South Africa's beauty was beyond what I imagined. I avoided looking up any pictures to not expect anything, my blood was rushing with excitement and nervousness I was finally going to meet my tent partner and the people I would be travelling with for the next 40 days.
I arrived at the hotel quiet early but the first thing I needed to panic about was my malaria tablets - in the midst of all my injections and planning I bought the ones that give you nightmares and anxiety. I wasn't willing to have that for 40 days, so I checked in and got all the hotel staff running around with me trying to find the right malaria tablets. After dropping off my bags I looked around the hotel's reception, trying to identify what my fellow backpackers would look like, as if they had a description: "scruffy hair, ripped clothes, maybe a person who looks like they haven't showered in days? Possibly?". I asked one of the members if the girl sitting on the couch was from my tour group. He gave me a frustrated look and replied "yes, she's been sitting here since 10 in the morning using the Internet, what is this new generation?!" I laughed awkwardly and went right up to her confidently - at least what I thought seemed quiet confident - saying "hi! are you from the g adventures tour?". Because of her accent, I immediately recognised that she was from Australia, and after talking for a while she invited me to join her and her friend to see Table Mountain. I grabbed my bottle of water, all my camera equipment and chocolate as if that was so important but I had been running on a weird energy of not having slept for two days.
Jo - the other girl I met - had just come back from shark diving. Her story sounded insane, but Jo was exactly that type of girl - one who sought adventure wherever she could. She had travelled to over 50 countries, and Lindsey (the Australian girl) was the polar opposite - an introvert who was relaxed, appreciated her surroundings and enjoyed her personal space.
Table Mountain is 1085 metres high and the queue seemed more or less that amount of people in its length. It took us ages waiting to go up to the point that when we reached the top point we had about 5 minutes together before we had to take turns to queue to go back down to get to our first group briefing and meeting.
It hit me when I was up there: I'm finally here, I'm finally travelling, I'm finally away from everything and I'm on my own, no family and no friends to rely on. Little did I know how close you can get to a group of people you just got to know in a few days.
After making it back down the mountain my heart raced - I would be meeting the rest of the group in a matter of minutes. As I arrived at the hotel I met my tent partner, a 18 year old girl from Canada. My initial reaction was that I would be sharing a tent with a girl that's the age of my younger brother, but I suddenly realised my first faux pas: judging someone without knowing them. Whilst travelling, age and appearance does not matter - we are all here for a reason, and that's because we want to travel and experience new things, that's the base of our friendship.
When we were briefed I noticed that I was the only one wearing a scarf and hoped that no one would judge me. We were asked to introduce ourselves on the spot. I just said the truth, that I was here to see wildlife and do some photography - Wildlife wasn't exactly the top on my list but maybe it would be at the end of this trip!.
I managed to scan the room with the corner of my eyes when I first sat down and later on focused on them during introductions. We were all different ages ranging from 18 to 35, after all it was a 'you only live once' tour. There were couples who quit their jobs to go travelling, couples who have been travelling for the past few months. Friends who met on previous travels and the rest of us on the beginning of our adventure. We were 14 girls and 7 boys. It was a diverse group: germans, australians, Austrians, Swiss, British, Canadian, Americans, Danish and then there was me, the only Egyptian in the group. My initial thoughts were "where are all the Asians" I wasn't expecting any arabs but asians where are you out? I spotted a girl who looked so quirky that I thought right away, I am definitely going to to get along with her.
Colleen our tour guide is South African, Lezinda our truck driver is Namibian. Their accents are very similar and I enjoy listening to them. They both have very similar ways of dressing: shorts and t-shirts, their body posture and the way they talk comes across very confident and slightly manly. I feel proud and not one bit worried that there are two women touring us through Africa for 40 days.
I felt anxious that the group could be split into smaller groups.
Briefing was long, with many rules. Any form of discrimination would not be tolerated. This was a rule that put my heart at ease.
The next day we woke at 6am, our routine was: tents down, backpacks in the truck, breakfast, pack up everything and back on the road again.
We met Augustus, our truck. I pictured 'him' to be much smaller than this - probably half the size - I didn't even realise there would be so many compartments: a compartment for our luggage, one for our tents, and the rest were for kitchen utensils and food.
We left the hotel at 7am and were out of Cape Town within the hour. We headed to Highlanders Vineyard run by a kind man called Sparky, his wife and their two sons. The scenery was incredible on our journey, just miles and miles of untouched landscape that seemed to go on for infinity.
For the first time, we are taught how to set up our tents and boy are these things heavy! It took time and a lot of practice to get it right, thank god we were camping on grass and not sand.
I was the only one walking around with my hiking boots in the heat. I am not really keen on walking bare foot on the grass, but the least I can do is put on some flip flops which would make me feel much cooler and comfortable. After lunch a few of us decided to go on a hike. It was midday and boiling hot - in hindsight I regret this decision! I was the first one on the first day of the trip to already be sick. Not a good start...!
One thing that stood out to me were the showers: they were beautiful! It was basically a square a hole: as if it was a window with no glass. As a consequence, when showering, you have the most amazing and clear view of the mountains and scenery. It was incredible. I even end up showering twice just to feel better and have that view. We were told that these are probably the nicest showers we will have. I miss them already.
That evening, Colleen and Lulu set up a fire for us as the temperature dropped and gave us a briefing of what was going to happen the next day. Our day would start from 5am! After dinner we got closer to the fire and had marshmallows and then there was the moment we all had to say something funny about ourselves along with a casual introduction.
I panicked over what to say, everyones stories are hilarious and very personal and when it came to my turn I panicked a little and said: "Hi my name is Mariam, I hate camping, I hate the heat, I hate insects and to be honest I am terrified of animals, but here I am in Africa for 60 days." I was slightly embarrassed but I heard people burst into laughter which is always good sign. Frankly that line couldn't be more me.
Before bed I look up to the sky and realise this is the first time I see this many stars. What have I been missing out on? I head for my first night in the tent in my sleeping bag that was meant to keep me warm in 0 degrees which I can say now, it doesn't keep me warm in 10 degrees. As I zipped myself up in my sleeping bag, I realised that this was officially the beginning of my adventure and the first day was already over. I couldn't wait to see what else comes my way.
By Mariam Harraz
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