It is always our own self that we find at the end of the journey. The sooner we face that self, the better. -- Ella Maillart
Next up was a safari on the Eastern Cape of South Africa. There were no direct flights from Namibia, so I had to spend one night in Cape Town before flying to the Eastern Cape of South Africa.
I was looking forward to what lie ahead – especially windows. The idea of sleeping in a structure that had actual walls and a roof excited me in ways I’d never imagined. Plus, it was the beginning of my vacation, and I was ready to relax.
I’d arrived in Cape Town in the late morning and was lucky to have been granted an early check-in to my hotel. The hotel was ostentatious, which wasn’t my normal jam.
But I was ready for some creature comforts, like a robe and slippers.
And a shower – in a real bathroom.
Omigod, I think it was the best shower I have ever had. I could have easily spent hours in there, but South Africa was just coming out of a severe drought. The emergency had lifted, but water conservation was still in full effect. Taking a 20-minute shower – as glorious as it was –felt a little irresponsible. But nothing beats the feeling of clean.
It was a treat to have a mirror again. Did I mention there wasn’t one in my tent? It was weird at first. Like, how could I not have a mirror? But I got used to it after a while. I even ended up enjoying the freedom that came with not caring about how I looked. I surveyed my face in the magnified bathroom vanity. Aside from a burgeoning uni-brow and a few rogue chin hairs (which I took care of ASAP), I looked pretty good – relaxed, tanned. Although my skin was as dry as a mouthful of dust.
I spent the day exploring Cape Town in search of moisturizer and making mental notes of places I wanted to see as I’d be coming back after safari. I covered a lot of territory in several hours, including an artsy street fair. I met a lovely woman who makes and sells her own skincare products. Her ebony skin was so vibrant and healthy, it seemed like it would come alive at any moment.
“Try this. It will get your skin back on track,” she told me. “And don’t be alarmed by the name. It works wonders.”
And it did. Even if it was beard oil.
The next day I flew to Port Elizabeth and after a 90-minute car ride, I arrived at Pumba Game Reserve. Talk about zero to sixty. I was greeted with a hot towel and a bottle of water. My bag was whisked away by a lithe man who moved like a cat. The manager walked me through the various amenities: spa, night safaris, open bar, etc. The luxury was a bit disorienting to be honest, but I wasn’t complaining.
My room was gigantic, equipped with a small wood-burning stove, king-sized bed and an equally large hot tub. Not only were there windows, I had my very own deck with a plunge pool that overlooked a beautiful riverbank. There was also an outdoor shower, but let’s face it, I’d had enough of outside bathing for a while.
There would two “game drives” per day. The first would be at 630am (sigh) and the second at 430pm. I was excited to see more animals as I thumbed through the Species Book that outlined all the different things I might see while at the reserve.
After meeting my safari mates along with our guide, Sten, we climbed into a large, open-air jeep and set off on the first drive.
“Im-PAH-LAHs,” Sten announced as we passed a small pack grazing less than 50 feet ahead. “McDonald’s for the lions.”
Impalas, he explained were pretty much everywhere and added no value to the hierarchy. Add what looked like an “m” to their butts, and you’ve got all you need for that weird fast-food reference.
We saw lots of animals on that first day. It was nice to sit back and observe. And Sten was super knowledgeable, which brought it all to life.
I’ll let the photos below speak for themselves.
As I walked back to my room after dinner, I remembered the manager talking through safety tips with me earlier that day.
“If you don’t feel comfortable walking to your bungalow at night, just come to the front desk. Someone will take you.”
I’d stifled a laugh.
You have NO idea, I thought. Try walking back to Bush Camp with Helen. Yeah, I think I’m good.
The lighted, wooden pathways felt downright decadent.
I’d spent the last two plus weeks fending for myself, pushing past so much of my own bullshit, and there I was in the lap of luxury with people at the ready for whatever I needed.
Sure it felt good to be served and eat off real dishes. Enjoying a fire in my wood-burning stove while I sat around reading didn’t suck either. But I missed Namibia. I especially missed Helen. We’d spent so much time together that it felt odd to be without her – like a missing body part or something.
And don’t judge me for saying this. Safari was a bit of a snoozer. After everything I’d done at Na’ankuse, sitting in a jeep and watching animals felt like going from a balloon handler at the Macy’s Thanksgiving parade to plain old spectator on the street.
It also went deeper than that. The more time I had to myself, the more I realized how sacred the experience had been. It was hard to imagine, let alone process. There were no words that came to mind – just a sense of some profound shift.
I suppose the thing about change is you feel it first – the understanding comes much later.