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The James Family's biggest adventure of all.

Story by Whitney James March 11th, 2016


I’ve been back from South Africa nearly as long as I was there. I guess it was just one of those trips you have to take some time to process. Let everything sink in. Maybe it’s because it was the first time I had really, truly traveled, or because of the sheer enormity of everything I experienced. It could also just be because I’ve been in a mad sprint to catch up on everything I missed at work while I was away.

My parents and I had never traveled together internationally before, barring one afternoon stint in Tijuana, and chances are we wouldn’t have forfeited all those frequent flier miles if it weren’t for my parent’s friends, Carol and Fiona. Both ladies happened to be from South Africa (give or take a border), and so did my boyfriend. Truth be told, I was worried that with three locals acting as our tour guides we wouldn’t make it around the Cape without all deciding to go our separate ways. But you know what they say about worrying—most of what we worry about never happens, and it didn’t this time, either.


Like any good trip to Africa, ours began with a safari. We took a short flight from Johannesburg to Hoedspruit, just outside of Kruger National Park, where we stepped off the plane to a wall of heat. After a good laugh when Dad tried to jump in the driver’s seat of the van (for those who don’t know, in Africa you drive on the other side of the road), we were on our way to three days of storybook-Africa at Thornybush River Lodge.


We bumped along in a forest-green Land Cruiser, strictly a magic hour affair. We saw herds of golden Impala, mighty Kudu, and my favorite, plains zebra. We sat in amazement as a trio of white rhinos scuffled around the truck, a little too close for comfort. We watched elephants pull up trees and play in mud holes, and a baby hippo totter off after her mom into the bush. We snacked on biltong and dried fruit and sipped gin and tonics as the sun set over the Drakensberg Mountains. We had the lodge and all of these sights entirely to ourselves. It was part of the trip that would go down as one of the favorites.



Then we were off to Cape Town, where we would spend the next six nights in limbo between epic sightseeing and the stomach bug of a lifetime. Bryan joined us here, and without delay we were off to the towns of Stellenbosch and Franschhoek, located in the Cape Winelands. This area is basically like our Napa, but with more staggering surroundings and tastier wine. It’s also where my insanely lucky boyfriend went to university surrounded by historical, picture-perfect Cape Dutch buildings.


With vineyards creeping up the sides of the mountains all around us, perfect temperatures, and great company, the Winelands made for one of my favorite days in the Cape Town area. That could also be because that night after a sunset run along the waterfront in Cape Town, I lost my lunch and was introduced to the stomach cramps I would have for the next three days. 


Despite being in constant discomfort, I was determined to see South Africa. We visited Bo Kaap, drove up Signal Hill (hiking was out of the question), and enjoyed the other-worldly Clifton Beach. I managed to join Bryan and my Mom on an all-day tour of Cape Point (Dad was also down with the bug). We drove over famous Chapman’s Peak, dipped our toes in the frigid waters of Scarborough Beach, and hiked through gale-force winds to the Cape Point lighthouse that was constructed in 1859. On the way home we met the penguins on famous Boulder’s Beach—something I had looked forward to for months. Noisy fellas, but not unfriendly in the slightest.



Finally, it was time for our group to part ways. Bryan and I headed off on the Garden Route, with my parents just behind us on a slightly different route, and Carol and Fiona flew back to Johannesburg. My stomach was getting worse at this point, and the rainstorm of the season had descended upon the N2, but the memories that stand out are worth every mile.


Watching Bryan eat a slightly nauseating meat pie at a cafe in the middle of nowhere. Kayaking against the tide towards the dramatic cliffs that frame Knysna Lagoon. Eating the meal of our lives in Plettenberg Bay for what probably cost about ten USD. Walking across the Storms River suspension bridge in Tsitsikamma National Park to yet another gorgeous beach. Driving past the now mainstream Jeffery’s Bay feeling like I was going to puke.



The sickness wore off just as we were about to embark on another road trip. This time, we were headed to Mozambique with Bryan’s family, surfboards in tow. The entire write-up will be on Huckberry, but I’ll tell you it was one of the most memorable parts of the entire month. Finally we felt off the map, like we were–you know–traveling. Not only was there no cell service in the tiny beach town of Ponta do Ouro, there were no groceries. There were no paved roads. We had an entire weekend here to spend in the beach house, stand-up paddleboarding on the warm waters of the Indian Ocean, swimming with dolphins (and a shark by accident), and seeing the world through the eyes of eleven-year-olds. It was pure, beachy bliss.



The end of the trip was in sight, but not without one last hurrah. I flew from Durban to Victoria Falls to rejoin my parents and their friends for two final nights at the aptly-named Elephant Camp. You could see the spray from the Smoke that Thunders from the plunge pool of my private tent, and there were no baboon spiders in sight—bonus! With only one full day left of our vacation, we made sure to fit it all in. We walked the path along Victoria Falls, which were raging despite the current drought in Zimbabwe, and Dad and I flew for 12 very expensive minutes over the top of it by helicopter. We gawked at the Zimbabwean trillion dollar bill, toured the local village, took a walk with a cheetah named Sylvester, and had an epic rash reaction to our malaria pills.



All too soon and with heavy hearts, we were on our way back home. The next four days were full of drawn-out flights, enough border crossings (including a layover in Dubai) to fill up my no longer empty passport, and put us in a state of jet-lag for the next week. Maybe that’s why I’m just now getting around to telling my story. I hope you enjoyed.



Footnote: All photos shot by Whitney James, except for the ones of Whitney by Bryan Rowe.
South Africa