We shared a spacious house with a group of young Europeans, who were either volunteering or interning with local businesses. We got along well but, as usual, we were the ma and pa of the group.
The city is large with wide, attractive beaches, friendly people, and good restaurants. Our time went quickly, we could drive like locals on the opposite side of the road, and we were ready to see South Africa.We hit the beach towns along the southern coast, each one pretty and unique, ending tanned and rested in magnificent Cape Town, jutting into a deep blue Atlantic with vistas of Table Mountain at every turn. We enjoyed Stellenbosch, a historic university town at the center of South Africa's lovely wine country. Over scenic mountains, we toured the Karoo desert, then were off to Wilderness National Park and another splash in the Indian Ocean before some terrific hiking.
We were back on the overnight train to Johannesburg, greeted at the station by yet another remarkable woman. Flora is a sixtysomething retired nurse who has built a comforting oasis in Tembisa, where a million poor people live on the outskirts of the city. We spent three weeks working with disadvantaged Zulu — English-speaking kids, who flock to Flora's Center for day-care, a meal, some fun, and help with schoolwork. The children were inquisitive, grateful, and happy to be at this warm place created by this extraordinary woman.
We spent time exploring St. Lucia, a World Heritage Site famous for hippos and crocodiles, before heading to the famed Kruger National Park for our long-awaited safari. The park is huge and everything we imagined. We saw lions and leopards, giraffes and elephants, hippos and rhinos, buffalo and wildebeest, zebra and ostrich, impala and spectacular birds, never tiring of the display of nature and wildlife.
In South Africa, we enjoyed great weather and a very exciting adventure. We saw some amazing things, met some wonderful people, and hugged some kids whom we will always miss. Travel has made me appreciate even more my good fortune in being born in a rich democracy, and has convinced me that regardless of culture and circumstance, people the world over have common hopes and aspirations.
Michael Neumerski writes from Merchantville. To comment, e-mail TravelTalk@phillynews.com.