Have you ever looked at someone and thought that ‘This guy must have one crazy story to tell’…?
Just like countries, scenery and experiences, people can vary more than any other species on the planet. Hairy, beautifully-old and wrinkly. Young, joyous and smiling from ear to ear. Tall, tanned and walking with a stride like a cowboy. Short, hunched and frowning over a newspaper they might not be reading. Not all are what they portray. And not all portray what they are.
I simply love people-watching and I know I’m not alone on my little undercover perversion. Silently sitting in a little beach restaurant pretending to read or type this, while stealing glimpses at an old couple chatting or some friends telling old jokes. And airports! I will gladly pay four times as much for a coffee at Mugg & Bean at Cape Town International while watching all the hello and goodbye shenanigans go down at airports. Irresistible!
But simply watching won’t give you a chance to talk to them, and to really experience a country, you have to emerge yourself among the people. Talk to the old guy waiting at the bus stop. Ask questions and listen to the beautifully dressed Malawian lady selling wooden bowls. Make a joke with the kid tied to her back. And best of all, have a few extra drinks with the friendly and weird people at the local drinking hole. Have a few too many as a matter of fact and listen to what makes them tick, what ticks them off, what they do for a living and their views of the Rainbow Nation… You might be pleasantly surprized.
I believe THIS is how you truly experience a country. Beautiful scenery can say a thousand words, sure. But you’ll only find out special and unique things if you Meet the Locals. Leave the guide book in your backpack and talk to people. Follow them on a bundu-bashing hike to that ‘hidden-spot’ only they know about. Join an old couple for their Sunday fish braai at their house and try the lady’s trifle for pudding.
Be smart about it. Be bold. Trust your gut feeling about people. This way you will make memories that will never leave you and find things no one else has found or seen. And also see why the locals never leave!