South Africa Adventures Continued... and Continued and Continued

By Crabby McSlacker

Yep, still more travel pictures and tales even after the Cape Town photos and the Safari animal picture dump--and there will probably be yet one more post after this one! So I appreciate your forbearance as I prattle on about this trip a bit longer.  Cranky Fitness readers, like ultra-marathoners, are famous for their patience and endurance.

But on the plus side, we've got Thrills and Adventure and The Virtues of Challenging Yourself, which is arguably health related, right?  And there is even an X-rated series of wild photos! Parental discretion is advised.

So anyway, I know everyone's idea of a Perfect Vacation is different.  My ideal would be a little bit of everything: excitement and adventure; a chance to learn about new places and people; some time to appreciate natural beauty; a chance to be pampered and indulged; and even some opportunities to make reasonably healthy active choices, but in a totally different refreshing environment. Oh, and bonus if someone else is paying for the whole thing and it's completely ridiculously high-end.

We got lucky, because this trip was all of that stuff.

Oops but wait...of course we all know there's no such thing as a "Perfect" Vacation.

At least not until scientists invent teleportation systems that beam us instantly to our destinations without long lines or delays or screaming babies.  (We had some moments of stress making one of our connections and got pressured to leave an enormous tip/bribe to get ushered past the normal lines and make our flight. But whatever, we made it).

And well, there's airline cuisine.

 Ah, so that's where the airlines shop for food!

And we had trouble with charging all our various devices and getting internet... until we figured out that, duh, that was a blessing, not a problem.

But everything else about the trip was over-the-top awesome.

Happy Camper

So I may split the remaining photos up into a couple of posts. This will, I hope, break up the tedium of too many vacation shots, and also allow me to tackle the 47 loads of filthy laundry, hundreds of emails, and empty cupboards and even take some coaching calls.

Today let's go with (1) Exciting Adventures/Challenging Yourself and (2) Learning about Different People/Places.

Comfortable Comfort-Zone Expansion for a Neurotic Nutball

I am not naturally the adventurous sort, and in fact have always had a bunch of miscellaneous fears--about heights, various forms of transportation, etc.  I have said "no" most of my adult life to all sorts of activities others enjoy, and have quite contentedly missed out on things because they've creeped me out. And I will continue to do so!  No need to go crazy or anything.

However, in order to embark on the "adventure" aspects of this particular trip, I knew I needed to try to be a little less conservative and cowardly. Not taking big leaps out of my comfort zone, but moving a little closer to the edges. I wanted to make choices more like a normal person and less like an eccentric stressbucket.

As it happened, Table Mountain in Cape Town was a "must do" according to everyone we talked to. So I decided to stop being a doof and face one of my fears and get on a tram--a form of transportation I generally avoid even though it's something most people don't even think twice about.

But, well, Cape Town is famous for being very windy, and the car thingy is suspended on a cable way high up in the air, and once you get on there is no getting back off again until you get to the top no matter how instantly and whole-heartedly you might regret your decision.

So lets just say I was petrified a little nervous about it.

But guess what?  It was easy-peasey and the ride was smooth and not terrifying at all!  Go figure.

It enabled us to enjoy beautiful views and a lovely hike.

(It was pretty damn magical, so more hike pictures later I'm thinking... lucky readers!)

Another part of our trip involved an excursion on zodiac speed boats out to see some seals.  This was one of those deals where the seals were secondary to the high speed bouncy "let's see how gratuitously scary we can make the ride to give the tourists their money's worth" sort of things.

But again... I was nervous about it and yet it turned out to be totally worth it. And not for the seals, which we see plenty of in California, but for the ride itself, which was fun!

We bounced over big waves and went a bazillion miles an hour and even did doughnuts round and round like drunken teens in a small town on Saturday night. After my initial trepidation, I realized I was not actually going to be hurled into the waves and drowned, and I even enjoyed the acceleration and the shooting up and plunging down and bouncing around and I had a grand ol' time.

Plus we saw some seals. Very, very, very smelly seals.

Another nearly life-long fear?  Flying!  I have been getting better, but small aircraft scare the pants off me and I haven't been on one for probably 20 years.  But that was the only way to get to the safari part of the trip, and I'm not a complete idiot.  Backing out was not an option.

And I made it just fine!   Even though our first extremely bumpy descent had me pondering the familiar turbulence questions "why am I the only one who understands we are now plummeting to our deaths and only have minutes to live?"

Even Better: Adventure that is Thrilling without Even Being Scary.

I absolutely LOVED the game drives. We went on six of them; twice a day from 6-9am and 4-7pm.

Not pictured: the other two nice couples.
Let's pretend it was our private jeep.

It was bliss. Even if there hadn't been so many animal sightings, I would have stilI loved it because riding in the jeep was so damn fun!

The weather was mostly great, the vehicle was open air, and the ride was extremely bouncy--not in a jarring uncomfortable way, but in wild and goofy kinda way. We got tossed all around and had to duck to dodge thorny bushes. It felt like we were riding a live thing, one with a very spontaneous and unpredictable personality.

The driver and tracker knew their stuff, and noticed the most obscure broken branches, paw prints, scat, etc and had eagle eyes for any sort of movement in the bushes.

Gratuitous Eagle Picture

Plus there was radio communication with other jeeps, and they'd share info. And, because we weren't in the park we could go off road to follow the animals.  These guys didn't believe in going around gullies, bushes etc, and I never knew jeeps could just barrel the f--ck over pretty much anything in the way.

Why go around when you can go right through?

Weirdly enough, the animals didn't seem to give a crap if a jeep was hanging with them.

We apparently didn't look like prey or predators and they pretty much ignored us...

And went about their business.

Without being the least self-conscious.

(Close your eyes, kiddies).

It was weirdly not scary at all to be a couple yards away from lions and leopards in an open jeep, because they totally ignored us. (Apparently this is NOT the case if you are outside of the jeep).

We watched them hunt, and I was worried we would see a kill--most people want to see that, but we didn't.

We could see the impalas grazing, and the lions and leopards stalking and chasing them...  but yay!  We got the drama of the chase but each time it ended like one of those Mutual of Omaha Wild Kingdom scenes (if you're old enough to remember): the predator frustrated with a near miss; the prey free to roam and graze another day.

As night fell,

the animals got harder to spot but our guides always managed to find something lurking out there to share with us.

Wait, did I say the game rides weren't at all scary?

OK, so I lied. There was one time when we got charged by a pissed off elephant, and had to go in reverse, very fast, as the fellow galloped towards us with hostile intentions, until we finally got far enough to scoot off onto another road.  But once we were safe again, we laughed in that giddy "Holy Crap that was INTENSE!" way, which was totally worth being a little terrified since we didn't actually get gored or trampled or anything.

People and Cultural Stuff

We got to enjoy some great singing and dancing as part of the trip and that was pretty cool!

But overall, it can feel a little strange and uncomfortable going to South Africa and having an extravagant vacation, when so many of the folks who live there struggle to meet basic needs for food and shelter.

The legacy of apartheid, and the general shitty living conditions people are fleeing from in other parts of Africa mean there are a lot of people living in poverty. We didn't take pictures of the bleakest places, but right near the airport, among many other locations, is a heartbreaking expanse of shacks lacking running water or plumbing. Some of these townships are being improved, but people are moving in faster than housing can be built.

Early on we went to the District Six Museum, which profiled a once-vibrant multicultural neighborhood near the center of town that was designated a "whites only" area in the 1960's. Any nonwhites living there were relocated to crappy land far from town.  It was sobering and disturbing and a good reminder of how lucky and privileged we are and how much of what we were enjoying was built on the cheap labor of an unfairly subjugated population. (And I know as Americans, we have our own disgraceful history around racial injustice.)

Likewise, the game reserve we were playing in once had people living there, who were relocated a couple generations ago to a nearby villages.  So as part of a "spoiled rich people can a least freakin' make some token effort to give back" excursion, our group went to the local school to donate shoes, and meet the kids and teachers and some of the parents.

It felt a little obnoxious to photograph the event, but on the other hand, everyone else was and it seemed to be expected. We wanted to remember the kids and the community struggling so hard to bring them some basics for a better life.  Yet they only have space and supplies for a fraction of the kids in town and need more funds; our visit led us to write a large (for us) check that we wished were a whole lot larger. I think most others in our group did the same, which is probably why they so cheerfully put up with wide-eyed tourists bearing shoes and snapping photos.

We'd all piled onto the buses to take us to the airport when we got called back--the mothers had gotten together to thank us all with a song. Then they broke into some impromptu dancing which was all kinds of awesome.

A wonderful way to end our trip and start the long slog home.

So, what's your idea of perfect vacation? 

(And I do swear eventually this will be a health and fitness blog again!)

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