Today is the last day of my trip. After 400 days on the road, I'm finally going home. I've been welcoming and dreading this moment for a while now, and now that it's here I mostly feel a mix of contentment and quiet acquiescence. This year of traveling has given me clarity on a lot of matters in my life, and simultaneously, inevitably, unearthed new issues to be looked into. And even though I'm returning to circumstances that are mostly similar to the ones preceding my departure, the way I want to navigate my way through them has changed significantly. Time will tell how well my future actions match my present words, but I'm setting an intention now to try to experience life more presently, more musically, with awareness and with love and respect for myself and others, and to no longer waste my time on pursuits that compromise that. Call it a Travel Year's resolution. I have a lot of work ahead to even come close to accomplishing these changes, but the fact that I've at least realized their necessity might constitute one of the most important outcomes of this journey. Beyond that, I once again have a renewed appreciation for all the beautiful places and diverse people that exist on this planet, and an increased respect for the natural order of things, as manifested in shared cultural traditions as well as the most personal human experience. I have been confronted, time and again, with the unimaginable unfairness of many people's economic situation compared to my own, and the privileges I derive from it. I've understood just how skewed many Westerner's perceptions (mine included) are about places they don't inhabit, and how much there is to learn once one can let go of biases and stereotypes that fail to hold up under just the slightest bit of scrutiny.
South Africa, my final destination, was the country that exemplified these concepts like no other on this trip. Vast and staggeringly scenic, massively ethnically diverse yet until recently darkly divided, Africa's southernmost nation is unique, in ways both beautiful and tragic. The impact of its colonial past and the outrageous abuses of black South Africans during the decades of the Apartheid regime in the 20th century are still evident today in the extreme wealth gaps between whites and non-whites (crudely put), pervasive political corruption and the exceptionally high occurence of violent crime. Due to the high risk of homejackings, houses in middle-class neighborhoods all have high, spiked walls topped with electrified fencing, and walking outside alone after dark is very risky in all bigger cities. As a comparatively wealthy tourist it's fairly straightforward to protect yourself against most dangers (think private transport, secure hotels, high-end restaurants), but vigilance is still required almost all the time. The knowledge that most perpetrators of crimes (as well as most victims) are poorer, non-white people is not exactly conducive to maintaining an unbiased judgment of a person based on their skin color. And yet, giving in to that fear in an irrational way is precisely the wrong thing to do, even though that did happen to me on several occasions. On the other hand, I did also travel on public transportation and in shared taxis, at night, with an extremely valuable violin. And I met the kindest people.
And then there is the other side of the story. If you stopped reading after the previous paragraph, you might not ever consider visiting South Africa. And that, again, would be precisely the wrong thing to do. Aside from avoiding exposure to a host of lessons on privilege and racial bias, you'd also be missing out on a country filled with mindblowing natural scenery and wildlife, delicious cuisine, and above all, gorgeously joyful people. And even though I spent a month traveling around, I only scratched the surface. From experiencing the local hospitality in the Soweto township in Johannesburg (as a white tourist, noted), hiking the stunning Drakensberg mountain range to the tallest waterfall in the world, surfing beginner waves along the Wild Coast, to spending an utterly tranquil and music-filled week in an exquisite hostel along the Garden Route, the intricate beauty of South Africa has only begun to unveil itself to me.
I decided to remain almost two full weeks in the final destination of my trip: Cape Town. And I am so happy for that decision. In fact, I did exactly the same thing at the end of my previous world trip, five years ago, which I finished in Rio De Janeiro. And there are some surprising parallels between these two cities: Incredible mountain scenery right next to the ocean, vibrant night life, a plethora of hiking opportunities, beaches to enjoy and scenic drives to go on,... and a highly questionable safety reputation. It's almost as if I want to save the most thrilling/scary climax of my trips until the very end. And Cape Town did deliver, on all fronts. The one-of-a-kind backdrop that Table Mountain and Lion's Head provide to this relatively small, but sprawling city, never gets boring. The entire Cape peninsula is rugged and spectacularly cliffed, and the golden evening light casts a million-color hue on the mountainside almost every night. Having secured a job to return to in Denmark, it was a time for some lavish living, going wine tasting in the exquisite Franschhoek valley, dining on seafood at upscale restaurants, visiting art galleries on museum night, and sunset seeking a ton. All of this in the company of some of the greatest people I encountered on this trip, and who I developed a real connection with.
This final month was also, once again, a reminder of the continued importance of music in my life. I met some great musicians, from across Africa and elsewhere, by the camp fire, at the beach, all the way to a professional open-mic night at a 5-star hotel just yesterday evening. I have been lucky enough to play with nearly a hundred different musicians on this trip, in wildly different settings and styles, and I've never been more inspired and encouraged to continue to seek out these opportunities in the future. Especially since my traveling violin case has now definitely proved its resilience. And since a traveling violinist is apparently still a rarity in the world.
So, I'm going home fulfilled and with many ideas and challenges for my life ahead. It'll take time to process my experiences, the good ones and the difficult ones, and I will take that time, living at home in Belgium for two months before moving back to Copenhagen in April. In less than 24 hours, I'll be back on Belgian soil, surrounded by Belgian beers, Belgian fries and Belgian chocolate. With my family, which I haven't seen in such a long time, and with memories to last a lifetime.
February 8th, 2023