My spring break experience involved two separate and very different journeys. The first several days I spent with IES Abroad on an optional trip to Kruger National Park, with brief stopovers in Johannesburg. The park is on the other side of the country from Cape Town, and from the moment we stepped off the plane at Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport, we felt the difference: hot sunshine, which was a change from the temperate days and cooler nights of autumn in the Western Cape. From there, we climbed aboard safari Jeeps and started the sightseeing straight away!
Seeing wild animals in their natural habitat for the first time was absolutely incredible. One seemingly obvious (but still unexpected) element of the safaris that I loved was seeing different species of animals interact: impala and zebras grazing together, hippos and crocodiles floating in the same waters. On a nighttime game drive, we were even lucky enough to spot two leopards fighting a hyena over an impala carcass. Watching silently by floodlight as the leopards stalked the hyena, and hearing the impala’s bones snap under the starry sky- I know I will carry this memory with me long after I leave South Africa.
After Kruger, students were given the option to either return to Cape Town right away or say goodbye and go our own ways. Several friends and I flew to Victoria Falls International Airport, and from there enjoyed a few whirlwind days exploring Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia (just barely, to be fair- we were technically in Namibian waters), and Zambia. Highlights included seeing Victoria Falls, camping in the bush of Chobe National Park in Botswana, and walking over the Zimbabwean-Zambian border side-by-side with baboons.
Protect your luggage. If your bag doesn’t have a lock on it, consider using zip ties or the plastic wrap services at the airport.
Buying bottled water is definitely a go when you don’t know the tap water quality everywhere you’re going, but it can be hard to remember to have enough on you at all times. As a big fan of reusable water bottles (#TeamNalgene), buying and disposing of so much plastic was a change for me.
Be wary of scams and people out to make a profit at your expense. This isn’t to caution you into being fearful, but you need to be aware of your surroundings and be your own best advocate. This can even apply to seemingly harmless operations like food vendors, tour guides or companies, etcetera.
I also continued my quest of curing my picky eating habits, trying eland (antelope), warthog, and even mopane worm, which is an edible caterpillar of a type of moth species. My review on eland and warthog is that they’re pretty good! The worm… hmm. What to say? Crunchy, and surprisingly large. However adventurous your eating habits may be, if some food item is not to your liking, remember to be polite and gracious to whoever is offering or preparing it for you.
I don’t want to paint an image of an immaculately planned and seamless vacation. At this age (and with a student budget), travel is usually not glamorous, and this past break definitely showed that. A few choice examples:
The few clothes I packed were worn several times over, and by the week was done they were saturated with bug spray and sunscreen.
Purchasing the wrong entry visa for Zimbabwe and Zambia. Because of a technicality we weren’t aware of, we ended up having to pay again for the same exact visa one day later, taking up $50 and two pages in our passport books.
Side effects of the anti-malarial medication we were taking daily. For around three or four days, I was in a moderate amount of pain from anti-malarial medication. Definitely read up on the side effects of any medication you might be taking for travel, and know that any (or none) of them might hit you. Some students were entirely unaffected by the medication, while a minority experienced discomfort like me. I learned that it was best for me to take this medication at night, as taking it in the morning when I still had a full day ahead of me made me dizzy. Fortunately, it passed, and I was still able to enjoy and participate in everything we had planned.
The point in sharing these imperfect experiences is to try, as in all things, to be as authentic as possible. Overall, my spring break travels left me feeling mildly sunburnt, very tired, and immensely grateful to my friends and family for their continued support. While internet connectivity ranged from sparse to nonexistent, the few times I got through to my loved ones were reassuring, and their excitement for me buffered my own resolve at times. I could go on about the ups and downs of this experience forever, but for now, I have homework that’s waiting and dinner to cook. Til next time!
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<p class="MsoBodyText" style="margin-top:2.35pt; margin-right:10.3pt; margin-bottom:.0001pt; margin-left:5.0pt">Hi all! My name is Gwen, and I’m a junior majoring in Political Science and Anthropology with a concentration in Global Health at the University of Vermont. I love taking photos, being outside, and pretty much every dog I’ve ever met. I’ve never been to the Southern Hemisphere before and am looking forward to studying abroad in Cape Town and escaping New England mid-winter. This semester abroad, I look forward to traveling as much as possible and (hopefully) learning to cook for myself. Wish me luck!</p>