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Into (South) Africa

On+our+first+day+in+South+Africa%2C+my+family+climbed+up+Lion%E2%80%99s+Head+Mountain%2C+which+boasted+amazing+views+of+the+beaches+below.
On our first day in South Africa, my family climbed up Lion’s Head Mountain, which boasted amazing views of the beaches below.

On our first day in South Africa, my family climbed up Lion’s Head Mountain, which boasted amazing views of the beaches below.

On our first day in South Africa, my family climbed up Lion’s Head Mountain, which boasted amazing views of the beaches below.

Julie Robertson, Shield co-editor in chief

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Photos by Julie Robertson.

My trip to South Africa and Botswana was probably the most anticipated event of 2018 for my family and me. My brother, who is a junior in college, is studying abroad this semester. He chose to study in Cape Town, South Africa. Our family decided that we would visit him at some point in his semester abroad, but first we spent months of planning and booking Airbnbs, flights and safaris, which built up a massive amount of excitement in my family.

Finally, the day of our departure arrived. I was all packed, and my mom and I drove down to the Houston airport to catch our first nine-hour flight to Paris. We got to the airport, parked our car and headed to the airline counter to check in. As we were checking in at the kiosk, the lady checking us in for Air France asked if we had a visa. ‘No, we do not have a visa,” my mom said. “We are just visiting for under a month and do not need a visa.””OK,” she said, but her decision was a huge mistake on her part (and ours), as we later find out. We got through security and met up with my dad by our gate. We were all buzzing with excitement and could not wait to board the plane. Once we were on the plane, we got comfortable and were on our way.

We had a short connection in Paris, and our flight getting in was already a bit late, so we were ready to dash to our next flight. We ran to our gate after going through customs and border security only to arrive and find that my name was flashing up on the sign over the gate. We figure it was just a routine check, so we did not panic. We got to the front desk and they asked us one simple question, “Where is her birth certificate?”

“Birth certificate? What birth certificate?”

We never knew we needed a birth certificate to get to South Africa, and Air France let us get all the way to Paris, halfway around the world without it. And without it, we could not go any further. The trip that I had planned for months and was something I was looking forward to for so long seemed to be crumbling in front of my eyes because of one sheet of paper that we did not have.

After a panic attack, tears and basically complete heartbreak, my mom, my dad and I scrambled to figure out how to retrieve my birth certificate and have it express shipped to Paris from Austin. Over the next three days, we tirelessly coordinated with the people in Austin FedEx-ing my birth certificate halfway around the world. It wasn’t cheap, but after much rearranging of our trip to get things back in order, we were set to leave Monday, three days after our initial arrival in Paris.

When we landed in Cape Town nine hours later, my brother was waiting for us at the airport. We were relieved and excited to see him after all we had been through. We took a taxi 30 minutes into town to the western part of Cape Town, Camps Bay, where our first Airbnb was. We were just staying at this place for two nights.

Camps Bay is an extremely affluent beach suburb in the City Bowl, which is the downtown part of Cape Town. Camps is separated from Cape Town by Lion’s Head Mountain. To get there, you take a road up and over the hill. Since we were only going to be at our first rental for a couple nights before we headed out for a safari, we decided to spend the extra money to be in a really relaxing place and spend our first couple of days at the beach. Our townhouse was just a two-minute walk to the beach, and we arrived just in time to see the sunset. Cape Town is known for its spectacular sunsets, and our first one there did not disappoint. The sky put on a lightshow for us with so many colors over the ocean. If you looked behind you from the ocean you see the iconic Table Mountain, a 3,000-foot mountain in the backdrop of Cape Town. It is flanked by the 12 Apostles, the other mountain faces adjacent to it.

The close call with the leopard was one of the highlights of my life.”

The next day we hiked up Lion’s Head Mountain, a signature City Bowl mountain that offered spectacular views but also intense sunburns. I learned the hard way that the South African sun is most powerful than the Texan sun and got some great tanlines and sunburns. Once we scaled Lion’s Head we headed to Clifton Beach to jump into the icy Atlantic and hang out on the beach. It was one of the most beautiful places I had ever been, and I kept having to pinch myself to believe that I was even there. We went to watch the sunset again that night. The recurring phrase in my family was “I could get used to this.”

For the next three days we were in Botswana on a safari in the Okavango Delta. That was an experience that could only be described as a dream. The lodge that we stayed at had no Wi-Fi or cell service so we were completely off the grid for several days, which I loved. I got to focus on being in this amazing place with amazing people and wildlife. We went out for morning and afternoon game drives every day where we saw zebras, giraffes, elephants, lions, monkeys, buffalo, birds, impala and much more. The most amazing animal that we saw was a wild young leopard.

When we first encountered him, he was up in a tree just staring down at us as we eagerly took photos and tried to stay quiet about how excited we were to see him. Then he hopped down from the tree and edged closer and closer toward our safari vehicle. We got some great photos, but then the leopard got a little too friendly with us. He decided to hop up onto the vehicle and mess around with the shoes of one of the men in our car. Our guide told us to stay completely still so he would not scratch anyone, but once the wild cat actually got hold of the guy’s shoe, our guide started the engine and the wild leopard hopped off and darted back into the bushes.

The close call with the leopard was one of the highlights of my life just because we were so close to one of the five iconic animals that you can encounter in Africa.

I couldn’t help but wish we in the United States were striving for change as much as South Africa was when apartheid ended in the 1990s.”

But coming back to the city a few days later, a new lesson and experience played out before my eyes. A lot of people in my generation are unaware of the history of South Africa regarding apartheid. There was the extreme segregation between white and colored people that lasted roughly for 50 years, and was only ended recently in 1991. Even though the systemic segregation laws are gone, the awful legacy of that time is still visible everywhere. When you fly into Cape Town, in the last couple of minutes you fly over hundreds of shanty-town shacks which are where many of the impoverished live in Cape Town. These are tiny homes made out of metal boxes where entire families live. The remnants of apartheid in Cape Town do not stop just there, however. Like I said before, Lion’s Head Mountain is like a dividing line in the city between the diverse melting pot City Bowl and the affluent hilly neighborhood of Clifton and Camps Bay. Although the lines of segregation can still be seen to the eyes, you cannot help but be impressed by the progress that the country has made in just over 25 years. Seeing that the city has made so much progress trying to create equality for all races left me inspired and wanting to see the same progress in the United States.

Especially with all of the recent racial issues that have occurred in the past few months in the United States, I couldn’t help but wish we were striving for change as much as South Africa was when apartheid ended in the 1990s. South Africa is a true melting pot of people, boasting the second largest population of Indians outside of India, a large Muslim community and neighborhood, not to mention the plethora of different languages that you hear walking down the street from the countless African tribes. South Africa has embraced its diverse community, and the nation sets a shining example for the rest of the world on how to adapt to a community that for so long was completely separated.

For my last week in Cape Town, I witnessed how inclusive the people were and how much they appreciate the beautiful location that they call home. One day I want to go back to Cape Town, and maybe to work there, because it was the kind of place that you want to wake up in every day because of how inspiring the people and nature around you are.

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