These last couple of weeks have been a mixture of job hunting, settling, exploring, language school searching and travel planning. Normally around this time of year I’m looking ahead to summer travels, but with the uncertainty surrounding my work and how I’m going to juggle everything, my attentions have turned to where we will spend our next Christmas.
The option of Australia was always unlikely as my boyfriend is also unsure of where he’ll be job-wise around then and with flights going up in price we decided to leave the big Aus trip for when we are both settled in our work and know how much time we can take. He still wants somewhere hot though, leaving Europe and Russia out of the question, and after fleshing out the possibilities South Africa brought so many positives we had to get on the planning straight away.
As an Australian living in Germany, for me the prospect of calling one place home has become rather complicated of late. And though I don’t have any relatives or connections to South Africa apart from my best friend coming from there, for some reason the country feels like a place I can certainly relate to in many ways and despite going there three times in the last seven years I want to visit more.
South Africa is a lot like Australia in certain aspects, with it’s vast landscape offering so many things to see and do. I was there for six weeks during the World Cup, and only got part of my list of things I wanted to do finished. I have been to Cape Town twice and still haven’t gotten around to climbing Table Mountain.
South Africa obviously can bring up some uncertainty when travellers are considering their next getaway, with safety a huge concern for someone who isn’t aware of local customs or cultures. I wouldn’t claim to be even close to understanding how life really is in South Africa; on my second trip there I was nearly robbed at a cash machine and had my car stolen, for reasons of which I only have myself to blame. I let my guard down at particularly important moments because for me, having grown up in Australia, safety has never been a great concern. If someone tells me a cash machine isn’t working I believe them, if someone says a carpark is safe they have no reason to lie. Such thinking can potentially be life threatening in South Africa, and because of this, even though I’ve been so many times already I’m taking advice from locals all the more seriously as I plan to return for the third time.
Having said that though, I’ve noticed how differently locals look at their own country and the great things to see and do compared with visitors in general. I was recently talking to an English friend in Aus who said the Whitsundays are at the top of her list of things to do. To me, those islands are overpriced and overrated – all-inclusive resorts aren’t the real Australia, seeing beaches that are undiscovered will give you a much better idea of the beauty of the country than these manicured surroundings ever will.
In the case of South Africa, when my friend got married there we all travelled over for the festivities, and went to a small private safari park before the big day. It was so amazing, we saw all of the ‘big 5′ and then some, washed and walked with elephants and went a quad bike ride around the park that left us covered in dirt and me feeling like I was having one of those perfect travel days that remind you why you spend all the money and make all the effort.
But for my friend, this park is only ‘ok’ and certainly not the kind of place she would consider having a wedding. To her it’s cheesy and has nothing on Kruger National Park, a place which costs 5 times the price to visit and shows you exactly the same animals from what I understand.
But that’s the thing about us being tourists in our own country; we don’t want to follow the path most other tourists do, we feel like we know it better because we’ve seen the highs and the lows of the place over years of existing there. This whole experience of preparing for South Africa has taught me to be a little more careful about dismissing some of the more cheesy – in my mind anyway – touristy things to do in Australia. And in turn, when my South African friends tell me to give a lion park on the way to Cape Town a miss, I will kindly explain that I do in fact want that ridiculous photo playing with a tiger cub ;)