Our trip to South Africa would never had happened had J’s rock-climbing friends not already planned their trip for this summer. J and I have long wanted to go there but we had other plans for this year: making a baby. When our friends bought their tickets, I was not yet pregnant, but I told J that if we planned to go, we had to plan as though I would be. And then I was. So that worked out well.
All the same I had to wonder:
Was I crazy to travel so far at such a time, or was this just the only way to live?
And really this question never left me. Fortunately the second trimester is the time to travel: you’re typically feeling much better but still fairly unencumbered by the growing baby.
Rationally I also knew that this trip was much less dangerous than getting in a car every day of just normal life and risking an accident.
But the pregnancy did shape our trip in many ways.
1) No Kruger
Our trip only included the Western Cape region because I wouldn’t have been up for a week of safari driving in Kruger National Park. Organizational obstacles mattered here too, since it would have involved a domestic flight from Cape Town to Johannesburg. Kruger is also a low-risk malaria area and I know our trip was in winter, but I just wanted to steer clear of all potential medical issues.
We did do a two-hour game drive and it turns out the main obstacle to a safari would probably have been peeing.
2) Frequent Urination
On that note, let’s talk about bladders and public toilets. South Africa has some impressive public toilet game. The supermarket in Clanwilliam had toilets clearly marked at the entrance. All the nature reserves had them all over the place. When we were in Rocklands I just peed behind a bush, which mean carrying toilet paper and a little plastic bag with me, but it was total wilderness so I was really fine with it.
Honestly I think this would have been more of a problem in a place like Paris where public toilets are sh*tty and you can’t just pee behind a bush. But for general pregnancy travel, it is something to keep in mind. In my experience, I sometimes had to urgently pee without warning just because the baby had moved.
Which one is it? It was definitely present for this trip, though it had already started before leaving, in that I’ve become even more of a backseat driver with J. Fortunately in South Africa he actually needed an active passenger because of having to remember to drive on the left and not knowing where he was going. But I was probably a pain in the ass about things like not putting the suitcases in the backseat in case of getting rear-ended. And I was much more nervous about general safety given the crime rates in South Africa.
4) Being out of Breath
A hard second trimester symptom for me has been breathlessness. Any sort of uphill causes it, and sometimes I’m a bit out of breath just sitting or laying down. There’s a simple reason for it: baby is taking up lots of my oxygen and guess what, he can’t breathe by himself.
Our time in the Rocklands involved a lot of walking. J and his friends took care of me like it was their own little brother being carted around in my belly, but still, I felt a little like a deadweight. At times I had to hold back because even though I wanted to try to walk faster, it would have been very strenuous and I refused to put the baby at risk. It was a surprisingly hard mental conflict between not wanting to be a drag and knowing that that was dumb.
As for hiking, we didn’t really do any because walking uphill was so demoralizing. The Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens are actually one big hill next to Table Mountain National Park, and they were surprisingly difficult to get around for me. At Cape Point we took the little funicular up to the higher level and I didn’t go up to the lighthouse because I couldn’t deal with the stairs. But in general I was fine letting J go higher and sitting around below because the views were so breathtaking. At the Robberg Nature Reserve, I actually saw a great white shark in the water while waiting for J to come back down (I was not close enough to know it was a great white—a park ranger told us when we asked).
J and I were very careful in our choice of airline and stopover when we bought the tickets, and ended up going through Dubai on Emirates Airlines, which was a real treat. We had a three-hour layover both ways, which was a bit more expensive than the 8-hour or 1-hour possibilities. But it was out of the question for me to spend 8 hours in an airport, or to have to run between flights.
Paris-Dubai was on an A380, with beautiful bathrooms. Dubai-Cape Town was a Boeing 777 too which meant that on both flights the seats were quite roomy and comfortable for coach. The food and drink were frequent and delicious with real silverware. The movie selection was endless. On our Dubai-Cape Town flight we received a little case with an eye mask, ear plugs, toothbrush, toot paste and socks.
I did wear compression stockings that my doctor gave me a prescription for and told me to wear. My feet only swelled up on the Cape Town-Dubai flight on the way back, and they went back to normal during the layover. I was a little uncomfortable toward the end of the trip to Cape Town but otherwise as far as flying goes it was one of my better trips.
On a side not, I was not a big fan of the Dubai airport, I gotta say, though I did take advantage of their showers.
6) No Wine-Tasting
South Africa produces great wine and the Winelands are very close to Cape Town, so we would definitely have done this had I been able to drink alcohol. The craft beers in South Africa are quite good as well—but I took advantage of my pregnant state to discover their other fizzy drinks.
7) Group Tours
J and I did most things on our own which meant being able to do them at our own pace, but there were a couple of group activities that were a little more stressful: the game drive and the Zodiac boat ride in Simon’s Town. And waiting in line, anywhere, though I was fortunately able to let J do that most of the time. Though anyone who knows me can tell very clearly that I’m pregnant, strangers didn’t tend to pick up on it (especially because it was winter so I was often wearing a coat and always wearing a sweater) so I didn’t feel I had any extra courtesy automatically extended to me.
All in all this trip went exceedingly well, with just a little extra stress for me because of being over-protective. I am extremely happy with our decision to go through with this trip at this time, and it was a wonderful thing to do pre-baby. It felt special having him along in my belly and I couldn’t help thinking that in a small way he was already on his second continent. That said, I would never judge anyone who didn’t feel comfortable taking such a trip at such a time. Pregnancy paranoia/caution (which is it???) was real and you have to go with your gut.