I arrived in Cairo in the early morning of July 9, exhausted from an overnight flight from South Africa. The days activities consisted only of wandering through the city, exploring the streets of Cairo while taking in the sites and sounds of a culture so different from my own. This was followed by a full day of site seeing, from the Citadel of Egypt to the old famous Mosques to the Coptic Christian area to the Jewish Synagogue. It was a great start to a trip in a country with so much history that it’s hard to truly fathom. Even more so, I found myself in awe of how unexpectedly safe I felt here. People had tried to fill my mind with all of the awful things that could happen here but yet I was experiencing the exact opposite. The men (mostly) were friendly and gentlemanly, the women all smiling back at me as I passed them in the streets. While I recognize I’ve been in a metropolitan capital city, I was expecting to see more women in a hiqab, but instead most were wearing beautiful, elaborate hijabs, not only showing their full faces but also revealing a piece their personality with the designs and colours. Beyond this, there were so many women not wearing head scarves at all. All this to say, the evening of July 10 I found myself chatting with friends at home telling them how Egypt seemed far more progressive than I had anticipated and how safe I felt here, definitely more so than in Rio or Johannesburg.
At about 6:30am on Saturday, July 11, I was awoken with a ferocious jolt. I literally sat up in bed the second I woke up, immediately recognizing something was wrong. I can’t be certain if it was the sound or the building shaking that woke me, because both seemed to go hand in hand as if it were the same effect. The explosion was so loud I immediately knew this was something far worse than a car backfiring or the fireworks of Rio De Janeiro. (Side Note: In Rio, when fireworks inexplicably go off mid-day, it means the drugs have arrived at that location, for anyone who was waiting for them.) No, this was something so loud and had such force to awake me in such a panic that I immediately said to Preeya “Something bad definitely just happened”, as dust and debris rained down on us due to the force with which the building was shook. But yet as minutes passed and nothing else happened, no hostel staff coming to the door, I went back to sleep writing it off as a normal occurrence I just wasn’t aware of yet.
When I woke up again at 8:30am and checked my email, I saw a breaking news alert from CNN which read “A car bomb exploded outside the Italian Consulate in downtown Cairo early Saturday morning, significantly damaging part of the building, police said.” I yelled to Preeya to wake up and told her what happened and we both just sat there in shock for a few minutes. I went and knocked on the door next to ours, and told my friend Andrea, who had arrived in the middle of the night from England, the news. All three of us kind of just stood there, absorbing the reality of what had happened. But then for some reason, just as the rest of the city seemed to do, we went about our day as if it hadn’t happened. We went to see the pyramids, the Sphinx, ride some camels, all of the things tourists do in Cairo, as if it were just another day.
On the way back to our hostel, we saw the aftermath of the bombing since it was so close to where we were, just over a kilometre away. It’s one of those things that I’d see on the news at home but yet it’s a one day story before the media are on to the next story. In person however, seeing it first hand, there’s so many additional implications the city has to deal with. The explosion ruptured water mains underground causing the surrounded roads to flood. Cars in the vicinity of the explosion had all of their windows blown out, in some cases even bumpers had simply just fallen off. The building itself had one side blown out, with the interior floors falling into one another. Seeing the site definitely made the reality of the situation feel that much more real, for lack of a better word, but yet we still went about our business as if it hadn’t happened. There was nothing we could do to help, we would just be in the way at best, or be part of it if there was another blast at worst. So we did what we could; we continued being tourists, doing our part to try to help an economy still so fragile and trying to rebuild themselves post-revolution.
As the messages rolled in from my family, close friends, and even friends who I haven’t spoken with in some time but saw the news and messaged me, I realized the degree to which everyone at home was genuinely concerned. It’s hard to explain to someone not here, but the best comparison I can make is when the Eaton Centre shooting happened in Toronto. Everyone from there knows it’s a safe place and the shooting was a complete anomaly, and this feels very much the same. The city itself was safe, the people were fantastic, and never once did I feel the need to look over my shoulder. Like any post-revolutionary place, Egpyt, for such an ancient country, is going through the growing pains of a country being reborn. It definitely has challenges in front it, from the aging and dilapidated infrastructure to what seems to be the peoples’ complete disregard for their community, with the garbage piling up all over the streets because people just throw their garbage on the ground. The country has so much potential to be great again, and I genuinely hope it does. If someone were to ask me ‘is it safe, should I go to Egypt?’ my answer would undoubtedly be yes. While I of course would not say the same for places like the Congo or still West Africa right now, you can never wait for a place to be 100% safe or you would never leave the house!
For a town that was described to me as ‘the Sao Paulo of South Africa’, I am now leaving Johannesburg slightly in love with it. Perhaps it was the incredible couchsurfing hosts I had, the comforts of home I found here, the amount of world history I absorbed in such a short period of time, or even just the more laid back site seeing approach I’ve taken on lately. Whatever it was, I can say I would most definitely come back to see more of Joburg.
First things first, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, what really made this city so incredible for me was my host. I connected with Shannon months ago on Couchsurfing and stayed in touch leading up to the trip on Facebook. I already knew I liked her, as her travel bug definitely rivals, if not surpasses, my own. As someone who is fascinated by people who are experts in areas I know nothing about, I was intrigued by all her work stories, as she is a doctor at a local hospital in Joburg. The night we went out with her friends, I completely felt like I was in an episode of Grey’s Anatomy or ER, listening to their banter about medical school, residence, and the day to day life of doctors. It was absolutely brilliant. Between her travel obsession, her life as a doctor, how she was learning Spanish like it was no big deal… so jealous. It’s pretty cool seeing the things you want to be in someone else. That’s the kind of motivation I need to keep learning and pushing myself to continuously grow.
My first day in Joburg I spent by straight up embracing my tourist status. I bought a ticket for the City Site Seeing bus (those red hop on/hop off buses) and did a bunch of things – Gandhi Square (for someone as prominent as Gandhi, he really deserves a better square), the Transport Museum (probably cool if you’re into old vehicles – I’m not), a walking tour of the Mining District (pretty cool actually) and went to the Top of Africa – the highest building that gives you a 360 degree aerial view of Johannesburg. I intentionally skipped the Apartheid Museum and Constitution Hill from the hop on/hop off, because I had a feeling they deserved a full day each. How right I turned out to be on this.
I’ll be the first to admit I must have skipped my high school history classes where we learned about South Africa and the apartheid. While I understood the big picture, actually being here was completely different; the emotions of it all really took over me more than I can count. The Apartheid Museum alone was an experience I will never forget. This one museum visit taught me more than a semester of history class ever could. I found myself constantly choking up, being over taken by both the empathy I felt for those who had to live through and endure apartheid law as well as a newfound sense of guilt for the privileges I have always had. It’s definitely a new set of emotions one needs to wrap their mind around to even begin to comprehend how apartheid really only began to end just over 20 years ago. Having followed the Apartheid Museum visit up with a day at Constitution Hill, touring the jail in which so many men who committed no crimes spent significant chunks of their life, suffice to say one would have to be heartless to feel no emotion. While the revelation that this happened not long ago is astounding, the reality slap in the face of how these kind of awful things are still happening around the world can envelope you with such an overwhelming sense of being utterly powerless.
I feel so sorry for anyone who travels all the way to South Africa and connects through to Cape Town without experiencing Joburg. With so much heavy history to take in, there is also the on-the-rise trendy areas to offset your time, to bring you back to the present of how far the country has come and to give you a glimpse of the incredible future yet to come. From the Sunday morning market and exploring Maboneng to drinking a coffee in the heart of Braamfontein (we all know how much I love my outdoor coffee in the AM) to sipping a beer on the patio at World of Beer, there are really some beautiful neighbourhoods in Joburg that should not be missed.
The best thing I did in my approach to touring Joburg was to completely disregard all the negative things I had heart about it. I of course followed all standard safety rules when in a new place, don’t walk outside at night, don’t walk anywhere alone, don’t walk with your cell phone out, be aware of your surroundings, etc. Doing this, I was able to successfully avoid the dangers of being in any big city and spend my time exploring and relaxing.
My final two days in Joburg were spent with a new host, where I had an amazing night celebrating the birthday of my hosts cousin. The degree to which people are so welcoming to tourists, in this case welcoming me into their family, with cousins, parents, aunts and uncles, never ceases to amaze. Then my last day I really went out with a bang. Stephen, my host, took me to the Lion & Rhino Nature Reserve where I was able to do so many epic things in one place! I saw Rhinos, completely the Big 5 for me, as I had only seen the other four up until this point. I not only saw a cheetah (which I had been trying to spot for weeks, as the cheetah is my nieces’ favourite animal) but I got to play with one, so much so that it even climbed up my leg! I got to feed a giraffe, able to take a giraffe selfie with the big guy cuddling up on my shoulder as I did snapped my camera. And I got to take on a male white lion – I won, but only because I had a fence to help me out.
All in all, I spent twelve days in Johannesburg and was never bored. With all the history, nature and culture I was able to take in, there is still more I have yet to see when I come back. I do not say this often, as I rarely return to a place I have already been, but South Africa will definitely be seeing more of me at some point in the future.
I don’t even have the words to describe Cape Town. It was never on the trip itinerary, but yet there was no way to justify not going when I was so close. The flight was booked two days before I flew out, and I am confident in saying that is one of the best decisions I have made to date on this trip. With Preeya’s birthday approaching, we both thought what better place would there be to celebrate than Cape Town. Add in to this that my University friend Fatty (she would burn me if I used her real name, which she inexplicably hates) has been living in Cape Town (she would also burn me if I was this close and didn’t visit) so the decision was made!
I stayed at the Long Street Hostel, which it turns out is the biggest hostel in the city. I’ll be following this post up with a full review on the hostel, but the short version is I’d recommend it. We arrived on a Friday afternoon and spent the weekend doing nothing but hanging out. Indulging in great food, drinking with people from all around the world, and really just being lazy. It sounds so simple but as you approach the 3-month mark of a trip, you really need these down days to centre and rejuvenate yourself again. Traveling is certainly a luxury, but it is also very demanding of you both physically and emotionally, so it is important to balance the constant go-go-go days with zen days.
As soon as Monday came along though, I went full force taking in all Cape Town has to offer. I’ll give you the short version with a little picture book below, as no words I can type will do justice to just how beautiful all the things I did were.
Day 1-3: Down Days, birthday celebrations
Day 4: Slave Lodge, National Gallery, Company’s Garden, High Tea at Mount Nelson Hotel
Day 5: Business Day (dealing with coordinating house renovations at my rental property)
Day 6: Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens
Day 7: Cape Point, Cape of Good Hope, Boulders Penguins
Day 8: Table Mountain
Day 9: Cape Town Walking Tours
Day 10: Robben Island
With all that I did, I left feeling there was so much more I had yet to do here. When I come back, which I need to do soon, I want to see Desmond Tutu preach, which he does on Friday mornings. I want to do a Stellenbosch wine tour. I want to shark dive. I want to hangglide. There’s just SO much that Cape Town has to offer, it was impossible to do it all. Given I was bored in Paris, France after 4 days, it says a lot that after ten days in Cape Town, I left wanting to see more. True to my entire experience of South Africa, I left feeling inspired and motivated, which is what travel is all about.
Tanzania has turned out to be both the most chaotic and most relaxing part of this RTW adventure to date! I won’t go too much into the details of my safari, as you can read about that HERE on my Bucket List, but wow, what an adventure the past two weeks have been!
Transit (or lack thereof)
First off, for lack of a better term, Tanzania is a shit show in terms of transit; like nothing I have ever seen before. From our arrival in Dar Es Salaam, to the trip to our couchsurfing hosts house, and to the “bus terminal” (I use that term lightly) in Dar… all pure chaos. Thankfully our Safari company, Hekima Safaris, had everything prearranged for us, from picking us up at the airport, sorting our accommodations for the first evening, accompanying us to the Dar bus terminal as well as on the bus to Arusha. In every country I have ever been to (20+ countries and counting), I have been able to find my way from the airport to where I am staying with little to no issues whatsoever. Had I been alone in Dar though, I am 100% confident in saying I would have had no idea what to do. For anyone planning a trip to Tanzania, I strongly recommend you negotiate in airport pickup and any transfer you may need. Even if you find your way out and make your way to the bus terminal, all hell breaks loose there. There’s about 1,000 buses, with no apparent order or logic as to where they’re sitting or even HOW they’re sitting. They’re facing north, facing south, facing east, facing west, facing anyway they want, completely gridlocking themselves in because no one can move until one random bus that’s not schedule to depart for another hour decides it feels like getting out of the way. No parking spots, no painting lines, just a dirt surface on which buses show up. Suffice to say – you need a local to navigate you through the crazy!
Again, to read more about our safari, which took us through the Serengeti, Ngorongoro Crater, the town of Karatu and to a Maasai village, click here.
While we hadn’t planned anything in advance, we knew we wanted to check out Zanzibar while in Tanzania. On our last night in Arusha after our safari, our hosts roommate, Greg from Greg Adventures, helped us plan an impromptu trip to the island of Zanzibar. After a quick one hour flight, we landed in Zanzibar with a relaxing few days ahead of us. We spent our first and last evening at the Jambo Guest House, a lovely hotel which worked out cheaper for us than each individually paying for a hostel room. Muhammed, owner of Jambo Guest house, planned our excursions: Prison Island – known now for its turtles, and an incredible spice tour. The spice tour is definitely a must-do for anyone making their way to Zanzibar, it was far greater than I had expected. He also arranged our transportation to and from the north of the island, where we spent three days relaxing at the Amaan Bungalows, which were reminiscent of a resort in Cuba or the Dominican. With a stunning ocean view room, I did nothing but relax, read, and calm my mind (ie. drink wine), regrouping as I have now been on the road for three months. It was exactly the mini vacation within a vacation that I needed. I would recommend both of these places to anyone traveling, as they were very budget friendly while offering incredible service as the same time.
The contrast between the hectic go-go-go of our safari to the relaxing island of Zanzibar made for a perfect two week venture through Tanzania. While only in the country for a short period of time, we were able to meet incredible people, see nature at its finest, watch animals live in their natural habitat, and learn so much about cultures so different from our own. It was definitely two weeks unlike anywhere else I have been.
After seven weeks of backpacking through South America, it is hard to believe I am now switching continents, leaving behind the people, language and culture I have just become accustomed to. I have no idea what Africa will bring, and while it does seem quite promising, I must admit I am a bit sad to be leaving South America behind.
Aside from all the beautiful and incredible things I have seen, from the beaches to the countryside to Cristo Redentor to the quaint streets of Colonia Del Sacramento to Iguazu Falls, what really makes this journey amazing is all the people I have had the pleasure of coming across.
To say I have met some incredible people would be an understatement. From those who have opened their home to me, to those who have taken me out to show me the town, to the strangers who have made sure a (quite obvious) tourist to their home town is safe and knows their way. We had strangers on the bus who realized we couldn’t speak Portuguese tell us where to get off, we had a lovely woman walk us to another bus stop when she realized we were waiting for a bus that wasn’t coming, and we even had a bus driver who stopped his bus, abandoning everyone on it for about five minutes in the streets of Rio De Janeiro while he literally ran us to where we needed to be. And most amazingly is that none of these people spoke English. All communication was from hand gestures and hand written street names. While being around people who speak the same language is definitely a comfort from home, one’s ability to communicate with people who don’t speak the same language at all is incredible. While we most definitely did come across one or two shady figures along the way, the generosity of strangers has affirmed for me that the positive of the majority definitely always outweighs the negative of the few.
Coming back to Sao Paulo for our final few days in South America, coming back to Amanda’s house was like coming home to a familiar place, somewhere we knew and were immediately comfortable. In Rio, Gabrielle opened her home to us on a days notice, completely making her place our own. In Niteroi, Vinicius brought us breakfast in bed, took us mountain climbing and to take in the most gorgeous views in the evening. In Nova Iguacu, Anderson cooked some amazing meals and played us acoustic music. In Buenos Aires, Gerardo welcomed us when our flight arrived at 2:30am, giving us the most comfortable place to sleep and recuperate from being sick. Also in Buenos Aires, Fernando, a friend from Sao Paulo, arranged for us to stay in his mother’s home. And when back in Sao Paulo, Fernando made us the most delicious meal for our final night on the town. The people from South America really welcomed both Preeya and I, showing us their amazing culture. I only hope that I left all of them with even a sliver of the positivity they instilled in me.