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The Best Holiday of my Life (…so far)
The alarm screamed at us to wake up. It was 4:30 in the morning. Without a single groan, I hopped out of bed with an ear to ear smile. I was going to see meerkats in the wild this morning! MEERKATS. By 5 am, our tour group was caravaning out to a burrow dug into the Outdshoorn desert in South Africa. Everyone looked groggy as they sipped their coffee, but not me. I was wide awake, I had been by 6 am, every single morning, for nearly a month.
South Africa is a country that agrees with the early riser. Early morning safaris, early morning drives to our next destination, early morning walks down the beach watching surfers on the Indian Ocean. And on this particular morning, with an early trek out to a burrow that belonged to a mob of meerkats to watch them start their day (these meerkats got more sleep than I had that day!).
When I heard about a contest hosted by Yellow Zebra Safaris giving away one of their luxury safaris in Tanzania, and all I had to do was tell all y’all about the best trip I’ve ever been on, entering was an easy and obvious decision! And despite a lifetime filled with wonderful trips, choosing my favorite holiday was another easy and obvious decision.
In 2017, my husband and I rented a car and traversed South Africa from Kruger National Park in the east to Cape Town in the west. We had a month to explore before we ended our adventure with my best friend’s wedding amongst the vines of Stellenbosch (a real dream since I love wine as much as love my friend).
We began with four days on safari in Kruger National Park. On our most eventful afternoon, we had been driving through the park for hours without much success. I was getting discouraged when seemingly out of nowhere an elephant burst out of the bush to our right, inches from the front of our tiny Hyundai! I slowly reversed while elephant after elephant rumbled across the road in front of us. When the parade had passed, we turned the corner to find three lions napping under a tree near the road.
We spent nearly an hour watching lions yawn before turning down a side road and nearly ran into a huge giraffe! With no one around, this moment was only for us. The giraffe stood near our car, staring at us before disappearing into the bush.
These experiences happen so quickly, passing by in a flash. Each sighting, as the animals emerge from and disappear back into the bush, is unique and only for you. No one will ever see exactly what you just saw. No one will see the same meerkat do yoga stretches to wake up in the same way I did (he had excellent form in Cobra Pose).
After Kruger, we drove south, crossing Swaziland. From Swaziland, we visited the wetlands of St. Lucia where we went on a hippo cruise. After a wonderful evening watching the sunset surrounded by hippos, we drove to the Wild Coast. I have never seen a more beautiful stretch of land. The Wild Coast, or Transkei, was breathtaking. Rolling green hills went on for miles, with cliffs hanging over equally expansive beaches.
My favorite part of the Transkei was where we stayed: a hostel that works with the local community. The Mdumbi Backpackers works hard to create an ethical travel experience. The local kindergarten is on the same property as the hostel, local Xhosha mama’s cook the delicious food they serve and locals from the nearby village lead tours of the village and coast. If you want to get off the beaten track, I can’t swear by the Wild Coast enough. It was worth every minute of the ten-hour drive it took to get there.
We peeled ourselves off the beaches of the Wild Coast, lured away only by the promise of another safari. We spent three days among the elephants of Addo Elephant National Park. After another successful self-drive safari, we embarked on a road trip through the Little Karoo desert (which included the highlight of my life, the aforementioned meerkats). From meek to fierce, we spent the following morning swimming with Great Whites in the frigid Atlantic. All of these experiences could easily be “the most exciting day of my life.”
We ended our wildlife filled month with a week in Cape Town, the wine country of Stellenbosch and a day on the beach in the village of Paternoster. My reactions to Cape Town were conflicting. It was the most beautiful city I’d ever seen, but at the same time, my heart was on the highveld in Kruger and in a burrow in the Little Karoo.
We spent our days in Cape Town with 87 of our closest friends that had flown in from nearly every continent for the wedding. The best part of travel is the friends you make along the way, and when all of those friends converge for one big party in the Mother City, you’re in for a trip you’ll never forget.
Being from Texas and being married to an Argentine, my bucket list has always been mainly Mexico and Latin America focused, with dashes of Europe thrown in for good measure. But after our time in South Africa, things changed a bit… I’m now dying to visit Namibia, Mozambique, and Madagascar. I can’t wait for the day I get to see gorillas in Rwanda or Uganda. And obviously, at the top of that list, you’ll find Tanzania with its great migration, the Ngorongoro Crater, Kilimanjaro, and Zanzibar.
A luxury safari with Yellow Zebra would be the adventure of a lifetime, showing me yet another window into the continent that I’ve fallen in love and that’s hijacked my bucket list.