Random thoughts from South Africa.
Cape Town Travel Blog› entry 9 of 11 › view all entries
March 20th, 2007 – by: Vagabondatheart
I know traveling is partly about escaping life at home, but being an ocean and a continent away for the duration and especially here in Africa with its animals and driving on the left side are some of many things to remind me I am no longer in the OC.
The last couple weeks have been on the constant go and finally taking a break and staying in, alone and quiet, I'm appreciative of the experiences, grateful for good friends back home, family, and the many new interesting acquaintances and friends I've met along the journey; either for a quick drink together, sharing a ride, a quick history lesson on Tanzania, or just keeping one another company while filling the gaps waiting for a flight at a boring airport, it's all been a meaningful encounter.
I am currently in the ostrich capital of the world, Oudtshoorn after driving all day from the wine country of S Africa, Stellenbosch.
Anyhow, I've "hired" or rented a car for the week and driving East along what is known as the Garden Route hitting several different stops including a cave, the most southern point of Africa, famous surf spot Jefferys Bay, and everything in between for the next 7 to 9 days driving on the left side of the road.
I did drive for couple months on the left side in New Zealand 5 years ago, and it's always exciting to sit on the right side and constantly chanting my driving mantra, "...stay left, little left turns, and BIG RIGHT TURNS, look right-left-right...", and by the way...you still progress from left to right or low to high gear as shifting remains the same. I feel most stupid, on occasion, when I enter the car from the left side or turn on the windshield wipers on instead of the turn signals (that's also on the opposite side as well), but the learning curve is steep and as they say in the flying business.
Most expressways are single lanes. To pass a slower car, it takes a certain amount of commitment and abiding by the unwritten laws of driving in S Africa. Slower cars will start driving into the shoulder giving you room and you accelerate to pass and turn on your emergency lights to "say" thanks. If you can't see the approaching car, the car in front will turn it's right turn signal to signal the path is clear. Do you trust his spatial judgement and go for it? Takes time getting used to, but did it for couple days, but generally keeping it conservative as S Africans have a terrible accident rate.
As far as Cape Town is concerned, it's the most scenic city I've seen, more dramatic than even San Francisco! Plenty to do here and as with Florianopolis, this place will be untouchable in the next 5 years is my estimation. I am not sure as to where to begin to describe the scenery of this place, but mountains meet the oceans and that's a recipe for a dramatic view and spectacular cloud formations and weather.
Climbed Table mountain to enjoy the vista before being warned to get to the tram before it shuts down due to the strong wind, they call the Cape Doctor. The Peninsula to the Cape of Good Hope is punctuated with African penguins and their chicks, Ostriches grazing along the OCEAN coast...now that's not the background for ostriches I had in my wildest dreams.
The waterfront, like SF, has its seals barking and attracting tourists and like Alcatraz, you have Robben Island where Mandela spent some 27 years in solitary confinement; the tour is given by a former political prisoner sharing his story on the island working the stone quarry and sharing with us why Nelson Mandela can't shed tears when crying because his tear ducts are closed from years of work in the quarry and the dust has clogged his tear ducts. He wore dark glasses during one of his press interviews because of damage and sensitivity to light from limestone quarry. When asked by a female journalist why he wore the glasses, he commented her radiant beauty is making him blind. Total grace and charm.
Also been on a Township (shanty town) tour and saw the slums of SA. You see government projects at work, hope is there for a better times ahead, and improvements are at work. Having said so, folks are still struggling. AIDS is still a huge problem, especially in the townships. Go to any bars or nightclubs...or hostels I am staying at for example and while sitting at a bar, there's your sugar jar, cream jar for the coffee and tea and a jar of condoms for healthy and safe wild nights. No moronic "moral" debates and hot air expended about whether condoms should be distributed on this continent. Individuals know death by AIDS within their circle of families and friends not by one or two but by dozens! Best moment in the township is being mugged by bunch of kindergarden students and one particular child who was just the "right height" who ran straight to me with his very hard forehead meeting me just below the belt-line. Watching the children getting their exercise was fun and these 6 year olds can dance! I have it captured in print and on video. Happy to share later.
Cape Town, while beautiful, unfortunately has a way of leading one into a false sense of security. Mugging, robberies, and crime is alive and well. Broad daylight at the CPT station, a Swiss tourist gets mugged. British couple purchased a Land Cruiser from the UK and had bullet proof glasses installed and drove down Western Africa without incident, only to have their bulletproof, but not brick-proof, glass broken in broad daylight, car parked in front of reception of the hostel, and the couple's video cam, GPS, cameras...history. Walking to dinner last night with an Aussie friend, and see 3 youths...one carrying a kitchen knife in his hand. I picked up some rocks and put in my pocket.
South Africa is unfortunately a living contrast and few of you might be saying, screw SA, but common sense and not putting yourself in a dangerous situation especially at night is an advice you take to heart. I'm enjoying my stay here and the S. Africans are extremely friendly from the get go. They always say hello back to you and so polite. On an isolated stretch of the beach, two Afrikaners walk over a football field length to just say hello and introduce themselves. Thanks to that moronic show, "The OC", everyone thinks they know where I am from and think I am rich. For the record, I have not won the lotto as more than few of you have enquired, and I have been only watching "The Illusionist" act when it comes to my savings acct. Only few of you on this mail list know how I'm financing this.
When asking for help or directions, the S Africans will remind you to be at their time ever so politely by a warm greeting and after fixing your temporary crisis, ask you whereabouts you've been and going and for how long? Remind myself, you're on African time here.
They're hosting the World Cup in 2010 and like everyone said about the Olympics in Athens, plenty are saying the same for SA...not going to be prepared. Remains to be seen, but I think it will be wonderful for the country. Their progress in building better be anything but African time!
As for meeting other travelers and more than few become drinking buddies, acquaintances, travel partners, and good friends you'll probably see again than not. Wonderful people on the road and all traveling for different reasons: romantic get a ways, honeymoon, escape from work, see the world, volunteers for the Peace Corps or Habitat for Humanity, etc. Some are traveling for a week and one Japanese couple who have been on the road for 2 and 1/2 years of their 3 years travel after having a huge yard sale!
You meet few assholes on the road who thinks he or she is better than everyone else and their shit don't stink because they seem to think they're more of a "hardcore" traveler than others. They just don't get it. Just the mere act of getting out is significant regardless of method, duration, or destination. People of all backgrounds and experience have been enlightening and fun to share drinks with.
I've enjoyed meeting and especially talking with those who can see individual faces rather than making a broad stroke. No problems correcting general stereotyping when the very group being dismantled were the very people buying you dinner on your final night at Mauritius and giving me their number to call them when I get into their town. I have few international cities where I don't have to worry about accommodations but have to worry about if I can keep up with the drinking...if that gives you any hint.
Sometimes you meet travelers you feel sad for. A retired German teacher lamenting about her not being able to meet people on the road, but seems to constantly isolates herself in her room and not joining the rest even upon invitation. She seems very lonely as was the case of one American who claims to be guided by compassion and understanding yet being a complete prick to others in our safari group and the only person not helping out setting and packing tents during the safari.
Then there's the enterprising and funny young Brit, all 18 yrs old in his Gap year traveling all over with enthusiasm. Australian Mech Eng who seemingly works hard and takes chunks of time off and has probably seen more than 50 countries as the Dane from Copenhagen. The Dutch law student beauty, bare chested laying next to me talking about European politics...it was so so difficult to stay focused. Where was I? Austrian PhD student studying Chinese immigration into the Mid-East who planted funny idea in me to ride a WW II side-car through China. Johannesburg residents who gave me a free ride from the airport by squeezing me into the rental Ford echo along with his wife, bicycle, two luggage's, my backpack, day-pack and their day-packs...my face was literally plastered against the window, but the couple insisted on giving me a ride.
Can you hit the button and roll down the window please?
Especially Africa, where the geography is every student's nightmare, it's nice to have a sense of where the countries are and the differences between the zulus and the massais and which language has the clicking noise inserted into its words (rolling spanish r's has nothing on the clicking sounds of the zulus). Click, tick, snapple, crackle, and pop!
Have to admit as well, the world really uses Africa for all it's worth. Tanzania's slums were actually worse than the township (keep in mind SA is the most powerful African nation) of SA, yet Tanzania is doing a lot better than Western Africa.
Still, you just want Africa to succeed and be well. There is one certainty, I am coming back. That much I know. Tomorrow, I ride an ostrich, go caving, and visit meercats and cheetah cubs. This is Africa isn't it?
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