When Katie told me about the Just Go Challenge, it got me thinking about all the travel that I have been lucky enough to do. As thoughts, memories, and images swirled in my mind of all the places I have been, but there was one trip that stood out.
Five years ago I went on a trip that truly changed my life, and still to this day I would drop everything for the chance at the same experience. From a young age, my older brother, who had attended the same high school, told me that the one thing I absolutely had to do was to take Mr. Partridge’s Ecology course. Why was this course so amazing and an absolute must? Well, because during the second semester of the course you put all the Ecology knowledge to practical use with a three-week-long backpacking trip throughout South Africa.
While the thought of embarking on such a journey scared me, I took my brother’s advice and signed up for the course. Originally, I was just thankful to be in the course because to me anything to avoid taking physics was cause for celebration. It wasn’t until I arrived in South Africa in the middle of March that I began to grasp what a life-changing journey this was going to be.
The trip was broken into three sections, three different terrains, a week in each. The first part of the trip was spent at the Umfolozi Park in the rugged Bush of South Africa. This was my personal favorite part of the trip. Despite the scalding heat and the thorn bushes the cut every inch of my legs, I loved every second. Everything was wild- from the plants to the animals, and in such a stark contrast to my life in London. It was almost as if we being detoxed from the aspects of city life- there were no electronics allowed, no books allowed, and we weren’t even allowed to know what time it was.
It was also in the Umfolozi that I had one of the most unforgettable and awesome experiences. It was a particularly blazing hot day, so our group decide that rather than spend the day hiking miles that we would spend the day in the river to keep cool. While we were treasuring the cooling of the river, a male elephant came out of the bushes fifty feet away. We all froze. The elephant could not have been more than fifty feet away from us. My breath was taken away.
Elephants are my favorite animals in the entire world, and I thought the night before when I had seen baby elephants playing over on the other side of the river that would be closest I would ever get to elephants. Well, boy, was I wrong. As we slowly and quietly got out of the river, our guides pointed out that the elephant was definitely aware that we were watching him. With that knowledge, the elephant took his time to cross the river. He played in the mud, threw water all over his body, and while we sweltered in the heat as he took his sweet time crossing the short stretch of river. After he passed we were all bright red with sunburns, but I paid no attention to how burnt my skin was because I was in utter heaven at what we had just experienced.
The second leg of our journey, we ventured to the St. Lucia Wetlands. While it was a particularly dry year, there was still a lot of wild life to be seen. What we were mainly on the outlook for, though, were Hippos. They are known to be extremely territorial, so when on night watch (yes, we all took one-hour shifts in the middle of the night watching for deadly animals that may come too close to our camp) we especially had to keep our eyes open for hippos. There was one hippo who got very close to our camp one night, luckily I wasn’t on duty or else I would have been terrified, but with a little banging on our pots and pans the hippo backed away.
The third and final stop on our amazing adventure was in the Drakensberg Mountains. The views here were beyond breathtaking- I had never seen anywhere so beautiful in my entire life. Everywhere you turned you saw something more beautiful. My favorite part of the mountain portion of the trip was that we all were able to reflect on how far we had come. Two weeks into the hiking trip, you began to soak in all the amazing sites and growth you had undergone while barely noticing it from the utter exhaustion. Since animals were not as pending of a threat in the mountains, every evening we were all encouraged to take a couple of hours of “isolation.” Our guides encouraged us to take this time to reflect, cherish and soak in every feeling, thought, sensation that we possibly could.
It was during these moments that I began for maybe the first time in my life to truly appreciate every aspect of life. I appreciated the good times, the bad times, and the mundane times because I saw how it all culminated in me being who I was. There was something about sitting alone in the awe-inspiring nature of South Africa that made you feel small, but also apart of something greater- something bigger than your daily life and concerns. It was at this time that I could just be.
While I could spend the rest of my day writing and gushing about the impact that this trip had on my life, I will finish by saying sleeping under the big South African sky with no tent with the only sounds waking me at nigh those of wild animals made me truly thankful for everything in my life. This trip was one that I am still learning from to this day- five years later. If you ever have an opportunity to do something similar, just go because travel will change you truly for the better.