with the rum finish) so Chris could try it.
We were in the midst of ordering our food and drinks when Fabian and Tamara arrived. It was so great that everyone was able to make it, especially since we were all staying in different lodgings and the plan was quickly thrown together. Fabian and Tamara got their orders in and we sat around chatting together.
The food was really good; I ordered a burger with avocado (Chris ordered the same thing); he and I were both in heaven as we devoured our food. We had a few more drinks during and after dinner. A couple of us ordered dessert; I ordered an ice cream sandwich, which was delicious. Around 21:30, Fabian and Tamara decided to head back to their hotel. It was sad to have to say goodbye to them; I’d had a lot of fun playing cards with them over the past 12 days.
The rest of us decided to head out to another bar. Earlier in the day we’d decided to head to a gay bar and I’d found a couple for us to go to. Svenja was excited to go to gay bar, but she didn’t know about Chris. I simply asked him if he’d like to go to *a* bar… he picked up the way I said it and deduced what I was saying. He gave a slow “yes” and we all laughed.
The gay bar was a 20-minute walk away and we all set off together. The streets were rather empty since it was a Sunday evening. When we reached the gay bar, we were all devastated to find that it was closed – despite the website stating that it was open on Sundays! There was another gay bar next door that was open, but there was no one inside, so we just moved on.
We walked back to a Cuban bar down the street that was full of locals. Beerhouse was clearly patronized by the white community of the town, but the Cuban place was popular with the black community. It was fun to see the two sides of the city. We sat outside and ordered some drinks; the beer I got was not very good and I gave it to Max to finish. The place had hookah, so we ordered a mint hookah to share. The flavor was very smooth and we all shared it (except Chris, who refrained). It was a wonderful way for us to relax together. Shots for the entire table came with the hookah; I let Svenja pick out which shots to get from the menus; they were so incredibly sweet – it was like drinking pure sugar. Chris got hungry and ordered some nachos for the table to share; I was still so full from dinner so I didn’t eat anything.
Finally, around 23:30, it was time for us to head out. Rafa and Joana ordered an Uber to come and pick them up. When the car arrived, I walked them out and gave them each a big hug before saying goodbye. It was, unfortunately, a rushed goodbye since the car was waiting. We’d been traveling together for so long and now it was coming to an end; it was really quite difficult to believe.
Max, Chris, Svenja and I walked back to my hotel together so they could collect their things that they’d left there. The walk back was rather sketchy at times, with some obviously drunk or high people wandering the streets, along with a large number of homeless people. When we reached my hotel, I got on Uber so I could order them each a car to take them to their respective hostels. I ordered Max’s Uber first and we went down to the lobby to wait.
When Max’s Uber car arrived, he turned to me and gave me a long hug. We told each other how much we enjoyed getting to know one another and he insisted that we keep in touch. I was very touched that he was so insistent upon that; it really showed how much our friendship means to him. I stood there with Chris and Svenja as Max got in the car and waved to us. Svenja came up and put her arm around me and I fought back the tears, but I know Max could see them; Svenja even said that he looked equally sad and that he was crying too. I couldn’t tell if he really was, but it comforted me either way.
I didn’t think that saying goodbye to Max would be that difficult. I watched his car drive away, wishing and wanting to run after it and give Max one last hug, to say one last goodbye. I hate to say goodbye to dear friends and for good things to come to an end. Once he was gone, Svenja gave me a big hug to help comfort me, which I needed very much.
Chris, Svenja and I stood around and chatted while we waited for Max’s Uber to drop him off, at which point I could order an Uber to take them to their hostel. While we were chatting, the police pulled a car over right in front of the hotel; they handcuffed the driver, searched the other passengers and the car as well; to our surprise, they let everyone go! We couldn’t figure out what exactly happened.
Chris and Svenja’s Uber car was due to arrive around 00:15 and we began to say our goodbyes. We all knew that we’d be staying in touch and that we’d see each other again soon (hopefully in a matter of months when I’m back in Europe), but the goodbye was still difficult. When their car arrived, the tears started coming on both sides. I gave Svenja and Chris each a big hug, wishing them happy travels in South Africa. I stood on the sidewalk as they got into the car; they turned and waved goodbye several times from the car; Svenja and I blew each other kisses; I began to cry and so did she. It was the last goodbye I would say to my wonderful Nomad Family.
I went back up to my room in tears; so sad to have said goodbye to these amazing, wonderful and dear friends of mine. I sent Chris a message on WhatsApp to make sure they made it back ok; he let me know that they had and that Svenja too had cried on the way back. It was a difficult night for all of us. Our Nomad family was ending.
Monday, 31 October
I was up early so I could pack, shower and have breakfast before heading out to the airport at 09:00. I was still quite upset from the night before, crying several times as I got ready for the day. I sent Max a quick email, letting him know that I was glad to have met him, that I truly value his friendship and that I would miss him. It made me feel slightly better, though I was still struggling as I sat having breakfast.
After eating I spotted Siri and Jasmin sitting at another table; I went over to say hello and goodbye to them. They were so sweet and kind; I was glad that they had joined us on the tour. I could always count on Jasmin to be ready with her camera to take pictures of whatever we happened to be seeing; Siri and Jasmin were always ready and eager to play 5,000 with us as well. I chatted with them for a few minutes and then went up to grab my bags.
On my way back down to the lobby, the elevator appeared to get stuck around the fifth floor: the floor counter stopped and the elevator seemed to not be moving; after 45 seconds or so, the floor number went down one number, indicating that we were moving agonizingly slow. The doors opened on the first floor and I got off so I could use the stairs to get down to the lobby.
My shuttle driver was there waiting for me; he was a very nice guy and we chatted together during the quick drive to the airport. He talked about fishing, swimming and surfing in the water around the area – and the many sharks they had to deal with. One of his friends had caught a shark in their fishing net one day and he showed me the pictures of them freeing the shark (it was HUGE! – that’s what she said).
The airport was not very busy and I was able to breeze through check in, security and passport control. I spent some time walking around the shops and then getting some work done; I had arrived far too early, having planned on dealing with longer lines. I eventually returned to the gift shop and bought myself a rhino crossing shirt and a rhino bracelet (the proceeds from the bracelet go to combatting poaching).
As I was walking over to the boarding gate I saw that Max had written back to me! It was really nice to hear back from him. His email was rather sweet too:
Everything went smooth. Txs for the ride, apprecuated.
It has been also a pleasure travelling with you. I am going to do a survey if anybody else along my travells will have the same amount of red kings in carbo or wikdcards and aces in 5000 as you. I am going to miss the sound of your lough. Goodbyes are also not my strength but the good thing is nothing is defenite and we gonna see each other again.
In Vienna I can show you some good places, also for food. If you need a place to stay in vienna, either for crushing a couch or flat. Let me know I can ask some friends if they know something. And if its a good time we can visit Graz and its beauty amd no its not me
I wish you a couple of relaxing days and luxury in Oman after the campingtour Letme know if you arrived safe in Oman.
I'll think it gonna be a good time here in south africa.
Needless to say I got sad again and struggled to keep myself composed while waiting in line to board the airplane. I truly wished that I could skip the flight and spend a few more days in Cape Town with my friends, but I knew this wasn’t possible.
The flight to Doha was around nine hours and was one of my best international flights ever. I managed to watch several films, including “Hello, My Name is Doris” which I thoroughly enjoyed. I heard about the film when it was released in the artsy movie theaters, but I never got around to seeing it; it was the perfect movie for how I was feeling. I also watched “Funny Girl” and most of “Batman Returns” during the flight, before taking a nap for around an hour.
My layover in Doha lasted just over an hour and I used the time to Skype with my sister – the first time we’d been able to do so since Nairobi! It was nice getting to catch up with her before boarding my next flight to Muscat at 00:45. I tried to sleep on the flight, but I didn’t get much rest. It was a quick flight though.
Upon arrival in Muscat, I had to buy my visa, which was as easy as just paying the 5 OMR and walking through the passport control. I was even able to skip the long line of GCC nationals who were queued up for passport control.
After collecting my bags, I went out to meet my driver to head to the hotel. To my dismay, no one was waiting with a sign that had my name on it! I spent some time walking around, getting money out of the ATM, hoping that my driver would show up. Eventually a local man came up and asked where I was going; I told him the name of the hotel and that they were supposed to send a driver. The man got out his phone and called the hotel for me and helped me get everything sorted out (I ended up taking a taxi to the hotel, which cost the same amount). I was very grateful to the man for his help; so many of the people that I have met in the Middle East are incredibly friendly, outgoing and helpful.
I’ll continue with the first day in Muscat on the next blog post since it is technically a new day (1 November).
Reflections on Africa
The 41 days of my trip through East and Southern Africa were some of the best I have ever spent overseas. I tried not going into the trip with high expectations; I would take each day as I came and enjoy everything as much as I could.
I was hesitant and nervous about camping for such an extended period of time, not having done any real camping until now. This was quickly dispelled after the first night in the tents. They were so simple to put up and take down, and sleeping in them was actually rather fun. There were nights where the temperature would drop and it would be quite cool, but those are the nights that I slept the best. Many nights the tents were the best place to sleep as they offered relief from the heat, such as at Lake Malawi. Also rather fun was having to use my torch to get around at night since most campgrounds didn’t have lights everywhere. It is a silly thing to enjoy (and miss now that it is over), but there was something about walking around in the dark with only the torch to light our way (especially in the game parks, where animals could be anywhere!).
The sights that we saw on the trip blew me away. We started with a bang in the Serengeti, getting to see a plethora of animals (everything but a rhino!); this was followed by the relaxing days on Zanzibar and again at Lake Malawi. Victoria Falls was a lot of fun and a great way to break up the two halves of the tour. The second half didn’t start out as well as the first; Okavango Delta was a major disappointment (aside from meeting my Captain). Our final night with some of the original group was both fun and sad; swimming at the rock quarry in Ghanzi was one of the most relaxing afternoons of the second tour. Etosha was exciting for the simple fact that we FINALLY saw some rhinos, but by that point we were bored with game drives. The Namib desert offered us something different from the game drives and was quite interesting to see, despite the intense heat. Skydiving in Swakopmund is definitely one of the major highlights from Africa; I am still amazed that I was able to actually do it.
I would have to say that the first half of the trip (Nairobi to Vic Falls) was better than the second half (Vic Falls to Cape Town). I think the sights and activities were more fun and we didn’t move around every day, giving us more time to really enjoy where we were staying.
It was the people on the tours that truly made this one of the best trips that I have ever taken. The first group was almost a fluke: every single one of us got along with one another, joking around and having a good time; this doesn’t usually happen with a group of 17 people – there’s usually one or two people who don’t get along. This group truly embraced the idea of the “Nomad Family” and we all bonded quite well. The second group was a bit more disjointed: those who joined us in Vic Falls were amazing, those who joined us in Windhoek never seemed to bond with everyone else. Those of us who bonded together became like a small family on the tour. We’d help each other out, share our snacks and drinks; hang out together at night.
There are a few specific people who I will always cherish and who I feel became quite good friends over the course of the trip: Jane, Linda, Rafa, Joana, Christian, Svenja, and – of course – Max. We all bonded together quite quickly and remained close throughout the tour. Chris and Svenja, despite joining us at Vic Falls, quickly joined with the rest of us and it seemed as though they’d been with us since Nairobi.
Rafa, Joana, Max and me all had the experience of the RhinoMax truck in the Serengeti to help us bond; that was a group that stuck together throughout the tour. Rafa and Joana - mi amors! <3 They are two of the funniest people I’ve ever met; they feed off of one another’s energy and make every day exciting. I really enjoyed their signing throughout the trip and their dancing around the trucks even more; it could always make me laugh. They were also very kind and loving people; we became so close with one another, as though we’d been friends for years.
Jane and Linda joined us in Dar Es Salaam, but they quickly became two of my favorite people on the tour. We soon bonded while playing cards and, together with Max, had regular card games going every night before and after dinner (while enjoying a Fanta Passion – only in Malawi!). We could joke around so easily together. It was very sad having to say goodbye to Linda in Vic Falls; we all wished that she could have stayed with us through to the end. Thankfully Jane was going to be mirroring my tour for the next several days, so we still have some time left together. Jane and I have a very similar sense of humor, very sarcastic; her laugh was infectious. One of the things I’ll remember most about Jane is her random signing of nothing other than “Da da da da da” during silences as we’d be walking along (a trait that I’ve now picked up).
Chris and Svenja have become two of my favorite people that I’ve ever met on a trip. When we first met, Max didn’t hesitate to show them my Germany tattoo and explain that I adore Deutschland. Thankfully this wasn’t off-putting for them and we started to bond while walking around Victoria Falls. The week we spent together at the start of the second tour (when it was just the nine of us on the turck) solidified our friendship, allowing us to get to know one another so well. Svenja is a lot of fun to be around, with a great sense of humor; she could always find a way to make me smile and laugh. Chris is incredibly friendly, easy to talk to and he has a wicked wit.
Together they are an incredibly sweet and loving couple. We’d all shout “Awwwe!” every time they showed some affection. They would affectionately call each other “schatz” (which means “honey” or “darling”); the rest of us eventually picked up on this and started calling each of them “schatz” as well. When we’d called after Chris and say “Schatz!” he’d always respond with a slower, questioning (and sarcastic) “Schatz?”
One of my favorite memories of them was when Chris played “500 Miles” on his iPad while we were driving one morning; I had mentioned how much I dislike the song, which is why he downloaded it the night before. On this day they were sitting in front of Max and me; during the chorus they would take turns turning around, looking at me and singing along (“Da da da!” “Da da da!”). It was hysterical… and now I my opinion of the song has quite changed since I have such a fun memory associated with it now.
And Max. What can I say about Max? Max is the person that I think I shall miss the most. We spent more time together than with anyone else and I felt a real bond with him (and yes, I was smitten with him…). I saw the many faces of Max throughout the trip; he started out as someone who would talk endlessly and tried to push people’s buttons (his debate with Rafa over fate in the Serengeti was epic); he evolved into someone who was outgoing, kind, caring and incredibly sweet; he pulled back and became more introverted for a short spell; he eventually became a mixture of sweet and sarcastic. He was always showing his friendly affection as well, from just putting his arm around me to a pat on the back; little gestures that he’d do to those he cared about (he didn’t do these things to or for everyone).
Camping with Max for so long was a real treat and we developed a good routine for putting up and taking down our tent. Each night before bed we’d chat for a little while, which was always nice. Max was an enthusiastic card player, though I have to admit that he could get too competitive at times; when we won a round or a hand, he liked to point out how you could have done better in order to beat him. He wasn’t trying to be rude or show off that he’d won though; he never gloated. The game “Black Stories” that he brought along… ugh, don’t get me started. No one who played liked that awful game except for him…. I still find the random score sheets from our many games of 5,000; we would use the back of any paper that we could find. During one game, Max decided to deduct 0.1 points for some joke I made - and he held to that scoring system during the game!
Max and I always bought snacks and drinks with the intention to share them; anything either of us bought we could help ourselves to, which was rather nice. We also made sure that neither one of us spent more than the other. One of Max's favorite snacks was peanuts, which became running joke starting in the Serengeti. We also loved to get the gummie snacks as a sweet treat. Simba chips and Hoppity Poppoty popcorn became favorites later in the trip.
What I will remember most about Max is his sense of humor. He and I could joke around with one another all day long, each laughing at the other’s jokes. He has an infectious laugh and a great smile. He would always do little things to help me or others out; little gestures that showed that he cared. He wasn’t this way to everyone on the trip, but rather just to those who he seemed to have a strong attachment to (Jane and me both come to mind).
During the Okavango Delta excursion, Max actually asked Jane and me to correct his English whenever he was speaking incorrectly; she and I looked at each other and laughed; he had no idea what he was asking for. For the next several days I would hear Jane, in her proper British accent, correcting Max’s English (his English is fantastic; Jane and I would get extremely picky, just to tease him). My favorite phrase he would use was “I didn’t knew…” (rather than “I didn’t know…”). I don’t know why I still find that endearing, but I do.
To those who I’ve not had time to write extensively about (Marca, Emma, Maite, Dennis, Synthia, Hana, Tim), I miss and love each and every one of you as well!!
I shall miss each and every one of these wonderful people. We started out as complete strangers and ended up being good friends.
How best can I sum up Africa? I cannot begin to describe just how amazing the experience was; this was a trip that I will remember for the rest of my life. I think something I saw at the Cape Town airport sums up the spirit of these 41 days best. While shopping at the airport, I found a rhino charm for sale; on the card was written the following message:
May the African sun always shine on you.
May the rhythm of its drums beat deeply in your heart.
May the vision of all its glory fill you with joy,
And may the memory of Africa be with you, always