South Africa

First Thoughts on South Africa and Shifting Priorities

Since I was a little girl, reading National Geographic and watching movies like ‘Out of Africa’, I’ve wanted to go on safari. Sometimes I’ve wondered if it’s just something everyone wants to do. Everyone who has any curiosity about the world, that is. Or, love of animals. (Is that everyone? If not, it should be!)

I was invited to #GoToSouthAfrica as a guest of South Africa Tourism and Spier Wine Farm. However, all opinions, and meandering thoughts, are solely my own. I hope you’ll stay tuned for more of them, I promise less tangents next time.

So there wasn’t a moment I didn’t pinch myself and think…. “I can’t believe that’s a ________ in front of me and I’m really doing this.” when I finally found myself on safari this past month in South Africa. Especially when we saw a Giraffe within seconds of entering the game reserve right from the airport, or when we saw a female Cheetah when I’d been told we’d never see one, and when we saw the Elephants. Twice.

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Some of the most happy moments that have taken place in my life occurred while on that safari.

With two exceptions.The first being that seeing the animals we did, in the small numbers we did, while hearing the stories we did — also made me profoundly sad. I realized with shocking clarity, the effect that mankind has had on our planet’s animals. Be it poaching, pollution, the creation of these game reserves and the rapid evolution of our urban systems that have endangered animal habitats….. everywhere I looked, along with these majestic animals I also saw effects that I could no longer ignore but which I was always able to avoid thinking about when I was only watching a Cheetah on television. Or seeing a picture of an Elephant on Instagram.

I don’t yet know what I’ll do with this new knowledge but it’s there now. I can’t ignore it. I’ve always cared about the environment and tried to do my part, big or small, but now I know things with a kind of different certainty than I did before. And I can’t unlearn the information I now possess.

Before I share the second exception, I want to clarify that I was very impressed with Thornybush Game Reserve where we went on safari. Our ranger, Justin, and our tracker, Orlando — have a respect for, and a knowledge of, the animals that runs deep. They go about their jobs leaving the least possible trace of their existence behind them in a way that greatly impressed me. And they have a deep deep love for the animals they help people see. If there is a best possible practice, I think Thornybush is practicing it. Or very much trying to.

Despite it being such a positive experience on some levels, I also realized it was a little hollow since it was an experience I didn’t get to share with the person I love most. Because I was working, and with other bloggers, I didn’t get to turn to him and say, “There she is. A cheetah! Our favorite animal.”

I began to travel full time in my twenties, freshly divorced and newly single, hoping to follow a passion to know the world wherever it took me. I didn’t contemplate being alone while I was experiencing new things because right then I couldn’t think of anything I wanted more than travel, except some time alone. The solo travel has taken me to some wonderful wonderful places. I’m so grateful for it all. But along the way I’ve also learned that I’m not a person who appreciates things in the same way, alone, as I do when I’m with people I care about. Not just a significant other, but any of the people I care about most. And that’s not all. In Morocco, I longed to have my best friend with me because I knew that she, more than anyone else I love, would appreciate the exotic air that permeated every moment. In Italy, I longed to have my mother with me at the Uffizi because it was she who taught me the names of every artist behind the great works I was seeing with my own eyes. In South Africa, I wanted to have Danté with me because I knew he’d want to hug the Cheetah we saw as much as I wanted to. Travel has brought many blessings to my life but the more blessings it brings, the more I want to share them. The more hallow they feel when it’s me alone who benefits. And the more I learn as I travel, the more I realize how little my fellow Americans know about the world outside the border of their 50 states. We hide behind our comfy freedom and we allow ourselves to ignore the cost of that “freedom.” We neglect to learn as much history as those from other countries do and then we’re shocked when history repeats itself. When our lust for collecting things and experiences affects the environment and the other inhabitants of our planet.

And by ‘we’, I also mean…me.

So what happens now? I don’t know yet. But I’m learning that I’m not the same person I was when I started this blog and that might mean some things need to change. It wouldn’t be the first time.