Theft, racial tensions and smelly travelers – Why my South Africa trip was reality TV material
My recent guided tour trip to South Africa quickly turned into something a reality TV crew would have drooled over – not at all surprising if you throw 15 random people together for 16 days. We had everything from a 72-year-old with the brain capacity of a little boy, mean gossip girls, and an uber-emotional cheapskate. Every single day was an adventure including theft, racial issues and terrible smells. All of what you will read is 100% true – just the names have been changed. But enough now – let me give you a daily account.
Our tour guide Hans welcomed us at the Johannesburg airport. He was a tall Caucasian in his mid-sixties who was born in Germany and raised in Jo’burg; thus, his German was a mixture of a Cologne accent with the grammar of an English speaker. He invented words like “Stadthalle” for city hall and “Lichthaus” for lighthouse because he would translate directly. That made me like him more because I had the same problem -> #bilungualpeopleproblems. He was also not very capable of suppressing his hormones (making inappropriate comments about my butt) or his anger sometimes.
My mom desperately ran to the bus that would take us around for the next few days to secure the seats right in front, next to Hans. This way we could have a great view through the front window and be able to fire a lot more questions at Hans than everyone else.
The other people who entered the bus were:
Georg – 72 on paper, but six in real life. Many of his lunches and dinners consisted of six or seven cigarettes and a can of coke within the span of half an hour. Once, I asked him to turn his cigarette away from me, but he wouldn’t. His inconsiderateness was probably just one reason why he was the epitome of single. He mostly isolated himself too, though. In the 1960’s, he had crossed the border of East to West Germany but he still remained silent about why and how. He had the longest ears you had ever seen. His index and middle finger of his left hand had brown stains from smoking so much. His teeth had a darkened color as well. The skin from his head shed so much that his shirts were always visibly covered with flakes. For two weeks, he had only brought a carry-on and a small bag, of which half of the weight probably consisted of cigarettes.
Birgit and Otto – a couple in their fifties with grown kids, but still affectionate like two teenagers. They spoke the worst dialect in all of Germany – Saxonian. Because I’ve had a best friend from Saxony for the last seven years, I am a pro at faking the funny way they talk. Since my mom knows her as well of course, I sometimes talk to her using the dialect, especially when we want to laugh. There were several times on this trip where I thought they had heard me talk like them. One time, my mom sat next to Birgit and asked me if I took any pictures, which I answered with “Nu kloar” – one of the most obvious Saxonian things to say. Whoopsie!
Corinna – Her voice was deep and sounded artificial, her hands and feet were big and she had absolutely zero idea of matching clothes. For our last, nice & classy dinner out, she wore a way too tight, washed out, pink shirt with Snoopies that she might have gotten from the pyjama section at H&M. She always asked Georg for a cigarette whenever she was stressed, which happened more often towards the end of our trip.
Clara and Debbie – Two extremely disgruntled, negative, debbie downer girlfriends. Clara was clearly the leader. The 6’1 woman was huge horizontally and vertically, still had acne at 48, and commented on everything: “Look at the grass over there… It’s so green! Oh my god!” and whenever she asked you something, she’d tell you something about herself. You didn’t even have to ask; she just wanted you to know. Debbie was way more quiet, but if she said something, it was negative. Both had been flight attendants, but they did not seem well traveled at all because they were complaining about everything:”Africa is not for me,” Clara once said. One time, Debbie bought a hat that Clara had recommended for her, and Debbie told us other travelers that she wished she hadn’t listened to her. So basically, she didn’t have her own opinion.
The three ladies from the BBQ – That’s the direct translation of what they called themselves. Imagine it like “the three musketeers,” that’s a better one translation perhaps. They were all widows in their 70’s and 80’s, two of them – Ursula and Herta – more physically and mentally fit compared to Margit – the third.
Nora and her mother Erika – Nora was the only girl around my age, and thus we started talking a lot to each other from early on. She was the complete opposite of me (she even called herself a square): stable job and life, boyfriend for three years, about to buy an apartment and planning on having kids soon. She also called herself normal and boring. Erika was the nicest person ever, always happy, funny, and kind. Too kind for her own good.
Miriam and Gerda – there’s not much to say about these two. They were extremely friendly and sweet. The most normal people on this trip.
My mom – with her constant requests for gluten-free food and her love for quality wine.
Except for my mom, Clara, Debbie, and Nora, no other guests spoke English.
Larry – Our Caucasian bus driver, who accompanied us for the first week, had something angry and weird about him that he seemed to try to hide. He told us about his “wonderful wife” and showed us his little girl while being a Trump supporter to the max. He claimed that his only news consisted of Christian news and the only book he would study was the Bible. Daily. For two hours.
Jay – Our black (will play a role later) bus driver for the last day.
Everything started off peacefully and there was nothing worth mentioning except this:
We drove into a traffic jam. A pickup truck packed with 17 people had landed in a ditch – several were killed and some had to be brought to a hospital via helicopter. Because we knew we’d stand there for a while, we all went to stand outside for a while. Corinna took her travel journal and sat into the high grass by the road. “She doesn’t know that South Africa has dangerous snakes,” our bus driver Larry said amusedly. I translated, but it took her a while to move. That night, we ended up at a lodge where the white towels and linen had tiny brown stains, spiderwebs on the wall and regular guests in the form of aunts, crickets, huge black bugs, and lizards. That’s when Debbie and Clara started their complaining spree.
We woke up at 4.45 a.m. to get to Kruger National Park, the most well-known park for safaris in South Africa. Already at breakfast, it was raining cats and dogs. When our drivers told us they’d leave one side of the jeep open so that we could have the best view, I got “lucky” and sat on exactly that side. Fortunately, they provided us with warm rain coats. Despite the pouring rain, we were extremely fortunate, saw many of the endangered wild dogs, hyenas, elephants, buffalos, a leopard, giraffes, zebras, impalas, wildebeests and much more. At the end of the day, we even spotted a lion’s ass 200 meters from us. Us white tourists had to use binoculars, our black guides saw them without the help of anything. Apparently, that’s a scientifically proven genetic advantage, according to my eye doctor.
We drove through Kruger Park again, this time with our bus. Before we even went through the gates, I yelled “There’s a lion!” in English in a bus full of Germans because – again – #bilungualpeopleproblems. The second fascinating wildlife moment we witnessed was a herd of elephants climbing a steep hill helping each other.
When we stopped for a break, Hans told my mom and I that Clara and Debbie had alleged Georg of not only smelling like an ashtray, but also like someone who hadn’t showered in days. What added to his malodor was the fact that he had been wearing the same clothes for the whole trip! Hans had to have a talk with him and revealed to us that Georg had just packed two shirts and two pants for 14 days without the intention to wash his clothes at some point. Hans had given him his roll-on deodorant; however, Georg complained to him that he didn’t find a button for it to spray; so Hans bought him a spray deodorant.
At night, we arrived at a hotel with a pool that had an incredible view and I asked Nora to take pictures of me while Clara and Debbie were standing around with snooty faces. “I gotta do this for the blog,” I declared – I don’t even why I felt the need to explain myself to them. “Eeeh. I gotta take pictures too, but it’s for my What’sApp group,” Clara said with an attitude, not really to me, but more to herself and for her audience consisting of Debbie.
At night, Hans and my mom had gotten together for a bottle of wine (this had become their daily routine). When they wanted to be social and sit with Corinna and Erika, Corinna muttered angrily that she wanted to be alone with Erika. Poor Erika, back then she didn’t know that Corinna was trying to hit on her and that she would come to be extremely annoyed with her. This was also the first time Hans and my mom thought she was weird.
In the morning, Hans reminded us to have our passports in our bags because we would cross the border to Swaziland, a tiny monarchy within South Africa, which also borders Mozambique. I had forgotten to take mine out of my suitcase and promptly got an “And this happens to the girl who travels the most” from our bus driver. Clara and Debbie said the same thing, but I heard that only because Nora told me later (she had to sit behind them). We spent all day on the bus, crossing into Swaziland. As we got out for a group picture, Georg refused to join and stayed inside the bus.
At night, I found myself talking to Larry, who always became annoyed when tour guests asked him why he wouldn’t stay and eat with them. “For 15 years, people have been asking me this question and I’m so tired of it. I just want some privacy and time to talk to my family, too, after spending all day with guests…” He had showed most of us pictures of his wife and his approximately seven-year-old daughter. Because he had spent three years in the US working as a bus driver as well, we started talking about our time there and he asked me if I’d go back. “Well, I’ve been debating because of the current President,” I said. “But why?,” Larry asked. “He’s going to do great things for this country!” I asked: “So, as a father who loves his child and his wife, what do you think about his attitude towards women?” He wasn’t sure what I meant and only referred to the locker room talk to which he claimed he didn’t know the exact words that were said. When I didn’t censor myself repeating them, he got a little more quiet, but still defended him. Soon after, I found out from Hans that most Caucasian South Africans with a Dutch heritage, who ironically call themselves “Afrikaners,” support Trump.
This day was another long one on the bus until we reached our hotel in the early afternoon. Around 3.30 p.m., we went for another safari, this time at Hluhluwe Imfolozi National Park. Georg sat in the front seat of the open jeep and had not put on any sunscreen even though it was extremely hot. Our wildlife sightings included a buffalo peeing for three minutes, a huge elephant penis, a rhino baby, and a beetle rolling a massive ball of shit while his lady sat on the ball and was rolled as well.
For more on why you should go on an African safari at least once and what you will see there, check out this post.
For dinner, mom and I sat on the right end of the table, next to the three ladies from the BBQ. Clara and Debbie saw us and sat on the very other end of the table, leaving at least four seats in between us. Corinna decided to sit next to them. The debbie downers had a bottle of wine and cheersed with each other, but not with her, which made Corinna get up and sit elsewhere.
On another note, Hans saw that Georg got a larger room than him and unknowingly to Georg exchanged their keys. Georg also searched for his room for about 30 minutes even though everything was clearly marked.
In the morning, we went to a wild cat sanctuary, where we were able see and pet a cheetah, a caracal and other big cats.
Later on, we entered the KwaZulu-Natal province, home of the Zulus. A guide took us to a school where the kids sang for us. Then, he wanted us Germans to sing. Oh boy – what an embarrassment. We couldn’t even correctly recite our national anthem and on top of that, Germans (excluding me, lol) have zero rhythm and lack emotion. Those poor kids! As the others left the classroom already, I stayed behind with Otto to shake the kids’ hands and once we started, all of them came up to us and wanted to bump fists, touch elbows, and shake hands. It was so adorable!
We moved on to a Zulu homestead where we met a grandmother, her daughter, and her baby. The mom and the guide let me hold her and then she was passed around to a few of us. When she was on Corinna’s arms, she wasn’t too happy at all (I wish I could post this picture that Nora had captured here), but as soon as I came, she laughed again (no joke :p). Nora told me that she found it weird that the baby was being passed around but since I also discussed this with one of my African friends, I explained to her that this was nothing unusual in African culture. My friends’ words: “I actually love this about most African countries – how you can just pick up a kid and take pictures with them and laugh with them without it being weird. The parents don’t mind and the kids have the innocence that is sadly lost in places out of Africa.” I agreed 100%.
In the afternoon, we arrived at “Shakaland”, a hotel with an adjacent village where the TV series with the same name had been shot. We also received a demonstration of how the Zulus lived two centuries ago from a guide that was extremely cute and running around with not enough clothes. As we entered, another Zulu talked to me in his language and I asked our guide what he was saying. In front of everyone, he translated: “Uh well, he said you’re gorgeous. What else can I say…” I felt flattered, embarrassed, and awkward at the same time. When I was the last one taking a picture of the chief in the village, the guide made fun of me and said – again, in front of everyone: “Careful there, he’s looking for his fourth wife.” Well, wouldn’t that be an honor! “I have never seen so many Zulus look one of our guests up and down like they did you,” Hans said. LOL. After the tour of the Zulu village, where I also tried Zulu beer, I stayed for a while and talked to our guide. He told me he was saving up to study marketing. I don’t know if I didn’t understand it correctly, or if he was just messing with me, but he said that the people performing all lived in the village and huts by the hotel, which were nowadays equipped with electricity and running water.
As I walked back to my hotel room, I passed a tree whose thorns got stuck in my cheek and left me with four bleeding holes in my face. I had to laugh so hard and was glad that nobody saw me.
Before dinner, the Zulus gave us a music and dance demonstration and called my mom and I on stage to try the dance. They picked the two women with dresses to imitate moves where you had to put your leg up to your head. Well done, guys! First though, I had to participate in the Zulu handshake which symbolizes peace. A few seconds later, the guy put out his hand again, and I wanted to shake it again, but he was just gesturing. The guide and everyone else laughed their butts off. Oops!
On our way to Durban, we stopped once. Georg got out of the bus and just started walking without looking left or right. A police car almost ran him over. When he came back in, my mom asked him: “Georg, why didn’t you look to either side; you could have gotten hit?” Georg: “What do you mean? The cars have to stop for me.” Well. Ok, then.
We left our driver Larry and the bus in Durban, and flew to Port Elizabeth. Corinna stood around Erika, Nora, and I when we got to the hotel to make sure she would be able to join whatever we were going to do. She also tagged along to dinner and told us that she had become lonely and antisocial after her mother died five years ago.
In the morning, we drove to Tsitsikamma National Park and walked over some hanging bridges. Clara was complaining that she had seen so many hanging bridges that she didn’t need to come all the way. Truth was, she was probably just too lazy and unathletic, though.
Once we were on the bus, it started to rain a lot. Our schedule said that we were supposed to see a big tree. Hans asked everyone if they wanted to see the tree. The only person to raise her hand was Corinna. A few minutes later, she came up to Hans while we were driving and told him that she just saw a sign for the tree. The now obviously annoyed Hans ordered the driver to turn around in the middle of the freeway. Corinna got off, but instead of going towards the tree, she just went to the bathroom and came back to the bus. Then, she requested Hans to write her a note she could send to the tour operator to request some money back. From that moment on, Hans nicknamed her FB – fucking bitch. Because he knew she didn’t understand English, he wrote the note in English. And guess who she asked to translate the damn thing. Me. She even wanted to know if he had put something about her personally in this note.
We visited the beautiful Cango Caves and an ostrich farm, where they served us ostrich sausage and steak.
At night, my mom and Hans wanted to share another wine bottle, but let two bottles go back after trying them because they didn’t like the taste – as you normally would as a wine connoisseur. Clara and Debbie didn’t think this was ok and talked bad behind my mom’s back and – again – Nora let me know later.
We drove to Stellenbosch, a college town which reminded me of Santa Barbara. There, Nora and I stayed together to check out their village museum, but Georg and Corinna followed us everywhere. They tried to be sneaky about it, but it was obvious that they didn’t want to lose us.
When we went to a coffe place, someone invited Georg to sit with us and that’s when he refused to move his cigarette to prevent it from blowing into my face. Corinna also came to the table, but even though we could have scooted over, nobody offered her a seat. Instead of sitting at another table with other people, she kept standing at ours, smoking a cigarette nervously and drinking a beer. I needed a margarita at not even 4 p.m.
We went to the Cape of Good Hope and were supposed to see the penguins at Boulder’s Beach and go to a wine tasting afterwards; however, for some reason, Clara and Debbie talked about how Hans would only do the wine tasting to impress and satisfy my mom and that we wouldn’t go see the penguins. Where they got that idea from? Nobody knows.
At Boulder’s Beach, my mom told me to come close to two penguins and that they wouldn’t bite. Now, guess what happened? They bit me, of course. And I got a big ol’ needle from a tree stuck in my foot. What a day.
But none of this mattered anymore when we went up to Table Mountain and soaked in the amazing views. We were lucky because the clouds were only surrounding it, but not blocking our view.
At night, I wanted to go to a restaurant by myself at first, but since I knew Nora would have to hang with Corinna if I didn’t ask her to come with me, we went to dinner together.
When we went downstairs to pay, the owner rang us up and asked Nora: “Do you work at a hospital?” She answered: “No. Why would you think that? Do I look like a nurse?” “You look like a doctor. You should have been a doctor.” She explained that she doesn’t like blood and works in finance. He couldn’t guess what I did, so I told him I’m a travel writer/blogger. “Oh that’s an amazing job! I was a pilot for seven years. But you know, you’ll get tired of traveling.” Says he who switches between Cape Town and Greece every six months. After some more fun conversation, the following three pieces of advice stuck with me: 1. “Always only look for the beauty in every country. Don’t look at the negative.” 2. “Follow you heart.” 3. “Don’t listen to your parents.” He told me he’d take me around when I’m back in Cape Town and said he’d remember me. “You know, I remember my first customer. He came here 30 years ago and he still eats here. And you see her?” he pointed at his employee. “Still remember how she walked in here on her first day!” I just love these random encounters you experience when you travel!
We took the bus to the Malay Quarter of Cape Town, a colorful array of houses where slaves used to live, but which now belong to Muslims. All of a sudden, I hear someone running and screaming “BITCH!” It was Nora. I saw her stop in her tracks and another guy holding a young man at his shirt. He punched the young one, so he fell on the ground, took off his shirt and ran away. All this happened within five seconds. Nora came back and cursed. “It’s ok, baby girl,” her mother Erika tried to calm her down. “What happened?,” someone asked. “He grabbed my ring and ripped it off my necklace,” Erika explained. “It’s not just a ring, it’s the ring of our deceased father,” Nora added. “Man, I almost would have gotten that son of a b*tch. But when the other guy came I was afraid they belonged with each other and would pull out a knife.” Everyone else around us tried to help, call the police, etc. Hans was appalled because this had never happened in the 15 years of him being a tour guide.
Th worst thing of this was that Nora confided in me that now she saw every darker skinned person as a threat and never wanted to come back to Cape Town again. “I know this is stupid of me. I know people of every race steal… But I can’t help it…” Fortunately, this feeling subsided with time, but at first, this was a shock to me. I asked her if she hung out with people from various ethnic cultural backgrounds, but she didn’t. Exactly what I had thought. Anyway, I could write ages about this, but I’ll put this into a separate blog post!
As we walked through a park in Cape Town, we passed a fountain with geese when suddenly, a brutal fight between two ganders about a goose broke out. They bit each other until blood ran out of their wounds.
For lunch, we drove to the botanical gardens of Kirstenbosch, got lost for a few minutes but then arrived at a nice restaurant. After our food, all of us received one bill where the waiter had already added 10% gratuity. Corinna could not see why she should pay that (in a country where the waiters literally survive off their tips) and started arguing with us. Her best argument was that she can decide what she wants to tip because that’s how it is in Germany. Well, guess what, lady – you shouldn’t have traveled then… She ended up requesting 10 Rand (a mere 70 cents) back from the waiter without giving him ANY tip. This was the final straw for a lot people really disliking her.
After this episode, we went wine tasting. Corinna drank all of her glasses and all of Erika’s, too. At some point, she asked my mom if Hans was mentally ill. My mom’s answer: “How about you ask him that yourself?”
Because our black bus driver had not listened to our guide for which way to take and gotten us into a small traffic jam before we had reached the wine tasting, Hans let us know that he had had a talk with him. For whatever reason, the driver took us on a much longer detour back to our hotel and got us into even more traffic. Hans furiously spoke to someone on the phone (in English, so the driver knew what he was saying): “He’s being a dick. He’s doing this on purpose. They do that.” And all this time I couldn’t help myself but to think that yes, what the driver had done was wrong – but at the same time, I realized Hans seemed to be treating black people differently than white people. Hans had also mentioned that the black drivers never sat with the group (unlike Larry had done it) because they don’t feel comfortable. All of this made me become painfully aware of that Apartheid had not long been gone. The race tensions in South Africa are still very obvious, unfortunately.
For our very last dinner together, our whole group went to a restaurant. Corinna knew that Nora and I wanted to go out afterwards and kept persistently asking where. We never specified, but also told her that we wanted to be alone.
Fortunately, Corinna got the hint and Nora and I took a cab to Long Beach where we joined a place with mainly students to party on this Wednesday night. I love how ethnically mixed the crowd was!
After breakfast, the whole group went to the Waterfront mall. We were supposed to return to the bus at 12.30 p.m. to catch our plane at 3.20 p.m. Everyone except for one person showed up: Margit. She had told her friends she would just use the restroom and be right back, but she wasn’t. Five of us walked through the mall to find her, but we weren’t successful. Thirty minutes later, a security guy brought her to our bus and we were able to leave to the airport.
Hans said goodbye to everyone. He received his tips from people (€4-5/day would have been appropriate). Along with the crumpled note about missing the tree, Corinna handed Hans €10.
As we got off the first airplane, I exited through the back and heard some say “Cabin crew, please have everyone use exit two. There has been an incident at exit 1.” There had been an incident indeed because I saw five of our crew standing there. As I walked over, I saw Margrit sitting on the steps because she had fallen. Her shoe was full of blood. It looked like she was seriously injured. Thankfully, the airport crew took care of her and bandaged her wounds.
Inside the plane, I had asked for her to be moved to an area with free seats. A flight attendant sat her next to a middle aged man who sat on the end of a row with four seats – three seats next to him empty. This person had the nerve to complain that now he couldn’t have all the seats for himself anymore instead of helping the poor 80-year-old lady out!
On the plane, Corinna said two seats ahead of Nora and Erika. The bathroom was right in front of Corinna. I sat about 10 rows further in the back with another bathroom behind me. The first time Nora went to the bathroom, Corinna got up and sat next to Erika. The second time Nora went to the bathroom in the back because she did not want Corinna sitting next to Erika again. “Jenny, remind me to remove the tags from my mom’s suitcase once we’re out of the plane. I am afraid Corinna will stalk us!” WAH, what a terrible image, but I wouldn’t be surprised!
When we got off the plane, Nora told me what we all had wondered: Corinna had been a man 11 years ago but underwent a complete transition 11 years ago. Now, she considered herself a lesbian.
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