22 March 2008

South Africa...it’s really not that far.....you should go!

The desire to go to South Africa has been with me for years. Having befriended over a dozen South African expats in the states, I kept hearing stories and seeing pictures that only fueled my desire to visit and explore the country that was so far away. I had originally planned to head to SA on my first trip around the world, however when the idea of the Trans Mongolian Railroad got into my head I couldn’t say no and SA was yet again, pushed to the backburner. Getting from north east Asia down to the southern tip of Africa wasn’t exactly an easy flight. But my trip to South Africa actually started back in August of 2006 in Gera, Germany at the World Parachuting Championships when I met the woman’s South African National FS 4-way team. Fortunately for me the weather in Germany was not cooperating with the event and rained most of the time allowing for only half of the scheduled jumps to be completed. I say fortunate for me because I had more time to meet new people from all over the world since they weren’t busy jumping out of planes. Long story short, I met Charis and Bev who I kept in touch with and hosted me in SA.


After a 14 hour flight from Sydney, I arrived in Johannesburg to see the smiling face of Charis greeting me at the airport. We had decided a few weeks earlier that we would travel the country together by car through the mountains and down to the coast all the way to Cape Town and back through Kimberly to Joburg. She had become quite an inspiration for me and I turned out to be a bit of a test for her. You see, she had just recently taken over the family business and was attempting to shift things to a virtual office of sorts. Armed with a cell phone and a broadband internet connection for the laptop, my arrival was the perfect excuse to move the office to the road and see if going virtual was actually feasible. So while our SA trip was a test for her, she and her business were an inspiration for me. That lifestyle was what I wanted, and to see someone who was doing it and doing it well gave me hope that when I get back to the states, I can create that business model as well. It’s always nice to see an idea implemented and working the way it was supposed to. But I digress….
After getting settled into the fortress that she calls home, with an 11’ wall topped with an electrified fence, remote controlled reinforced iron gate, security cameras and the security guard who is posted at the end of the driveways on her street, who’s job it is to patrol…that street, we were safely at home and kicked off our shoes to plan the 2 week journey in front of us. I say all of this because crime is ramped in Joburg. Aside from the high walls and electric fences on everyone’s homes, you see the well know "ADT" security sign posted on properties protected by such. However what hits home a bit more than the all familiar ADT sign, is the second half of the sign….."Armed Response". Just a sign of the way of life in the big city. Spending a few days at home base, we took a day trip on Safari. A trip to the southern tip of the African continent wouldn’t be complete without seeing some wild animals. Off to Pilansberg we went and got, in my opinion very, very lucky to see the animals that we did. The pictures speak for themselves…..
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Our first night away from Joburg was a trip to see some old friends of Chaz’s in the Drakensburg. These are the mountains which boarder Lesotho, a country completely surrounded by SA. Her friends have been running a camp there for over 10 years and it’s quite a nice place to hike and get out into the hills. After a few nights sleeping in a small cabin with only one light that was powered by a solar charged battery, we were off.
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Our next stop was down the coast to Coffee Bay and Hole in the Wall. Yes, there is a town actually named ’Hole in the Wall’. Don’t worry, you’ll see why in the pictures. You’ll also see why cows all over the world dream of life at Hole in the Wall…..there might even be a cow retirement home there…not sure. But I do know that they are living the good life. Aside from the cows, the area is quite remote and we had to travel on a road that had the most potholes that I had ever driven ... It was actually impressive with how many potholes there were. They varied in size and depth from what we are used to in the states to bigger than a car and around a foot deep. What was more impressive was we even saw a crew repairing potholes…..something that we both swore hadn’t happened there in years. If you weren’t dodging potholes, you were dodging live stock as they roamed freely across the street. Not a place to be driving at night. But during the day we were able to see the beauty of the area and see the more traditional settlements with spaced out round huts with thatched roofs. When you pass through the settlements the kids see the car coming and when they recognize the white people in the car they come running. They aren’t running for money, they are yelling "Sweets! Sweets!". Of course there are plenty of people who do want money. One form of the commonly accepted begging whether you want it or not, are the inevitable "car gods". No matter where you park, they are there. The car gods watch over your belongings and upon your return they stop traffic and guide you from your spot. All of this for a 2 or 3 Rand tip. If you’re wondering it’s 7.50 Rand to 1 USD.
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After spending a night in Knysna, we made the final leg down the coast to Cape Town. Any time that I mentioned I was heading to SA to someone who was from here, they inevitably always told me to, "get out of Joburg as fast as you can and get to Cape Town". Once I was there I could see why. It was indeed a different world. You didn’t have to worry yourself while sitting at a stop light like you did up north. Things here were different. Just an easier more laid back lifestyle seemed to be the norm. My long lost friend Francis B Jackson found his way back to CT a few years ago and has been calling it home ever since. It was good to meet up with an old friend I hadn’t seen in ages. That seems to be a recurring theme and almost be the norm for me these days, connecting with old friends in random places exploring the far corners of this world. It’s a great feeling to be able to run as far and wide as I have and still have a smiling face happy to see you even if just for a few days.
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I was able to celebrate a birthday while in Cape Town as well. I have now lived for 33 years on this planet and I’m hoping that I’m only a third of the way done with my journey exploring it’s surface. It might sounds like an odd statement, but I feel my age. That is by no means a bad thing. Sure when I was in high school I remember thinking that by 30 I would be married and have 2.3 kids, a dog and a white picket fence. Of course that was just the naivety of a teenager thinking he knew how the world worked. Year after year our experiences build upon one another to make us who we are today. I’ve heard people say that in your early thirties that you get to a point where you feel comfortable with the knowledge that you have and your direction in the world. I understand that now and I couldn’t agree with it more. Of course in the literal sense I still have to find a home and a new career, but that’s just a small, minor detail. On the whole, I know where I am. I know who I am, and I know what I want. This trip has been the biggest present I have ever bought myself and I will not ever forget it. You could almost look at it as an investment in my future state of mind and the returns are already coming in.
Anywhooo, for the annual celebration of my arrival on this world, we deiced to climb Table Mountain and take the cable car down. Francis told me that the hike is hot, very hot with no shade so don’t do it during the middle of the day. He was right….it was brutal out there. Of course when we got to the valley in the rocks ascending to the top, the clouds rolled in so thick and the winds picked up it made us run for shelter. We were in what locals referred to as the ’Table Cloth’. This was the point in time where the mountain was reminding us it was indeed a mountain and to not take it lightly. The 50 yards across to the other side of the climb disappeared as over 30 knot winds blew clouds and cold down from the top. We went from sheltered area to sheltered area just wanting to make it to the top without succumbing to exposure. When we finally were about 5 minutes from the top we heard sirens blaring. We should have had almost 2 hours before the last cable car went down, but if the winds get too strong, they shut down the top and the car and that’s that. We assumed that the sirens were the warning that they were shutting down and made a break for it. We raced and raced and finally made it to the cable car where indeed we caught the last ride down. It was a bit of a disappointment making the 2 hour climb and not being able to spend some time on the top looking out at Cape Town, but I was happy to get back on the ground and into the warmth. The evening was capped by searching out one of the only Thai restaurants in CT followed by ice cream. Yes, despite the near death experience, it was a great birthday and incidentally, my second in a row outside of the USA! The next morning we went to the beach on the other side of the bay to meet up with one of Chaz’s friends and got to see the lunch hour kite surfing fiasco. The beach was packed and I wondered how all of those kites steered clear of one another…..madness! Around 1:30 or so the kites started to thin out as the works returned to their jobs and left the beach behind. Not a bad way to spend a lunch break if you ask me. It also is the perfect depiction of how life is in CT. Everyone we met seemed to have just a much more laid back point of view on things and didn’t mind taking their time to get through the day. I can see why my friend Francis has been here for as long as he has…
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After CT, we made the long drive up to Joburg with a stop over in Kimberly where the DeBeers Diamond company dug a huge hole in the ground. By huge hole I mean huge hole. So big that it’s actually a local attraction and they charge admission to see it. Apparently there were a lot of diamonds to be had down there. Aside from that, the only other thing that Kimberly had to offer was a place to sleep right in the middle of the drive from CT to Joburg. That last day I got pulled over for traveling 142 in a 120 kph. The fine was 200 Rand, less than 30 USD. We smiled and chatted with the cops, got to play with the laser detector a bit and we were off. We also passed by several townships as they were called. This is where mass people without homes, prop up whatever materials they can find and build a shelter. The government provides electricity and bathrooms and the people build their houses around them. It is a wild scene and the biggest one that we saw was just outside of CT. It’s not exactly a place to stop and take pictures….so most of these were from the car.
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I can’t thank Chaz enough for running me around her country and seeing the sights that my friends have been describing to me for so long now. I can’t wait to return! But my next adventure has me landing in Spain for a few months in an attempt to learn some Spanish. Of course on the way I’ll have a few days to explore the wonderous world of Doha, Qatar. Much like Dubai….Doha is an oasis in the dessert.

2 comments:

  1. Try to stop by Toledo, Girona (SP?) or both when you are in Spain. Walking the streets of those 2 cities feels like going back in time to 1492

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  2. Wow... IMG_2169.jpg could be an expensive framed print, Brian. Really nice work.

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