Cape Town Travel Blog› entry 40 of 42 › view all entries
It’s over Johnny. It’s over.
I never again have to be a tourist in Cape Town – a great thing to be able to say. Not to imply that I don’t like it here – I love the place; but just that next time I’m here I can skip all the tourist stuff and just enjoy the life. I’ve been to all the typical tourist places, saw all the typical tourist things, and achieved everything I set out to achieve. I even had some time left over to get a small taste of the cosmopolitan nature of the city, and enjoy all the urban things I won’t get to experience when I’m back in the small town of Breckenridge. Cape Town is an easy city to get spoiled in. The weather has been great for us just about the entire time – that cold, driving rain that we saw on TV during a few of the World Cup games at Green Point stadium must have been a fluke, or maybe the last two weeks of sun and clear skies here has been the fluke. Either way, I don’t really care. I’m just happy that I got to experience some summer-like winter weather before I go home and experience the winter-like summer weather of Breckenridge
When I am approaching the end of a long trip, I can’t help but think about everything I have learned about a place and how it changes what I think about humanity and the world. Africa as a whole is a place of great urban mythology back in the US. At first I thought it strange when South Africans would tell me to go home and tell people that they are in fact very modern and do not have lions running around and starving people and car-jackers at every street corner; I thought that it would be too silly for Americans to actually think those things, especially given the immense amount of access we have to information and media. But come to find out, many people do think those things, as improbably as I wish that was. I’ve heard from a few people that have looked at my photos (especially the ones of the beach and ocean areas) that they couldn’t believe that Africa looked like that. I’ve heard from other people that while traveling around the world they stopped for a day in Jo’berg and felt the country was too dangerous and quickly got a ticket for safer destinations. While my time here was certainly short in the grand scheme of things, I do feel like I’ve come to a few somewhat educated opinions about the country of South Africa, and they are as follows:
Politically, I think South Africa is hands down the most interesting places I have been. There is a strong valid feeling here that history is being made on a day to day basis. The newspapers are filled with stories about corrupt government officials and editorials concerning how great things could be if only they could do this or that. I don’t think that the reports of corruption reflect a gloomy government, I rather think they imply a lively free media that hasn’t been completely dampened by corporate interests, and a population that is interested in knowing when individuals are putting their own interests ahead of the country’s. To be sure, there is plenty of corruption to go around, but I feel like I have yet to be in a place where corruption isn’t a major problem, including the United States. I think we don’t hear about it as much here because to some extent we’d rather hear about who Paris Hilton is fucking, and to some extent because the media is heavily aligned with corporate interests. I’m sure I’m coming off more cynical and liberal than I intend to, but I’m not sure how to put it as succinctly any other way.
Back in the US, I guess I figure that the worst thing that could happen is that someone stupid like Sarah Palin becomes the next president and I get four to eight more years worth of things to feel embarrassed about as I travel around the world. (Believe me when I say that in Africa I do often hear about stupid things the US did under George Bush) Whether it’s reasonable or not, I have the feeling that no matter who becomes my next president, my life in the US wouldn’t change much. The “powers that be” (whatever that means” are entrenched heavily enough to prevent anything major from happening. In South Africa people do not feel that way. There is a great sense of optimism here, or at least a sense that significant change is distinctly possible, for better or for worse, and from what I’ve seen, that feeling is accurate. A very successful world cup could result in higher expectations from the government, and those expectations could be met or ignored; the Rainbow Nation could fail to find leaders as influential and prolific as Mandela and Archbishop Tutu, and could develop a more Mugabe-like attitude towards governance, which would certainly be a disaster for all parties; or, South Africa could fully recognize it’s importance and ability to be the “beacon on the hill” for the rest of the continent, and help less organized nations form themselves into productive and peaceful states. There really are so many possibilities, and they are going to be realized sooner rather than later.
As far as crime goes, yes there is a concerning level of crime there, however, it is not much more than many other places around the world, and wise travelers shouldn’t have a problem here. As with every place I have ever been, there are places you can go, and places you shouldn’t go. As with every place I have ever been, there are places where you shouldn’t walk around looking confused wearing your Rolex and designer clothes. I made it through Durban and Cape Town and surrounding areas without having any problems. The closest I came to having a problem was when my girlfriend and I were trying to hike to the Signal Gun through the high end of the Bo Kaap neighborhood. It gets pretty isolated towards the top of the hill, and as this woman was leaving her house she motioned to us that we should be careful in this area because there is no security and not many people around. We heeded her warning and walked back down into the city, figuring that we could get up there with our rental car or a cab. Perhaps my experiences were much better than most because of the increased police presence during the cup (and the after effects of that presence), and I certainly did hear stories of some of my friend’s friends being mugged or attacked by a car-jacker, but I could easily in turn relay stories of my own friends being held at gunpoint in Philadelphia, or being shot in Dallas, or encountering a gang of violent teenagers on the streets of Baltimore - all true stories by the way. The country didn’t strike me as especially more dangerous than any other places I’ve been, especially if you hold to the maxim, “don’t be stupid you moron.”
The more I travel, the more I find places that I long to return to, and South Africa is no exception. In a sense, traveling is depressing because it shoves the reality of opportunity cost in to your face - I want desperately to go back to Thailand and visit the friends I made there and continue to keep in touch with; I want to go back to Japan and visit my best friend, and see how his life has changed now that he has 5 more years of experience living there; I want to spend time with my friends in New York and San Francisco and Baltimore and Las Vegas; and now I will want to return to South Africa and visit my friends in Durban. I’ll also want to return and take an intensive game ranger course, as I feel like beating around the bush and experiencing the nature there was probably the highlight of the trip. The population of most animals and the amount of land they have to roam on is surely a fraction of what it once was, but the conservation efforts that have been undertaken are still a great achievement, and there is an extremely spiritual type of feeling to be had with simply being in a natural environment where many many things would love to kill you. I live adjacent to a natural forest in Breckenridge, and it’s wonderful to be out in the middle of the woods, feeling the breeze blow through the trees and watching the small animals run around doing their errands, but somehow it doesn’t have the same “cycle of life” feeling that the bush had; probably because in the bush I wouldn’t play the role of top of the food chain. You really have to be careful there, and that forces you to pay heavy attention, or die. I found that very empowering, and I want badly to know that feeling more.
So that’s it for this time around. Tomorrow we have a 2 hour flight to Jo’berg, a 7 hour layover, an 8 hour flight to Cairo, a 3 hour layover, and then a 12 hour flight to New York City. I’ll have a short evening in Brooklyn and then it’s back to Colorado and long painful process of rebuilding my bank account. I’m trying not to think about the next trip, because it’s probably a good couple of years away, but I think it’s safe to say that there are more World Cup games in my future.
This trip has reinforced my feeling that anyplace worth visiting is worth visiting for months on end. I was very fortunate to spend the majority of my time here living with a friend and his family. (Thanks again to the Dixons) In doing so I was able to meet a lot of locals and get a good idea of what day-to-day life in South Africa is like. Like Thailand, this is definitely a country that I would be happy to live in. There is a real sense that history is being made here, and most people are pretty optimistic about the future. The World Cup went off extremely well, and there is a lot of pride in both the country and continent for that alone. South Africans are definitely Africans, and with all the natural beauty, dynamic history and cultural diversity around, there is a lot to be proud of.
Besides re-visiting my friends and spending more time in the bush, I’ve started a list of all the things I didn’t have time for this time around. I hope that one day I come back to South Africa and get to that list. There really is an endless amount of stuff to see and do. For now, I have to go home and get past the reverse culture shock – driving on the other side of the road, expensive food, the strange lingo, and the lack of soccer. I’m very fortunate to have a great place to return home to, and I hope I can see everyone soon. Thanks for reading my travel reports, and if you want to know more about anything I’ve talked about, please feel free to ask – telling stories is how I get to relive my travels.