Two Week Trip To South Africa - An Interview With Programme Advisor Beth
Projects Abroad Programme Advisor Beth spends most of her time talking to potential volunteers and offering advice on various destinations and voluntary projects. Beth has recently returned from a 2 week trip to South Africa, so I caught up with her to find out what she got up to.
Tell us about your trip to South Africa
I was in South Africa for 2 weeks in total and I spent the majority of my time in Cape Town. In my first week I spent quite a lot of time visiting the townships and meeting locals whose lives have been shaped by Apartheid.
I have to admit that up until now, other than knowing a bit about Nelson Mandela, I had been oblivious to the hardships that black South Africans had faced. I had heard of Apartheid but didn’t really know what it was. I was so shocked to hear locals talk of when they were kicked out of their homes and forced to move to the Cape Flats area. It really did open my eyes.
It was, however, really great to see the good work that volunteers are doing in the townships. I spent a bit of time with some of our Law & Human Rights volunteers, working in a soup kitchen that dished out food to around 400 children a day. I also spent a bit of time on a construction site – helping to build a community centre for women and children in need of refuge, support and advice.
What was your mum’s most irrational concern about you visiting South Africa?
My mum had a lot of preconceptions about South Africa, and in particular Cape Town. She was convinced that I was going to be abducted. I really felt perfectly safe in South Africa. I used common sense and made sure I followed the safety advice given by locals.
What was the highlight of your trip?
A weekend tour of the Garden Route. Most people will spend a good couple of weeks exploring this region, but as I was limited on time, I just did a two day tour. I went on a three hour safari as part of the tour and was lucky enough to see a huge number of animals, everything from elephants and giraffe to hippos and lions. It was an extremely bumpy journey on the back of a land rover but the scenery was absolutely stunning – you just looked out over the mountains all the way to the sea.
What was your worst moment?
I went on an excursion to Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 18 years. The prison itself was very interesting but the journey there and back was horrendous. The weather was awful and the only way of getting to the island is by boat. The strong wind and rain meant that the sea was very choppy. The inside seating area of the boat reeked of the vomit of previous passengers. I’m not usually somebody who suffers from sea sickness but even I was starting to succumb. I went out on deck for fresh air but ended up being slapped in the face by wave after wave!
What was your funniest moment?
I was travelling by minibus one day on a major road in Cape Town and we were stopped at a red traffic light. At pretty much the precise second that the light turned green, hundreds of oranges suddenly appeared, seemingly from nowhere, and started rolling down the road. I have absolutely no idea where they came from, but the sight of so many oranges being squashed and splattered by cars left, right and centre really was comical.
What surprised you the most – what were you not expecting?
I’d never travelled outside of Europe before this trip. One of the things that really struck me in South Africa was the obvious divide between rich and poor – it’s not something I’ve really experienced before. Also the scenery - Cape Town is spectacularly beautiful and it really blew me away.
Favourite food whilst you were in South Africa?
I stayed with a host family in Cape Town and I was lucky enough to have a former chef as a host mum. She was really passionate about food and made some amazing meals. My favourite dish was probably a variety of barbequed meats served alongside a side of maize and coated in a tomato and onion sauce – it was so good! South Africans really do the best BBQs or braais as they’re known there.
Top travel tip?
Don’t expect anything to be on time. Life in South Africa is far more chilled out than in the UK and nobody is really in a rush to do anything. The pace of life is much slower so just learn to accept and embrace it.
What did you miss the most from the UK whilst you were away?
I didn’t want to leave Cape Town. I would move there in an instant. There was only one thing I missed whilst I was away and that was my car. I was only gone 2 weeks but I really missed driving. I’m already planning my next trip to South Africa, and this time I intend to do a self-drive tour.
Where would you like to travel next?
Rio de Janeiro in Brazil. It’s somewhere I’ve always wanted to go and I’ve heard fantastic things about it. Christ the Redeemer, Sugarloaf Mountain, Copacabana beach and those tasty acai berries – I want to experience it all!
Have you recently returned from a trip to South Africa? What was your most memorable experience and why? Please leave your comments below.
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