Little did I know that on my final day I would, again, skip all planned activities and go out and do my own thing. As I said before, the trip was packed with activities from dawn to dusk. They failed to mention until the last few days that pretty much only the concerts were required events, and even if I probably would have preferred to go to our destinations it would have been nice to know that I could have relaxed if I’d chosen to. I don’t regret skipping them: I could have chosen between District 6, an historical region known for documenting the struggles of Colored people (which, again, are people of mixed race lineage), or a wine tasting tour for about $35. I would have gone on the wine tasting tour, but it left at 11 and I was so tired from the rest of the trip I decided to skip it in favor of a short nap. It was a glorious nap.
Afterwards I walked to the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront, a beautiful tourist strip that also functions as a working port. It was a lovely mix of modern and traditional, sporting both an African market and a mall with an H & M and a McDonald’s (we may have walked through the H & M to compare prices; according to sources, they were about the same). They also had an array of food options, from fast food to $50 lunch entrees, and we decided to split it down the middle and go to a restaurant on the lower end of the upper tier price range. The food was delicious. I had a tube calamari appetizer with a lemon butter sauce; the catch of the day, fresh from the harbor; a berry pavlova (though my friend who convinced me to try it told me it was different and inferior than any he has tried before); and a light, fruity bottle of white wine for the table that complemented the seafood, all for a cool $22 per person. We even got lucky and got a little bit of Wifi. It was a relaxing, tasty meal, and we discovered the restaurant was closing 3 days after. I imagine it was bought out by a higher end chain for its prime real estate. Regardless, while unfortunate for the restaurant, I was blessed to have a good meal with good friends on the tail end of our final days in South Africa.
Here my group split: a friend and I found our gifts the day before, and the other two wanted to do some last minute shopping, so they stayed behind while we went back to the hotel searching for a café with Wifi. It was 4 pm on a Sunday and we didn’t have any luck near our hotel so we ventured off to Long St where I had perused the African Market a few days earlier, knowing it was a touristy street. We found out it was not touristy on Sundays. Everything was pretty deserted save for a few shops like the the barber and the rare liquor store, and without other foreigners it was pretty questionable. We started to head back to the hotel when a man approached us and said “I’m not a bad guy.” Well, he was.
We hastened our pace but he kept up, telling us he had a wife and child and he wanted some money to pay for some milk. People had heckled me earlier on the trip so I brushed him off and told him I couldn’t give him any money. That was when his story changed and he intimated he had a knife against his thigh. My blood ran cold. I was in a shady part of town, it was approaching night time, and it was only me and my one friend. My hands immediately became clammy as I reached into my pocket and gave him the only bill I had, a 10-rand bill. He whined that this wasn’t even enough for some bread, and I kept stuttering that I didn’t have any larger bills, pulling out all the change in my pocket and dropping it in his hand. This thankfully appeased him and he left us, literally taking all the money I had. It was only 22 rand, which is less than $2. I was lucky he didn’t ask for any cards or other valuables, and my heart didn’t stop racing until well after we reached the hotel room.
I’ve never been faced by such real danger in my life. Did he actually have a knife? Probably not. But was he a strange man threatening to hurt me in a foreign country? Yes. He was an expert at his insidious craft, because as he trailed behind us my friend called out, “Have a nice day!”, apparently hearing none of the man’s threats; those were saved only for me, even though our ears were inches apart. They always say not to dress too obviously as a tourist. And in all fairness I think it’s more because my red hair and my friend’s fair, Asian complexion make us look perpetually young. Regardless, I will never forget that experience.
I was still in shock by the time the next activity rolled around, this time being mandatory. It was our final group dinner, so the premise was we all had to be together to hear the seniors give speeches. Once we got to the restaurant it was a cool experience. We first had a drumming workshop, where we were taught how Africans learn to play drums. While I’m used to reading notes on a page, they learn to play rhythms by ear. I’m still not very good at it, but the workshop was informative. Then as the meal came out they gave us the option to get our faces painted. I obliged, however I didn’t really like my design. Each of them had a meaning, however they never told us the significance behind them. I can just imagine mine meant “pale ginger.” Once we finished dinner we realized we couldn’t stay in the restaurant for the speeches so we rented a room in the hotel and returned there, spending over 3 hours just listening to people talk. It was a necessary evil. By the time I finished packing it was past 1:30 and I fell into bed, ironically getting my first night of good sleep of the whole trip during our final night there. Our final flights were just as eventful as our flight there, and for that I am grateful.
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I’m bad at conclusions, so I’ll just say this: South Africa has something for everyone. I drove through a safari, experienced an unparalleled choral cultural exchange, and embraced my basic side and forged my own adventures when my appreciation for tourist sites ran thin. There’s shark-diving, wine tours, and hiking, and they have a unique history both shielded from and informed by Western influence; it just depends where you look. While I would have never chosen South Africa as my next vacation destination, I can now only vow to return and experience more of the beauty, passion, and community I found there. But until that time (and my family trip to Italy coming soon!), I bid you adieu!