January 3, Day 521
Alarm goes off at 3 am. It’s dark and cold but it’s time to catch a flight back to Botswana and it leaves at 6 am.
Get up and put on some comfortable travel clothes and finish packing up my suitcases. Since I was sick for most of the trip I have a lot of food leftover that I never ate. All of my gorgeous taco shells, oat milk, soy mince and vegetables that I could never find in Botswana I couldn’t eat!
Oh well, there’s bigger problems in this world.
Pack up the food and carry my suitcases into the elevator and down the front of the building.
Stop and look around for Angelo. He would probably want all this food! He’s not working. Instead, I find a man standing nearby guarding parking spots and ask him if he would like my bag of food. He takes it. I hope he’s not disappointed by all the hippy dippy trippy food I have!
Hop in the car and drive to the airport. It’s amazing how I thought this city was so scary that first night I drove in from the airport and how it feels like home now. I feel deep inside that I am certainly not done with Cape Town yet! So much left undone. I will be back.
Arrive at the airport around 4:45 am. Where do I return this freaking car? I follow the signs but they’re taking me to a place that doesn’t seem to make sense. Whatever.
I park the car where the signs say to park the car. There’s no one around working. I find the Hertz office and return the keys.
Walk into the airport, go through security and hang out at the gate until we board the plane. It turns out the woman working at the gate has to assign me a seat.
“Do you have a preference of the kind of seat you would like on the plane?” the woman asks.
“I prefer not to sit near children. It’s still early and I’d like to get some sleep,” I reply.
Was that too harsh? It’s honest at least.
The woman doesn’t reply or react and hands me my ticket.
We board the plane and I immediately notice that every seat around me is filled with someone holding a baby. GREAT. Is this a joke?
The man sitting across the aisle from me is holding a little baby with blonde hair and the biggest blue eyes I have ever seen. At least all the babies are sleeping this hour of the morning.
Plane takes off and I fall asleep.
I wake up just as the baby with the blue eyes wakes up across the aisle. She’s happy and cute. She keeps staring at me over her father’s shoulder, and then I make a funny face, and she giggles.
Okay, now I feel like a terrible person. This baby is super cute and none of the other ones around me are annoying either. I’m going to hell for sure.
The plane lands in Johannesburg and we walk down the stairs onto the tarmac and hop on a bus that drives us into the airport.
I feel my nerves creeping up.
The Peace Corps tells us that Johannesburg is not safe for volunteers. In fact, before entering Johannesburg we have to inform the Peace Corps in Botswana, and they must obtain approval from the Peace Corps South Africa Country Director.
There are only TWO buses that go to Botswana each day. The first picks you up right at the airport and takes you to Gaborone Botswana. The second is located at the bus terminal in the heart of the city of Johannesburg.
When I tried to schedule a seat on the bus that leaves from the airport it was full. So, my only choice is to take the bus from the heart of the city in Joburg.
We are told it’s dangerous to travel alone in Joburg.
And yet, here I am alone, about to travel through Joburg.
It’s 8 am and the bus doesn’t leave until about noon. I decide to hang out in the airport for as long as possible and have breakfast. I’m also told it’s not safe to take the taxis from the airport, though there are a lot of taxis there, so I plan to schedule an Uber to take me to the bus station.
Find a cute little restaurant and order an olive omelet and a cup of coffee to kill some time. Afterwards, I wander aimlessly through the airport for a few hours until it’s time to leave.
Schedule an Uber and go outside to meet my driver. His name is Sibusiso.
“Hello, Ma’am! Are you Abbie? I am your driver, Sibusiso. Are you really going to the Joburg bus station?” he asks.
“Yes, I am going to the bus station. A pleasure to meet you Sibusiso!” I reply.
I hop in the car and we make small talk while he drives. He’s a really nice guy and I learn that he grew up in South Africa and has been driving for five years. Something in my instincts tells me I can trust him. He soon redirects the conversation back to the bus station.
“So, you’re going to the bus station? Why didn’t you take the bus from the airport?” he asks.
“Yes, it’s the only bus I can take today that goes to Botswana. When I tried to reserve a ticket on the bus from the airport last month it was already booked up! Can you believe it?” I say.
“Abbie, it’s not safe for you to travel in Joburg alone. It’s not even safe for me! I will drive you directly to the door of the bus station and make you get there safely, don’t worry; I will make sure you are safe. But this is a dangerous trip,” he says.
Great. I’m nervous, but trust him.
Goaba also warned me of how dangerous Joburg was when I told her I scheduled a bus ticket from the city.
“Girl! Do not fall asleep. People have been robbed at knifepoint on that bus. Don’t wear any nice jewelry or anything that says you have money and hang onto your handbag. Watch your luggage and put money in different parts of your body. Whatever you do, do NOT fall asleep on the bus,” she warned.
About 20 minutes later we arrive in the city of Joburg. For some reason the old buildings remind me a lot of Pittsburg. I see people standing on corners selling things. Nothing overtly dangerous.
Sibusiso escorts me to the door of the bus station and tells me where to walk. I’m so thankful for him!
I find that wherever I travel in the world there are good people everywhere. People are people at the end of the day. Sure, we might speak different languages or eat different food, but those are just things. We are all human and if we present ourselves as friendly and trusting, that is what we will receive back from others.
Walk into the bus station and get on the escalator and I see it takes me down to a gigantic open waiting room, almost like Grand Central Station in New York City, but without the information booth.
Uhhhhhh… where do I go?
As I’m going down on the escalator a man standing on the escalator going up is wearing a neon orange vest and sees me.
“Where to, Ma’am? I’ll take you!” he says.
Yes, I realize this guy probably doesn’t actually work for the bus station and is probably just assuming I’m rich because I’m white and wants money. But hey, I do need help!
I tell him where I’m going and he guides me through the crowd to the right line for my bus.
I give him a few rands to say thank you. I feel bad I don’t have more but that’s all I have.
“Where are you headed?” I hear a woman’s voice ask me.
There are two elderly women sitting by the queue for my bus, staring at me. I notice most people in the bus station are locals and I stand out. Pretty sure everyone is staring at me in here.
“I’m headed to Gaborone,” I say.
Just then, I recognize another volunteer from Botswana in the crowd. He walks towards me with a big smile.
What a relief! How nice to be greeted by someone I know in a moment when I’m feeling anxiety. He tells me he has taken this bus several times, no it’s not dangerous and I have nothing to worry about.
Another white man sees me and walks up to me. He doesn’t appear foreign. I get the feeling he’s been watching me and I feel uncomfortable. It feels as if he saw me getting on this bus and went and bought a ticket to get on it, too.
“Where are you going? Where are you coming from? Where are you from? What is your name?”
He is asking me a lot of questions and I don’t feel comfortable. My instincts say not to give him any information. I give short responses and pretend not to see him standing there watching me and turn my attention to the volunteer and talk to him instead.
The bus arrives and we walk onto it and store my luggage underneath.
Holy smokes, this is the NICEST bus I’ve ever seen! It’s a double decker with a bathroom and very clean. What a treat!
I walk upstairs and find a comfy seat. This is fantastic!
I am also acutely aware that the creepy guy is following behind me, so I pull into a seat on the right at the front of the bus and I see him sit in the row in front of me. As soon as he turns his back I get up and slink to the back of the bus and find a seat where he can’t see me.
This bus is great! I’m super comfortable now.
I see another group of volunteers from Botswana get on the bus. One of them mouths, “Oh, there’s Abbie Stevenson” into the ear of the volunteer in front of him and I wave. They don’t wave back and sit down by the creepy dude.
Whatever. This bus is great and we pull off. I enjoy people watching as we make stops in many different villages throughout South Africa. Against Goaba’s instructions I fall asleep. I have the whole row to myself on the bus anyways.
The bus roars on for another 8 hours and I see elephants and cattle on the side of the road and stare at the beautiful rolling hills in South Africa.
It’s interesting because as soon as you cross into South Africa it opens up to large rolling hills that look like mountains all around. Yet, Botswana is so close and almost entirely flat.
We get to the border post to cross into Botswana.
Everyone gets off the bus and has to go through immigration and take their suitcases through security to get to the border post in Botswana.
We wait in a long queue where we have to take all of the shoes out of our suitcases and off our feet and dip them in a little puddle of water to prevent carrying foot and mouth disease into the country.
I notice an American guy standing behind me, looking confused.
“It’s for foot and mouth disease. You should grab your shoes and dip them in that puddle,” I say, pointing.
He nods and says thank you.
Get through security on the other side of the border post and we wait for the bus on the side of the road to take us to Gaborone. I see the group of volunteers who didn’t bother to say hello to me also standing nearby. One of them is a good friend of mine and I actually had plans to meet up with him while we were in Cape Town but we didn’t call one another so it didn’t happen. That’s fine, because I was extremely sick the whole time.
He approaches me.
“Hey! I’m so sorry I didn’t say hello before and I’m sorry we didn’t get together in Cape Town,” he explains. “I’m really sick and I’m actually headed to the doctor right now. I think I have meningitis”
“Oh man, I’m so sorry! No worries at all and I appreciate you explaining! I really hope you feel better. I actually had salmonella poisoning while I was in Cape Town, too, so I couldn’t have gotten together anyways,” I reply.
There you have it, that’s the Peace Corps experience in a nutshell! Meningitis and salmonella, but powering through on vacation anyways.
We get back on the bus and I call my favorite taxi driver and ask him to meet me in Gaborone and take me to my hotel.
The bus arrives in Gaborone about 30 minutes later and my taxi driver is waiting right where he said he would.
He takes me to my hotel and we make small talk. I learn that he’s also 38, and wants to get married and have kids soon but is having a hard time finding a Motswana woman and wants it to be genuine love.
I arrive around 9 pm to the hotel. My village is another 7 hours south of Gaborone, back on the border of South Africa. Isn’t that crazy? I have to travel 9 hours north from South Africa to Botswana so that I can travel 2 hours south back down Botswana to the border. That’s just how buses work.
I’m also finally recovering from salmonella and exhausted beyond belief! I am in no rush to get back to the world of desert and bucket baths. I love that world. I just need a break to rest since I didn’t get any rest on vacation and I’ve been traveling since 3 am this morning.
Check into the hotel and my room is beautiful. Just what I needed!
Head downstairs to the restaurant and order a quesadilla and a glass of wine.
YES YES YES.
This is what I needed. I’m so happy to be back in Botswana, but not ready to go back to my village yet. I like staying here in my little bubble at the hotel. I talk to Colden while I eat and he tells me about his day.
Soon, I am so exhausted that I feel like I’m going to collapse.
Head up to my room, delirious. Quickly change into pajamas and collapse on the bed.