By Eileen Bennett, 2-time traveler, Claremont, New Hampshire
I’ve always loved to travel. And I tend to explore places that have cultural differences that are totally unlike my own. So, before I choose a new destination to travel, I always ask people where they’ve been—and find out the places they simply can’t stop talking about. During a recent trip to Turkey, I started chatting with some of my fellow travelers about our past trips. Several people in my group told me that I had to go to South Africa.
So when I returned home and received a catalog for Grand Circle’s Highlights of South Africa vacation, I had their suggestions in the back of my mind. Their wonderful memories of their trips, along with my desire to see the wild animals and bustling cities of South Africa, helped to make my decision to travel to this new place.
Eileen (on right) and fellow traveler, Sondra Lucas, ride an elephant in Botswana. The baby elephant nursed from his mother during the entire ride.
I don’t really have a travel companion, so I normally travel on my own. Group tours make this really easy for me because I’m able to meet people that love to travel just as much as I do. Rather than be stuck with one or two people, I have a whole group of people to connect with. And I was able to take advantage of Grand Circle’s Single Supplement—and was really pleased by the wonderful value I received.
The trip, Highlights of South Africa, really couldn’t have been given a better name because the entire experience was a highlight for me.
Eileen and a local guide prepare for their visit to an elementary school in Swaziland. Everyone visiting Swaziland must wear the same wrapped “skirt” with the king of Swaziland’s image on the front.
The history of South Africa under apartheid is a damning chapter in world history. I was anxious to see how South Africans were adapting to the changes—and there were many opportunities to ask. From Program Directors and local guides to bus drivers and the family who welcomed us into their home for dinner, everyone was willing to share their experiences and opinions. The problems are many: AIDS, unemployment, drugs and crime, and lack of education.
Our Program Director, John Finch, was simply wonderful. He not only opened our eyes to South Africa in the places we were scheduled to visit, but he also helped us see the more intimate side of his country. One evening, John took four of us to a Chinese restaurant he often visits, where we met his girlfriend. It was so interesting to see how he and his girlfriend interacted—and to see John as a local living in South Africa, rather than our Program Director.
After her elephant ride, Eileen gives treats to her new friend to thank her for a good time.
South Africa enabled me to visit a place completely different from what I’ve experienced before. I know it sounds silly, but when I travel, I like to go out and see stuff. I’m not really a museum person. When I go to a new place, I want to learn about the way the people live, hear their language, and see their country’s rich colors. And during this trip, I did just that … and more. I even rode an elephant! I figured, why not do it while I’m there? There aren’t many opportunities in life to ride into the bush in the warm African sun on a magnificent (albeit very smelly and uncomfortable) animal.
I experienced something new every single day. I left South Africa stunned by its beauty, and hopeful that it will eventually thrive and become a major world economy and an example of cultural diversity at work.
Explore the more intimate side of South Africa as you interact with the locals on our Highlights of South Africa vacation.