The Safari Diaries

Avalon Skinner and Steph Sommer

The excitement of seeing wild elephants for the first time was too much to handle. After getting stuck in Atlanta, flying for a whole day, and dealing with a drought, the elephants were breathtaking. Follow along with this experience as Stephani Sommer and Avalon Skinner tell their story of nine IB students travelling to South Africa over the 2018 spring break.

Steph: There was a 15 hour plane ride ahead of us. None of us cared though because we were headed on the trip of a lifetime. South Africa was waiting to be explored. But first we had to get there.

Avalon: Our only layover after flying out of Denver was in Atlanta, just a short two-hour flight compared to the one ahead of us. However, an unfortunate chain of events happened. Long story short, Africa has a problem with human trafficking, and the minors needed their original birth certificates to travel there- and they didn’t have them.  Because we were minors, six of us plus our leader, Mrs. Zumo, had to stay in Atlanta while “the seniors minus Avalon” were in the air. My mom ended up meeting with all of the other minors’ parents back here in Cheyenne and flew. All. The. Way. To Atlanta (bless her soul) with all of the documents we needed in order to follow the rest of the seniors out on the next flight. Wow, I was so angry. I will say I am not the fondest of Hotlanta after this experience.

S: Meanwhile, the “seniors minus Avalon” were on a plane to Africa. After the longest flight of our lives, we landed in Africa and went straight on to exploring.

While we were upset to leave most of our classmates behind, we knew Mrs. Zumo would be upset if we didn’t at least try to have fun.  We ended up at a theme park, which doubled as a gold mine, so we did learn about the history behind that. Also, we got to pet lion cubs and a cheetah! Then it was off to pick up the rest of our group, who we hoped would come with our luggage.

A: I was sad we missed petting the little lions, but we were grateful to have seats on that plane. I ended up sitting next to two South Africans who kept speaking Afrikaans, the native South African language. I will admit, it is a cool language but it didn’t make the insane flight any more manageable. We got to the airport, almost lost some luggage, and I got a bloody nose while getting my passport stamped. We were excited to be there and I think the other seniors agreed…?

S: We were excited to have Mrs. Zumo!!! Just kidding, we were glad the rest of our group could join us and start our adventures.

When we got up the next morning, it was set out to be a great day. However, that quickly turned around for me because the very first ATM we went to ate my credit card. Great. The rest of the day was a lot of fun though.

A: Yeah, it was! We took the scenic route to one of the other provinces and stopped at this huuuge canyon that made me feel so small. Then we went to some natural potholes (I took a lot of photos), and lastly we went to Lisbon Falls, which was the opposite of what you would imagine by going to Africa. It was green, leafy, foggy, and the water was pouring over a cliff edge. I loved it there. What was your favorite part of that day, Steph?

S: I think singing Africa by Toto on the best was the best part. Having all of the kids singing and Mrs. Zumo laughing at us is something that always make me smile.

The next two days in Africa were the highlight of my trip because, when I picture Africa, my mind automatically thinks safari. The group woke up at 4:30 two days in a row to go to Kruger National Park, a safari with tons of animals. We got to see rhinos, hippos, lions, giraffes, and – my personal favorite- elephants. We all got so excited every time we would come across a new animal, and it got to be relaxing to drive through the savannah with our guide. It was a true African experience.

A: It. Was. So. Amazing. After the second day of the safari, we went to an African village where we got a tour, gave bouncy balls to the chief for the kids, saw a story told through song and dance, and most importantly, ate WORMS. They are saltier than you’d expect, but I ended up eating two (I don’t know why)…

S: Yeah, I honestly have no idea how you managed to eat two worms, when I could barely get one. They were like tiny fruit gushers… ew.

A: When we drove back to Johannesburg we went to the Cradle of Humankind, a site where the oldest-known hominin bones have been found. It was the coolest museum I have ever been to.

And the last day in Johannesburg we went to the largest township, Soweto, where we visited Mama Winnie’s house. She was Nelson Mandela’s second wife and she died a few days prior, just after we had arrived in South Africa. They were holding marches at her house, and our tour guide somehow got us in. To say the least, it was probably the most chaotic experience of my life.

S: Honestly, that was probably the most traumatizing experience in Africa. Not coming face to face with lions or almost drowning in the ocean, but a funeral. That day was our final day in Johannesburg, so we took a quick flight to Cape Town to see a different part of the country. Cape Town is directly on the beach and is more cosmopolitan, compared to the land-locked, historical Johannesburg, however they are in a severe water shortage so our showers had to be 30 seconds long.

A: Yeah, those short showers may have been more stressful than Atlanta (not even close). The first full day we had in Cape Town we took a quick boat ride over to Robben Island, an island like Alcatraz for political prisoners during the apartheid years in South Africa. We were toured with one of the men that was kept there, and he had some amazing stories to tell. We also saw Nelson Mandela’s cell, which was pretty surreal. What was next?

S: We arrived back onto the mainland and got to explore the city some more. We went to a local market and bought from local vendors. The market was pretty scary though, considering we witnessed a drug deal about two feet away. Everywhere has their scary spots though.

A: Even though I didn’t see the drug deal, the market was intimidating, just like that night’s dinner. We sat at these long tables that had drums sat on each chair. Before food was served, some drummers led a how-to-drum session, and there was over 100 people drumming at once. We were then served a total of 14 dishes, each from a different African country. We tried things like ostrich and cardamom ice cream, all while being surrounded by African singing and dancing. So cool. I was jamming to the music the entire time.

That next morning, we didn’t get up Safari-morning early, but it was as the sun was rising. We took a rotating cable car up to the top of Table Mountain, a flat-topped mountain that we hiked around at the top. It was misty that morning, making it really eerie (and giving way to a lot of photo ops). We then took a bus trip along the southern peninsula where we stopped at an ocean lookout, fed ostriches at an ostrich farm, hiked up to a lighthouse, stopped at the southernmost point of South Africa, and saw penguins. It was a busy day.

S: Our final day in South Africa was the most relaxing and fun day we had. We spent the entire day at the beach, swimming and tanning. Every time we got in the water, we got wiped out by a wave or two. The water was freezing, but we didn’t care because we were having the time of our lives. I think that the beach day was my favorite because it gave us all time to bond and have a good laugh before having to come back home.

A: I think the flights home were more dreadful than the ones there. The guilt of not working on homework also caught up with me, and I was sad that we were leaving such an amazing continent. We finally got home around midnight after more than 36 hours of travel.

Even with these rough patches though, they won’t ever deter me from going as many places as I can.

S: The trip once truly once in a lifetime for everyone who went. We ate ostrich, came face to face with elephants, and almost drowned in the ocean, but all of it was worth it. If you ever get the chance to travel to far off places, do it. The best way to see the world is to experience it yourself.