May 29

What We Learned Traveling to South Africa

What We Learned Traveling to South Africa

By Deborah Johnson

May 29, 2022

Backroads Tours, Circle of Life, Dave Varty, International Travel, Kirstenbosch, Lion King, Londolozi, podcast, South Africa

Traveling to South Africa

When I told some friends and colleagues Greg and I were traveling to South Africa people started coming out of the woodwork. I heard comments like, I’ve been there several times! I can’t wait to go back! I didn’t fully understand those comments until we made the long flight to the tip of that large continent and experienced it for ourselves.

South Africa wasn’t on my bucket list, but the reviews from Backroads Tours were so outstanding I looked into the details and booked it. It was an active tour, including biking and hiking which fit into our plan of staying active as we travel.

We also didn’t want to keep putting off our life and our travel plans, even though there were additional challenges in order to travel internationally after COVID. But there was nothing that couldn’t be handled with a little extra research and work. A trip as large as this to South Africa expanded our creative thinking, our amazement of creation and appreciation for different cultures.

Women at Halftime by Deborah Johnson What We Learned Traveling to South Africa 5-31-22
00:00:00 00:00:00

Taking Time for Stars

With our Southern California streetlights, highways and busy lives, we realized we don’t stop to look at the stars nearly often enough. Instead of taking time to gaze at the night sky we are on our devices, gazing at a program on a big screen or involved with busy work around our homes or offices. Looking at the stars each night, even halfway around the world, fills you with the realization that constellations are the same everywhere and you can see some additional patterns much more clearly, like the southern cross.

Huge Variety of Animals and Birds

Seeing the big five: lion, leopard, rhinoceros and elephant up close and personal (sometimes what felt a little too personal!) was an awe-inspiring experience. Beyond the big five were a huge variety of animals, all with unique characteristics from eating habits to habitat to horns to speed. Film makers like Disney that produce films like the Lion King have traveled to South Africa to go on safari and study the animals before their productions. They have captured the personalities of everything from the warthog (Pumbaa) sticking their tails up while running to the hyaena  (Shenzi) and even a red-billed hornbill, Zazu. There are so many unique animals to choose from in a place like South Africa and capturing their personalities for a film was a brilliant move. It illustrates how art and life can come together, creatively using what is in nature for a film

Variety of Vegetation

Different types of vegetation attract different types of animals. The elephants love the baobab trees, which hold water in their tree trunk. You could tell where the large animals had been because the outer bark and the tops of the trees were all eaten down and leveled.


Giraffes sleep on their knees so at night they slept in a clearing, away from the trees, to better see any danger coming their way. But during the day, they walked through tall trees, eating off the tops as they craned their long necks. Then there was the rain forest, which held an entirely different vegetation, lush and green with a huge variety of butterflies and bugs. Kirstenbosch National Botanical garden is regarded as one of the best in the world with a huge variety of plants. South Africa is the only country with an entire floral region within its national boundaries.

Gratefulness for Work

It really struck us how grateful the workers were to have work. They were very happy to see us! The unemployment rate was 34% at the time of our travel and most wages in Africa are not even close to what we experience in the United States. Many of the workers at the resorts or the reserves work twenty-two or more days in a row, then get eight to ten days off. Part of their time off is eaten up in travel, as they may live eight to ten hours away.

The real upside to this is that many workers are provided housing, food and even education while working. We visited the village at Londolozi, a private resort in the Kruger game reserve, and saw first-hand where the workers lived, over 200 of them, and their educational center, which was basically a room with computers. They could take online courses and grow their skills to do other jobs with higher pay and additional responsibilities. Dave Varty’s book Full Circle chronicles the story of Londolozi and is a fascinating read. He and his brother developed and grew the resort, starting when they were just seventeen and eighteen years old.

Animal Protection Efforts


Poaching is a reality and anti-poachers are hired to shoot to kill any poachers they see. Rhinoceros horns are worth over $60,000 lb., so poaching is a real threat. A single male elephant’s two tusks can weigh more than 250 pounds with a pound of ivory fetching as much as $15,000 on the black market. These animals are accounted for in the reserves and records are kept as their whereabouts, offspring, and even illness.

The private and public reserves hold resorts with game drives and safaris but they also provide protection for many of these animals. Even though there are boundary fences, Kruger National Park is over 7,500 square miles and that is a lot of area to monitor for intruders and for animals that may go outside the reserve. The strength of some of these animals won’t be held by a fence or even electrified fence, but they have done a good job in protecting many of the animals from unwelcome intruders, including human.

Circle of Life

All creatures have a natural course of living in nature and the song Circle of Life by Elton John and Tim Rice is sung to remind us of this in the Lion King. Some of the animals, like springboks and guineafowl were extremely prolific and provided food for carnivores. Others, like baboons, were scavengers and ate almost anything and everything, including any solids that came through elephant droppings. Seeing this on a game drive brought it to life, so different than just reading about it in a book.

A lion dragged his hartebeest prey right in front of us, so out of breath he had to stop every few yards. It was a vivid illustration of the difficulty of survival for some of these animals. Hyaenas and jackals were waiting for the moment he would leave his prey, ready to pounce and feast.

Virtual Work

I have spoken about and included the principle and methods of working virtually in my online courses, (see: A New Way of Doing Business) but every trip and situation is a bit unique with different challenges. I was able to schedule podcasts, articles, emails and videos to be released automatically while traveling to Africa. This took a lot of work and planning, but it worked well. I was able to check in on my phone when we had adequate internet.

For other trips, I may spend a couple hours on my laptop, but that wasn’t something I desired to do or was even able to do on a trip like this. I took a total break and scheduled far enough ahead to also not be overwhelmed when I returned, dealing with jet-lag and some live engagements. Travel with my husband and working virtually is part of my master plan for this time in my life and it worked even in South Africa. It’s a good reminder for all of us that we don’t have to put off life for our work. Why? Life is too short!

Traveling expands creative thinking, appreciation of creation and for different cultures.

deborah johnson

Thought Leader, Keynote Speaker, Author

If you are interested in growing and learning, check out our online courses here: Online Learning

1,286 words

Deborah Johnson

About the author

DEBORAH JOHNSON, M.A., creator of Hero Mountain® and former president of Los Angeles National Speakers Association, is an international award-winning music artist, author, speaker and National Media Commentator. She also hosts the popular podcast "Women at Halftime." Deborah provides tools to create your ideal lifestyle and work at mid-career or during the halftime of life, getting unstuck. You can live your second half fulfilled, focused and free! Up for multiple GRAMMY Awards and spending over 20 years in the entertainment industry, she's an expert on how to constantly reinvent yourself in a gig-economy. She is also the recipient of the Women's Economic Forum Exceptional Women of Excellence Award. Deborah is the author of multiple books, over twenty albums and musicals and speaks and performs in both live and virtual events.

Never miss a good story! Subscribe to our newsletter to keep up with the latest news, articles, music & trends!