We caught up with Senzelwe Mthembu an avid traveller and researcher by day. She shared with us her thoughts on travelling Africa, and where she is planning on travelling next.
What is the first trip you remember taking and how old were you?
The first memorable trip for me was to the Kruger National Park in Mpumalanga. I must have been about 8 years old and we drove there in a hired combi and stayed in a huge chalet. The drive was fun for us children with lots of stops and sweets along the journey and I can already remember the feeling of wonder as I looked outside the window watching the terrain change.
Have you ever been anywhere which turned out to be different to how you imagined? If so, how?
Yes! Bali, Indonesia had elements I completely did not expect. We took a fast boat to the Gili Islands – a predominantly Muslim region but with quite a big reggae culture, no cars or motorbikes and just donkeys and bicycles as transport. The contrast of being woken up by the mosque’s call to prayer and then hearing Bob Marley while chilling on the beach was interesting. I saw Indonesian men with dreadlocks and Afros and this completely surprised me as it was in stark contrast to the “Eat, Pray, Love” Bali I had in mind.
Have you had any bad experiences whilst travelling?
Oh yes! I actually write about some of my solo travel nightmares in a blog post. It was when I lost my phone on a public train while on a solo trip to Portugal. It had all my information for my next destination! I had to miss my flight but thankfully the phone was recovered and I was at the next destination after spending unplanned money on a long-distance train. Another bad experience was falling ill in Lamu, Kenya. I couldn’t keep anything down for two days!
Do you have any funny travel stories?
Travelling with three boys I had never travelled with whom I barely knew. The whole experience was quite a funny story – from waiting for them to get their heads shaved followed by scalp massages on day one of our Kenya Trip (I don’t know why they didn’t shave back home – I guess for the experience?), to how loud and energetic they were when I was particularly in need of calm and to wake up to their regrets after spending wads of cash at bars the night before! I can’t summarise it in one moment but being a girl travelling with three guys was super hilarious when I look back.
Which is the worst place you’ve been to and why?
There is no worst place! I consider any opportunity to travel to a new place a beautiful one.
Where is your favourite place in the world?
In the world? That’s really tough but if I narrow it down to places I have been it would have to be right here in South Africa – the Drakensberg, Kwa-Zulu Natal to be specific. I tell everyone who hasn’t been to go and even though I’ve been at least five times (mostly with family), I would continue going back again and again. There’s something magical about those mountains!
Do you have a bucket list? If so what is on it?
Not really but I would love to go to Uganda for Gorilla Trekking, Mali to explore indigenous music, Ghana to experience the best African hospitality, Senegal for its beaches, seafood and history, Morocco for the colours and busy souks, Sidi Bou Said because it’s virtually Greece in Africa, and Japan for the food, culture and to get dressed up as a geisha.
Can you imagine a life without travel?
Absolutely not! Surely our Creator wanted us to see and explore as much of this beautiful creation.
If you were not travelling what would you be doing instead?
Well at the moment I am a Social Researcher working full-time and I travel on the side. I would improve my photography skills so I could document my travels better and tell visual stories. I would also be implementing development programmes across Africa and evaluating them for their impact and sustainability.
When did you begin your blog and why do you write?
My sister and I began our joint blog a few months ago. We wanted to share our lived experience through travel, lifestyle and curated experiences. We feel that story-telling through many mediums is important and want to make travel experiences accessible. We are launching our travel company next year. There is still plenty of space for many others to service people in the tourism/curated experiences space in Africa.
What makes The Lived Experience unique and why should people read it?
Firstly, it is written by two dynamic sisters and secondly because of its diversity and the down-to-earth way that we share our experiences. It’s a good balance between information-sharing and entertainment.
Do you have any products or services that you offer?
For the moment we are available to give travel advice and to share resources based on our own experiences. We will offer tours in South Africa for locals and internationals from 2019 officially, and within Africa at some stage. If you need someone to curate and organise you a trip, The Lived Experience Travel is at your service! We also sell “travel finds” on our e-commerce site called Curate-itza. Anyone who would like to collaborate on that who has unique and well-crafted products is welcome to contact us.
What has been your most successful blog post to date and what was it about?
“MY SOLO-TRIP NIGHTMARES – AS TOLD BY AN AMATEUR SOLO-TRAVELER”. I think the title is self-explanatory and got some good engagement!
Do you have any tips or advice for any aspiring travellers?
My advice would be not to wait for others to come along and that local travel is valid! If you notice a pattern of passing travel opportunities up, save some of the money you would have spent until you can comfortably do a solo trip or an organised group trip. Be open-minded, humble yourself to the ways of others, be yourself and learning from my past mistakes – have a budget (even if it’s rough).
What has travel taught you?
It has taught me so much about myself – that I am an open-minded and a kind individual. It has also taught me that there really is a golden thread that connects us all. Everywhere I have been I have been able to connect with people, whether through the exchange of a genuine smile, being assisted with something, a conversation, dance or laughter.
What do you think are the top 5 destinations in Africa that people should check out in 2019?
Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Senegal and Madagascar.