Here are some things I learned about South Africa as well as my opinion, on different things while on the trip-I'm also including advice if you ever plan to travel there:
- South African money is called Rand.
- It's hard to find vegan food in South Africa. I ate a lot of hummus!
- There aren't parking meters there, so there are men that tell you they will watch your car when you park. It's forced on you, actually...so even if you don't want it- you'll get them standing there. And they expect to get paid when you return. Have a few coins on you to tip when you get back to keep them happy, and think of them like a meter.
- KEEP YOUR BELONGINGS ON YOUR PERSON ALL THE TIME and CHECK THAT YOU HAVE THINGS IN YOUR PURSE OFTEN. I left my phone in a nice restaurant called Addis in Cape Town. 20 minutes later when I realized it was no longer with me- I went back and of course, nobody knew anything about it. mmmhmmmm....I learned my lesson.
- Baboons crossing the road is normal. Just as we have deer crossing signs here, there are baboon crossing signs there.
- It's surprisingly difficult to understand people with an accent in Africa. I said "what" a lot. It's very similar to a British accent, as South Africa is highly Dutch influenced, but my brain just didn't comprehend.
- You drive on the opposite side of the road from the states.
- Monkeyland and Birds of Eden are the two most amazing things you will experience in SA. Don't think only the monkeys are cool- this bird's paradise is one of the most beautiful things I've ever seen. There are hundreds of exotic birds flying around you- some will sit on your shoulder...
- If you are craving fresh food (and want a vegan option) eat at The Peppermill Cafe next to Monkeyland and Birds of Eden. It is SO good. I ate there twice during my trip because it was so hard to find fresh food while traveling. The chef is from London and designed the restaurant and menu himself. He's delightfully personable and if you like his food- you should let him know. :)
- People hitch hike like nobody's business. You don't have a car? hitch hike- it must be safe...or they are desperate. I felt bad for not stopping so many times, especially when I saw a momma with a baby on her hip, but it's ingrained in my head to NEVER PICK UP HITCH HIKERS so I just couldn't.
- Bring or get a map or GPS. We had no map, no GPS, and no internet because our phones had no service. It got really interesting when it was past midnight and we couldn't find our hotel. We had to stop and ask locals who just happened to be out. Mainly taxi drivers who knew the city. This was beyond frustrating, because it's not like we didn't try to get a map. The gas stations didn't have maps!
- Be prepared to tip anyone and everyone who helps you, even without you asking for their help. That's just how it is.
- If you don't have time for a legit safari like us, visit a game reserve and do a 3-4 hour tour. BUT- don't drink a lot of water beforehand and don't expect a bathroom break. I, of course, was the only one who had to go halfway through (even though I went RIGHT before leaving). I held my pee in WAY past my threshold. Our last stop was the lion enclosure, and I was about to BURST...it hurt so bad- I was preparing tears in my eyes. I had no problem with popping a squat at this point, but there were freaking LIONS outside the jeep and I couldn't! When can you ever say, "Oh, I can't pee at all right now, not even pop a squat because there's a lion outside my car??" So after leaving the lion enclosure, which was fenced up- I asked the driver to stop and let me out. I had to get out in front of strangers, and pee in the bush. A literal grassy bush, and the African "bush". There were bontebok staring at me to my left and wildebeest to my right. It was MORTIFYING but also super funny!
- Ask questions while on safari- the guides have to go through a lot of training to even BE a guide and know a lot of information. I learned SO much just by asking questions.
- Go feed some Elephants! I went to Knysna Elephant park and fell in love with these beautiful creatures. You won't regret it.
- If you're in Cape Town, eat at Addis. Best ethiopian food I've ever had- although I still am mad at the place since my phone was stolen there..
- Bring snacks to eat in the car.
- Expect hardcore jet lag if you're coming from the states. Especially from Cali- it's a 9 hour time difference.
I really enjoyed my trip to South Africa. But I HATED the travel time to and from. If you're traveling from Cali, expect around 36 hours to and 36 hours back. That's just CRAZY.