Home city: I was born and raised in Cleveland, OH, and still claim it as my hometown, but I’ve lived in Birmingham, AL, for the past 12 years so I now count it as home as well.
Travel destination: Johannesburg, the Township of SOWETO, and Cape Town
Why South Africa?
This particular trip was initiated as a business trip. I own and operate a consulting company providing grant writing, grants management and training services to non-profit organizations and government agencies. I partnered with a long-time friend and mentor and we were contracted to conduct a grant writing training for representatives from countries in Africa that have received federal grants. Of course, I wasn’t going to go that far without building in some time for personal travel too.
Had you been to Africa before?
Yes, this trip makes twice that I’ve visited South Africa and I’ve also been to Uganda twice. There are so many misconceptions and negative stereotypes about what Africa is like in general. I encourage anyone who hasn’t visited the continent to go and experience the beauty and wonderful people for themselves.
Because it was a work trip, I was accompanied by my friend and longtime mentor Bev. She agreed to extend her trip as well so that we could explore together on our own after we were done with work.
Length of Stay
We were in the country for two weeks. We spent the first nine days in Johannesburg, then flew down to Cape Town (at our own expense) to spend a few days there.
The great thing about traveling for work is that someone else foots the bill and I was able to fly in premium seating. However, I think the going price from the Southeast U.S. to S. Africa is around $1,200 to $1,500 for a seat in coach (where I usually travel when I’m on my own). I’ve seen some great deals to Africa lately in the $600 – $800 range and I always post them in my Facebook Group called Traveling is the New Black. Some other great sites to monitor are Flight Deal, Secret Flying and, of course, I love Black Girl Fly.
How much was boarding and how did you make housing arrangements?
Again, my hotel arrangements in Johannesburg were covered under our contract. We stayed at a Radisson Blu. Most business class hotels in downtown Jo’Burg run about $150 or so per night with a government rate. But much better package deals can be found with flight and lodging at properties that are more targeted to a vacation traveler. We stayed at a Hilton in Cape Town and the rate was about the same, but it was a nicer facility.
First thing you felt when you stepped out of the airport
The first thing I though was “I’m exhausted!” It was something like a 15-hour flight nonstop from Atlanta to Johannesburg. That’s a long time on a plane. We also arrived at night. So it was too late sightsee. All I wanted to see was the shower and the bed in my hotel room. However, we built our schedule to arrive a few days early so we could adjust to the seven-hour time difference. So we had time to explore before our work started and more time built in at the end.
Best moment of the trip
Since I visited two cities, I’ll mention two moments. The first was visiting the Nelson Mandela Statue at Nelson Mandela Square in Sandton (Jo’Burg). You walk through the mall expecting to come out and see an average statue but it’s like 20 feet tall. It’s shocking if you don’t know what to expect. I think it’s an excellent representation of the way his legacy looms over the entire country. Everywhere you go, there are pictures and tributes to him. I think the size of the statue adequately represents his contributions to changing unjust apartheid laws in the country and human rights worldwide.
In Cape Town, the most moving experience was a tour of Robben Island where Mandela was imprisoned and actually being able to stand at the cell where he was housed. As an African American, the experience definitely required me to pause and reflect on all of his sacrifices.
One thing anyone who goes to South Africa must see
If you visit Cape Town, in addition to Robben Island, you must visit Table Mountain. Its been declared as one of the top natural wonders of the world. The cable ride up the mountain and the views at the top are amazing.
One food/drink travelers must try
I recommend spending some time in SOWETO and enjoying one of the restaurants where you can enjoy authentic African food. The exchange rate is very favorable, so eating out is very affordable. During one tour, we had access to a buffet and everything was delicious.
What should you know about being a Black American woman in South Africa?
South Africa is the most developed nation on the continent, but there is still extensive poverty. When possible, I suggest supporting local, independently owned businesses in order to support individuals in the local economy. Also, if you plan to visit Cape Town, be prepared to encounter the racism that still exists there. It’s mostly subtle, but can sometimes be in your face. It’s been 20 years since apartheid was abolished. However, attitudes entrenched by decades of legally enacted racism don’t go away easily.
Would you go back?
I would absolutely go back. I’d love to go on a safari and to visit one of the many wineries I’ve heard so much about. A trip to Tanzania is also high on my bucket list.
Next destination on your list
My next destination is Brazil and I’ll be leaving at the end of October. I scored an awesome deal and bought a roundtrip ticket out of Orlando for less than $300 (yes, you read it right!). So I’ll be there for nine days.
First, I’m flying into Iguassu Falls to stay at a hotel in the national park and tour the Falls for two days, then I’m flying up to Rio Da Janeiro and finally on to Salvador. I’m really looking forward to seeing the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio and also exploring Salvador, which is rich in African heritage. There were more slaves transported to Brazil than anywhere else in the diaspora, even the United States.
Where can people follow your travel adventures?
I really have a passion for travel and spend a lot of time sharing travel deals and other travel-related info that helps people to realize that anyone can travel. You don’t have to be rich. You only have to have a commitment and a desire. I especially want to encourage African American travelers. I blog about my travel experiences on www.travelingisthenewblack.com. I also have a Traveling is the New Black Facebook Group and post pics under the same name on Instagram