The first time I stepped foot on foreign soil, I was a wide-eyed six-year old kid clinging fast to my mom’s hand as we cleared immigration and customs at John F. Kennedy International  Airport. It was a highly anticipated summer vacation for me and my sister, and the plan was to go sightseeing while we stayed with our aunt in New Jersey.

I remember being impressed by the roadways and the sprawling shopping malls.  I also recall welcoming Mom’s calming presence when I was thrust into the fast pace of life in Manhattan.  For me, that was exemplified by the moving throngs interspersed with the honking horns from the zig-zagging, yellow taxis. The grungy subways and packed trains. The faded red brick and brownstone façade on the buildings. All the sights and sounds that were an onslaught to my then unworldly island-girl senses. But oh, how memorable they were!

New York is where I got bitten by the travel bug, and I lay blame squarely at my mother’s feet for what’s now been diagnosed as an incurable malady.  She’s had to help me control my “habit” over the years by joining me on trips I’ve taken to feed my insatiable wanderlust. Luckily, it’s a price she’s been willing to pay as she is also an avid explorer.

Mom and I have dodged Green and Rock iguanas, and hung out at many pristine beaches in Grand Cayman, Little Cayman and Cayman Brac. We’ve sailed on the Nile River in a wooden felucca while listening to zen-inducing Bob Marley music, and kicked up sand riding camels during a stunning sunset in the Egyptian desert. She’s also been my go-to getaway travel buddy on day cruises to Bimini and Freeport in the Bahamas where we toured museums and walked historic districts, in between sampling tantalizing local fare like guava duff and conch salad.

 

Standing in front of Mandela's statue at Victor Verster Prison in suburban Cape Town - photo courtsey of My Travel Stamps copy

Standing in front of Mandela’s statue at Victor Verster Prison in suburban Cape Town. (Photo courtesy of My Travel Stamps)

 

Without a doubt, the most meaningful trip for us was our visit to Robben Island in South Africa. It was a moving and symbolic place that reflected “the triumph of freedom and human dignity over oppression and humiliation”.  Nelson Mandela’s story, and those of his inmates, taught us a lot about how far we’ve come, and simultaneously highlighted how much further we still need to go as a human race.

 

One of the many highlights of my 10 day trip to South Africa was standing on top of Table Mountain and absorbing spectacular views of Cape Town. The cliffs. The harbor. The city’s 360-degree skyline. And of course, the 3500+ ft. drop. In that moment, I wondered what REALLY made the Mother City – birth parent of the problem child turned publicly-shunned child, otherwise known as Apartheid – tick. Was it the endemic system of self-centered government that chose profit over people almost every single time? Or, was it lucrative small businesses like the popular waterfront cafes and shops, where pleasant employees provided excellent customer service to curious and animated visitors like me, wherever we went? I also speculated if it could be working-class mothers (like Pinky ) who, as a by product of the country’s lingering divisiveness, were cooking dinner for their families in communities far from the base of the mountain. Pinky called a small tin-roofed shack in the depressing township of Khayelitsha home. It was a place where water spurted from a rusty communal tap. And where kids spent their childhood, not watching cartoons on large screen TVs or playing Pokeman Go on smartphones. Oh, no. They played animatedly outdoors in dusty, dirt tracks. ‘Streets’ you’re unlikely to find anywhere on even the most updated version of Google Maps. My bet lay with her, and the thousands of others that I, and most other well-treated tourists, would never get to know. But to be fair, no clear answers emerged. So the truth is, I still don’t know.

A photo posted by @mytravelstamps on

 

Outside of that, South Africa in itself was a revelation. The gorgeous city of Cape Town boasted photograph-worthy spots like Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s church; the jaw-dropping Table Mountain (which they tout as their African Wonder of the World); as well as craggy Boulder Beach and the surrounding sleepy fishing community of Hout Bay.  Other highlights included visits to Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, Chapman’s Peak, Cape Point and the Cape of Good Hope, which is sometimes referred to as the romantic meeting place of the Atlantic and Indian oceans.

Last, but by no means least, was our safari adventure. It’s not every day that you get to go on game rides to see leopards, lions, elephants, buffalo and rhinos with your momma. Who better to be with when you’re feeling anything BUT brave in an open-top jeep after your driver and tracker leaves you to go hunt a pride of Simbas? No one.

 

 

And of course, our story of treasured journeys together continues.

 

Tommie

Tommie is a Gen X writer who developed an appetite for globetrotting even before she saw an airplane. Today, she takes that same sense of awe to each new country.

Visit Tommie at My Travel Stamps and follow her on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest.
Tommie

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