Johannesburg: Mon 23 Oct
The Drifters’ Johannesburg Inn is 45 minutes from the airport – across the other side of the city in the pleasant north-western suburban of Northcliff.
The bar opened at 5pm and we were really thirsty. The bartender recommended that I have ‘the ladies’ beer’, Savanna Dry cider made from Granny Smith apples. That was it! I’m now addicted to the lovely light-amber concoction that only has a hint of apple flavour.
Mpumalanga: Tue 24 Oct
A huge green behemoth of a vehicle was ready and waiting for us in the driveway. It had four pairs of reclining seats each side, floor to ceiling windows that opened down halfway, sixteen huge lockers at the rear that easily held our luggage individually, refrigerated compartments to keep our drinks cold – I think we’re going to be mighty comfortable.
The final destination was the Balule Game Reserve bordering Kruger National Park on the western perimeter 17km north of Hoedspruit (pronounced ‘hootsprate’).
The terrain was changeable as we wound through the Drakensburg Mountains and the elevation plunged to the east and temperatures soared – it got quite tropical, very humid even though they haven’t had rain for a long stretch.
Blyde River Canyon with its unique rock formations was our next stop. We dabbled our feet in Bourke's Luck Potholes which were shaped millions of years ago by erosion and just below the wide river narrowed and snaked through the rocky passage.
Further along the canyon, the Three Rondavels (it seems that everything round in South Africa is called a ‘rondavel’), a trio of high circular rock formations stood majestically above the deep crevasse of the canyon. The viewpoint was at the edge of a steep high precipice and strangely, at the far end, there was no fence – it looked like a lover’s leap.
Balule Camp: Wed 25 Oct
2:00am: Thunk! Something hit the side of the tent. I bounded out of bed but looking out of the windows was useless – total darkness. A rustling in the trees to the side though made me very aware we’d had some sort of visitor. Of course, I couldn’t sleep after that – not because of fear but excitement to be in this locale.
5:00am – Lightening in the eastern sky, so I slid out of my sleeping bag and as I stood stretching in front of one of the giant picture windows, a lone giraffe sauntered by only about six meters away. What an exciting way to start the day.
7:00am – We headed out after coffee and tea on our first game drive. For the first while we didn’t see much. Then all of a sudden there were zebra, impala, kudu, more giraffes, steenbok and a herd of wildebeest lurking at a waterhole.
Determined to find elephants, we carried on. The park is overrun with them and they are the hooligans of the reserves. We finally glimpsed one off at a distance. As we spied the waterhole in front of our camp, there was a rotund elephant and a lone giraffe cohabiting at the waterhole – How miraculous!
The day became terribly hot and oppressive as it wore on. Humidity was high in spite of the arid conditions and lack of rain. So a siesta was called for and just lazing the day away on our own little deck that was so close to the waterhole and its constant activity.
We waited for it to get a bit cooler before being taken on a bush walk to track game and get familiar with wild Africa. The guides did not carry weapons, so I did wonder what would happen if we encountered a pride of lions but I realized later that they knew the signs to watch out for.
Townships: Thur 26 Oct
The first stretch of highway 40 south was riddled with entrances to hundreds of other private game reserves bordering Kruger National Park - some of them extremely expensive upscale ones. Further on a bit it was townships as far as the eye could see. Not one white person lives in this area. This polarity between rich and poor is a troubling constant.
The roads through the townships are a colourful sight – people walking everywhere. The main mode of transportation is taxi vans, as no one owns a car. The homes vary from very basic little huts to the occasional ‘nice’ home.
Out-houses prevail. Wheelbarrows are a proud possession and are used to transport water in large plastic containers. There is almost no water or electricity in these townships and they’ll walk several kilometers to a water station. It was a constant fascination watching the passing scene.
Sabie River: Thur 26 Oct
Hazyview Inn is a beautiful large, thatched log structure deep in jungle, just high enough on a ridge overlooking the rushing Sabie River where hippos and crocodiles live together in harmony. Our rooms exited directly onto a covered deck running the entire length of the building, in the centre of which was a cozy little bar leading in to a high open-beamed great room and massive kitchen.
I spent a couple of hours mostly alone at the swimming pool writing – sitting on the edge of the pool with my legs dangling in the water.
In the late afternoon when it didn’t seem any cooler (later on I heard it was 40°C), we were taken on a walk down through the jungle to the river to look for hippos and crocs. There were fresh hippo tracks but no hippos that afternoon and we walked about 300m upstream to no avail.
We ran for the showers after the slogging afternoon and it was pure ecstasy to stand under the cooling spray. A couple of Savanna Drys at the bar hit the spot before dinner was served in the lovely high-ceilinged dining room – tonight beef stroganoff.
Kruger National Park: Fri 27 Oct
We were on the road by 7:30am only having to drive about half an hour before entering Kruger National Park.
I bought myself a Kruger guide at the gate to keep track and help identify the birds, animals, reptiles, etc. It was a wonderful day of sighting. We encountered so many species but only four of the Big Five. Leopards are nocturnal creatures and are the most difficult to spot.
Other animals included impala, hippopotamus, warthogs, leopard tortoise, blue wildebeest, giraffe, kudu, nyala, waterbuck, terrapin, baboons, steenbok, hyena, zebra, klipspringer, vervet monkey, and birds galore – ground hornbill, eagles, storks, barbets, starling, francolin, owl, etc., etc.
That night we spent in Pretoriuskop Camp, one of many in the national park. Round huts – rondavels - scattered about were our rooms.
Drive to Zululand: Sat 28 Oct
It was a long drive south through Kruger and out at Malelene. We stopped to shop for groceries and that gave us an hour to browse a large outdoor shopping centre. It seemed at first glance to be an affluent area but appearances can be deceiving. Poverty is endemic.
However, the people were colourfully well dressed, buying goods and congregating in large happy groups. The children were beautiful – mothers carried babies on their lower backs, the babies’ legs encircling their waists and tucked in to a cotton shawl wrapped around their waists.
The music attracted us – strong African rhythms, melodious voices and the locals were moving their bodies to the beat – so we went into the music store to ask what CD they were playing on the loudspeaker and promptly bought it.
We passed vast sugar cane fields and sugar refineries. The sugar plants are set on fire in the fields and then the remaining sugar cane stalks are harvested. There were banana plantations, tomato fields and further south, pineapples.
The speed limit is 120kph so we roared across the lush landscape encircled with verdant mountains. Swaziland, a separate land-locked country surrounded lby South Africa, and Mozambique is a sovereignty – they have a royal family. Poverty is widespread in Swaziland – however, when first entering from the north, we thought it fairly prosperous, with well-run farms – irrigated and fertilized, and sugar cane fields as far as the eye can see.
To enter Swaziland, you must first sign out of South Africa – present passport, stamp, stamp, stamp. Then walk across to Swaziland customs, present passport, stamp, stamp, stamp. This process is repeated in reverse on leaving the country. While waiting in line, we educated ourselves by reading the prominent and graphic signs warnings about sexually transmitted diseases and malaria. A big basket brimming with condoms urged us to 'Help yourself'.
As we waited outside in line to present our passports to exit Swaziland, an elderly woman with a beat up old suitcase stood close by waiting for a ride, I suppose. Her eyes were glazed with thick cataracts which made me wonder if she was blind, but she was very proud, rubbing down the colourful material of her wraparound skirt to make sure it sat properly. She had a bright turquoise jacket topping it and shiny black plastic shoes. I said “Hello” and her face erupted into a broad smile displaying only two pointy teeth and she grabbed me and wrapped me in a huge hug. I was so touched feeling I’d made a momentary connection.
Out of Swaziland and into Zululand, which is part of South Africa. Luxuriant, tropical greenery and pineapples, bananas and sugarcane proliferated.
Our next Drifters Inn was at HluHlue, pronounced Shlu-shlui. It’s in the middle of a private game reserve and our truck bumped and shimmied down a narrow dirt lane for several kilometers before our camp came into sight. This camp was the most rustic and basic of them all. I’m not used to this kind of ‘roughing it’ but the experience is far from negative – in fact it’s freeing. Dinner was a huge pot of spaghetti and it was delicious.
HluHlue game parks: Sun 29 Oct
Awake at 3am again, just couldn’t sleep. Finally got up at 4 and it was light by 5. As we were spending two nights in our little A frame huts, we had a whole day to fill with explorations.
We started with a walk around the Drifters game reserve, tracking the animals on foot, trying to stay downwind and tread on our toes staying closely together in single file to be quiet and unrecognizable. We’d watch their ears prick but be unsure of what we were – zebra, wildebeest, kudu, impala - no dangerous creatures.
After breakfast, we headed out again – drove ten minutes to False Bay Park where we headed out again on a three hour hike through forest parched and dying in parts from the drought this area has been experiencing. St. Lucia Bay, a huge inland sea is totally dried out and it was only seven years ago that there was a vibrant tourist mecca on the beach and the lake was filled with crocs and hippos. Returning across the vast salt and dried mud lakebed, we came upon many skeletons of crocodiles and hippos – is this another result of global warming?
Lunch and our final wildlife foray. We split into two groups, piled into the safari jeeps and drove 30km west to HluHlue National Game Park, another huge reserve teeming with animals including the big 5 – well, the big 4 to us. There were a couple of incidences that stood out from the usual sightings. A rhinoceros snorting and charging driving out other rhino interlopers from his territory. In a mud hole right beside the road, two aging buffalo bulls lay contentedly, deep in the mire - their useful days in the herd over, they’ll spend their retirement years in this jungle spa.
Back at camp, there was a ‘boma’ beside the deck, fenced by bamboo poles; logs provided seating circling the fire that was used to barbecue chicken, pork and sausages. I sipped on a couple of vodka with dry lemonades and proceeded to polish off the remains of my bottle of wine. I like this arrangement.
A sangoma: Mon 30 Oct
Every Zulu tribe has a ‘Sangoma’, a witch doctor of sorts but often female. We were privileged to be invited to visit the Sangoma at HluHlue village – men were seated to her left and women to her right. She and her apprentice sat on the floor in a mud and thatch rondavel hut, huddled in the dark recesses.
Her voluminous breasts were wrapped in a shawl of black velvet and her hair was braided and threaded in multi-coloured beads. She looked at us shyly from under long eyelashes, her head tilted down. She was appraising us, readying appropriate answers for our questions. She shook up a container of mixed seashells, whistles, stones and coins and threw them across the floor like dice in a craps pit. It was then open for questions, which were translated by the schoolmaster.
· “Will I have grandchildren?”
· “Will my son marry?”
· “What is my purpose in Africa?”
· “What is wrong with my legs?”
· “Will I have another heart attack?”
She tackled each query by looking at the pattern of the shells pointing to the individual and diagnosed with care. Not to be left out, I raked my mind for a question and finally came up with one.
· Will I ever be thin again?” I asked.
A throaty chuckle emanated from the dark form on the floor and she looked me over and then looked at the shells. With her cane, she gestured to a round white one and answered simply.
· “No, you’ll get fatter!”
The room erupted with laughter and with that our visit was over. We all tossed the expected coins into her array of shells and headed over to the local high school where Drifters have forged a symbiotic relationship.
The children in their navy skirts and trousers with yellow shirts and striped ties, converged on their school building high on top of a plateau. They walked miles and came from all directions. We were expected for a 2-½ hour visit and this was our opportunity to distribute our duffle bag of t-shirts, pens, pencils, erasers and calculators. We passed it over to the headmaster who was most appreciative and he promised to distribute to the most needy. There were 951 students attending classes and we hadn’t brought that many shirts.
Indian Ocean: Mon 30 Oct
It was a short drive that day – only three hours to the Drifters Inn Dolphin Coast just 30m north of Durban, in Umdhloti (pronounced umshlotti).
We could smell the sea long before we caught sight of it and as ocean addicts we were exhilarated when we rounded the corner and the vista of the Indian Ocean unfolded (azure with huge foamy breakers roaring onto the golden sand – shark infested waters however) - it was absolute bliss.
But the beach was calling us to stroll its length, picking up shells and coloured glass, edges rubbed smooth by the sand and sea. A terrific rip tide (not sure if that term is correct) could suck your feet from beneath you as the water rushed in and quickly out again.
The population of this Malay coast is primarily of Indian heritage and the fishermen we met on the beach were very dark-skinned but with Indian features much like those from the south of India and Sri Lanka. I asked one young guy what he was fishing for and he answered in perfect well-spoken English “Black tail probably – about 2kg but I’ll take whatever I catch”.
The fish braai catch of the day was a meter long hammer-headed dorado; someone said it was sometimes called mahi-mahi and it’s sometimes referred to as a ‘dolphin fish’ which disturbed me – but it was definitely not a dolphin. It was a delicate sweetly flavoured white fish and we all sat at a long table on the lower patio and dined under the stars with the surf as our background music.
We left our patio doors wide open overnight and the curtains pulled back – I didn’t want to miss a minute of this magical place. However, having taken our weekly Larium (malaria prophylactic) with dinner, the night was filled with dreams. Fernie woke me from nightmares twice.
Durban to Drakensberg: Tue 31 Oct
Breakfast was elegantly prepared and served by the inn staff at 9am – none of our utilitarian stainless steel dishes. Instead china plates and mugs and glass tumblers – this must be what 5-star is like. We could have easily enjoyed a second day at Umdhloti Dolphin Coast Inn but we were on the way to our next adventure. It’s hard to believe how changeable this beautiful country is – they have it all. Now we were headed for the mountains – the Drakensberg but first we’d visit Durban.
The sub-tropical climate and the environs were evocative of Hawaii – thick dense undergrowth, tropical flowers and sweetly scented air. The highway skirted the ocean and tourist beaches stretched endlessly along the coast. The Golden Mile is the beach mecca – five star hotels, fun and games, restaurants and shops galore – very Waikiki!
We stopped for a few hours there beside the beach near the aquarium.
We took a circuitous route through Durban on the way out to get a good look at the city with its Indian ambience, Hindu temples et al.
Due west, the drive up to the Drakensberg was a steady climb from sea level to 1,700m at destination. Through the clouds that seemed to shroud the mountain range and out the other side, we got back to glorious sunshine and the silhouette of the Drakensberg was breathtaking.
The Drifters Drakensberg Inn is high up in the mountains at the base of the sheer cliffs. We had to leave our truck below, took just what we needed for two days and all piled into a specially constructed 4x4 to jerk and clatter up - about a half an hour drive.
Our log cabins finally came into view after our bones had been rattled and shaken up the curving stone and dirt roadway. Situated high, they all faced the magnificence of green valleys and granite cliffs of the Drakensberg.
Soft candlelight lamps, china and glass, wonderful wine, good company all made our chicken dinner even more delicious. It was only 8:30 when we put on our PJ’s and slipped into the comfy white-sheeted beds, our sleeping bags atop us and windows wide open. Then the most amazing sound and light show broke out – for about an hour, the lightning illuminated the sky silhouetting the mountains while thunder crashed in synchronization and it seemed to come from all directions. It was thrilling but a little fearsome – I’d never ever seen a storm like it.
Drakensberg: Wed 1 Nov
Up we went, fording streams and clambering over rocks until we reached the Bushmen’s caves where the tiny Bushmen resided hundreds of years ago. A bit further along are ochre wall paintings of dogs, men and horses.
We went to bed that night with the wind whistling outside, a fire smouldering in the fireplace and we snuggled into our sleeping bags ‘as snug as bugs in a rug’.
Free State & Golden Gate: Thur 2 Nov
The ride down the mountain in the 4x4 was a jarring and tortuous one in the rear seat. After the rain, the creeks were overflowing but the vehicle transited them without a problem. We were back to our truck and on the way by 10 am.
The rain continued to pour down as our highway skirted the northern border of Lesotho passing through Golden Gate Park. Many species of antelope and the black wildebeest inhabit the park. The sandstone mountains stood as sentinels ringing the green and golden grasslands. Rushing waterfalls tumbled mightily from the mountaintops. Rushing streams turned into rivers and etched the landscape even gushing across the road at low points.
Oldenburg farm is off the highway along several kilometers of dirt roads. The beautiful sprawling ranch style farmhouse was over 100 years old but the interior was refurbished and modern.
Fri 3 Nov
The sunrise was spectacular, with strips of mist across the distant mountains, trees reflected in a rosy hue in the valley bottom lake. We were on the road at 6:30am after an early breakfast.
Freshly shorn sheep grazed the grasslands looking skinny and naked – they’d scamper away from the road as our truck approached. Further on, the grasslands thinned exposing more and more sand. On this rocky territory, goats prevailed.
The Karoo is full of a myriad of desert plants – grass is sparse and shrubs are scrubby but there are bright yellow blossoms brightening up the otherwise gray and beige landscape.
New Bethesda is a little town that time forgot. Whitewashed stone buildings and black, white and coloured children running around together.
The Drifters Karoo Inn is at the end of a long and tortuous road – as usual, extremely remote. The accommodations were in little stone huts – two rooms and a shared bathroom in each.
It got really cold overnight so we had our sleeping bags and an extra blanket over us and then I descended into oblivion for six hours straight.
The Karoo: Sat 4 Nov
This rising with the sun has got to stop – 5:00am and I’m energized and raring to meet the day. Why am I not like this at home? Fernie and I went on a desert walk tracking some kudu and bontebok – they were ever watchful though and only allowed us so near.
A late breakfast today 9:00am and Dorran led us on a hike around the facing mountain. There were bontebok, springbok, ostriches, zebra and eland (the largest of the antelopes). We climbed up to an ostrich nest. The prime female lay her egg(s) in the centre and the lesser females deposit theirs around the perimeter securing the prime females eggs from the scavengers. There were about 25 or so eggs in the single nest.
November 5, 2006 – Sunday
On the road early – 7:00am, we stopped in the little town of Graaff-Reinet for a couple of hours, where we gave a cursory visit to several museums. The Karoo is full of prehistoric fossils from the Permian period – way before Jurassic. It was a pokey little museum but it had some wonderful fossils.
We started the day in the Karoo desert ringed by hills which became sparser of plants as we progressed and then as we got to the mountains, scrubby trees started to show getting thicker and fuller until it became a full dense forest.
I rode up front with Dorran across the Outenqua Mountain pass, a gravel road through a long deep gorge – a one and a half hour visually gorgeous transit. It was much like some of the roads I’d navigated Fernie over in our RV, to his chagrin.
There’s a large squatter camp on the way into Knysna – mile upon mile of tumbledown, gray clapboard shacks built up the hillsides in a haphazard fashion – it reminded me of a film set. Some maybe most of the shacks were no more than 6 or 7 foot square and most had black plastic covering the roofs. Folks were cooking outside on their tumbledown porches. I don’t think there was any sort of sanitation and definitely no electricity. A quarter mile away, millionaires had built their mansions – this is the Garden Route. The polarity is very troubling.
The Drifters Knysna Inn is, of course, a trifle remote….that’s the charm. Today, we encountered another obstacle – a tree had fallen across the road……it took all the able bodied to snap off branches and move it sufficiently so the truck could squeeze by.
The inn was run by Hilda (from Holland) and her husband, Gavin (from Zimbabwe) with their two-year-old son. Hilda told me that they’d be going to Holland to live because they didn’t see much future for William in South Africa. However, it was going to be a long and difficult process for Gavin to emigrate. The anarchy in Zimbabwe has taken the bureaucracy into chaos and it’s taken him over a year to be able to obtain his birth certificate.
There was another group staying at the inn in the main building. We were in the chalets. There were two rooms per chalet again with a shared bathroom. Lane and Christie were once again our roommates. We’ve developed quite a comfort level with them. Set in a pine forest, we could have been in BC, if not for the strange birdcalls. The weather is cooler now and they obviously get a lot of rain – everything is so green and fertile.
Dinner was prepared by Hilda and her staff – a braai of lamb chops and sausages with salads – I swear I’m going home to a vegetarian diet. I’m so tired of meat. Dead tired, I went straight to bed and slept soundly in the cool night until my usual waking time of 5am.
November 6, 2006 – Monday
An early long walk in the woods recharged my batteries. I’ve reached the point in the trip where I’m craving ‘alone time’ and the early morning hours offer me the peace and solitude I need.
The day was so full. We stopped at Bloukrans Bridge, the highest single span arch bridge in the world where the highest commercially operating bungy jump in the world operates. It’s situated 40km east of Plettenberg Bay along the N2 Highway. Watching the jumpers, I was so tempted to try it……if only I were 20 years younger. There were no takers in our group.
In TsiTsikamma National Park, we took a hike along the otter trail, a seaside walk, up to the point where it was miles of climbing across boulders. The Indian Ocean is wild and exciting and huge waves crashed on the rocky precipices. Dorran didn’t clearly state that we should turn around where the trail stopped and boulders began and Barbara (one of the German women) carried on for another hour. Dorran ran the trail like an antelope to bring her back while we walked the other direction to the mouth of Storm’s River where a suspension bridge crosses the wide gorge just as the river empties into the ocean.
A beer and a cider and a bit of lunch at a café right on the rocks and we were revived to explore the long white sand beaches and rocky coves. On the way back, we took a drive through the town of Plettenberg Bay.
Dinner out in a restaurant – what a treat. We all dined in a seafood restaurant on the Knysna waterfront overlooking the wide lagoon. There’s always a curry on the menu in South Africa and the seafood curry was superb - just nice to get away from meat. It was almost 10:00pm by the time we got back and Fernie and I changed rooms to one where we didn’t have to share a bathroom. So even though tonight was Larium night, I fell asleep immediately and had no nightmares. Maybe I’m getting immune to the side effects of the malaria drug.
Full story and loads of photos
Cape Town; Knysna
November 7, 2006 – Tuesday
Our third night in Knysna. The world famous Garden Route runs from about Tsitsikamma National Park in the northeast to George in the west. It is so named for the fertile, lush tropical foliage and beautiful ocean beaches bordered by the statuesque Outenqua Mountains. In early spring – four weeks or so before we got there – it’s ablaze with wildflowers.
We explored Knysna today starting with a boat ride in the Drifters twelve passenger wide bottom ski boat. We were lucky that the weather cooperated and the seas were fairly calm because they can’t get out of the lagoon when it’s too windy. The narrow channel between ‘The Heads’ is treacherous. We found lots of dolphins but our search for whales was a bust. It was a great ride though slapping across the wide swells of the open Indian Ocean.
Fernie played sous chef for the last time assisting with the South African version of ‘bangers and mash’, one more high cholesterol meal – tasty though.
Wed November 8
The days have been flying by – active, exploratory and fulfilling days. I can’t wait for the next adventure and greet each day with eagerness and excitement.
Plettenburg Bay, Knysna, George, Mossel Bay and all the other picturesque towns on the spectacular Garden Route are retirement communities primarily and tourist destinations because of the extensive white sand beaches. Today is our longest driving day and we were on the road at 6:00am grabbing a boxed breakfast to eat enroute. I was pensive as we traveled and mulled over the adventure holiday that we embarked on. It surpassed my expectations mostly and I felt we coped well with the sharing of facilities. Unlike the first day when the truck was full of excited chatter, everyone was quiet but in a comfortable and companiable way.
We detoured off the N2 to the consternation of some of the passengers who were starting to complain about rocky roads but it was pure pleasure for us. The bumpy and dusty roads don’t annoy us, they offer the opportunity of seeing the country unfettered by signs and commercialism. Endless farms in rolling land – wheat fields, some already harvested, sheep everywhere and also cattle. Our intended destination was DeHoop (pronounced de werp) Nature Preserve stretched along the shores of the Indian Ocean. Baboons scampered about through the fynbos (hardy vegetation only found in the dune areas of South Africa). Bontebok could be seen in the distance, but the dunes themselves were the draw – whiter than white sand looking like snow from a distance, stretching for miles. We hiked down to a cove to enjoy some beachcombing and whale watching. The whales were out quite far though. With the day being the longest travel day, every chance of a walk was embraced.
The small coastal town of Hermanus, only two hours east of Cape Town is renowned for whale watching. The ocean tumbles and boils over the rocks on the rocky headland, the wind whipping up a froth of whitecaps. It made it difficult to discern the whales at first but then suddenly a mass of flesh breeched directly in front of us only meters from the shore and it continued to put on a show as it slowly transited across the bay.
We hugged the coast line of the jade green waters of False Bay on a winding highway carved into the sides of the rugged mountains that hug the shore – reminiscent of the Big Sur in California. The sun shone brightly from clear blue skies but the wind was gale-force as I sat up in the cab with Dorran for the last leg into Cape Town. Sheets of salty spray sailed across the choppy sea steered by the keen wind. The truck was solid and stable though and the gusts didn’t seem to affect it – thank goodness.
Shantytowns proliferate on the N2 freeway leading into Cape Town. These squatter hovels constructed of any available bit of material they can get their hands on are usually topped with flapping black plastic to keep the rain out. Groups of children played soccer and other games on the grassy verge beside the freeway amongst the seldom-removed litter only inches from the speeding traffic. With a speed limit of 120 kph, it would seem impossible to cross the freeway on foot, but thousands climb the medians and dodge through the thick traffic, not all making it to the other side. The carnage is shockingly high.
The facts of life in a black South African’s life are shocking. There’s a rape every sixty seconds – often little girls ruined for life after; a murder every 29 minutes in the urban areas particularly Johannesburg; AIDS decimating the poor population and a total lack of education. Out of a 50 million total population, 40 million are black and the vast proportion of blacks live in townships and the deplorable conditions of the surrounding squatter camps. There is supposed to be mandatory primary education but where are the schools for the millions in the shantytowns. It seems an impossible task to eradicate the poverty and educate the masses.
I’m confused about the distinction between ‘Black’ and ‘Coloured’ people in South Africa. It seems that ‘Coloured’ have become their own sect and have garnered a higher level of respect from the ‘whites’. Service jobs in the Cape area are mostly held by ‘coloureds’. It’s a fine distinction and one that I’m definitely confused by. I did notice though that shopkeepers and restaurant servers were articulate and refined in manner while their skin was a lovely mocha colour. Does it hark back to the days where the ratio of white blood to black blood denoted position in the hierarchy? I noticed that most of the black and coloured shopkeepers and inn workers spoke in modulated tones and smiled shyly. Is this behavior taught by and expected by the whites of South Africa? Have they been intimidated into this submission? It’s all too much to grasp by our tolerant Canadian minds.
Cape Town is ranked as one of the five most beautiful cities in the world and it upheld its reputation. With Table Mountain as its backdrop and its oozing ‘tablecloth’ of cloud hovering over the sparkling city and the ocean hugging it on three sides, there can’t be a more beautiful setting. Sea Point, just ten minutes around the coastal corner from the city core, is a fairly safe community of hotels and condos, shops and restaurants and that’s where the Drifters Inn is located, just a half block from the seafront.
Nicole, a statuesque German blonde has been running that inn for six years. After coming to South Africa to visit her uncle, she loved it so much that she stayed. We were assigned a small but comfortable room on the second floor with its own bathroom. YEAH! Downstairs, there’s a lovely old sitting room/library ringed with big comfy leather sofas and chairs. Beside it is the dining room set beautifully with china and linen and just outside is a patio where we’d sit and enjoy a convivial drink.
November 9, 2006 – Thursday
I woke up singing that old Beatles song “When I’m 64”. I never thought I’d reach such a ripe old age when I first heard it forty years ago and here I am feeling no older than I did then.
We’re not on our own yet – we still have Dorran for two more days until 4pm tomorrow. Of course, we could elect to head off by ourselves if we want and a few did but there was a wonderful planned day in store so we hung in.. With plans to hike up Table Mountain and take the cable car down after, we were disappointed that the wind was so high up top that it was closed. I guess we could have hiked up but we’d have to walk down too which would have eaten up too much time. However, Table Mountain was more glorious than usual with its tablecloth of cloud coating it like seeping dry ice at a rock concert.
With a little extra time, we stopped at Hout Bay for a stroll and we mooched around the markets there. I told myself that I wasn’t going to buy any tourist trash but I weakened and bought a painted ostrich egg when I found out part of the profits was going to an ecological cause, the seal rescue. Fernie bought me a pair of originally crafted copper earrings for my birthday – they’re gorgeous and I wore them the rest of the day even though they looked a bit out of place with my scruffy clothing.
The South African penguins are a tiny species and they choose to abide in a tiny cove, Boulders Beach, south of Simonstown on False Bay, on the eastern coast of the Cape Peninsula. The trouble is they don’t stay down at the beach but wander uphill crossing the highway to end up as road kill. We spent a bit of amused time watching the little darlings mosey around like wind-up toys.
Table Mountain National Park is at the southern end of the peninsula and the endemic fynbos is protected and beautiful as it covers the moors and slopes down to the sea. Dorran parked the truck at Cape Point and we walked up, rather than take the funicular, to the lighthouse. The view was spectacular overlooking the Cape of Good Hope a couple of kilometers to the west. We had the choice of driving over with Dorran or hiking across the rocky and windy headland and being picked up at the bottom, at the Cape of Good Hope.
We grabbed a couple of takeout sandwiches, our walking sticks and headed off, just the two of us across the blustery cape – it was awe-inspiring but there were moments I thought the wind would carry us away. The actual most southerly point of Africa is 50 or more kilometers east at Cape Agulhas but it is not anywhere near as dramatic as here. We sat on the rocks high above secluded sandy coves munching our sandwiches and agreed that ‘Life ain’t at all bad’. The worst part of the trail was the last 500 meters down a steep and narrow rocky path. I concentrated only on my next step because otherwise all I could see was the rocks and ocean below, which gave me a bit of vertigo.
The winelands of Constantia sit on the north end of the peninsula just south of Cape Town. We didn’t stop but drove through the stunning green hills twisting through the vineyards – my mouth was salivating at the thought of some wine tastings – Tomorrow!
What a great day we had – I want to bottle that feeling!
It was time for the group’s last dinner together so we all jumped on the public bus which runs along the oceanfront around the corner to the Victoria and Alfred (I always thought is was Albert) Waterfront which is a reclaimed wharf area now teeming with hotels, restaurants, shops and tourist attractions. Masses of tourists and daytrippers crammed the area and after spending so many days with just the wonders of nature, I was horrified by the crass behaviour of the loud and obnoxious sightseers.
Quay 4 was a lovely seafood restaurant right on the seafront. We sat at a round table with our favourites, Christie and Lane, Jean and Andre and Dorran while the rest were at a long table beside us. A martini to start and a superb Cabernet accompanied my seared tuna – Yummy! I was secretly enjoying my 64th birthday - - - or so I thought. Jean passed me a parcel wrapped in tissue and raffia with a card signed by the whole gang. I was glad the lights were dim because the combination of the fabulous day, the martini, the new friends and Jean’s thoughtfulness brought tears to my eyes. Could anyone ask for a better 64th birthday?
November 10, 2006 – Friday
Things are winding down now – this is our last day with the group. Two of them elected to skip our proposed wine tour to Stellenbosch – not us!
Before heading off to the winelands, we took a drive around Table Bay as far as Tableview – aptly named for its picture postcard view of Cape Town and Table Mountain. There are so many gorgeous and affordable seafront properties – it would be a tempting place to buy and live if we could overlook the poverty, crime and politics – but we couldn’t.
Morgenhof Wineries is one of the oldest in the Stellenbosch area and have vast underground cellars filled with French Oak casks. The tastings were very generous and I didn’t spit or pour out – I drank the lot – the sign of a true WINO! We sampled a Rose, a Sauvignon Blanc, a Cabernet and their Premiere Red finishing off with a late harvest. The Cabernet was superlative so I bought a bottle for Jean and Andre who sadly missed the day. Jean had to go back to hospital to have a cast put on her broken wrist.
We visited a Raptor Rehab Centre in the afternoon where we had some interaction with falcons, owls, eagles and kites. One of the fellows who runs the facility put on a display of each bird’s skills. I wandered over to a bench and no sooner had I sat down but a falcon landed on my head, hoping for some food I guess. But I felt quite silly sitting there with a bird on my head. A cheetah rehab compound sat beside the raptor centre and we wandered through but apparently they weren’t going to be reintroduced to the wild and they were being bred in captivity and I didn’t understand why - so we didn’t give it our attention.
I nicely asked the German women to vacate the front seat beside Dorran. They had been up there for two days and I wanted to sit up front for the last hour of our expedition. Such complaints ensued.
“I have a chest cold” said one and pointed to her throat wrapped in a scarf (in 25 degree weather). “I can’t ride in the back where the windows will be open”.
Whine and complain, that’s all they did. I guess the eighteen days of togetherness has been a bit too much – the natives are restless. After severely pointing out that we all must cooperate and we take turns, they finally gave in when I snapped “If you insist on riding up there, I can’t forcibly remove you”, and I threw up my arms in dramatic disgust as I climbed into the back of the truck. I guess I made them feel guilty because with that they moved to the back – what a damned fuss!
I did enjoy the last hour chatting to Dorran as we drove back to Seapoint – Fernie prefered to stay in the back and snooze. I was full of mixed feelings – happy that F&I would be on our own now – sad that we were leaving some of our fellow passengers and Dorran – happy to be planning future expeditions - sad that the wonderful journey in the ‘Jolly Green Giant’ was over.
We spent an hour repacking our bags when we got back to the inn, so that we’d live out of the single smaller suitcase for the next week. We then headed down to the patio for a glass of wine and beer. Dorran still hadn’t left for Johannesburg and he said “I just got two bits of bad news”. We urged him to continue. “Jean has gone back into surgery – they had to replace the pins” he seemed so worried about her. “…..and, they’ve cancelled my days off between trips, so when I get back to Johannesburg, I do an immediate turn around with a brand new group”. So after eighteen days of sixteen hours each, he has to drive two days back to Johannesburg and immediately repeat the same journey – I don’t know how the guides don’t burn out but I guess they probably do.
Christie and Lane were flying home that night so we joined them for dinner at the Spur, a hamburger joint across the road from the inn. Exhausted, we said our goodbyes, promised to email each other and we had an early night.
November 11, 2006 - Saturday
Andre was down for breakfast and he filled us in on Jean’s condition. She was kept in hospital overnight but he was going to pick her up soon. One of the bridge women, the aggravating one, sat down with us too and started nitpicking – she’s like a dog with a bone. I asked her to desist but she wouldn’t shut up; I then suggested she move to another table, which she wouldn’t, so we ignored her and then excused ourselves. She was one that we could have done without.
The Drifters Inn was overbooked so Nicole moved us to a B&B several blocks away – Sundown Manor. It was a definite upgrade – a lovely large room with king sized bed, huge shower and all the amenities and the house and grounds were beautiful. The move was done quickly as we were being picked up for a ‘Township Tour’ at 8:30.
There were seven others on the tour and Sean, the tour driver. The others were all young – in their twenties, I’d guess. It was a fulfilling experience – very moving and I think it should be mandatory for everyone that visits South Africa. The townships of displaced blacks started when the Group Areas Act, passed in the 1950s, prohibited Blacks from living in the cities. However, the true beginnings were in 1901 when Bubonic plague hit and blacks were considered carriers of the disease and therefore resettled away from the white population. Then in 1918, as a result of the Spanish flu, blacks were once again segregated to separate compounds.
District 6, a central area of Cape Town was a lively black and coloured community in 1960 when it was decided they should all be forcibly removed and relocated to the Cape Flats, thirty kilometers away so that ‘white folks’ could build and reside there. So the ages old homes were razed but somehow it never got redeveloped. It stands now as mostly vacant land and they are building a few small homes for some of the displaced persons. However, most of them are dead or too old now. The bare land stands as a stark reminder of the atrocity. Just a few blocks down the road, the old Methodist church has been turned into The District 6 Museum chronicling those awful times. Most moving is a huge scroll inscribed by the affected, articulately expressing how it felt to be considered less than a person.
Our next visit was to the Langa (meaning ‘sun’) Township, one of the oldest in the area. The residents are squashed into mostly squalid conditions. A township is made up of government built projects, prefab shacks and squatter huts thrown up by the newer arrivals who don’t qualify for anything. The squatter shacks are made of old bits of wood, plastic and whatever they can scrounge or steal. They are lucky if they have six-foot square of space, extremely fortunate if there’s an outhouse not too far away and if they have electricity, they’re the upper echelon. There’s a long list for RDP (Reconstruction and Development Programme) houses and it gets longer every day.
Alongside the townships, an empty tract of land (the bush) is kept for ‘the initiation process’ of young men 16 to 18 years of age, much as traditionally happened in the wild tribal days. The boys are sent out, usually roughly circumcised without anesthetic, allowed only a loin cloth and must stay out there for a pre-determined time. The ‘bush’ beside the Langa Township is right beside the N2 freeway and we spied what looked to be rough shelters made of newspapers here and there.
In 2003, Sean drove Oprah to Langa – or say he says. It was there that she offered to pay the wages of all teachers for one year to focus the residents on education. Apparently, she continues her support and has enlisted several other large corporations to donate
Each township is a functioning community with entrepreneurial businesses run out of their sordid little shacks. There’s a proliferation of one type of business and that’s hairdressers – with fancy names such as ‘Ebony Coiffures’. No matter how poor, a black woman must have her hair looking good.
We were taken to a drinking establishment, a shebeen - an illicit beer hall, the name taken from the Irish apparently. A dark dirt-floored hovel greeted us. We were ushered in to sit on battered wooden benches, hardly room to fit us all. The two women brought a galvanized pail of foaming home-brewed ale and placed it on the floor in the centre of the room and we were all asked to take a drink right out of the pail. Fernie started and I, next, first of all said ‘No thank you’ but was convinced to try it. It was a sour, foamy and quite nasty brew – Yuck! I prayed I wouldn’t get sick from it. The town men pay either six or nine rand and for that they can drink as much as they want all day up until either 6pm or 9pm. How sad their lives are if they choose to sit all day in that dim and musty pit sloshing down that disgusting potion.
Sheep’s heads – a delicacy? No I think it’s because they get them very cheaply or maybe for nothing from the abattoir. A small fierce-looking woman, her face and arms smeared grotesquely with calamine lotion threw the heads onto a large grill with leaping flames which burned off the wool and cooked the little bits of flesh on the skull. Tongues are the favoured bit, but all gets used including the eyeballs.
An elementary school had been set up in several brightly painted shipping containers – no windows – no electricity – how on earth could they see inside? We weren’t shown. South African law states that all children must go to school but how is that possible in some of the rural townships where schools don’t exist. Their chances of education are at least better in the urban environment.
Quite a few years ago, a young woman arrived in Cape Town without education or money and she ended up in the largest (1.5 million population) township in the Cape Town area, Khayelitsha (meaning ‘new home’). A surprisingly eloquent woman, Rosie now has two children of her own (19 and 21 years old) and she’s well-known for the soup kitchen for children that she started out of her home with the help of personal donations and corporate help. Her house was a proper brick structure with appliances and comfortable furniture. Her garish and ostentatious sofa and chair were tightly covered in thick clear plastic – which did double duty, it protected the fabric from soil and wear while showing the ‘beauty’ of the colour and design. Our driver Sean loved Rosie and said several times that he wished his wife was more like her. Dressed in blue jeans, she stood elegantly in her living room, while we sat on her plastic covered sofa and told us about her soup kitchen and her life in the Mikasa area of Khayelitsha. We were pleased to donate to the cause – actually personally felt it mandatory.
Wherever we went in the township, the little children horded around us like hungry dogs. They were shiny clean, their clothes sparkling as if they were in a Tide commercial. There’s a lot of pride in the community. Next, a recycling entrepreneurship – a man uses tin cans to make colourful flowers. He demonstrated how he used very basic tools to make a flower out of a Coca-Cola can in just a few minutes. I had to buy one – a daisy for 15 rand ($2.50 Cdn).
Betsy, a garrulous young woman from Colorado (rare to meet Americans traveling away from 5* hotels – mostly Germans, French, Belgian, Dutch and Canadians – strangely didn’t meet any Australians) was visiting Cape Town on business but found time to sightsee. She’s on the Paralympic Committee. We chatted while on the township tour and she said she was unable to get a ticket for Robben Island – totally booked. We had reserved tickets several days earlier and suggested that she see if there were any last-minute cancellations. So she got off with us at the V&A Waterfront and joined us for lunch at a Pannekoek café on the patio with circulating buskers entertaining us. I had a pancake wrapped Bobotie – the spicy Malay/South African dish which was quite memorable. There were no cancellations for Robben Island initially but just as we were boarding the ferry, along came Betsy waving a ticket, happy as could be.
Robben Island lies just outside Table Bay and the crossing is just 35 minutes. It was hot and windless on the top deck and we enjoyed the calm crossing. Nelson Mandela and many other political activists were imprisoned on the island for so many years but at the outset it was used in the very early days as a compound for domestic animals – cows and sheep, and then for the incarceration of naughty sailors. All tours on the island are on buses between the buildings. It’s a World Heritage Site that is being tightly protected from the ravages of tourism. The guides were apparently all ex-cons formerly imprisoned there so their stories were accurate and poignant. The groups were much too large though and the opportunity of one-on-one conversations with them was impossible.
A prison - is a prison - is a prison! It seems to me there’s not much difference between them (we could easily be in Alcatraz) only the reasons for imprisonment and the unfair treatment that blacks and coloureds received. The designation of being ‘coloured’ covers blacks with whites, blacks with Indians, blacks with the aboriginal San and Khoisan but they get lumped under the one term ‘coloured’ and were segregated from the blacks and the whites. The ‘Cape Coloured’ were whites with San or Khoisan, the African bushmen. The San were the hunter-gatherers while the Khoisan were the herders. They both originally spoke with the ‘click’ sound in their language.
What a change in the sea for our return journey – windy and wild, chopping the waters and making for a blustery and cold ride. We dug out our windbreakers and put the hoods up to protect us from the cold and spray. Almost 7pm by then, we waved goodbye to Betsy and stopped for a quick dinner of kingclip and calamari before catching the bus back to Sea Point. We got off at the wrong stop for our new hotel and had to walk quite a way. We were exhausted when we finally arrived.
Andre and Jean had also been moved to the same B&B but they were out to dinner when we got there so I put the bottle of Cabernet that I bought for them at Morgenhof, on their doorknob. I hope they got it ok as they left for the airport before we got up next morning.
November 12, 2006 – Sunday
What a wonderful sleep we had in that enveloping king-sized bed with the crisp white linens. Breakfast was served on the patio overlooking the swimming pool and we chatted to Gary the 45ish owner. He and his wife and two children were from Zimbabwe and had owned a farm there. The farm was confiscated by the Mugabe government and not $1 was given to them. Obviously by the lovely hotel they owned in Capetown, they had been aware and prepared by hiding money out of the country. I guess they were lucky not to have been shot and burned out as happened to many white farmers there.
We walked from Sea Point to Green Point for the massive weekend marketplace running for about a kilometer on the Green Point parkland. Fernie had one thing in mind – he wanted an African tablecloth for our dining room table. With the new culinary skills gleaned from his apprenticeship with Dorran and his keen interest in ‘crockpot cookery’ he’s becoming quite the domestic man and I’m terrifically pleased. We couldn’t find a three meter tablecloth so ended up with two – two meter ones which we’ll overlap.
We were more than half way to the V&A Waterfront by this time so we carried on – on foot. We’d received Cape Town Passes delivered to our hotel. The passes covered many tourist attractions, activities and tours and the ‘Hop-on-Hop-off bus”, an open topped double decker with a guide who gave a narrated tour of the city. We hopped off at Table Mountain and finally the cable car was open – the winds moderate and no cloud tablecloth – it was clear as a bell. At the top, it is as flat as it appears from below and it’s been developed into some wonderful walks. The 360 degrees of views were phenomenal – from the city centre right to Cape Point and we spent a couple of hours exploring the trails before descending and ‘hopping on’ the bus again. We didn’t have time for any museums – the day flew by – but we did ‘hop in’ to the aquarium. It wasn’t a patch on the one in Durban though.
While briskly walking through Sea Point later on, we encountered a tall and stately, elderly (70+ish) gentlemen sporting a handlebar moustache. He greeted us with a barked
“Are you part of the Irish walking tour?”. He obviously had an interest in walking because he carried a worn and bent walking stick.
”No, we’re on our own” I answered, wondering at his question.
”Well, you certainly look Irish and you have a lovely lilt to your voice” he said to me flirtatiously, ignoring Fernie. He spoke in an upper crust English accent – or so I thought.
”Where are you from?” I asked in friendliness.
”Rhodesia” he barked, straightening his bent spine as if he’d been a military man.
”Zimbabwe?” I replied.
”Rhodesia” he determinedly answered “It will always be Rhodesia” and then he carried on an oratory about the previous Ian Smith government and the current Mugabe regime. “…..and the natives thought it would get better with Mugabe” he bellowed “Hrmph!”
Another seafood dinner at the Ocean Basket a couple of blocks from our hotel was fabulous – mussels, calamari and baby kingclip. Our tiny server’s name was Adelaide and she sparkled with happiness and charm – she so reminded us of our daughter-in-law, Janet. Fernie, as was I, was totally taken with her
”So you’re a Zulu?” Fernie asked her after hearing an adolescent boy at a neighbouring table ask her.
”Yes – I am a Zulu” she proudly rose to her full five foot of height. “You were listening…”
She told us she was a student studying at university “Accounting” she said proudly, obviously full of ambition and enthusiasm.
November 13, 2006 – Monday
6:00am What a Godforsaken time to have a flight. It meant having to get up by 3:30am for pickup at 4. But we were up battling hordes of mosquitoes that invaded our room from 1:00am. Why don’t south Africans have screens on their windows?
We were in Joberg or Jozie, as those that are familiar refer to their largest city, by 8:00am. We’d booked one overnight in the Drifters Inn and a tour of the city to become acquainted with it.
Mpho (pronounced Umpo), a charming and gentle young man (26) dressed in a black suit and tie, was our escort for the day. He lived in Soweto and regaled us with stories of his village (4.5 million live there – it’s mind boggling) as he drove us around. We didn’t see one white face as we drove street after street in the downtown core. Mpho said “I won’t take you to that area over there – that’s where the Nigerians live with their crime and their drugs and corruption – it’s very dangerous over there”.
“I take you to ‘Top of Africa’ now” he said “tallest building in all of Africa”. The Carleton Tower – 50 stories with a viewing area on the top floor was accessed through an underground parking lot and a shopping mall above.
”Why are the mannequins all white?” I asked, still not seeing a white face anywhere.
”I don’t know – I never noticed before” he answered.
I suggested that they should be painted black and he laughed uproariously, mentioning it again later and laughing heartily again. The view from the top was marred by the dark clouds quickly gathering over the city core but we got an idea how vast the city was.
Constitution Hall, formerly the prison where Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela were held is now the Supreme Court but parts of the squalid prison are left intact as a memorial. While visiting it under the tutelage of a strong African woman with shaved head, deep voice and manly attire, thunder roared, lighting flashed and the heavens opened up. We got soaking wet as we ran for cover and it got suddenly very cold. We huddled in a depressing and dank cement room while the roar of the storm masked the audio of the film being shown of interviews with the excons. Luckily, subtitles were shown.
Storm over, we progressed to the Nelson Mandela Bridge and the Gandhi Memorial Square. So there wasn’t really too much to see but we got an overall impression of a city that’s seen better times – however, a good infrastructure and definitely not third world. More tales of his home life ensued and especially of his girlfriend who’s studying to be a doctor.
”We have a huge hospital in Soweto for all the people who get hurt – broken bones all the time” he said. That’s where she will work.
”And I want to have my own tour company with my own cars” he said ambitiously. Goodhome luck to them all.
We didn’t expect to see Dorran again but his new tour was meeting that evening at the Drifters Inn. It was strange to see the new ones taking our places in ‘our’ truck. This was a much younger group – 20’s to 40’s I’d guess. He’ll have an easier time with them, I think. We had a quick chat with Dorran after we got back from dinner at an Indian restaurant just down the road and wished him all the best.
Mon/Tue 13/14 Nov
Fly to Victoria Falls (Zimbabwe) for extended holiday before returning home to Vancouver, Canada
There is so much more to see in South Africa than the game reserves, Kruger and Cape Town and I feel we did much more than scratch the surface on our wonderful overland adventure. It exceeded our expectations and the memories will stay with us forever. My senses are overwhelmed when I think of what we’ve experienced – the game reserves and parks overflowing with wildlife, the Indian Ocean coastline with its explosive seas, the majestic mountains of the Drakensberg, the desert of the Karoo, the luxuriant Garden Route, the pristine coves and beaches with silky white powder sand, the fertile winelands and farmlands, the tropical jungles, the velvet valleys, the smiling faces. This trip energized us – I feel younger than ever. So, what next?