Accidental Tourist

Africa is not for sissies, and other words of advice to our foreign visitors

Thaya Bedford advises tourists on how best to enjoy our beautiful country – without judgment and with a sense of adventure

23 December 2018 - 00:04 By Thaya Bedford
Image: Piet Grobler

Having basically grown up in a hotel, I've observed a lot of curious behaviour from people who visit our beautiful country, based on their own experiences of living in "first world" countries or in non-African countries. 

I want to take them aside and explain that "Africa is not for sissies" (our extremely unofficial tag line) - in the kindest, warmest South African way, of course.

So, here goes. If you're the kind of person who would go to the doctor for mosquito bites (true story), then Africa is probably not for you.

If you are offended by the lack of vegan options outside of the cities, then rather go to Bali. You're in Africa. Home of the braai. Seriously.

Spiders in your room? We've got them sometimes. Before you arrive, you should probably practise how you'll slide them into a bottle and release them outside.

Allergic to all green foods? You shouldn't expect a tiny restaurant in the middle of nowhere to accommodate your demands and I advise carrying around some biltong, a Savannah and at least five litres of humour in your handbag to navigate this beautiful country if you're a picky eater.

The food the food the food! I feel the Western Cape does set the rest of the country up for failure with tourists (no offence meant at all, but really, just look at this year's Eat Out awards). With their city's Test Kitchen being among the top 50 restaurants in the world, plus La Colombe, the Restaurant at Waterkloof and Wolfgat (among many other mind-blowing restaurants), Capetonians empathise with how visitors must feel once they enter butternut soup zone beyond the border of Somerset West.

OF COURSE there are epic restaurants in Elgin, Stanford, Swellendam, along the Garden Route, in KwaZulu-Natal and Joburg, but what I'm saying is that your average guest house, lodge or small-town restaurant in SA is not about to set the culinary world on fire.

Your average guest house, lodge or small-town restaurant in SA is not about to set the culinary world on fire

There are 11 official languages spoken in South Africa: Afrikaans, English, Ndebele, Northern Sotho, Sotho, Swati, Tsonga, Tswana, Venda, Xhosa and Zulu, and most South Africans speak at least two. It's not up to us to speak "clearer". You can listen harder to those of us trying to speak a language that is not our mother tongue.

And we live here, so we invite you to adapt to our accent and experience our culture when you're visiting us because that's one of the delicious reasons for travelling!

We have rain, hail, sunshine, wind, bitter cold and snow in some regions, and we braai in all of them. If you cancel your trip or want your money back because it's not 100% sunny when you stay, we will laugh and laugh about it until the kudus come home.

Internet/anything that needs repair: I've seen tortoises move 90% faster. This is not Germany. We put our feet up and we braai and then someday the washing machine repair person will arrive.

Perfectionists. Um, no. Loud, colourful, noisy, courageous, rambunctious, musical, gritty, big-hearted, warm, passionate and wild, perhaps, but I wouldn't describe us as a nation of perfectionists - and I love this about us. Enjoy our cultures (wildly different to your own) without judgment, and you'll leave with a fever in your heart for our country that will have you dreaming of coming back.

Wild animals? What a privilege. Find a baboon near your chalet when you are staying somewhere off the beaten track? What a wonderful story to take home with you! This is not material for a TripAdvisor complaint. You came here for the wildness.

Even giraffes are now on the endangered list. The next generation may never get to see them in the wild. Savour every second that you spend in the presence of these endangered creatures. We hope you'll think of the millions of people who dream of seeing animals in the wild before you leave your Google Review about the giraffes not being as tall as you had expected.

In closing, I'd just like to remind everyone to check their shoes for scorpions in summer, and to be grateful for their epic adventures in SA.

These are the observations of one South African woman who is asking you to venture down our dusty roads to everywhere, to sink your teeth into our culture (and our tjops) . and to always, always wear sunblock.