Young, Wild, and Free

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South Africa Video

What a cliché title for a post. Under normal circumstances, I wouldn’t even say it’s accurate – I may be free, but after this last birthday I’m not that young and I certainly wouldn’t describe my-9PM-bedtime-self as wild. This latest trip to South Africa, however, proved otherwise – the five of us were YW&F to the max.

A South African safari has been on my list for a while, but it was a trip I figured I’d have to wait until my thirties to take; from what I’ve heard and read, it’s super expensive and, one would assume, requires at least a week or two to really do right. So much for that. 😉 South African Airways had a crazy sale if you booked on Expedia’s New Zealand website, so we paid ~$500 direct round trip for flights to Johannesburg from JFK. I arranged it so we’d only have to miss three days of work, departing on a Thursday morning and getting back to New York at 7AM on Tuesday… just in time for morning meeting. Three days off naturally shot my anxiety and FOMO through the roof, but I got over it – we were going to South f’ing Africa.

Three of my four girlfriends were extremely nervous about the trip – not only were we traveling really far, but we’d also be amongst some serious wildlife. Oh, and there’d be no wifi or cell service. I had to talk two of them off the ledge – one two months out, the other two days before departure. Because of everyone’s nerves, I knew our usual DIY cross-country road trips and AirBnB apartments were out of the question. I opted to stick with Kruger National Park and searched for the most secluded, comfortable, safe place to stay that we’d be able to afford. I pushed the girls to start saving early, as we’d spare no expense. It was worth every penny.

At $1,000 each, we rented the old ranger’s quarters in northern Kruger’s Pafuri Camp. We had a four bedroom fenced in house to ourselves, equipped with a pool and our very own pride rock. You know how Bravo’s Real Housewives go on vacation in their luxury rentals with people catering to them like queens? That was us, minus the hair and makeup and plus a few unexpected visitors at night (spoiler alert: they weren’t boys). We literally didn’t need to leave that house for anything – the package I booked included private chefs and two open-jeep safaris a day. Pafuri also arranged for our airport transport, which ended up being over six hours each way. The ride paled in comparison to our 16-hour flight, so no one could complain.

From the moment we arrived at Baobab Hill Bush House, we were in love. Our safari guide Sarah, on the other hand, did not share our excitement; she was expecting to greet a nice, experienced, well-informed American family, so I’m pretty sure she was instantly disappointed – not only were we not a mature family of five, it was immediately apparent that we were wine drinking, bug killing, painfully ignorant (at least when it came to animal trivia) twenty-somethings who absurdly traveled to South Africa from the United States for two full days. Her disgust was neither concealed nor apologetic, especially after we doused our sheets with Deet. God, I miss that girl. ❤

Contrary to popular belief, a real safari is not comparable to, say, Six Flags Great Adventure’s Animal Kingdom. It can be f’ing terrifying. Imagine driving through a pitch-black jungle in an open jeep with no other humans in sight, the only lights to guide you being the moon and a spotlight you’re using to search for shiny eyes. Have you ever heard a lion’s roar IRL? Better yet, have you attempted to follow its sound and track down the king himself? My poor friend Chrissy spent one ride sobbing. Somehow, though, our girl Sarah made us feel at ease; I can honestly say I never felt unsafe, even when she shared some horror stories.

Incredible safaris aside, some of the greatest experiences in SA took place right at our cozy Real Housewives home. It was literally 100 degrees outside, so to say it was hot would be an understatement. Our pool was a Godsend for both us and our nightly visitors: the elephants! We’d tiptoe onto our patio before bed and gawk at their grace, shocked that something so huge could sneak so quietly into our yard for a drink. The next afternoon, we’d jump – without hesitation – into our lele spit oasis, leaving bathing suits behind as it was even too hot for them. Talk about wild, especially for the girl who’s too chicken to go topless in Italy (soon io).

Despite ever-present adrenaline, we’d all agree that South Africa was oddly the most calming, surreal experience to date. By our fourth and final safari, we’d grown on Sarah and become a bit braver. Surprisingly, we’d embraced (and enjoyed) a break from cell service, soaking up every moment of just being with each other. We pushed our limits to the max and leapt from our comfort zones. If only for two short days, the five of us were the epitome of young, wild, and free.

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