Elephants shrouded by mist. Leopards hiding in the bushes. Beautiful, colorful cities perched on the edge of a continent. Incredible poverty. Incredible wealth. Wine. Penguins. Giraffes.
It was a lot to take in.
These images are in a random order, but here’s a short explanation of our trip for those who are interested in visiting the country too!
My boyfriend Mikael and I flew into Johannesburg and met my good friend and wickedly talented photographer Hilde (you can check out her amazing work here http://wednesdayandoctober.com/). I photographed a wedding with her in the city, we explored Pretoria for a day, and then we hopped into her dad’s car and took off for Kruger National Park. Her dad told us he’s been there maybe 100 times, so it was incredible to get to visit the park with him! He knew all the roads, where to stay, the best wine to drink while we were there (ha!) and perhaps best of all, he is a HUGE birdwatcher. Mikael and I are total bird-nerds so having him as a guide was an absolute treat. I think I might have seen 200 new species in the park alone. It was nerdy heaven.
We spent about 4 days in the national park and it was absolutely surreal. You can’t get out of your car AT ALL except in designated picnic areas and the camps you sleep in, so as a result the area is SO untouched. No trash. Just animals popping out of everywhere. We spotted a black rhino after only being in the park for about 15 minutes. We slept in the quirky little campground cottage huts and had an african wild cat run past our braai one night (kind of like South Africa’s form of BBQ). It was weird stopping at the picnic areas, where you can get out of the car to eat and pee, BUT the areas are still not fenced at all. I remember one had baboons everywhere and my number one goal was not to piss them off. Everytime I was at a picnic area I was terrified a lion would somehow find me and eat me. It was a weird feeling to realize I wasn’t quite on the top of the food chain anymore.
I had expected Africa to be hot and humid and tropical, but Kruger was actually cold, rainy, and foggy the entire time we were there! I was not expecting moody photos of elephants, but lo and behold, that is what I got. I was thrilled.
After Kruger, we drove back to Joburg, then flew with Hilde to Capetown! She lives in Stellenbosch, a little town 45 min outside of Capetown near wine country. We spent the next few days there, drinking with her friends, seeing penguins, driving around the cape, and wine-tasting at some of the most stunning vineyards I’ve ever seen. I’m sorry Napa, but when it comes to stunning natural beauty, South Africa might have you beat. I had no idea you could sit at a vineyard surrounded by incredible rugged mountains on all sides. It was nuts.
We had a great time, but South Africa was also a lot different than I expected. Since I was staying with a friend, I didn’t do that much research beforehand. I should have done more. I wasn’t prepared for how incredibly self-aware you have to be of yourself and your belongings. Hilde was always casually saying things like, “don’t sit in the back seat of an Uber, because if the taxis see you riding in one they will beat you.” Or, “make sure you don’t leave your purse in view in your car, because someone might smash your window at a stoplight and grab it,” or “maybe we shouldn’t take this highway, people were throwing rocks off the overpass yesterday to give people flat tires so they could mug them once they pulled over to fix it.” Her parents house had an actual gate on the INSIDE before the bedrooms that they locked at night in case someone broke in. She told me they had had multiple break-ins over the years, even with high gated walls around the house and lots of razor wire.
The racial tensions in South Africa made America almost look good in comparison. Racism was so deeply institutionalized I could hardly believe it. The separation between white and black, between poverty and wealth, was so SO defined. It made me sad. The color of my skin made me sad. My own privilege and my fear for my safety made me sad.
Overall I had a great time there, but the immense beauty of the country is also tinged with violence, racism, and fear.