There is always a danger in returning to somewhere you loved, whether decades, years or mere months have passed. My Floridian friend yesterday returned (for the first time) to the town where we met, back in 1979. I cannot imagine what that felt like for her. Likewise, I posted earlier this year about returning to Phuket, and the horror we felt. We have deliberately refrained from returning to Vietnam, after we both visited before the US embargo had been lifted, before Vietnam really returned to a place in the world after its relative isolation from 1975 and through the 1980s. (Though curiosity is likely to get the better of us sooner rather than later). And so we have generally chosen not to re-visit favourite holiday destinations. Where we’ve returned, it has usually been by chance, or as we passed through a particular place (eg Venice, this time last year). If I’m honest, this is mainly because my husband prefers to visit somewhere new. The world is a big place, and there isn’t enough time to go everywhere.
Yet I like going back to somewhere I’ve been before. I like the feelings of familiarity, the feeling of belonging, rather than the feeling of being a complete newbie, a wide-eyed out-of-place tourist. I have returned to cities frequently on business, and always enjoyed feeling at home in Manila (approximately 20 visits), or Phnom Penh. We’ve visited Australia frequently too, and I know the centre of Sydney better than I know the centre of Auckland – but then, Australia doesn’t really count. Visiting places I’ve been before requires much less organisation, and involves less stress (as I’m the chief travel planner). There’s a real comfort to it. So when it was my birthday, I managed to convince (that is, I begged) my husband to return to South Africa, and even to return to one of the same game reserves we had visited in 2009.
As I said at the outset, there are dangers to revisiting somewhere that was so magical on the first trip. You go with expectations, and expectations set you up for disappointment. But we knew this, and tried to lower our expectations accordingly. And yes, there were disappointments:
- It rained. A lot. And that places a dampener (pardon the pun) on any holiday, let alone one where you’re in an open-topped vehicle for up to eight hours a day. (Not to mention the photographs of us wearing fetching (cough) green rain ponchos! And no. You will not be seeing said photographs.) Some rain was expected – but not days of rain.
- With the rain came cool temperatures. It was supposed to be the beginning of summer with temperatures in the early-mid 30s C. I took a suitcase full of summer clothes. I didn’t get to wear any of them – bar a couple of T-shirts on the two warm-ish days we enjoyed in our more than two weeks away.
- With the rain came clouds. That meant we had no opportunity to see the African skies in the evening. The one day on safari that the sun came out, and gave us a beautiful sunset, the clouds crowded back in before the stars made it out. There were therefore no visits to the Observatory, no moments of awe in the darkness in the middle of the African bush looking at the Milky Way. The night sky was one of the highlights of our last visit. We were sad to miss it this time.
- An issue I had with the management. It only affected a couple of game drives, they apologised, and assured me it a) should have never happened, and b) would never happen again. But it upset me, and then upset me more because I felt bad for complaining. I don’t like to make trouble (that’s a whole different post). Especially not on holiday.
But there were advantages to going somewhere we’d been before:
- When you’ve been on safari before, there isn’t the pressure to get the same wonderful shots, or to see, for example, a cheetah when you’ve seen one before. And so you can just relax, enjoy the process of looking for animals, enjoy just being.
- We felt very comfortable in South Africa on a return visit
- We could explore it as we wished, having visited most of the “must-sees” last time.
- There’s always something new to see, even if you’ve been somewhere before.
- I got to renew my acquaintance with my favourite leopard.
… next post, I’ll focus on the fun bits!