Four months ago Jessica and I set out on a journey of rediscovery. A journey that would crisscross through South Africa in hopes to find what I missed about my home country. What we stumbled upon were memories long forgotten, of foods, people and places most spectacular. Pinpointing what I missed about South Africa is no easy task.
Looking back at the months leading up to our trip, I have the same feeling as I did when we left Mexico. The stories and news had a common theme. Theft, rape, armed robberies, smuggling... the list goes on. Enough to put anyone on high alert.
During our four month, 5,000 mile journey, not once did we experienced any type of crime or encounter any bribe attempts, muggings, pickpockets, shakedowns or theft.
I am not saying they don't happen, but I can't help think that South Africa is not as treacherous as it is made out to be. Like most places in the world, a little common sense goes a long way.
After 4 months rediscovering South Africa, and now back in the States, I can tell you much more clearly, what it is that I miss about home...
The food culture in South Africa has been shaped by immigrants from around the world: From Indian bunny chow to German pig trotters. It is impossible to go anywhere and eat something bland or boring.
If there is one form of cooking that brings the Saffers together it is the Braai. Never call it a BBQ. It's built with wood or charcoal and sometimes a combination of the two. Bring out your fancy gas grill and you are likely to be slapped. Every braai is a social event, it is not about getting the meat on and getting it off. It is about lighting a fire, standing around chatting. Eating is a mere byproduct of this gathering.
South Africans are a vibrant people made up by a multitude of cultures and tribes. It is full of entrepreneurs trying to make a place for themselves. From the street vendors that stand on the lines between the cars at traffic lights, to the ladies on the side of the road making flowers from beads and wire. Go to any market and you are surrounded by a dozen languages, greet them with a smile and warm smiles greet you back. These aren't thieves and hawkers, they're just South Africans trying to make a living.
While exploring the Knysna forest, I learned that my great granddad was a lumberjack who lived to be 114. He once slapped a guy so hard that he killed him. The story still told today by distant relatives that had the same characteristics, mannerisms and habits as my aunts and uncles.
South Africa might not be a large country, but it is hard to find a place with so many different landscapes. From deserts to rain forests and mountains to plains. All homes to a huge variety of animals, many of them in protected preserves. From big to small, it does not matter how many times you see an elephant or a warthog you cannot help but watch in wonder.
Where else can you go to a rehabilitation center and play with Cheetah cubs or drive within feet of a bull elephant in a national park?
There are many of reasons I missed South Africa, and many more I will come to know in the next few months. One thing is for sure we will not be staying away for long.