After finishing my exams, I packed up my room and said goodbye to the lovely town of Grahamstown, which had been my home for the past four and a half months. I loaded up into the tiny rental car with my friends Bec (the Australian) and Anna (another American) and set off towards Port Elizabeth. The ironic part was that “You’ll Be in my Heart” by Phil Collins was playing as we drove away. It was the saddest and hardest goodbye that I had to make during the final week in SA, but every moment of my time there was worth the trip and experience a thousand times over.
After a two hour drive to Port Elizabeth, we arrived at our hostel, checked-in and relaxed over some drinks. As we were deciding where to go out to eat we were invited by some other people staying at the hostel to join them for the braai that they were having. So we joined them out back by the pool, chatted, drank and enjoyed some tasty chicken kabobs. After awhile the others decided to go out and we called it a night, since Anna and I had to wake up quite early to catch the bus up the Wild Coast.
The next morning, I said farewell to Bec, whom was the first exchanger that I grew to knew since we both shared the same shuttle to Grahamstown on that first day and were neighbors in our dorm. It was bittersweet and simple and shortly after that Anna and I boarded the bus towards Coffee Bay. After twelve hours of traveling and the bus losing our bag, we finally arrived at our hostel in Coffee Bay. We were quite tired and arrived just in time for dinner. So we sat by the fire, enjoyed our meal and called it an early night.
The next day we decided to do the hike to the “Hole in the Wall”, which is about a six hour round trip hike. We packed some lunch, got some directions and set off towards the hole. In the first few minutes of the hike we had two of the village dogs adopt us and they accompanied us throughout the rest of the hike. We had some local people offer to be our guides, but at one point we lost the path, so we gladly accepted the guidance of one of the locals. After three hours of hiking, we finally arrived at the hole in the wall. It was slightly underwhelming, but I did get to see cows on a beach, which was a first and too cute! After enjoying a quick lunch, we started the journey back to our hostel, but instead of hiking we opted to try hitch-hiking back since we were quite tired from the hike there. Our guide led us to the main road and pointed us in the direction towards where the cars usually picked people up then we said thank you and parted ways. Once we got to the taxi pick-up we met up with another group of hikers who were also heading back. After walking down the road a ways, we were finally picked up by a pair of cars. Once back at the hostel, Anna and I cleaned up and took some much needed naps until dinner was ready. Before dinner was served some of the local kids performed for the people staying at the hostel. They perform every Saturday night before dinner and it was quite an interesting show filled with singing and dancing. After dinner there were some high strung games of Jenga followed by hours of conversation with the Netherlands guys that we met hiking.
The next day we packed up our things and loaded the bus towards our next destination, Durban. After seven hours on the bus, a lovely drive through the Transkei, where we saw Nelson Mandela’s house, we arrived at our hostel in Durban. It was late and we were tired, so we called it an early night.
On our first day in Durban, we were blessed with with lovely weather, so we headed to the beach. After a few hours of playing in the waves and relaxing in the sun, Anna and I decided to have some lunch where I downed a jug of sweet tea and an interesting chicken sandwich. Lunch was followed by a relaxing siesta (aka a nap), which was then followed by dinner. We ate in the Ushaka water park food court at a Chinese restaurant, which was much appreciated and craved after months of dining hall food.
A day in the sun left me burnt all over, so the next day was slightly wasted. I spent the first part of the day lathering up in aloe and the rest of the day walking through the streets of Durban to find the Victoria Street Market, which is one of the places that everyone recommends people to go. Although by the time I got there I was not as impressed with the market as I was with the places around it. I ended up walking through a Muslim graveyard across the street, which was being restored. It was interesting to see all the different cultures combined in this one area and after awhile I headed back to the hostel, met up with Anna and we went out to dinner for some famous bunny chow. Bunny chow consists of a loaf of bread with the center cut out and filled in with curry. It was done this way in order to feed the poor without the hassle of using up utensils.
On the last day in Durban, Anna and I took a trip to the stadium where they held the 2010 FIFA World Cup. It was such a cool place. We took the express tour around the stadium, which included walking on the field and seeing one of the changing rooms. After we saw the stadium, we switched hostels to where the other exchange students were staying and hung out with them on our last night. Wout, one of the Netherlands exchange students, had bought some grocery items and made a delicious dinner for us. Our group sat around the table and talked for hours, played some pool, and enjoyed each others company while we still could. Then some of us said our goodbyes for now and went to bed.
The next day Anna and I loaded into the bus for a wonderful trip back to Port Elizabeth. I’m being sarcastic when I say wonderful, just in case you were wondering. The whole entire trip was behind schedule, so Anna and I spent a lovely seventeen hours on the bus from 7AM until we finally arrived at the hostel in Port Elizabeth at 12:30AM. I had not booked a room in the hostel because I had not been planning on staying there that evening, so I sneakily slept on the couch in the living room. The next day, I hung out with a few of the other exchange students who were also in Port Elizabeth in order to catch their flights home the next day. We walked along the beach and did some final shopping at some of the street vendor’s tables, had a tasty lunch and gathered some supplies to make a homey dinner at the hostel. We laughed and talked over some glasses of wine and scrumptious pasta made by Deike, the German exchange student. Soon enough it was time to get some sleep and we all tucked in for the night (I even booked a bed, so that I didn’t have to sleep on the couch again!).
Morning came and we all made the final packing arrangements. We enjoyed a lovely breakfast of french toast made again by Deike. After breakfast, we gathered our bags, said farewells and loaded into the taxi to head to the Port Elizabeth airport. I checked in and not to my surprise my bag was overweight, so the lady made me unpack my bag, which led to the eventual chucking of my towel in order to get it down to an acceptable weight. Once that ordeal was over, I waited for my friends to check in where I was approached by a seven year old boy, whom happened to have the same brown dog pillow pet that I did and wanted to point that out, which was slightly embarrassing since my friend saw it happen and started to laugh at me. Once we were all checked in, we went through security and sat at the gate where we were later joined by two of the other exchange students who were flying out that day. Finally, we all boarded our planes and headed to Johannesburg. I had a six hour layover there, so I met up with Ilyssa, one of the American exchange students, and we searched the terminal for a place to eat. After that, we settled down in some chairs and chatted while we waited for the three other exchange students to go through security and join us in the terminal. While waiting in the terminal, I happened to recognize one of the people who was perusing the shops and found out that it was one of the three guys from the Netherlands that I had met in Coffee Bay. We stopped and chatted for a bit about what we had been up to in the week since we’d last seen each other, which was a welcome surprise that reminded me of how small the world can be some times. After he left, it was soon time to start saying more final farewells to my friends since their boarding times were approaching. Some hugs were had, some tears were shed and overall it was a tad bittersweet. One by one, Teresa (the Italian), Celine (the French), and Deike (the German) all left the waiting area and boarded their flights towards home. Ilyssa and I were the only ones left, since Chloe (another American exchange student) had yet to appear in the terminal. Soon we walked towards her gate and we exchanged goodbyes, but they weren’t for good since we both go to college in the Boston area and are very likely to see each other again soon. I left her in line and headed towards my own gate, where I waited for awhile to board my eleven hour flight from Joburg to London. After a short layover in London, I boarded the plane for another seven hour flight to Boston. On this flight, I happened to be wearing my Wheaton sweatshirt, which one of the stewardesses recognized and asked me how I liked it since she had a legacy of family members that had attended, again pointing out to me how small the world can be. Once I arrived in Boston, I quickly went through customs, gathered my duffel bag and caught the silver line to South Station, where I caught the bus home with a few minutes to spare. After another four hours on the bus, which flew by, I arrived at the bus station, where my parents were anxiously awaiting my arrival. The bus ride was followed by another hour and a half in the car, which totaled my traveling to a whopping thirty-three hours until I was finally home in Maine. A day and a half of traveling really tuckers a person out especially if they only sleep for a total of four hours throughout the trip, so I passed out pretty early.
I’ll have to admit that it’s been a bit weird being back. At some points, it feels like I never left and that nothing has changed, but I know that I have as well as my home has. Most of me longs to be back in South Africa, but more about that later.
Until then, aweh aweh aweh!