I remember graduating from university in 2010. My family was wrapped in pride and joy when the dean handed me the diploma. It was one of the happiest days of my life. But that day, something else was about to happen far away from the graduation room. The FIFA World Cup final was about to be played in South Africa. Following the graduation ceremony, I saw many colleagues quickly taking off their graduation gowns and saying goodbye to all those present. I did it, too. Soon after, everyone left to continue celebrating and watch the final game, in which Spain won. During those days of the World Cup, we were bombarded with advertisements about South Africa. I remember reading every magazine about South Africa that came into my hands and watching all the television documentaries within my reach. Since then, I have been gripped by the beauty and history of that country. I was particularly captivated by Cape Town. I read so much that sometimes it felt like I was there already.
Fast forward to 2022 and many countries later. It was finally gonna happen. I was gleeful. Despite a hassle-free arrival and a check-in at Frankfurt airport, I was worried that I could not sleep during that long night flight because of the excitement. Luckily, the plane’s occasional gentle turbulence made me feel like a baby being rocked in his cradle. This allowed me to fall asleep and rest. Upon landing, it was a quick exit from the plane. The Cape Town airport wasn’t too busy, so passport control was fast. That turned out well. I even received a smile and a “Welcome to Town” from the immigration officer when I told him it was my first visit. I picked up my luggage and walked towards the arrival hall. In that hall, I spotted a slim gentleman with a bald head standing above the crowd; it turned out to be the hotel driver waiting to take me to the accommodation. He talked proudly about his country and how the number of visitors is increasing over time, showing signs of a recovery from the pandemic. The friendly exchange of words was relatively short since, 30 minutes later, we arrived at my accommodation in Bantry Bay. After registering for the room, I reflected on the days during the South African World Cup when I became interested in visiting this country. It’s crazy; I made it. My wish has been granted – I thought. All this while enjoying a picture-postcard Atlantic sea view from a lounge room. It felt like the right deal for me at that time. I have just traded the cold autumn days of Europe for the spring – almost summer in South Africa.
Later that day, I received a small sheet of paper that was given to all guests. On this paper were printed the hours of the day when we wouldn’t have electricity service, including the internet. Even though I had read about the measure in preparation for that trip, I thought it would be uncomfortable to not have access to the internet whenever I wanted. This action is called “load shedding” and was established in South Africa in 2015. It is a measure to relieve stress on their primary energy source because the electricity demand is higher than the supply. The causes are diverse; It goes from a lack of diversification in energy sources to a lack of investment. Although they are working hard right now to diversify their energy sources, they might need this measure for some time. Finding information about the millions of homes affected daily by this was easy, from not working refrigerators to potentially hospital equipment not being available 24/7. At that moment, I admitted how hollow my concern about not having the internet was.
I recognized that being a visitor to a country is truly a privilege and not a right you just have. I felt this privilege even more because, as a first-time visitor, I had no problem finding something to do when the electricity went out for a short time. This became more tangible when it happened because I just needed to go downtown.
During my first days in Cape Town, my mind automatically compared every corner of the city to places I had visited. Walking down Adderley Street felt like I was in a city like London but surrounded by mountains and better weather. The shimmering white sand of Camps Bay, which contrasted beautifully with the color blue sea, along with the beach-side restaurants and cafes, a multicultural crowd of sun-bathers, and the occasional tapping sounds of jogger’s footsteps gave me flashbacks of the south of France and Miami Beach. Even the smell of a freshly grilled Satay in a corner of the multicolored neighborhood of Bo-Kaap could easily transport me to an alley in Kuala Lumpur or Yogyakarta. It was almost like Déjà vu. But one day, I stood on the shore of Bantry Bay and turned my back on the Atlantic Ocean. I looked not only towards the hill full of houses painted in different shades of white with contemporary designs. But, way above. There I saw that reigning rock formation called “Table Mountain,” literally a table-shaped mountain over 1000 m high that is part of the world’s natural wonders. Right then, any “Déjà vu” I might have had disappeared. In these moments, I recognized that not only was I in a unique place but also that no man-made structure could beat nature in any way.
I could endlessly write about the breathtaking places I saw, their welcoming people, the delicious food, the wildlife and how I just can’t wait to go back. However, the truth is that I never expected that this dream-come-true trip since my university days would leave me asking myself every day how to reduce my energy consumption and impact on this planet like never before. And by that, I mean aggressive-conscious measures beyond receiving the hotel bill by E-Mail and not on paper, asking that towels not be changed daily, showering instead of using a bathtub to save water, or unplugging every phone charger when not used. I even wondered if a similar strategy like “load shedding” but only in the tourism sector is possible, even in places without electricity shortages. A couple of hours a week for energy/water saving. Yes, I know. It sounds crazy. It may not be viable at all. But a recent statement from the World Tourism Organization says the number of tourists in 2023 is set to return to pre-pandemic levels in many regions, so we may start thinking outside the box because not flying by plane isn’t happening anytime soon. In the meantime, I now deepen my learning of how to minimize my impact on this planet. Interested? Check out the link with practical tips you can also apply. And always remember, visiting a new country is not your right. It’s a privilege, so be conscious.
Until next time