“Everyone of whatever race, nation or creed who comes to Africa feels a magnetism that cannot be ignored or explained. Because it is primeval. Because Africa is like a mother calling her children home. Old, addled and poor she may be, but the pull of the umbilicus is still there. Irresistibly.”
– John Ryan, One Man’s Africa.
The Rainbow Nation was the name given to South Africa by Archbishop Desmond Tutu after its first democratic election in 1994 since apartheid ended. It’s a metaphor for the coming together of all different peoples who live in South Africa – a nation with 11 official languages.
This is a perfectly descriptive name, not only because of the diversity of the people here, but also the biodiversity. The constantly changing microclimates give a feeling of entering a completely different world constantly, all within one country.
Allow me to show you:
Red is for the Karoo
The Karoo is one of my favorite spots in South Africa. This vast bush land spans several provinces and is full of wildlife, sloping mountains, and red canyons. Pictured here is a place called the Valley of Desolation with tons of wildlife and great hiking.
I know most people will think I’m crazy for preferring this rugged hot environment to the serenity of a beach or the magic of a forest, but the vast distances stretching from fingertip to fingertip, not another person in sight, give a real sense of peace and aloneness that I have not often felt before.
Most people stop while just passing through, but this is a mistake. The Karoo is a destination in itself.
Orange is for Hogsback
Leaving behind the beach and trading it in for pine trees and giant butterflies only a bit inland of the coastal drives is a welcome change. The smell of the air morphs from salty sea to fresh trees. The sounds of waterfalls and baboons roaring in the distance reminded me that yes, we were still in Africa.
The permaculture farm where I stayed (Terra Khaya) is completely off the grid, offers a beautiful sense of peace and oneness with nature, and best of all, provides views like this one from the outdoor shower.
Yellow is for Golden Gate Park
Looking back on my photos and remembering how it looked and felt to be hiking through the beautiful Golden Gate Highlands National Park, I’m instantly transported back to this lovely place. I had so many “Oh my God, I’m in Africa right now,” moments as I took in the vistas and layered green mountains.
It’s easily one of the most naturally impressive places I’ve ever been. There were hardly any other people around, but there were plenty of wildebeest, zebras, kudu, and springboks running around. Don’t just stick to the Garden Route in South Africa. Check out the middle parts, too.
Green is for the Drakensberg Mountains
In South Africa, every now and then, you just stumble upon a fact that is so impressive you can’t believe everyone just talks about it so casually. ”Like, “the origin of mankind is north of Johannesburg,” or “you can see all of the Big Five in Kruger National Park”, and especially, “if you take the Amphitheatre Hike in the Drakensberg, you’ll see the second tallest waterfall in the world.”
The day before, I didn’t even know it existed. A few hours in, I was across from this magnificent site with horsemen from Lesotho making peace signs and taking selfies with me. It’s all in a normal day’s fun in South Africa.
Blue is for the Wild Coast
I passed through Coffee Bay briefly on my South Africa road trip, but with some time left over at the end of my second month in the country I thought about the places I really wanted to return to, and this place kept popping back into my head. I found myself there for nine additional days, unable to uproot myself.
Turn in any direction and take a walk and it’s just gorgeous and green. The round and brightly colored houses typical to the area give it such a unique look. Cows laze away on the sand. The water is rough but warm enough to swim in. There are cliffs for jumping off of, and holes in limestone walls for swimming through.
When I go back to the Rainbow Nation, I know what will be on my list again and again.
Indigo is for the love
Indigo is the color of the rainbow that is the hardest for the human eye to clearly distinguish, but we know it’s there.
The same goes for the friendly vibes and welcoming nature of South Africans – it’s something you feel.
I’ll never forget the time when my road trip buddy and I stopped for some street-side BBQ next to a metal shack on our way to the Drakensberg. At first the cook was a bit surprised to see us, but turned to all smiles when he realized we were foreigners interested in trying his food.
His mother came out and was so delighted to have international guests, she took down my email address and invited me to stay if I ever returned to her town. She even followed up a few days later, extending the invitation once again.
I don’t think I’ll ever forget that. Not her kindness nor her smile.
Purple is for Cape Town Sunsets
Cape Town is hands-down one of the most beautiful cities in the world. A giant mountain rises up from the middle, and doesn’t quit until it circles the coast right out of the city. The sunsets there are just incredible, whether from the top of Table Mountain or from Camps Bay below.
It used to be that when I was asked about my favorite country to travel in I’d have a hard time answering the question. They all have things that are great for certain interests, like hiking, beaches, or culture. However, now I have no problem answering that question: South Africa. Regardless of what you’re looking for in a vacation, chances are you’ll find it there. It really has everything.
Expect to see me back soon, Rainbow Nation.
Have you been to South Africa? What was your favorite part?