Johannesburg - Day 4 Final Day in AfricaFebruary 27 in South Africa ⋅ 🌙 22 °C
I slept reasonably well and got up early for a shower at 6.30am in order to leave time to finish packing all my possessions before checking out of my safari tent at 10am. It proved to be more of a squeeze to get everything into my large and smaller rucksacks than I had anticipated the previous day and I had to dispose of more unneeded things to make room. As I threw out my trial running/water shoes into a dustbin that I had worn pretty constantly during the journey and were now worn through on both toes and smelt terribly, one of the local hostel employees came up to me and asked for the shoes to wear. I explained that the shoes were in a terrible state but he insisted that he could patch them up and wanted to have them. I, of course, let him have them, and he thanked me and also asked for a pair of shorts that I had bought during the trip that were worn and stained. If there was ever a clear demonstration of the disparity of wealth and throw away consumer culture between my country and Africa then this was it. This man was delighted to have something that I was throwing away. I heard from the tour leader, Jemma, the following day that she had seen the man wearing my former shoes.
After finishing my packing, I went to have the light breakfast of cereal and toast provided by the hostel. I was joined by Graham and later Jemma and Grant. After breakfast I took my large rucksack out of my tent and stored it securely in a room behind the reception area. I kept my smaller rucksack with me. Grant had discovered to his dismay that we had picked up a puncture on one of the tyres of the hire car that we used for our excursion the previous day and he had to change the tyre. Afterwards, Jemma and Grant came and said their goodbyes to me as they were going to the caves in the 'Cradle of Humankind' and I would be heading for my flight home before they returned. Jemma had been an amazingly helpful and friendly tour leader during my trip and Grant had also been a kind, helpful and very enjoyable companion on the journey. It was sad to say goodbye and I knew I would miss them both. Grant kindly invited me to come and stay in New Zealand so I will hopefully see them both again in the future. This really did signal the end of my journey in Africa.
I then rested, wrote more of my blog, and waited for my transport to the airport provided by the hostel at 4pm. I sat with Graham on one of the picnic benches in the garden area near the pool. We had an enjoyable conversation and I discussed my thoughts about how I would like to take my creativity forwards by combining the writing in my blog, the photographs I had taken on the journey, and make artwork of the journey on my return home. The conversation clarified my creative intentions on my return.
I had a cooked lunch at the hostel and Graham and I had one last game of pool which we had played a lot over the previous few weeks in different hostels. This particular table was very challenging as the tip was coming off the cue, making playing shots extremely difficult, and there was a big roll on the table.
Writing my blog and transferring the many photos of animals I had taken the previous day from my camera to my phone meant that the day passed quickly and I was soon settling my bill and getting out my large rucksack in preparation to board the people carrier to the airport.
We drove through the busy traffic to the airport and I was joined by three other travellers who were flying home to Belfast and Paris. I arrived at the terminal quite early for my flight so waited a while in the terminal foyer until I checked in my large rucksack. I passed through security and had sandwiches for tea while I waited to go to the departure lounge. When I got to the departure lounge, I saw that my flight would be on the large, double decked A380 aircraft which is one of those aircraft that you wonder how it gets off the ground. I was soon then boarding the plane and heading along the runway and lifting up into the night skies with a glittering view over the orange and yellow city lights of Johannesburg. As we left Johannesburg the view out of the window faded into complete darkness. I ate the impressive vegan meal provided by the airline, had two glasses of red wine and watched BBC documentaries of African wildlife on my video screen. Watching all the animals that I'd seen on my journey through Africa in the documentaries, made me quite emotional and helped me to realise how much I had seen and experienced over the previous three months. My experience of seeing these African animals on the screen was richer and deeper now that I had seen them in real life and so close at hand. I now had a deep sense of their spirit, their particular personalities and their ways of being in the world. They had a strong familiarity and recognition to me now which wasn't the case before my journey in Africa. I knew that this would help to deepen my artistic response to them for my upcoming creative project.
I was fortunate to sit next to a very friendly older couple, living in Bude, Cornwall, who had just been to the Krueger National park and had been on several other safaris in Africa. We were therefore able to share our stories about our wildlife experiences and our love of the African wildlife which helped pass some of the ten hours of the flight enjoyably.
I tried and failed to get some sleep on the plane as we hurtled through the dark night. Apart from a few minutes of light dozing I find it extremely difficult to sleep on any transport and found it equally difficult to sleep on our overland truck no matter how tired I was. I took the opportunity to sort out the photos for several of my most recent blogs and waited out the long hours of the flight which experienced quite a lot of turbulence at times. Turbulence had previously made me feel a little anxious on flights, but I now seemed to associate the bumping and bouncing of the turbulence with the bumping and bouncing of our overland truck. I therefore now found it strangely comforting and nostalgic.
In managing to keep myself busy, the flight passed relatively quickly through the dark hours of the night. As we crossed the Mediterranean into Europe, I could see the lights of cities and towns below to remind me of the dominating presence of human activity in this part of the world. Earlier I had seen the lights of small towns that seemed to be illuminating the red sands of a desert that must have been the sands of North Africa. About an hour and a half before we were due to land at Heathrow airport, the lights came on and the flight attendants brought us breakfast. I enjoyed another good quality vegan breakfast of beans and vegetables with fruit. We were soon reaching the English coast and preparing for landing. As we slowly descended, there was a wonderful clear view over the enormous city of London lit up brightly below, with the pitch black curves of the waters of the river Thames snaking through, crossed by the many bridges like glittering bands around the river snake's body. We kept descending to a smooth landing on the airport runway and taxied into to where we would depart the plane. There was a rail shuttle to the security and baggage reclaim areas from Terminal 5 which took me a little while to work out. Once there, it was easy to pass through the automated security and find my rucksack on the baggage carousel. However, things did not go so smoothly after this. I found the National Express coach stop in good time, but a customer service representative misled me as to which coach to catch meaning that I watched my coach come and go and had to get a new ticket for a coach that left over an hour later. It was a genuine miscommunication by a not very competent member of staff, but my extreme tiredness from not sleeping all night, and my frustration at actually watching my booked coach come and go, meant that I became very angry with him, and over reacted to the situation, making a complaint, which I regretted later. This journey had further taught me how my moods tended towards extremes when I was very tired and I reflected on how I could manage these vicissitudes of mood better on future travels and in life in general.
The temperature felt very cold relative to the stifling heat of Johannesburg and I had to put extra layers on. The rain had also been falling steadily as I boarded the later coach and we headed through the airport terminal stops towards the M4 motorway. I watched the English winter countryside roll by the coach window and reflected on the extreme contrast with the huge vistas I had witnessed from the truck across Africa. English countryside was on a much smaller scale, but still has it's own lush darker green beauty, and in passing several roe deer in a field, i was reminded how it has it's own special wildlife. What the sheer density of life in Africa had taught me though, was that wildlife in Britain has been desperately depleted by industrialisation and intensive farming, confirming my passionate belief in the vital need to rewild the Bristish landscape as well as protecting the diminishing wildlife in a rapidly industrialising Africa and wider world.
The coach arrived in Bristol which looked very familiar as if visiting a place I once knew well but hadn't seen for many years. The intensity and volume of experiences I had been through over the previous three months had seemed like years in the making. I got an Uber taxi back home from the bus station and had the same experience when I entered my flat. It was as if I had lived there years ago, and couldn't quite remember where everything was or the daily routines I carried out there. My room had the same quality of seeming like it had been unlived in for many years. It felt like it had been deserted like the Marie Celeste and didn't quite welcome me back into its fold. One of my flatmates, Tom, had left the flat to go and live with his girlfriend in January but my other flatmate, Beth, was still there and her boyfriend was staying over the weekend. I emailed Beth at work to let her know I was back and it was good to catch up with her and Tim in the evening and talk about my many experiences in Africa. Beth listened attentively and told me about changes in her working life as she had left her job to start Social Worker training. However, I realised that I was in a position familiar to travellers, that noone at home could really understand what I had been through and experienced in my long journey through Africa. The only people that could really understand were my fellow travellers. It was therefore comforting the following day to be in touch with my fellow travellers on WhatsApp and continue the humorous banter that we had had during our trip. I already missed Africa more than I could express and knew it would take some time and some well needed rest to adapt to daily life back in England.
A couple of days later I looked at the nature ritual wheel that I used to connect with nature on a daily basis. I had placed 24 African animals around the wheel before I departed for Africa, none of which I had ever seen in the wild. In the long journey around Africa, I had now seen all these 24 animals and so many more which meant that I could connect with them more deeply when doing my daily nature rituals and making art and writing about them. I was closer to their natures and therefore that much closer to my own nature. We need this connection and witnessing of life on Earth to know who we are and our place in it and the wider cosmos. I had found such a place, like so many before me, in the wide plains of a wild Africa which stands as a fading beacon of the wild world we need to recreate and restore to this precious, but ailing, planet that is our one and only true home.Read more