RachelCushing's Travel Journals

RachelCushing

  • From Georgia, United States
  • Currently in Stellenbosch, South Africa

Chasing my lions

I have always wanted to be a traveler. Everything about the nomadic, exciting, adventurous, and unsure lifestyle just calls to me. Having only been out of the country once before that aspiration has thus far been, well, just that; an aspiration. But now I have been given the amazing opportunity to spend five months in Stellenbosch, South Africa and come one step closer to being that traveler. This journal is the catalogue of my various adventures in and around South Africa.

The Best is Yet to Pass

South Africa Stellenbosch, South Africa  |  Dec 23, 2012
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 I am finding more and more that the lessons and values I learned from both positive and negative experiences during this adventure are not only clear and ever present, but evolving and alive as I find myself applying them to my everyday life even now 

As my trip is coming to a close I have begun to realize that it was a time filled with ‘greatests’ or ‘bests’, if you will; greatest adventures, greatest joys, greatest challenges, and even confrontation of greatest fears. Interestingly enough, many of these ‘greatests’ manifested during the time I spend traveling outside of South Africa on the three-week road trip I took with two classmates, Liz and DeeDee, to Victoria Falls. Taking us through Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, and Zambia our journey, among many other things, required transit by car, foot, bike, train, and generous rides from strangers. Not only was this my first official, long-distance (and by long-distance I mean involving the crossing of multiple national boarders) road trip, but it was also my first time visiting developing countries. That is, non-developed nations that house the many serious and complex issues that can be found in what political scientists call periphery or semiperiphery nations; extreme poverty, poor infrastructure and high crime rates just to name a few.

The natural scenes and wonders that we experiences on this adventure are surely one of the foremost reasons this trip measures up as one of my greatest adventures. Beholding the Okavango Delta, the Chobe River, Victoria Falls, Etosha National Park, Three of Africa’s “Big Five” (Lions, Leopards, Elephants, Rhinos, and Water buffalos) and the unparalleled Namibia night sky will forever hold a place in my memory as events which sparked my adventurous spirit to a new level. There were, however, less extravagant experiences which had similarly significant impacts on my life. These experiences were where I found myself facing less positive ‘greatests’. When our trip commenced, Liz, DeeDee and myself had our journey thoroughly planned in nearly every facet we saw possible. Unfortunately, (or maybe fortunately, depending on how you take it) we soon learned that there were aspects of traveling with other people that you can never plan for. Primarily, the development of roles. Being 21st Century women, we certainly understood the logic and inevitable nature of social roles on a general level. That is, if you were to tell us that we would each shorty develop certain functions/responsibilities in the planning, orchestration, and development of our journey, I doubt any of us would have been shocked. Regardless, looking back on the trip now, I can tell you that these roles were not part of our pre-departure worries/thoughts/plans. As it turns out, I would take on the role of navigator, packer, and in-commute snack preparer. While some of these roles are more important than other (god knows the wrath of an un-fed driver can be destructive), they all seemed to settle into place around the same time: about three days into our trip. Liz was the primary driver and the best at erecting our tent, preparing the campfire, and cooking our fireside dinners. DeeDee brought a much needed ‘laid-back’ and comical vibe to the group in times of high tension as well as being the strong and assertive representative voice when dealing with testy bureaucrats at nearly all of the four boarders we crossed. All in all, a week into the trip it seemed as if we had each found niches in our little travel system which required our specific personality strengths. Despite this initial collective harmony, this system soon showed its true colors; or should I say, its true flaws. It is interesting how traveling with friends shows you just how similar or different you are from those friends. As it turns out, Liz and I shared two of the same major personality flaws. That is, a tendency to be passive aggressive, and a desire to be in control 98% of the time. While one might think that uncovering similarities would act as a positive revelation in a friendship, the nature of these two similarities made the development far from helpful. In fact, we begun to see the structure of our little travel pack fall apart at their hands. It was there in the rubble of this structure that I faced one of my ‘greatest’; that is, one of my ‘greatest challenges’. I was traveling through four unfamiliar, and by many standards relatively dangerous, countries with a group of people I was beginning to feel less and less positively connected to. The smallest disagreement would send me into a fowl mood that lingered for several days and my tendency to not air these issues only made my frustration fester and spread. It wasn’t until one night when Liz and I butted heads over dinner plans that I finally lashed out. Turns out, this was the best thing I could have done. Although the discussion began with us both being extremely defensive, an hour later we had actually discussed the problems that had been following our little group around like a ghost for the past week. And it was from here that I gained two of the most important facts about ‘travel life’ I hold in my experience arsenal. They are; first, don’t take it personally. When someone doesn’t agree with you or has a different idea of how the trip should progress, it’s not personal. Traveling with other people means traveling with other expectations, desires, fears, and comfort levels. Second, air it out. Don’t let the annoyances and frustrations fester. This will only lead to infection which will inevitable cause the entire group to grow ill with resentment and anger.

Although the specific, detailed memories of the harsh arguments and magnificent experiences that filled this trip are certainly not gone, I have begun to feel the clearness of their occurrences fogging over in the heart wrenching and unstoppable way that all memories tend to age. That being said, I am finding more and more that the lessons and values I learned from both positive and negative experiences during this adventure are not only clear and ever-present, but evolving and alive as I find myself applying them to my everyday life even now. Moreover, while some of the best experiences of my life have come and gone as I leave this adventure behind me, I would say that these ‘bests’ have yet to pass. They stay with me in a way much more real and influential than any one memory of a magnificent natural wonder or petty argument ever could; they become components of my character and shape the way I move forward in life. 

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