I wasn’t used to this sort of thing -- sleeping outside on a mattress that had been drug out onto the deck. But everything about South Africa was outside of my comfort zone. Both raw and pristine, rugged and charming, it was the very definition of contradiction. And so I slept, fitfully at first, under the stars on a private game farm overlooking the valley with the Mabalingwe Mountains in the background.
I’d come here for a man (how often have you heard that one?). But until that moment, I’d only seen the country through his eyes -- his stories of playing rugby, the chutney his mother used to make, the landscape of his childhood. I’d heard so many tales it was hard to distinguish what was South Africa and what was him.
While it wasn’t as savage as the country I’d imagined in my mind, it certainly wasn’t for the finicky either. When my boyfriend told me not to turn on the light at night while going to the bathroom, he wasn’t kidding. One flick of the switch and a mob of bugs went scurrying across the floor right under my feet! And then there was the time I went to get a soda from our campsite only to look up and see a ceiling full of bats. But there was also the mama baboon we had to stop for as she crossed the road with a baby on her back and a hyena nursing her pups just six feet from where I sat.
So despite my fears and reservations, I gave into South Africa that night and she became more than memories I’d borrowed from someone else. That evening, I slept under a blanket of stars and awoke to the rustling of the trees in the morning. “Whatever you do,” my man whispered, “don’t move. Just watch.” And so I lay there, perfectly still, as dozens of tiny monkeys played in the branches above us. They jumped, grabbed each others’ tales and lunged for what remained of the previous night’s dinner. It was my reward for facing my fears, my own connection to the land and a dream that no one can take away from me.