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I haven't been everywhere yet,

but it's on my list!

  • Writer's pictureDeborah Latham

Arrival and first day in South Africa

Traveling alone to South Africa with a tour group!

I'd been on road trips in the US alone, but traveling internationally, I've always had someone with me. Needless to say, I was quite nervous about going completely alone to meet up with a group of people I'd never met to see a country I've never been too.

More than once, I got such cold feet, I almost canceled my trip. Oh, I am so glad that I didn't! My flight to Johannesburg flew out of Newark, NJ. I decided to fly into Newark a day early and get a hotel with shuttle back and forth to the airport just in case there were any delays. It would be nerve wracking to miss that flight and first day of the tour!

I got lucky on the flight and had a middle seat beside me open so I was able to stretch out a little on the long flight. 16 hrs is a very long time to be in a plane, especially when you've had blood clots before and have to wear tight compression hose and get up every 2 hrs to stretch and walk. Even if you've not had blood clots you should do this to help prevent them!

flying to South Africa
Finally on the plane! So excited!

Upon arrival in South Africa, I gathered my belongings, bypassing the baggage claim area and heading straight into the area where all the tour guides are awaiting their next group of travelers. It was pure chaos all around me. Scanning the signs, I finally located the SmarTours guide. He was surprised to see that I only had a carryon and backpack! I was directed to stand by the Nelson Mandela statue to await the rest of our group that was busy gathering their bags at baggage claim. I was exhausted by this point and very anxious to get the compression hose off!

Johannesburg South Africa Airport
Exhausted and happy to be off the plane!

Finally, everyone was ready and we followed our guide to our tour bus. Our plane landed late evening, so the kitchen of the hotel was closed already, but they had made arrangements for a limited menu for us. I was so tired, I just wanted to go straight to my room and shower and go to sleep. I opted to skip dinner and do just that! Introductions to my fellow travelers would have to wait til the next day! Our guide gave us our breakfast time and departure time for the next morning, and I headed up to my room. Let me just say, a shower, pajamas, and a queen bed and a bunch of pillows all to myself was like heaven. I activated my Airalo eSim card and turned off my US eSim card so that I wouldn't incur any unexpected charges on my cell phone bill, and called my husband, Doug, to let him know I had arrived safely and all was well. Our guide told us we would receive a wake up call, but I still set my alarm! Thankfully, I did, because my call didn't come until I was set to come down for breakfast.

Breakfast at the hotels was buffet style, but there were so many choices that there was no way anyone could leave hungry. There was a great selections of bacon, sausages, cold cuts, cheeses, fresh fruits and salads, yogurt, oatmeal, eggs (I am allergic so skipped all those dishes), and breads and pastries. I headed into the breakfast room, prepared to sit alone and eat quietly as I had traveled alone. I was not expecting to be immediately asked to join other travelers at their tables. I may have been alone, but everyone was so friendly and welcoming. I don't think I ate a single meal alone the whole trip! There were 24 of us, only 3 traveling solo. We met as strangers on the first day, but left as friends on the last!

We only had one morning in Johannesburg, and were flying out to Cape Town in the afternoon, so we were on a tight schedule. Bags back in the bus, we headed to the home of Nelson Mandela first. We learned about Nelson and his ex-wife Winnie, and their struggles during the time he was in prison. Upon leaving the home, we were treated to some singing and dancing by local street performers.

After our visit to Nelson Mandela's home, we had a tour of the Apartheid Museum. This day was very emotional for all of us, including our tour guide. I was moved by his tears as he tried to explain to us what living through this time period was like. I was not familiar with the complicated political history of South Africa, and as I learned of the atrocities of the Apartheid era, my heart broke for the suffering of the people there. I shed many tears the first day of this tour as we toured the museum. We were not allowed to take photos inside of the museum, so to see it, you'll just have to go visit yourself!

We didn't get to spend as much time at the museum as our guide would've liked, due to our flight time out of Johannesburg to Cape Town. He escorted us into the airport, helping facilitate our check ins before leaving our group. We would get a different guide when we arrived in Cape Town.

Upon arrival in Cape Town, we met our next guide, Jeremy, who would be our guide for the remainder of the trip. We were bused to our hotel, The President Hotel, to check in for the next couple of days. The view from my room was incredible, and the room was very spacious and lovely! We met up for a welcome dinner and the sunset from the bus ride there was incredible!

Overall, the first day of South Africa was even better than I expected, and I hadn't even seen any wildlife yet!

More South Africa adventure coming soon!

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