When I was 17…my first travel love
When this month’s travel link up email arrived from Emma I was initially undecided about what I would write about, I had a few ideas but none really stuck. To be honest I waited to see what the rest of the travel link up gang including hosts Angie and Jessi) had written about before I made my final decision. I thought about writing about the other half, my general love for travel, sunsets, why I love my adopted home town in London and why I’ll always still love my ‘real’ home in Yorkshire but in the end I’ve gone for a dedication to the trip that really kickstarted my travel love, South Africa when I was just 17.
Picture the scene it’s the year 2000 and an excited 15 year old comes home from school and tells her parents she has signed up for a 5 week expedition to South Africa and it’s only going to cost £3000. The look on their faces is a mixture of shock, disbelief and ‘no you are not going!’. This scene is almost par for the course now, as a school teacher I know full well the range of opportunities offered to students and the amount of trips and visits available are outstanding; but when I was a student going on an expedition half-way around the World just wasn’t the thing you do and the companies that now specialise in these types of trips for schools were just in their infancy. With this in mind it was understandable why my parents were so concerned at first, however when they started to learn more about the process I would have to go through before I even got to South Africa and fundraise the £3k myself they were fully supportive and I didn’t look back raising the money and more enabling me to go.
So flash-forward 2 years to 2002 and I am now 17, waiting at the local coach station for the rest of my team. It was here that I had my first pangs of travel love. I loved my backpack, I loved all my unnecessary travel clothing, I even loved my ridiculously clompy walking boats. I was hooked, I remember waving goodbye to my parents from the coach bound for Heathrow airport and feeling a little bit of sadness that I wouldn’t see them for weeks but that I was mostly desperate to get on the plane to South Africa.
Leaving the airport in Cape Town I was immediatley struck by the disparity in wealth amongst the city; high rise luxurious apartment blocks that wouldn’t look out of place on the South Bank cast a shadow over much smaller homes that more than likely were home to many more people in a denser space. This was my first ‘real’ experience of travel, I’d been on package holidays before and done city-breaks but I’d never ever seen a country beyond the tourist resorts and I wanted to see and learn more.
Our group were booked into the Big Blue Backpackers Hostel near the V&A Waterfront and again this was another first time for me; staying in a hostel and one I’ve repeated over the years (however not so much anymore!) it opened my eyes to a whole over way of travel. Meeting travellers from all corners of the globe, I suddenly felt very mature as a 17yr old me shared stories of our walk up Table Mountain with others in the communal kitchen. If this was what travel was like; I wanted in!
I have so many memories of the trip; some are etched in my mind because of a beautiful view or the people I met, others due to an experience I’d never had before and a few that I’d rather forget but won’t because they remind me of a truly life-changing trip (slightly cheesy I know!) that brought about my love for travel forever.
The bits I loved
Climbing Table Mountain: We’d only been in Cape Town for a couple of days but our first challenge was to complete the walk up Table Mountain (no cable cars for us!), it proved to be a great bonding experience for the group and rewarded us with many great photo opportunities and memories to take home.
The team I travelled with: I don’t keep in touch with the whole team apart from an odd post or message now and then on Facebook but for a long time after the trip, the people I travelled with were some of my very best friends and I know that we’ll always be connected via this awesome experience we once shared.
Meeting locals: Never one to be a wallflower it’s safe to say I threw myself into this trip whole heartedly and tried to get to know people I met along the way who weren’t part of our team. Like the time I got involved with the band on the Victoria and Albert Waterfront.
Accomplishing things I’d never done before: I’d never spent this much time away from my parents, or done so much walking, sleeping in a tent, canoeing, living out of a rucksack, cooking my own meals, riding in crazy death-trap taxis…the list goes on! It was the first time I felt independent and I’m sure was the catalyst for me wanting to move to London two years later.
My first taste of volun-tourism: Our trip wasn’t all fun and adventures we did have some more serious work to do in the form of some community and conservation based work. This is now known as Volun-tourism and back then I thought I was being super helpful and was so proud of what we’d all accomplished in ‘helping others’. I now look and back and do still think what we did was great but it was merely tokenistic compared to some of the projects that are offered now. This is down to the brilliant infra-structure and on-going local work that School Expedition and Gap Year companies have set up.
The bits that I grew to love (even though I hated it at the time)
Sleeping in a tent: Sharing a tent for the best part of four weeks quickly drains on the soul, however when I look back now I can’t actually remember much of the sleeping so it can’t have been too bad. If anything it’s set me up well for being Duke of Edinburgh leader at school!
Camping on a flood-pain and getting rained off a mountain: We’d just completed the first day of a gruelling trek through the Cederberg Mountain region and we were all camped up ready for the night. However our tired slumber didn’t last long when one of my tent mates awoke and said she was cold, and soggy…looking around we realised our tent was taking in water. Out of the sleeping bag and ripping open the tent to see everyone else in total disarray! We had to pack up the soggy camp and make our way down the mountain very quickly, I remember this being the saddest I felt on the whole trip!
Having your food stolen by animals: If you ever go to South Africa and camp in the bush the one animal you need to be cautious of is the Rock Dassie. They may look like cute overgrown gerbil-hamsters but they are mostly evil and will find your food in your tent despite your best efforts to hide. They don’t want to eat all of it just decimate it enough so you can’t actually tell what it was in the first place! Meaning you have to eat the emergency food like this…
Walking ALL day for what like felt every day! There were so many walks and hikes and treks on this trip that it was enough to put me off it for the next year or so but sure enough my love for walking returned and I dusted off those walking boots pretty quickly!
Coming home! The worst part, I’d loved the trip so much I didn’t want it to end. Of course I wanted to see my family and friends but I knew this wouldn’t be the end of travel for me.
And the bit I love most of all: This trip is even more special to me now as a Teacher as I want to ensure that the students I teach have similar opportunities to what I did, so that they too can discover a love for this type of travel and adventure and more importantly learn about themselves and others on the way. Next year, 25 students from the year group I lead will embark on a trip to Borneo to undertake their own expedition, I hope I will be going with them but I might not. After all the trip isn’t about me, it’s about them finding their own love – and I hope they take as much from their experience as I did my own.