In high school, geography was not my strong suit. To wit: After watching a video about Egypt, one classmate of mine raised her hand and shared what she had gleaned: "I didn't know there were buildings in Africa," she said. I joined the class in a hearty laugh at her expense, but to be honest, I didn't even know Egypt was in Africa.
Later that year, when given a line drawing of Africa -- a quilt of amorphous blobs, to my eye -- I failed dismally at naming the countries. In fact, I think the only countries I got right were Egypt (thanks to that video) and South Africa (thanks to the considerate soul who incorporated the country's location conveniently into its name.)
So, technically I am aware that South Africa is on the colder end of the globe, and I also realize that in the southern hemisphere right now, the seasons are backwards. But that didn't stop me from packing all wrong, a dozen tee-shirts will be returning home clean and unworn, and that bathing suit was just wishful thinking. Central heating, it seems, never made it across the Atlantic. "We like to pretend it never gets cold here," a local explained. As a result, I've been wearing the same long-underwear-jeans-sweater combo for a week now, including to bed.
Even the penguins here seem cold. What, you didn't know there are penguins in Africa? Me either, until I booked a room at a hotel where African Penguins regularly waddle into the lobby, looking for handouts. One little guy took refuge from the icy rain underneath my rental car -- a three-cylinder Nissan that is not sold in the United States because our cars would call it names and beat it up. I had to clap and yell to get the penguin to hop adorably back to the beach.
Why are penguins so darn cute? They're easy to anthropomorphize, since they stand upright and wear formalwear. They also smell a little like wet dog and bray like donkeys when they get excited, but that's more of a charming quirk -- like Zooey Deschanel's weird manicures -- than a deal breaker.
Penguins, however, are just the first animal I've met in South Africa. Since then, I've pet a lion, sat on an ostrich, annoyed an elephant and snuck up on some giraffes -- more on that to come!
HuffPost Lifestyle is a daily newsletter that will make you happier and healthier — one email at a time. Learn more