Living the Lion King Day 1

It has been almost 6 months since I went on safari in Kruger National Park in South Africa. 6 months since I discovered what travelling is supposed to be – an adventure that leaves you breathless, inspired, and complete. Going on safari was one of those experiences. After hearing a lion roar deep into the night, seeing a baby hippo yawn and cuddle with its mother, and a giraffe running alongside zebras and warthogs I feel renewed. We all get so caught up in work, life’s little dramas, and money, sitting and watching baby ostriches peck around for food reminds you that there is more to life than the everyday grind. There is a world of adventure out there. You just need to get out and see it. Don’t wait until it is too late, don’t wait to retire. Go. Live.

 


The first day of my safari was marked with intense anticipation. I couldn’t wait to get out there and spot some animals. After a long drive from Johannesburg to the lodge, we finally arrived. I threw my bags down in my plush room. I practically ran to the open safari vehicle, eager to see what sunset had in store for us. I sat in the front row behind the guide. I was joined by a family from Australia and Britain. As we left in our giant vehicle I thought I was going to cry I was so excited. Within a few minutes we came upon a small pond at first I didn’t see anything, and then a head emerged from the water. My first hippo sighting! The hippo peeked his head out of the water and then let out a giant yawn.

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We moved on and our guide Wes told us about the different birds we saw flying by. He pointed out things I never would have even noticed, I really appreciated that. It made the experience all the more enriching. Sitting at the front of the car was our tracker – a highly trained local with eagle eyes and a penchant for animal poop and tracks. He said something in Afrikaans to our guide and he deftly drove us over to a tree, hiding behind the tree was a giraffe, extremely close and skeptical of our intentions. We drove a few feet further and out of nowhere another giraffe emerged from the thick trees. Then another one. And another one.

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Giraffes like to go solo, so seeing a large group of them isn’t common. In the end it was about 12 giraffes travelling together. In the waning light, we watched as sun set over this beautiful group of animals. From the trees, we noticed a smaller giraffe lumber out with his mom and dad. We watched as a group of wry warthogs taunted the baby giraffe, scaring him so much that he leaped into the air. Our guide remarked that he had never seen a giraffe jump. Soon afterward a herd of zebras also came out of the trees accompanied by even more giraffes. A little spook from the warthogs and the giraffes and zebras went running together. All of this happened surrounding our car. I’ll never go to a zoo again.

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As the light faded we went in search of the nocturnal creatures. As we stopped to watch some funny impala, the guide and I heard a faint noise in the distance. The roar of a lion. We travelled along for a short time before the tracker pointed out something in the dirt below us. The guide and the tracker started chatting quickly in Afrikaans and pointing to the ground. We followed the prints in the dirt for sometime. Finally the guide told us they were lion tracks, fresh ones. It was dark now and we were guided by the spotlight on the car. As we turned a corner, the tracker scanned the spotlight over the horizon and right there was our lion. A lovely lioness lounging on a rock. I couldn’t get a good picture of her because of the bad lighting, but she was beautiful. At one point she stood as if to pounce on something but then decided against it and laid back down.

We watched her for about 10 minutes before moving on. We rounded another corner and were greeted by a black rhino trying to cool off. The rhino had rolled in some nasty mud earlier in the day and let it dry against his thick skin. He found a low stump of a tree and we watched as he scratched the mud off. Off his back, sides, butt, and ummm giant rhino oysters.

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We slowly moved on and heard big footsteps. As we turn to our right, we found the source of the early evening’s noise. A male lion. The male lion was on a private reserve, fenced off from main Kruger. The male was giant and the ladies in Kruger knew it. The lady lions could tell based on his roar that he had some mighty fine genes that they wanted to get their paws on. Every night the male lion would pace the fence hoping the ladies would somehow sneak in. It was incredibly sweet and sad at the same time. The male lion laid down for us, he looked so defeated and sad. Our guide wanted to perk up the lion, so he reved the engine – mimicking a roar. The male lion finally got upset enough that he stood up, stared at us, and bellowed out a earthshattering roar. Being that close to a male lion’s roar is phenomenal. You can feel it in your entire body. It reverberates through your bones. Soon after our friendly scratching rhino made a second appearance and we watched as the male lion got up and walked along the fence side by side with the rhino.

Two fierce animals, going about their business deep into the night in South Africa.

South Africa Trip–Durban

My notes from my trip to South Africa were left in one of my boxes during my move. I finally found my tiny little notebook chronically my South Africa extravaganza, so let’s finish this trip shall we?

After Port Elizabeth, I travelled to Durban. It was an extremely long bus ride, made longer by roadwork. 17 hours in a bus. Early on in the trip everyone was chatty. Since I was a single woman travelling alone, I was a point of interest for conversation. Once I told them I was a Volunteer living in the village in Ghana, I won points with the entire bus. It was pretty great. Everyone listened while I told stories from Ghana. I imagined setting up a campfire in the middle of the aisle. I finally made it to Durban and settled into my hostel. Unfortunately, I didn’t feel like partying, otherwise that hostel would have been ideal.

I was put in a room with a group of German girls studying at the University in Port Elizabeth. There was one girl who was beautiful, she was German but black. Her father was Namibian and her mother German. We all chatted for a while and I found out that her friends were going to the beach for the day, but she wanted to go shopping. I was planning on shopping the next day, so we decided to go together. The next morning we headed into Durban proper to find this big Indian market. Durban has the biggest population of Indians outside of India. Gandhi got his start here in Durban. We walked around the market for a few hours taking in the mix of Indian curry spices, South African crafts, and perfumes. The area around Durban is Zulu land. The Zulu are known for their beautiful hand carved wooden spoons and bead work.

After the market, we walked around the area for a short bit. Diminga (the German girl) needed to get her hair braided, but only smallsmall. So we went to this crazy back alley creepy hair salon. Here in Ghana everything is open, wide, and in a shack. This salon was tiny and in a back alley. So naturally I was suspicious, but it turns out it was normal. It reminded me of Ghana, the women chatting while doing their hair. Afterwards, we found a shop selling saris. It was so incredibly beautiful. If I had been alone, I would have totally asked to try on a couple. The fabrics were breathtaking. It made me want to book a ticket to India.

We got a little lost but luckily a friendly Indian woman stopped us and told us exactly how to get where we needed to go. We headed to the beach area to shop along the stalls. I bought three beaded bracelets for less than 10 bucks. They are stunning. They are one of my favorite purchases from my trip. I love wearing them.

After a walk along the shops, we headed over to the beach for some ice cream. Honestly, this would have been a great date, ha! It was a school holiday that day so the beach was filled with people from every background you could imagine.

We then headed over to the World Cup Soccer Stadium to meet up with her friends. We took this mini elevator up to the top of the stadium (which is shaped like a basket). You could see all of Durban up there on that platform. It was beautiful. I wish I could have seen a soccer game there. When we came down we ate at Subway, which was fantastic and so American.

I went to dinner by myself afterwards, I wasn’t going to leave Durban without stuffing my face full of Indian food. I had mutton, chicken, this amazing curry rice, a delicious yoghurt sauce, and lots of spice! It was delicious, but the best part was realizing the Indian restaurant in Accra is just as good.

The next day I left for Johannesburg with the bus again. Only I forgot to tell the bus that I changed hostels, so I almost missed the bus which would have been AWFUL. But I didn’t and that’s the great part. It was the first time I actually stressed out during my entire trip.

The trip between Durban and Johannesburg was stunning. We drove by the Drakensberg Mountains. There were gorges, canyons, mountains, lakes, and stretches of nothing. It was like a different planet.

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I finally got to Johannesburg in the evening and settled in to my ex-Mafia house hostel. It was a beautiful mansion on a hill overlooking a large section of Johannesburg. I shared my room with a group of South African girls on school holiday. I’m pretty sure they were all Zulu princesses, only problem was they kept running around naked. I see lots of boobs in Ghana, but not in South Africa. The boys on the trip kept coming into the room too. I felt like a chaperone, but it was entertaining. The staff at the hostel was incredibly nice to me and I enjoyed staying there. But I couldn’t wait for the next day – the day I left for my safari.

Port Elizabeth

So I arrived in Port Elizabeth exhausted and late at night. I had quite an eventful night that night. I got to my backpacker and was instantly greeted by a creepy, fat, old Afrikaaner. This old man started hitting on me and grabbed me into the most awkward side hug that had me scrambling to get the hell out of this guy’s way. I settled into my bed, threw my earplugs in, and settled in for a nice long sleep.

Well that didn’t exactly work out for me. Around 1am the creepy old man comes into my dorm room and stumbles into the top bunk next to mine. He proceeds to take his pants off, and his underwear. My earplugs were surprisingly good but not near good enough to block out what proceeded. My bag was smushed near the door to the bathroom. My mind instantly kicks into gear and I start fearing that this piss drunk old man is going to stumble to the bathroom in the middle of the night, puke or piss on my stuff. I try to just roll over and sleep through this old man’s loud drunk ranting, but then something happened that was just disgusting. He whips out his tiny little…and starts to masturbate, loudly. A few minutes later he gets up to go the bathroom and I quickly escape from the room. Luckily someone was still at reception, so I told them what was going on and how I didn’t sleep the night before because of some rude Germans having loud sex. They gave me the key to an empty single room and I went there to crash. Thank god.

The next day I woke up, gave back the key and got ready for my day trip to Addo Elephant Park. My brain works in mysterious ways because when I walked back into my dorm room I saw a puddle of piss on the floor. W.T.F. This man was over 50 years old and a train wreck. I changed dorm rooms.

So, things improved rapidly once I left the hostel. I grabbed breakfast at McDonalds, which honestly was amazing. I hate McDonalds in America, but I hate to admit hashbrowns and a McMuffin…sure does a lot for one’s spirit! About an hour later I was picked up for my day safari. I was joined by two super friendly Israeli guys and a Belgian older man. Our guide was amazing and drove us quickly to the gate of Addo.

Within two minutes of being in the park we spotted two of the big five! I’m not sure if I have mentioned this before, but the big five are:
Leopard, lion, elephant, water buffalo, and rhinoceros. Why are they called the big five? Despite the fact that they are mostly hard to find while on safari, they are also deadly to hunters. Those five animals require a backup if you were to hunt them. Just in case you miss the first shot, you will need someone to shoot a kill shot otherwise you will be dead, eaten alive by a lovely lioness. When you go on safari, it is sort of a bucket list to see the big five. It is like unlocking achievements – you can say you’ve been on safari, but you can’t reach the next level of awesome until you have seen the big five.

So right upon entering the park we saw an elephant and water buffalo grazing next to each other. We moved on to a watering hole and before we could see anything our guide says: “oh you guys are in for a treat!” Which instantly a smile lit up my face because I knew I was going to be a happy girl. We spotted a herd of elephants running towards the watering hole. We watched for at least 30 minutes as they merrily and quietly drank as much water as they wanted. And thanks to my dear friend Wayne, I caught it all on camera.

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We watched as the elephants merrily lapped up as much water as they could. It seemed like an elephant tussle was about to happen too, because as you can see in the bottom photo there was an elephant stand off. And in the very last picture you can see a baby elephant drinking milk from Mom. Cute? Yes. Amazing? Absolutely!

After about 30 minutes at the watering hole we kept on searching for more animals. Our driver spotted another family of elephants and drove towards them. The family quickly came by our car and surrounded us. They were so close you could reach out and touch them. I could see all the eyelashes and the color of their eyes (a beautiful amber orange). You could feel the power radiating off them.

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We continued searching for animals, but didn’t seem to have much luck, so we headed to lunch. We stopped at a little farm stall for lunch. I chose salad, because that’s a luxury item, and I scarfed it down. After lunch we headed to a private game reserve for the rest of the day. We changed vehicles from a van to an actual open safari 4×4. As we approached the gates to the reserve, I realized it was a lot like entering Jurassic Park. Who knows what might find us behind the electric fences and 20ft tall razorwire. The guide asked if anyone wanted to sit up top. I was the only single person along for the ride, so of course I jumped on the chance. I hoped out of the vehicle and headed to the hood of the car. On the hood of the car, right above the left light, there was a padded seat with two baby handles. My feet reached down into the bush and the driver sped off.

I can’t begin to tell you what an incredible experience it was to ride open through the bush on safari. Anytime I recall the experience, I feel like I am walking into a chocolate factory and given the keys. I can feel the wind in my hair, on my face; I can smell the earthy scent of South Africa; I can remember the sensation of spotting the animals. There is truly nothing else in the world comparable to that feeling, the complete rush of being exposed on safari. And there is no rush that compares to sitting on top of a safari vehicle when you approach a rhino.

 

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As we came upon this white rhino, the guide instructed me “if the rhino looks angry or moves towards us, as quickly and quietly as possible scramble up to the hood of the car.” We sat and watched this white rhino and her mate snuggle in the grass for a small while. They looked so content and happy. And I watched them with my feet dangling in the grass, a mere 15ft from them.

We continued on in the search for giraffes and we spotted these guys in the distance. These were the first giraffes I saw in South Africa and I was looking forward to seeing giraffes the most. Given my ridiculously long neck, awkward knees, and gangly body, I’ve always loved giraffes. The guide could tell how excited I was and asked if we wanted to get down and walk with them.

UM. YES. So we got off the vehicle, dodged the various piles of poo in the grass, and walked alongside these giants. They stared at us like we were crazy, but didn’t really give us the time of day. They just kept on chomping down on the tall leaves. They were beautiful and magical animals.

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Afterwards we stopped for tea and biscuits, it was starting to get cold. But we continued on for a sunset drive. The sun setting over the grasslands in Africa should be on everyone’s bucket list. We came upon this lovely zebra, and the light was spectacular. But we really wanted to find lions.

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And that’s what we found. The whole pride of them. 8 in all, but the male dad was off doing something (we found him later). These little guys were all 11 months old and cute as can be. They watched us intently as we snapped happy pictures of the king of the jungle. Lions look incredibly cute, but they truly are deadly predators. And they are quite vicious in their killings, some animals will put their prey out of their misery, but apparently lions like to torture their prey – not on purpose. Sometimes they will suffocate the guys slowly or rip their genitals off. Want to cuddle one now? Lions can’t sweat, so they are relieved from the heat through their paws, which is why during the day you will see them rolled over or paws up. If you look at their eyes they have white near their eyeballs, apparently it helps with their vision (which is ridiculously good at night). Their ears are sensitive too and any little movement will perk them straight up.

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After the lions we headed to dinner, which was a traditional heavy bush meal. It was very cold outside, so I grabbed a glass of red wine and sat by the bonfire. We burned thorny bushes, which burn extremely fast and generate a lot of heat. The sparks from the fire raced into the inky blue sky and faded into the stars above. The sky was only visible through a tiny patch through the trees, but it was spectacular. As we sat around the fire, I heard something in the distance. Then I heard it again. We all fell silent as we listened to the male lion roaring. The noise fills your entire being with awe, wonderment, and thrill. It reverberates through your chest and takes the air from your lungs. The sound rattles your ribs and fills your ears.

As we leave the park, we find the male lion roaming alone through the savannah. I stare up into the starry sky and close my eyes and take a deep breath. I want to soak it all in. I want to remember this moment, because this moment is heavenly. 

Jeffrey’s Bay

Our tour of South Africa continues! After Hermanus I made my way up the coast towards Jeffrey’s Bay. I was attracted to this place by its description – one of the top surfing spots in the world. So I don’t know jack about surfing, put I figured if there is good surfing it must be a nice place to swim. Clearly I never took a physics class.

As I woke up to the beautiful sunrise over the vast ocean, I ran for my coat. It was FREEZING! And to make matters worse, there was something that was great for surfers, bad for warm blooded West African adoptees – blustering winds. The winds averaged around 40km with gusts up to 80km while I was there. My hair was a hot mess. The sunrise though was breathtaking. The hostel I stayed at, Island Vibe Backpackers, sat on a sand dune. All you could see was ocean, it was almost like being on a private island.

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Despite the cold and the wind, I was determined to go swimming. That didn’t last long, the water was pretty chilly and the whipping wind made for some really intense goosebumps. Lucky for me, there was a festival in town that weekend. The shops in town were really cute and the stands at the festival had all sorts of different wares from around South Africa.

I went to lunch at a Greek restaurant because it had been far too long since I had some lamb. There was a man and his wife talking to two other guys while I was there. It became clear that the man owned the restaurant. He got into a heated argument with quite a few people and was threatening all sorts of things. I felt like I was watching a mafia scene unfold in front of me. Later an old Greek man came in and when he sat down the whole place seemed to instantly revolve around him. The food wasn’t very good, but the drama was fairly exciting. It was one of the only meals I had in South Africa that wasn’t good.

Side topic, but I never liked olives prior to trying them in South Africa. I hate black olives on pizza at Andolini’s, but I never really tried an olive before. When I was in Stellenbosch I tried their kalamati olives and finally discovered what everyone else on this planet knew – this stuff is good! I can’t wait to make it back to America some day and attack the olive bar at Whole Foods.

So later that I day I went back to the hostel and chatted with one of the workers. He was originally from Malawi and we talked about the differences and similarities between Ghana, South Africa, and Malawi. At some point during our conversation he fell madly in love with me (typical African male response) and tried to get me to come away with him. Unlike Ghanaians, he was actually persistent. I shook him off with a pretty good ninja move and slipped away to my room to go to sleep.

Did I sleep? No. Even with earplugs in, these German tourists came in super late at night, drunk off their asses, and loud. Two of them proceeded to start having sex, loudly, right in front of the door. So, I didn’t get much sleep.

The next day I did pretty much the same thing, roamed around town and watched the surfers strut their stuff. The place was beautiful, but I’ve discovered I’m less of a beach girl and more of a adventure/activity girl. I would rather explore a town than sit on the beach. Unless that beach is in Ghana and I’m desperate to go swimming, which is also code for eat fish cakes.

Jeffrey’s Bay was nice, but I wouldn’t go back again.

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Hermanus, I barely know him!

My time in Hermanus wasn’t just whales and sharks. After the shark diving, I went back to the hostel for a short break. I called for a rickshaw taxi to take me to the Wine Village. I had read about this wine store in the Rough Guide to South Africa. I heard it was one of the best wine stores in all of South Africa. So of course it was on my list.

I get to the place and happiness sinks in. Free wine tastings! So I tried 6 different wines while shopping around the place. I picked up 6 bottles of wine and was ecstatic. I didn’t have a car so I had to wait for the rickshaw to come pick me back up, it took about an hour. So the owner of the store felt bad for me and had me try some gin, a special type of South African wine with a lemon, some port, and more wine. I LOVE THIS PLACE.

I head back to the hostel a happy camper. Later that night, I went to one of the fancy hotels in town for dinner. I had a three course meal. Before hand though, I grabbed a drink in the hotel bar and it was a good choice. A mint chocolate martini complete with a nice platter of CASHEWS, olives, and other little finger foods. Delicious. At dinner I had a seafood soup, LOBSTERS (plural, there were like 3 of them), and chocolate fondant. I was so full by the end of it I thought I was going to burst.

The next day I woke up early and went for a morning walk along the coast. The whales were clearly morning animals too. I saw so many moms and babies playing together it was simply incredible. One little guy just sat there hitting his tail against the water for maybe 10 minutes. The weather was dreary was I decided to go horseback riding. It has been a long time since I’ve been on a horse and I could tell. The saddle didn’t really agree with my thighs and I was aching from the start. My horse was ornery and kept yanking on his bit. We went for a canter and my horse decided this was his time to shine. I of course almost fell off, which was embarrassing but mostly painful. The view was spectacular though. We snaked through vineyards and hobbled over streams. We made our way to a waterfall and the sun came out to greet us.

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The flowers were in bloom because spring had just arrived, so the whole area was filled with bright yellows and purples.

Oh and funny thing. While driving to the stables, I saw baboons and chickens crossing the road in the same place. I’m sure there is a joke in there somewhere.

Later that day I went to dinner at a place called Lemon Butta. It is on the second story of a little shopping area right next to the cliffs. I sat next to the window and watched the whales while eating dinner. I was hungry so I ate early and practically alone in the place. I ordered the baby kingklip, which is probably my new favorite fish. It was HUGE. No kidding it was the size of my arm (from the elbow down), width and all. Did I eat the whole thing, almost it came with calamari so I ate all of that too. While eating dinner a whale decided to put on an amazing show. Just feet from one of the cliffs, a young whale was breaching out of the water. He was so close you could see the barnacles on his face. When whales breach, they often do it multiple times. This guy was feeling showy and he breached at least five times. Oh yeah and I totally ordered dessert at this place and it was delicious.

Eating alone is actually really enjoyable for me. Yes, I love great company, but eating alone can be empowering. You have time to take in your surroundings and truly enjoy the food. You taste more when you eat alone because you aren’t distracted by conversation. Eating alone can be scary, but it just proves that you are independent and strong. You don’t need someone to fill your time, that’s what the food is for. What a better way to experience food.

I should have been a food critic.

Shark Week, I’ve Lived It

The next day I woke up at the crack of dawn to embark on a one hour drive to Kleinsbaai. At Kleinsbaai I had a small breakfast and prepared to embark on a half day adventure. Climbing into a small boat with 24 strangers, I left Kleinsbaai harbor for Dyer Island or Shark Alley.

The place of legends, Dyer Island is a mecca for Great White Sharks. Two small islands filled with seals and penquins, Dyer Island is a paradise for hungry sharks. We set up anchor in the middle of the ocean and began chumming the water. The captain threw out a bait line and we waited patiently for our first visitor to arrive. We didn’t wait long, within 15 minutes, out of the depths, a Great White Shark emerged to chomp on the yellowtail head. We all scrambled to put on wet suits and the cage was lowered into the water. I was chomping at the bit myself, so I was the 3rd person in the cage. I was ready to look a Great White Shark in the eye. Upon entering the water, I instantly forgot everything I have ever known. I have never felt water so cold. Quickly, I came back to my senses and discovered all 5 of my senses were heightened by adrenaline.

Is there anything more exciting than sitting in the water, waiting for one of the greatest predators on the planet to come and attack? I think not. There was no time to be scared, there was only time to enjoy every second of my encounter with the beast. With a wet suit and face mask on, I listened to the captains orders as he directed us when to submerge into the cage. We would only be under water long enough to stare at the shark, we wouldn’t wait under the water for him to come to us.

Suddenly, from out of nowhere the bait line disappears and a 3.5m shark jumps out of water to eat the fish head. He was maybe 10ft from me to my right. A Great White, jumping out of the water, mere feet from me. I thought I was going to pass out from excitement. He came back for more and this time he came to the cage. He passed right in front of the cage. I went under the water and watched as a Great White quietly snuck by me, inches from my hands. His tail was notched and he had obviously seen some action. He then passed under our feet and disappeared into the shadows. As I surfaced for air, I felt it. I felt a wave of something overcome me. It wasn’t nerves or nausea. It was completeness. With those few seconds, underwater, with the scariest animal out there, I felt complete. It was like putting in the final puzzle piece, I felt whole. Something just clicked and I felt like “this is it, my life is complete.” I never noticed it before, but now I can tell something inside me isn’t pining for the next big thing. It feels like I have reached my apex and everything from now forward is pure bonus. Maslow might just call it self-actualization.

After that brief moment of pure and total bliss, I got to witness the shark taunt us some more. Finally, cold and shivering I left the cage to bask in the sunlight and watch the shark from the boat. The boat was getting a bit crowded so I made my way to the bow, where I joined the captain in shark hunting. We quietly chatted about the ocean, sharks, and his experiences. Suddenly a new shark decided to join the fray. He snuck out of nowhere ready to attack. A smaller shark, but giant still, he was much more aggressive and playful. Within minutes he was attacking the cage and thrashing against it. He then disappeared back into the depths for a short while.

When he resurfaced, it was the captain and I who spotted him first. We were both gazing at the water directly beneath the bow when the shark emerged from the shadowy depths. The captain and I were silent, just observing the graceful shark. Then the shark did something that haunts me daily. As he slowly swam by the bow, he turned onto his side, so that his eyes could see the surface of the water. Just a foot underwater, the shark stared at the captain and myself. He stared us straight in the eye. A silent exchange. It was one of the creepiest things I have ever witnessed. Lasting just a few seconds, the shark let us know that he knows we are there. He knows who is king. And like a ghost, he vanished back into the ocean. I see that shark staring at me every day when I close my eyes.

The sharks continued to surface every few minutes. The larger one breached out of the water again, just to prove that he could do it twice. After 3 hours at sea, we headed back to Kleinsbaai for some lunch.

Seeing great white sharks in the wild, in South Africa, was beyond a treat. It was truly life changing. I am not nearly as scared of sharks as I once was. Having experienced what many people dream of, I can honestly say it was one of the greatest experiences of my life.

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Hermanus (or my dream town)

Travelling from Stellenbosch to Hermanus was a real treat. We climbed through mountains, snaked through the clouds, and passed vineyards on our way to this seaside retreat. The bus dropped me off at a different town, where a shuttle came and picked us up. The first thing I noticed was the super cute dog who came to greet us. The dog jumped into the front seat, but then knowing I was a dog person, stared at me, jumped down and crawled into my lap. The dog slept in my lap for the 30 minute ride to the hostel.

The hostel I stayed at, the Hermanus Backpacker, was amazing. Inside it looked like the coziest house imaginable. I loved all the bright colors, windows, and sofas. It was perfect. The staff was super friendly and I felt instantly welcome. I headed into town to go exploring before my whale watching boat tour.

I looked up this cool place to eat and I was pretty determined to find it and consume some seafood there. So I walked to the center of town and I fell in love. It had the perfect little square right next to the cliffs overlooking the ocean. Rocky crags and grassy knolls. Beautiful. I quickly found the place I wanted for lunch. The stairs down into the cave were incredibly inviting and I knew this was going to be a good meal. The kitchen didn’t open for another 30 minutes so I grabbed a table near the cliff and settled for a glass of wine and patience. This girl was ready to eat, so I ordered a giant platter of food. As I sat waiting for my food I watched as whales surfaced just a football field away from my table.

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Then my food came.

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And I only had eyes for it. Do you see that? Do you see that the platter of food is the epitome of food for me? Greek salad (favorite). Fresh grilled fish, giant prawns, calamari, mussels, and french fries. Honestly, this is one of my favorite meals of all time. Seafood extravaganza! I ate all of it, minus the fries. I nibbled on those. Oh yeah there was rice down there too. I devoured my meal and then waddled my way along the coast back to my hostel. I grabbed my camera, and headed off to the boat tour.

The 30 minute walk to the wharf was amazing. The houses were dreamy, the view was breath taking. Everything about it called to me. It kept saying: “move here….live here….you know you are enamored.” I stopped and gapped at the flowers. I took picture after picture. With every second, I fell more in love with the place.

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A thatch roof cottage is my dream home. When I saw this place I almost cried. It is an inn, don’t worry I have plans to stay there again in my future. Finally, I made it to the wharf and I boarded my boat headed to whale territory. It didn’t take long before we saw whales. Maybe 10 minutes. And that’s all the time it took for people to start getting sea sick. And bad. Half the boat was projectile vomiting overboard. I chilled up top, gazing at the beautiful Southern Right Whales that were putting on a show for us.

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We saw probably between 10-15 whales, maybe more. One was Albino and that was pretty damn cool. Most of the time they were in pairs or here at the end there were 4 of them. They got incredibly close to the boat, passing right in front of the bow even. I was so impressed with how loud they were. Whenever they breathed it sounded like a water pipe valve releasing pressure. It was absolutely incredible. I loved every minute of it. Seeing such giant, gentle creatures that close in the wild, was fascinating. When I was a little girl I wanted to be a marine biologist/or dolphin trainer, so being close to whales was a true treat for me. I also wanted to be a naval architect and ship captain, so just being on a boat was also nice. (Revealing a secret here! Some days I still wish that I would have gone to naval school.)

After the 3 hour boat tour, I walked back to the hostel. The sun was about to set and the light was casting glorious shadows and hugging every flower. It looked like the whole scene was painted by Monet. That evening I joined the locals and fellow guests in a South African holiday tradition, it was Heritage Day, which is Braai day. Everyone barbeques on Heritage Day and oh hell yeah I was eating steak.

I got my steak and it was a big, fat, juice hunk of meat. It was accompanied by a salad and baked potato which I then lathered in Ranch Dressing (no seriously the plate was swimming in ranch). Even though I ate a giant platter of seafood earlier in the day, I ate every single bite of that meal. Do you have any idea how Ranch Dressing reinvigorates this girl? It is like giving water to Aquaman or having Superman get some sun rays. Like Iron Man getting a new core. It was like I was a new person, I was ready to take on the world. So naturally I passed out and slept soundly, ready for the next day, which would prove to be life-changing.