Most couples opt for lazing on sugar-sand beaches, basking under palm trees and enjoying the life of luxury while on honeymoon. But Dung and James Conder did something completely different; they believe their honeymoon has actually become the ‘cradle’ of the life they now share together…
“Most women dream about romantic beaches, resorts full of flowers, beautiful views or traditional cities like Paris, London or Venice for their honeymoon,” says Dung. “For new brides honeymoons usually mean an excuse to wear luxurious clothes, have beautiful hair and nails perfectly manicured and for one or two weeks they can take the opportunity to do nothing but relax, shop, sight see and go to nice restaurants.”
“However, if you are a bit insane like me and you hate the obvious, predictable things, you probably won’t go in that direction. Fortunately for me, my husband James knows that. He knows I’ve got no interest in being a ‘princess’ or looking elegant – and most of all I can’t bear being idle. He also knows that for me, wearing luxurious dresses and sunbathing on romantic beaches would just be a façade. He knows I’m very wild and full of energy but I like to think that is why he married me!”
When James suggested volunteering in Africa for three months for their honeymoon, Dung had so many sleepless nights because she was so excited about it. They made plans with African Impact – the largest on-the-ground volunteering operator in Africa, to travel to Thanda in order to fill their relationship with experiences which would reward and challenge them together.
“Going to Thanda made a lot of sense to me,” says Dung who is originally from Vietnam. “The tranquility of the bush, the naturally beautiful environment, the wild animals, the people… All of these things put me in a creative frame of mind about this experience. Our voluntary work made me happy; it was a great opportunity for me to share a sense of achievement with my new husband and for us to understand each other better. For example I never knew just how much he loved wildlife until I saw the look of excitement in his eyes – it was really moving!”
“Sadly, so many people think of Africa as a dangerous or threatening destination. I never felt that even for a moment. There may be risks of course, but if you do your research, choose a reliable and responsible operator and are sensible, you’ll find only positives. I am very proud of the choices we made for our honeymoon. Choosing to go to Thanda gave me the opportunity to understand my husband better, to learn about Africa as a country and to find out more about myself.”
“Being able to share my love with the animals and the people we encountered was the most humbling experience of all. And of course, I can still make my friends jealous by telling them about the greatest adventure of my life – my honeymoon! Even though I spent most of the time smelling bad, looking unattractive and wearing dirty clothes I don’t regret it for a minute! And I’ve promised myself I will return in the future.”
“Our honeymoon was about as far removed from the stereotype as you could imagine,” says groom James. “Romance is not typically driven by 4am starts and just about enough water for a shower every other day. Our candlelit dinners were ones of necessity when there were power cuts – which there were frequently. But Dung and I have always been ones to disregard the norm, spin on our heels and walk swiftly the other way.”
“Our time in Thanda allowed me to take my dream of going to Africa and share it with my wife. I also learned more about Dung, I tasted the fantastic Vietnamese meals she cooked up for dozens of volunteers who were bored to tears with the same old basic rations. I listened to her sing in the kitchen with the Zulu cooks as she helped them with their work. In the end, Africa took root in both of us. It has been the cradle of the life we’ve begun together, and our experience volunteering together with African Impact at Thanda Game Reserve, South Africa is an amazing memory that we’ll share forever and an inspiration that we now draw upon daily.”
Is volunteering something you could do on your honeymoon? Or would you prefer to lounge on a beach and take a trip like this at another point in your life? Let us know!