Well, my trip is officially over and I can’t believe how fast it went! Two years in London has shaped so many memories and caused me to grow in so many ways. This past year, I’ve had many opportunities to do some pretty cool things! I went to Friends Fest, the Chocolate Show (again!), Aladdin, Kinky Boots (twice!), School of Rock, a rugby game, The Nutcracker Ballet, the Carlsberg Brewery, Stonehenge, the Birmingham Christmas Markets… I moved apartments, got a full-time job at an amazing school, went to the Lindt Chocolate Factory, had tea with cats, flew eagles and owls, saw the Grey Cup, fed giraffes and giant tortoises, pet elephants and lions, WALKED lions, jumped off a cliff twice, and went white water rafting… I went to too many concerts – Billy Joel, Ricky Martin, Empire of the Sun, Close Talker (twice!), Bastille, Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Kooks, The Beach Boys, Elton John, and Phil Collins… I went to 24 new countries (Romania, Germany, Denmark, Slovenia, Lithuania, Ukraine, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Kosovo, Albania, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Hungary, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, South Africa, and United Arab Emirates) and 2 countries that I’ve already been to (Croatia and Italy). And I’ve met many new people and made many new friends along the way! Coming back home feels bittersweet, but I’m excited to see everyone once I get there.
I guess I need to catch everyone up on the last of my trip… I forgot to say in my last blog (because I thought it wasn’t necessary) that when we did the rhino trek, I wasn’t feeling very well. I found difficulty in climbing a hill and I started to feel really light-headed and hot. Towards the end of the trek, I had to speed walk back to our truck so that I could chug a bunch of water. When we went back to the camp, I was shaking and needed to eat something so I could raise my sugar levels. I didn’t think anything of it because after lunch, I felt a lot better. However, that night, I could hardly keep my eyes open during and after dinner. (Up ahead is a little too much information, so feel free to skip to the next paragraph if necessary). I headed to bed at 8pm and that night, I woke up at 2am feeling really sick and I ran to the toilet. Again at 5am, I felt sick and had to run to the toilet. This time after I was sick from one end, I turned around and threw up three times! I don’t remember the last time I’ve thrown up from being sick but it was horrible and I just wanted to cry. I skipped breakfast that morning cause my stomach couldn’t handle any food. After I threw up the first time, I ended up having to go to the toilet every ten minutes cause I was sick from the other end. The muscles in my legs were really achy and I had little energy. Lucky for me (not), it was a driving day (a long one) and I knew it was going to be horrible when within the first ten minutes of us leaving, I already had to go to the bathroom again. I curled up in a sleeping bag in the bumpy, back part of the truck (where the garbage can was, just in case) and I tried to sleep (and I think I succeeded for a short amount of time! Which considering I can never sleep in any type of vehicle, I felt was a great achievement). We stopped for a few bush toilets (aka peeing in the bush) but since I couldn’t trust my body at the time, I decided not to risk it.
9 long hours later, we finally got to Victoria Falls! We had to sit through a briefing that went over all of the activities we could do and by that point, I was starving (which was a good sign since I hadn’t eaten all day). I ate some dinner and signed up for my activities, but my legs were still killing me and I was still feeling slightly lightheaded so I decided to stay in that night while everyone else went out for dinner. Luckily, I had some company while everyone was gone so I got to have some good conversations with a few people on the truck. My tour guide told me about how he had malaria twice and I was petrified that I had gotten it too. He said that the parasite is only active for 12 hours of the day so if I felt worse again the next day, we’d have to go to the clinic. My tentmate and I decided to upgrade to the dorm rooms while in Victoria Falls just in case I got sick again, and it only cost us $5 each per night so it wasn’t that bad! I went to bed at about 10pm and the next day, I felt great! I’m hoping my situation was just a bad case of heat stroke/dehydration, or something along those lines. That next day, I was signed up for the half-day adrenaline package, which included a flying fox ride, a zip line, and two gorge swings. I started off with the flying fox, which held me from my back so I basically did a superman flight over the gorge. It was so awesome to see how large it was, knowing that the side of the gorge that we were on was Zimbabwe and the opposite side was Zambia. I somewhat started to freak out when I stopped in the middle before they slowly started pulling me back, because I was just hanging there with no choice but to look down. The next one was the zipline, which was the easiest. Then was the gorge swing… it consisted of a 7-second freefall until the rope tensed up and then you’d just swing back and forth in the gorge. Since I had a small audience, I didn’t want to chicken out but I continued hesitating to jump off. The guide would say, “3.. 2…” and I’d be like, “Wait! Can you count down again?” “3..2..” “No, start from 10!” And then he just pushed me off! I screamed until I had no air left in me. I actually thought I was going to die but once the rope tensed up, the swing was so fun! And after I did it once, I went ahead and tried it a second time. I thought it would be easier (and it was to jump off) but the falling part was just as scary as the first time. My adrenaline was so high for a good part of the day! That afternoon, a few of us went to check out some of the markets (I found a Christmas tree ornament!) and then six of us went for high tea. It was the same as you would find in London – tea, scones, sandwiches and desserts, but the service wasn’t so great and the macaroons were stale 😦 . However, it was at a really nice hotel with a lovely view! That evening, we spent the night dancing; it was a great night!
The next day, I had no activities planned so a few of us decided to walk through the park of Victoria Falls. My body started aching again and I think it was because I was so tense during my cliff jumps the day before. It made it very difficult to do stairs though! Victoria Falls is the largest waterfall in the whole world, and it was quite spectacular to see! It took us about 1.5- to 2- hours to walk along the length of the park and it was impossible to not get wet. A few of us girls went to have slushies at a cafe that had a nice view of the gorge. Then, we met up with the rest of the group and we went to the Sunset Lodge, where we could have drinks while watching the sunset. Because we had to leave for whitewater rafting at about 7 the next morning, I decided to have an early night. On Wednesday, I got up nice and early, and even ordered breakfast. However, by the time my breakfast came, I only had about five minutes until we had to leave for rafting. Therefore, I only managed to have a bit of my eggs and all of my bacon. We had to sit through an induction, which went over all of the safety rules and then we had to walk down into the gorge. The walk probably took about 15-20 minutes and I knew that going back up would suck. However, I was told that after rafting, we’d have a barbecue and then we’d walk up the gorge. The rafting trip included 19 rapids but we had to skip over a few of them because they were higher than class 5 (meaning extremely dangerous). It was my first time rafting and it was a lot of fun, but I started to lose all of my energy right after we got halfway through the rapids. Considering I didn’t have a full breakfast and we didn’t have lunch until about 2:30, I was completely worn out. When we finished rafting, they told us that we had to take our lifejackets, helmets, and paddles, and walk up the gorge so we could have our barbecue. I thought they were kidding! They warned us to avoid giving our paddles/lifejackets to anyone (there are people who wait at the bottom who offer to carry everything up for you) or we wouldn’t get them back. However, after about ten minutes of walking up the gorge, my legs had turned into jelly. I literally couldn’t walk up the gorge no matter how hard I tried. Someone ended up just grabbing everything from me without even asking and when I asked if we were close and he replied with, “Yes, we have about 15 minutes left,” I nearly just gave up. I’ve never been close to crying from physical exhaustion but that day, I was on the edge of tears and I was fully willing for them to just leave me there because I had no strength left in me. I think that with the combination of not having food that morning and my body and muscles still recuperating from being sick, it probably wasn’t a good idea to take part in those physical demands. The guy who was carrying my stuff had to take my hand and literally pull me up the rest of the gorge because I wouldn’t have made it up on my own. When I finally got to the top, I was so out of it. I went to get some food and all I wanted to do was burst into tears. I stared into space while eating and I couldn’t take part in any conversations until the energy started kicking in again. We got back to our hostel at about 3:30pm so I had a shower, and then a few of us went back to check out the markets one last time. I got one good deal, which I was happy with! We went back to the hostel and then a few of us went for dinner before I had another early night. Because it was our last night in Victoria Falls, most people stayed up and danced but I was completely worn out.
On Thursday, we had to leave at 6am so that we could go to Kasane, Botswana. The border crossing was the easiest one we’ve ever done, so we got to the camp at about 9:30am that morning. We made breakfast and then we had the option to go on a game drive in the morning, and a game cruise in the afternoon. The prices ended up being more expensive than quoted so I decided not to go and instead, a bunch of us just hung out at the campsite for the afternoon. It was a nice, lazy day to have! The next morning, we had to get up early again to drive to Maun. It was my last full day with the group, and it was another long driving day. We finally got there at about 3pm and then we stopped at the grocery store so everyone could get food for their upcoming trip to the Delta. When we finally got to camp, the sun was setting so we quickly put up our tents and then I helped with preparing dinner. That night, I had to fill out feedback forms for the tour and get all of my stuff packed. Even though my flight out of Maun wasn’t until 2pm, I still had to get up and ready by 6am with the rest of the group, since the tent had to be packed up. We had breakfast and then I had to say my goodbyes to everyone else. There were only two of us leaving (the other one was Michelle from New Zealand) and most people were continuing their 73-day trips. After everyone left (including Michelle), I stayed at the hotel for a few hours until I had to go to the airport. I instantly felt lonely (which continued for the next three days). Even though I enjoy my alone time, I got used to being able to talk to one of 24 people whenever I felt like it and this time, I didn’t have that option. I caught a shuttle to the airport and then got on my flight to Johannesburg. At the beginning of the flight, a flight attendant walked down the aisle while spraying insect repellent! My flight was only two hours, and there was someone there to pick me up from the airport. I had heard a lot of negative reviews about Johannesburg because apparently there is still a lot of tension between black and white people, so I was told to always walk with someone and to not walk after dark. However when I got to the hostel, there were only two other people there (a couple) and I had a whole 12-person dorm to myself (hence my feeling lonely in Johannesburg). Johannesburg is absolutely huge – its area is four times larger than Greater London, and it has 12 million people! That night, I ordered a pizza to be delivered for dinner, I had a hot shower (which I didn’t have to share with any insects or frogs), I had a bed, and I got to watch two movies! I remember sitting in the hostel lounge just thinking about how bizarre it felt sitting on a couch and watching Rio while eating pizza. I bought a 2-day Hop On-Hop Off bus ticket so the next day, I used it and stopped at the Apartheid Museum. I spent about 2.5-3 hours there, where I learned about the history of South Africa and the separation between races. In 1913, they passed a land act, where 8% of the land was reserved for Africans while 92% was reserved for whites. In 1950, they passed the Immorality Act, which outlawed sex and marriage across racial lines. The 1953 Act prohibited different racial groups from using the same public facilities. When we entered the museum, we were randomly assigned whether we were black or white, and we had to enter through the correct door. In terms of schooling, the government would spent 40 on Africans and 644 on whites. The whites were taught regular school subjects – biology, history, etc. while the African people were basically trained to do slavework. African people weren’t allowed to vote and the whites were paranoid that if they gave the Africans too much power, they’d be taken over. I also learned about Nelson Mandela and how he was imprisoned for 27 years before finally being released and becoming president. It blew my mind to find out how long the Apartheid lasted for, and really made me realize how the British and European people took over so much land all over the world and caused so many others to suffer because of it. After the museum, I took the bus back to where I started and I walked back to my hostel, which took about a half hour. The next day, I did more of the bus tour. This time, I went to Soweto, which is a smaller community outside of Johannesburg, where a lot of the African people were sent to (because the whites didn’t want them to be in the cities). Soweto is where Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu grew up (on the same street!), so it was possible to tour Mandela’s house if we wanted to. After that, I went to World of Beer. It was about to close in an hour and I didn’t want to miss the final bus, so I decided to forego the tour and instead, just go straight to the bar. I had to pay 40 Rand (4 dollars) to get into the bar, but I got two drinks with it so it was quite a good deal!
Tuesday was my last day in Johannesburg and I decided to just spend it in the neighbourhood that I was close to. It had a huge mall, as well as a market. The market was extremely expensive, since most of the items came from other parts of Africa (ex. Zimbabwe) so everything was a lot more expensive than all of the other countries I went to. I spent most of the day walking around the mall, and then I went back to the hostel to charge my phone before I had to head to the airport. My flight was leaving at 10:20pm that evening so I had to take an Uber to the airport, and then I flew to Dubai. I tried my hardest to sleep during my flight since I was arriving at Dubai at 8:20am in the morning and would have an 18-hour layover, but my body wouldn’t let me sleep! I arrived in Dubai and lucky for me, my tentmate actually lives there! So she picked me up from the airport and she showed me around the city. First, we went by the beach, where we had breakfast at Tim Horton’s(!). I was so excited, I bought everything I could. I didn’t know what the conversion rate was until AFTER I ordered so when I looked it up, I realized that I had spent $17 on Tim Horton’s. It was totally worth it though! I got an iced cappuccino, a half-and-half French Vanilla, an apple fritter, and 20 timbits. They asked if I wanted a regular or a large of both of my drinks so I said regular, and they were absolutely huge! I swear they’d be our extra larges in Canada. After breakfast, we went to The Palm, which is a man-made island that’s shaped like a palm tree (you’ve probably seen it in photos). It has a gorgeous Atlantis hotel at the end of the island, but we could only spend a limited amount of time outside since it was “feels like” 41 degrees. It was unbearably hot! We then went to Dubai Mall, which is the largest mall in the world. Just like West Ed, it has a skating rink, but it ALSO has a huge aquarium. We got to see the tallest building in the world as well – the Burj Khalifa. We went out for lunch/dinner at Cheesecake Factory, which ended up costing $27 for a lunch-sized pasta, but it was so good! Afterwards, it was about 4pm and Nicola had to go back home so I decided to go back to the airport. Even though I still had 10 hours to kill, I was quite tired since I hadn’t slept. I killed time doing crosswords in the airport and I even fell asleep for an hour right before boarding! The flight left at 2:45am and was 7 hours, and I (miraculously) fell asleep as soon as we lifted off. I slept through all of the snacks and got about 4.5 hours in! I woke up in time for breakfast and then we landed in London at 7:20am. I caught the bus back to central London and got to my hostel quite early. Since I couldn’t check in, I left my luggage at reception and then I went to Kim’s to get some more of my luggage. I stayed for a chat and by the time I got back to the hostel at 2pm, I was able to check in! I showered and then my other suitcase got delivered to the hostel so I could transfer everything from that suitcase into the one from Kim’s. I then went out for a couple of drinks with someone I met from the hostel before going back to Kim’s at about 10pm to get my last suitcase. I was finally moved out! The next day was my last day in London so I spent the entire time walking around – down Oxford Street, Tottenham Court Road, China Town, Leicester Square, Piccadilly Circus, and Bond Street, while feeling nostalgic and sad. Halfway through my walk, it started POURING (which I’ve learned to expect from London) and I welcomed it. For the rest of the evening, I finished packing all of my stuff so that I’d be ready to wake up at five the next morning. Today, I got up and requested an Uber but once he came, he said he wouldn’t be able to fit all of my suitcases in his car. I said that it’s been done before (and it has! I’ve done it twice in the exact same type of car!) and he said that he’d have to fold down the seat so I should order a bigger Uber. I was pretty upset since the other Uber took an additional 15 minutes to come, but he got me to the bus station right before the bus was about to leave and I made it to the airport! My flight ended up being delayed due to traffic control and we didn’t leave the tarmac until 50 minutes after we were supposed to leave. My flight is 9 hours and I have a 2 hour layover in Edmonton to go through customs (which may now be shortened if we arrive late), so hopefully I’ll make it to Saskatoon! Thanks to everyone who has kept up with my blog during the past two years; it’s always nice to hear feedback and know that people have been reading about my stories. Can’t wait to see everyone! Love always