South Africa

Been having a hard time describing how I feel about South Africa. The simplest thing to say is that it's beautiful. And while that's true, there is a lot more to it than that. You'd be hard pressed to find any logical person who wouldn't tell you it's beautiful. When you spend 30 hours on a plane though, you expect "different". The country as a whole, and Cape Town in particular has an odd way of making you feel not far from home as an American. Just about everybody speaks English and every single bar/restaurant you visit is playing American music. Doesn't matter if you're in a trendy city bar or a small town hole in the wall, chances are you're gonna hear Bon Jovi. And while I respect what he's done for music, I want to slam my head against the wall when I hear him come through the speakers while sipping on a gin cocktail (gin is big in South Africa) at a salty beach bar overlooking the Indian Ocean. Most people, no matter the reason for their trip, is looking to check out, disconnect, or soak up local culture when they visit a foreign country. That's hard to do when everything feels, at least on some level, like home. The architecture was the other thing that I felt was lacking. It didn't seem to have a very defined vibe. Nothing about it made you distinctly feel like you were in another place. Between the geography and architecture, there many times were I said to myself "we could be in California", or Colorado, or Arizona, etc. I was in an Uber one day with a driver from Rwanda and he asked if it was my first time to Africa. I said yes, to which he responded "So you have not been to Africa!".  And proceeded to tell me that I was in "Africa Light". After thinking about it for a while, I had to agree with him. All that being said, we still had a great time and we're very happy we went. Travel is something that should change you no matter what. Whether or not you see what you're expecting to see is irrelevant. The experience itself will stretch you and change your point of view. That undoubtedly happened, so the trip is a win. Now for the positives. One thing that certainly sticks out is how genuine and friendly they people are. You get the sense that they really want you to enjoy your time there as a visitor. And that goes for everything from a cup of coffee (which is taken VERY seriously) to a walk on the beach or a animal safari. When you thank them for anything, their response will always be "pleasure" or "you must enjoy it". And they mean it. Nobody is in a hurry and that's something you learn right away from the food/drink service. It's also a reminder just how American you are, and how demanding we are about service. Speaking of food; they do seafood very well. Not sure I've ever had so many oysters in a two week period. What they are really passionate about is meat though. "Braai" and "Biltong" are huge. The first being their version of bbq, and the second is what we would call beef jerky. Both delicious. Biltong is something that I will be making at home on my own. The farmers markets which seem to always take place in all towns on Saturdays are top notch. We we're lucky to visit a bunch of them and we're always very impressed. It was obvious that they were a thing to do because the vibe at them was so great. There was so much energy. Loved the markets. A must do. 

Cape Town itself isn't a huge place. It's something that I would almost compare in a certain way to Denver. A small place with a good amount to offer, but you don't necessarily live there for the city. There is so much around Cape Town that is amazing. And that goes for the ever present Table Mountain, Lions Head, Signal Hill or all the small towns up north or down south on the peninsula. Driving the coast is gorgeous. Reminds me a lot of driving up the coast of northern California and Oregon. And most (not all) of the touristy things that people do when they visit South Africa are worth doing. We tried cage diving for Great White Sharks, but got snubbed. They didn't want to come out an play. Also did a safari and it was awesome. Had an amazing guide who provided an unforgettable experience and allowed us to see some beautiful animals. So yeah, do that stuff, but I also think it's important to have just as many things that are unplanned. Some of our best memories came from just wandering around and stopping in random towns. That seems to be consistent. The unknown and unexpected are always welcome. Talk to locals for info that you won't ever get in a guide book. That's where the fun starts. If everything is planned, then you close out the opportunity to see things that you didn't expect. And where is the fun in only checking off boxes? Anyway, we loved South Africa as a whole, but wished that is was a bit more "African". Now we know and next time will be going much farther north. 

Would I recommend Cape Town/the souther coast to people for a trip? Yes and no. For anyone who wants to visit a beautiful foreign country that's easy to navigate and interact with locals (no language barrier), then this is a great place. For someone who is looking to be completely pushed out of their comfort zone, the answer would be no. Either way, I always encourage people to travel more.