Blogs :: A Special Report on ZA: Part 1

A Special Report on ZA: Part 1

Africa is lost in many respects to the world. For many, literally they get lost looking for it on a map. For others, its a continent doomed to demise. For few, its the next new thing. I couldn't even begin to write an deserving blog of Africa, specifically South Africa, our home for nearly the past 2 months. While we have traveled very little in terms of places, we've experienced much more in terms of culture: life, death, happiness, sadness, hope, fear.

My attempt at this point will not be to continue down this road of political histories and futures, but rather point you in the direction of a very well written article published by the Economist just before the start of the World Cup. More than a primer for tourists, its an in-depth look at current situations in South Africa, positives and negatives both included: "A Special Report on South Africa" - Economist, 3rd June 2010.

On Cape Town
Arriving in Cape Town we enjoyed our first real British-style pub in many moons within the first few hours. We saw amazing views of the oceans from atop Table Mountain. Down on Long we drank with the best of 'em. From coffee shops to pubs to shopping malls, it was the closest I had been to home since I left. I could imagine a life here in a beautiful city with great weather, wonderful beaches, friendly people and all the other things from the western world.

But you could be fooled. We still gripped our pockets in fear of grubbing hands, we walked faster down roads at night staying only in lit areas, we got goosebumps when passing suspicious characters day or night. Told stories of this and that, despite the modernization and look, it all still lacked the sense of security.

On The Garden Route
The next few towns visited were small coastal villages along the infamous Garden Route. As the public transportation is a wash in South Africa compared to South America and Europe, we rented a car for a day and I learned how to drive on the left side of the road from the right seat of the car. Keep in mind I had not driven in over 18 months. It is just like riding a bicycle minus the changes in position in the car and road. We lived.

A highlight of my trip was visiting Monkeyland just outside of Plettenberg Bay. If you know me, nothing more really needs to be said, but imagine a giant fenced in jungle where the monkeys run around freely. Rescued from poor homes, zoos, etc. they are given food and shelter from the wild while nursed back to health. Just before spending our time here in the new with a great view, friendly and familiar Plett Backpackers (Ben: I promised I would plug you!), we visited Nysna, touring an old gold mine closed down many years ago. Our tour guide was phenomenal sharing both the history of our surroundings as well as the mining culture.

We made it by 4am bus to Port Elizabeth, arriving at 7am for a flight that wouldn't take off until 7pm. Just a heads up for any future travelers to ZA: rent a car. The public transportation is virtually non-existent compared to Europe, Asia or South America. With twelve hours to wait it out, we ventured over to the Boardwalk. From everyone we talked to before and after, its about all there is to do here anyway. We kicked it in a cafe once everything opened and watched a movie in the cinema to pass the rest of it.

The flight was quick and prompt to Jo'burg, but we arrived in a mess of confusion, as expected on the day before the opening match, the night of the opening ceremony. Instead of watching Shakira perform her Colombian magic on the crowd, we instead were treated to triple the normal price cab ride to the other side of town were had a place to crash for the night with family of friends back home. Miscommunication had ensued hours before, but we brushed it all aside with a good braai and beer thanks to Rein and Sue Marie.

On Rustenburg
Next day was up and at it early for our ride to Rustenburg, where England v. USA would play the following day. Last minute (see miscommunication above) we found a place to couch surf with an amazing family, in an amazing home just outside the town, on a pig farm. Kickoff in the FIFA Fan Fest, South Africa v. Mexico carried on exactly as expected that night! The World Cup festivities began in full swing, with full excitement. A big night of celebration, post-game partying, etc. ensued.

Having lost our bid (and hope) for game tickets many months before, we set our expectations on the Fan Fest that night, not realizing the bigger party was actually outside the stadium. However in a last ditch effort, we went to the ticket office hearing rumors that unsold tickets remained. Waiting in line, they ran out. Again, hopes shattered, we waited a little while longer as the rest of the unhappies fled the scene. Upon our eventual exit, there still remained an English tour operator trying to sell off the extra tickets he had. Price?! Face Value!? What?! Awesome!! Unfortunately, the game was a draw.

We returned to the farm, happy for a tie, but leaving much desired still for the World Cup. Already 3+ draws, where is the beautiful game boys?

The next few days were spent laying around the house, catching up on work, eating great homemade food, and just chilling out. My family's friends' parents were back a few days later and we took a ride out to the game farm where they stay as caretakers of the land with a small farm of corn and cabbage. Zebras lived just around the corner. How cool is that? Once again we were treated to wonderful home-cooked, South African meals, but now three-times a day! Ian and Ana were amazing hosts, with many many stories to share, happy and sad.

We talked for days on end when not eating or sleeping or working...Being in the middle of nowhere, the cellular signal does not always cooperate and I found myself freezing outside in the pickup, windows rolled up, jackets (plural) on, until my battery died on several occasions. A few days later we found an extension cord and worked in the afternoon sunlight until the freeze of the night came upon us. Hot chocolate would be waiting for us inside beside more conversation on life, education, security, war in South Africa...

Nysna, culture, Cape Town, beer, Plettenberg Bay, lodging, public transportation, South Africa, food, animals

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Posted By: Brendon 7/27/2010