You’re Going To Miss…Southern Africa

You’re Going To Miss…Southern Africa


Dear Calvin,


I hope this finds you doing well.  I came across your site via CU Class Notes.  I am CC 2010.  I have been inspired by your story and website, and as a fellow lover of travel and medical student, would definitely be keen on learning more about your travels and how it all works out.


Also–I saw that you have not yet made it to the African continent (according to the place markers on the website’s map).  [That is mainly where I travel, and my family is also from there.  I would be more than glad to provide you with connections in the countries I have been to/enjoyed, should you make it that side.]


Thank you, and I am truly looking forward to hearing back from you.


All the best,


Nadi Nina Kaonga

Nadi’s first ever e-mail to me, January 29th, 2013


Press play. And then start reading.




“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”  – African proverb


You’re going to miss the first impressions, the first hugs and handshakes in a random hotel, the jet-lag tempered by an excitement of going on your 2nd (or even 3rd) monsoon with once again the proudly self-proclaimed “worst tour guide ever“, and not having a clue of what could transpire with these familiar friends, co-travelers, and even strangers for the next 16 days.

You’re going to miss setting off on a city that nearly suffocates you with a beautiful chaos, the overwhelming crush of humanity in the world’s oldest outdoor market, trying to find a stolen phone and coming to terms to being forced off the grid for the next few days, the sweet taste of mint lime juice after walking over 12 miles and 20,000 steps with your new travel family, and laughing over the inefficiency of a simple task of getting food at the airport.



You’re going to miss waking up after 4 hours of sleep in a different capital city, the quiet lazy morning of eating simple — but different — bread and watered down coffee before watching a beautiful sunrise over Nairobi.




You’re going to miss landing in another unfamiliar country although this time with a familiar face waiting for you at arrivals as if you already had family here, being welcomed by the very person who sent an e-mail on January 29, 2013 that first compelled you to organize this very trip to subsaharan Africa, being taken in with open arms by a sister and her grandfather that you wish you’ve always had, and being shown around the warm heart of Africa, but only after waiting more than 2 hours to get your visas (well, you might not miss that).

You’re going to miss the popcorn and water that greeted you in the car that would take you to a most beautiful lake that you felt like you had all to yourself, grabbing drinks and kicking back to a splendid view, before heading back to a home-cooked meal so good that you can’t help to having seconds (or thirds), all the while watching with mischief at a grandfather 4 times your age eat 4 times your amount of pie.



You’re going to miss the 5am transfer to the airport before a quietly emerging dawn in Malawi to board a lonely plane in a lonely airport, landing in the afternoon at a country infamous for its civil war but now on the cusp of peace, exploring a remarkably diverse capital city that could have mistaken to be on the Mediterranean, hunting for fresh fruit like a local at the municipal market, being the only customers in a huge empty restaurant and getting better-than-expected food, and afterwards exchanging stories and travel advice with fellow backpackers at your hostel.



You’re going to miss haggling down an entire bus to Swaziland before watching nervously as your bags rattle around outside on a precariously connected trailer, walking through no-man’s land to another country while talking about Donald Trump with fellow transferrers, looking for bathrooms in the chaotic bus terminal of Manzini before settling in at one of the most impressive hostels you’ve ever been.



You’re going to miss collectively deciding on horseback riding while enjoying a comfortable lunch overlooking pastures in the middle of nowhere, heading towards an unexpectedly beautiful safari all the while your horse does its best to sneak in a mouthful of vegetation while you’re trying to keep up with the group.

You’re going to miss the drinks and dinner at the safari camp, failing to blend in with the chi-chi older crowd, before getting to know the Peace Corps volunteers on the eve of their farewell after they had been staying at your hostel for the past 2 years.



You’re going to miss the smooth morning bus ride to South Africa, the subsequent quick flight to Lesotho and the warm welcome by the warmest aunt-nephew duo, and the exploration of a nearby lake at sunset before heading off to the nation’s top restaurant on the second floor of a hat-shaped building.



You’re going to miss grabbing drinks at a sketchy local bodega so you could stay up with the group on our last night together, engaging one final heart-to-heart conversation before waking up to a frigid Lesotho morning.



You’re going to miss randomly greeting Lesotho’s prime minister on the tarmac as you boarded your flight to Johannesburg, before meeting the rest of the group to begin the second week.



You’re going to miss going out on the town for a night of mayhem, getting to encounter so many younger locals who took more of an interest in us than we would have expected, and trying to find our way back home inebriated during the middle of the night.



You’re going to miss the humbling experience at the Apartheid Museum, learning about Mandela’s legacy before truly experiencing a taste of it at the prisons on Constitution Hill, and the serendipitous discovery of a world famous food market after aimlessly strolling back to the scene of the crime of the night before.



You’re going to miss freaking out over missing 2 people in the group who failed to board the flight with you to Zambia, the mad dash across 4 countries in one day seeing arguably the world’s most beautiful waterfalls from both sides, fending off a rabid baboon, seeing an unreal sunset over the falls, the quiet night drive into Botswana, and the giddiness of seeing an elephant quietly greet you in the backyard of your lodge before you headed to bed.



You’re going to miss the excitement of going on your first safari, getting to see your first herd of elephants, kudus, giraffes, hippos, and hundreds of other animals that were unafraid to approach your jeep, then quickly getting over seeing your three-hundredth elephant by the end of the day, nodding off on a lazy boat ride on the Chobe waterfront, before staring dumbstruck at a beautiful sunset over the horizon as animals continued to feed, unbothered by our presence.



You’re going to miss turning down a bad deal for ATVs, and then sitting idly in an airport still under construction with literally nothing to do but watch repeating stories in syndication on CNN International, returning home to Johannesburg where you befriended even more locals at the hostel on your final night there.

You’re going to miss answering a challenge to climb Lion’s Head immediately upon your arrival to Cape Town while another part of the group finally get a Girls’ Night Out, the silent wish you had done more cardio during your climb, and the feeling of redemption when you finally reached to top as the sun was setting over the ocean.



You’re going to miss trading photos back and forth between the groups, debating on who had a better time as you celebrate conquering a hike that wasn’t supposed to be really done on the first day.



You’re going to miss making friends on the boat ride to Robben Island, meeting a former prisoner there as he recalls his days with Nelson Mandela, witnessing another gorgeous sunset over a natural wonder of the world at Table Mountain, and then delighting yourself with one of the best meals you ever had alongside your fellow epicureans.



You’re going to miss the early morning car ride to see African penguins in the midst of their mating season and unbothered by your presence, the feeling of accomplishment by reaching the Cape Of Good Hope on the edge of civilization, the WTF moment of being recognized by a random student who attended one of your travel workshops 2 years ago, and the nail-biting detour to find a fellow traveler’s former school before heading back to the airport.



You’re going to miss packing your bags in an oversized tank/jeep that you would eventually call home and being led around by a guide you would eventually call a friend as your group headed off into the world’s oldest desert.



You’re going to miss the heartfelt conversations and sharing of music on the way there, the difficult hike up to the top of Elem Dunes to watch the sunset, the warm fire at your campsite, having one of the best pork-chops you ever had after it was cooked right in front of you, and braving the slumber outside despite the cold.



You’re going to miss waking up with your mouth open and night filled with so so many stars.



You’re going to miss putting the final exclamation point to your trip as you finally come upon the surreal landscape to reproduce one of your favorite photographs, then staying longer than expected as you know this probably will be the last time you will ever be here for a very very long time.



You’re going to miss the relaxing ride back home, with enough time to reflect upon everything you had just seen, but more importantly knowing for a few more moments moment you were surrounded by new lifelong friends who had just shared experiences that you wouldn’t be able to repeat again with anyone else.

And you’re going to miss most of all, each other; a group of unique personalities united by adventure, where we’ll all look back one day and ask ourselves if we did see all that we saw and went as far as we did.

And we certainly did — far, and most importantly, together.


From Swaziland (aka Eswatini) To Lesotho

From Swaziland (aka Eswatini) To Lesotho

After a beautiful yesterday at the Mlilwane Wildlife Reserve, we returned to our hostel at Sundowner’s and exchanged travel stories with the Peace Corps crew that had already been living at the hostel for months. Somehow during our introductions, a serendipitous plan for an epic West Africa itinerary materialized (stay tuned)!

We then turned in around 11pm, finally getting a full night’s rest on our trip before waking up at 6:30am for a 7:15am TransMagnific Bus to Johannesburg’s OR Tambo International airport. The cost is 600 SAR per person.

TransMagnific’s buses can be reserved beforehand via an e-mail through their website (along with getting to pre-reserve your own lunch, snack, drink, and movie!) but they either accept wire transfers or full payment the day before at their offices in Mbabane. 

Out of convenience, last month I had wired money to and emailed Sundowner’s owner, Ben, to make a payment on our behalf and he ended up driving into Mbabane to pick up our tickets. Thanks Ben!


Waiting for the bus


The additional perk of staying at Sundowner’s Lodge is that the bus actually makes it one of its official stops before heading onwards to Swaziland’s capital of Mbabane and then Johannesburg, so that was pretty convenient. 

Because the 6 of us were the only passengers, we got a small van instead and no movie (and yet they had promised us a movie!!!).

After about a 20 minute drive, we arrived in Mbabane at the main TransMagnific offices, where we received our bagged lunches and coffee:



We then drove onwards for about 2 hours to the border between Swaziland and South Africa.

If you use TransMagnific, the driver does EVERYTHING for you. You literally just follow him as he scurries along to the offices where he does all the paperwork and getting your passports stamped, while you watch awkwardly and maybe wave hello when they confirm that you’re exiting Swaziland and entering South Africa.


Our drive at the booth taking care of business


After being stamped out of Swaziland, we rushed to keep up with our driver as he dashed to the South African office for us to be stamped in. I guess he’s not getting paid by the hour.



After getting stamped in and having our passports returned, we headed back out into the van and entered South Africa.



There’s a rest stop about an hour into your journey, which happens to be very very pretty.


The view from my urinal


After about 2 more hours on the road, we reached OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg at around 11:50am. We then hung around getting more food and chilling out for a few hours, before boarding a South African Airways Airlink Shuttle Flight at 2:55pm for Maseru, Lesotho. 

The 45 minute airplane ride itself was stunning.



Once the terrain became more mountainous and less flat, we knew we were crossing from South Africa into Lesotho.



After 45 minutes in the air we landed at 3:55pm, after which we literally walked off the plane on the airfield towards arrivals.



Once inside the airport we filled out a few forms, had our temperature taken by these laser guns pointed at our foreheads (my first), and bags checked by customs.



By 4:05pm we were out the door and on our way to our accommodations at Durham-Lesotho Link.

FYI, there are no cabs at the airport, so we had to pre-arrange a taxi service to pick us up for 60 SAR per person.



It took a 45 minute drive through surprisingly heavy traffic to get to Maseru from the airport. Once we were at Lesotho-Durham Link, which is located in the old airport and by the Air Force base, we were quickly directed by security to our rooms without even needing to register.



We then headed out to the nearby lake, committing a mild form of trespassing.



We kicked back with views of the lake at sunset, along with mandatory group photos to mark the end of week 1.


With the returning monsooners!
...and the new monsooners!


At around 7pm our original taxi drivers came back to pick us up and took us to the only “attraction” in Maseru, which is the Basotho Hat, shaped like the local style of hats.

Formerly a souvenir/crafts store that had sold the eponymous basotho hats, it’s now the home of The Regal Restaurant, the town’s top place to dine, serving mainly Indian and local fare.



After dinner we drove to a local (and I mean really local as in they haven’t stocked up in months) liquor store and grabbed a few beers and wine.



And now we’re just chilling at our place, sharing the endless number of stories that we experienced the past week.



What a wonderful way to end week 1 of the trip.


- At time of posting in Maseru, Lesotho, it was 12 °C - Humidity: 26% | Wind Speed: 21km/hr | Cloud Cover: sunny


From Mozambique To Swaziland/Eswatini

From Mozambique To Swaziland/Eswatini


Our group woke up this morning at 5:30am to catch a 6:00am cab to the bus station.



Instead of the one close by to the train station that’s listed in Lonely Planet that would take us to Swaziland, our cab drivers opted at the last minute instead for the station called “Junta“, which is about a few miles southeast from Maputo (according to our taxi drivers, the one listed in Lonely Planet has been closed at the time of posting).



Asking around for the bus to Swaziland, we were directed to a minibus/van that would only leave once it was filled (10 passengers).

We had considered buying the whole van for 1,040 South African Rands, but feeling bad for the other passengers who also wanted to go ASAP, we instead got our seats for 80 SAR per person. We only waited about for 30 minutes before it filled.



After about 2 hours of driving, we reached the border between Swaziland and Mozambique, where a border guard first checked our passports.



After the brief passport check, we walked across to a nearby office to be stamped out of Mozambique.



Once we were stamped out, we walked across no man’s land out of Mozambique and into Swaziland.



Now that we were in Swaziland, we headed into another office to be stamped into Swaziland (free for USA citizens).



Afterwards we drove off for another 30 minutes before being stopped at a police checkpoint for another passport and visa stamp check.



Then it was another 2 hours before we arrived at the chaotic bus station in Manzini, Swaziland. At this point, it was around 11am.



Here you can withdraw cash from an ATM and purchase some snacks and drinks for the road.



We then bribed our original bus driver 150 SAR to take us directly to our hostel, Sundowners Backpackers Lodge, near Malkerns.



After a leisurely lunch at Sundowners, which happens to make great food, we rode on the back of a pickup truck (with a random broccoli inside) to Mlilwane Wildlife Reserve. It costs 30 SAR per person for entry.



Once there, we paid 225 SAR per person for an hour of safari horseback riding. 

FYI if you’re coming in late, 3pm is last call.




You can then wind down and relax afterwards with an all-you-can-eat buffet dinner here (all with stir fry impala meat, pork, potatoes, salad, cream of mushroom soup, chicken, chocolate cake, roobois tea, etc. etc.) for $12 USD a person. 

After dinner they’ll offer a free Swazi cultural dance performance depending on the weather.



Right now we’re still having rounds of drinks and dinner within the Wildlife Reserve as random animals walk right around us.  An antelope is nuzzling my neck right now as I’m blogging…



- At time of posting in Malkerns, Swaziland, it was 21 °C - Humidity: 29% | Wind Speed: 11km/hr | Cloud Cover: clear