Earlier this year, long-time South Charlotte resident Carol Long visited South Africa for a vacation that included one week in the coastal city of Cape Town and another week in and around Johannesburg, South Africa’s largest city. One day was spent on safari with participants engaging in up-close interaction with a wide variety of animals ranging from elephants to the rare white rhino.
Carol, sister of our magazine’s co-publisher, Lyn Coaldwell, recounts the surprisingly close bonds she formed with her fellow travelers along with how her experiences in South Africa have changed her perspective.
Carol traveled to South Africa as part of a tour group. She discovered how traveling with strangers to a foreign country far from home can form tight bonds early on.
“You become a support system for one another, and you quickly learn what interests you share as well as the likes and dislikes of your travel companions,” Carol says. “When you travel with people abroad, relationship forming is accelerated. There are fewer distractions than the ones we deal with in our daily routine.”
An Unlikely Destination
While South Africa had long appeared on Carol’s list of potential vacation sites, visiting the country had never been a priority. It wasn’t until a friend suggested South Africa and this tour that Carol considered how a visit to the country could provide a refreshing change from European destinations she had visited numerous times.
Carol was amazed by the natural beauty found in Cape Town, the coastal city that is one of South Africa’s capitals.
“Cape Point marks the boundaries of the Atlantic and Indian oceans," she says. "Standing on the rocks and watching the swirling blue water is like nothing I could ever imagine. The children are so happy and smiling there; they sing, dance and entertain travelers in the streets.”
Carol was struck by the rich plethora of opportunities South Africa offers.
“There is something for everyone—distinctive artwork, fresh and colorful cuisine, diverse shopping possibilities and the chance to visit one of the many wineries in the area. All of these elements come together with a flair and service unique to South Africa that is extremely welcoming to travelers.”
Johannesburg and the Legacy of Nelson Mandela
The lasting effect of Nelson Mandela is manifest in the overpowering presence the late leader still maintains throughout South Africa.
“I knew Nelson Mandela still had a large presence in South Africa," Carol says, "but I didn't expect to find tributes to him everywhere. From the smallest village to the largest cities, there are statues, portraits and even Nelson Mandela tea. As evidenced by South Africans’ abiding affection and the numerous dedications, including Nelson Mandela Square in Johannesburg, Mandela remains the center of the platform where all hope resides.”
A Safari Adventure
The South African wildlife presented Carol with numerous surprises, from the close proximity of the large game animals on safari to learning that South Africa is a natural habitat for penguins, an animal commonly associated with colder climates.
Carol’s favorite safari experience involved a close encounter with a large elephant that came right up to her vehicle. Their tour guide warned everyone to remain quiet and calm.
“I remember thinking all at once, I never thought I'd get within touching distance of an elephant in the wild in Africa! I could literally reach out and touch him.”
Carol also remembers the fear she felt. The elephant could easily have toppled their open-air vehicle with a nudge; ultimately, the animal was simply inquisitive, as curious about the people observing him as they were about him.
Carol credits her experiences in South Africa with giving her a deeper appreciation for nature thanks to the sights and sounds found within the rich South African landscape, from the swirling blue waters off Cape Point, to the top of Table Mountain and the enduring memory of watching the beautifully striped zebras strut through their natural habitat.
For Carol, a return trip to South Africa is not a question of if; it's simply when she can go back to the country that offered such an open welcome.