What is this South Africa?

Trip Start Aug 22, 2012
Trip End Jun 16, 2013

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Flag of South Africa  , Eastern Cape,
Tuesday, April 30, 2013

It's hard to describe South Africa. It feels like a country that has multiple personalities; each one aware the other exists yet very separate from one another. As we drove from Cape Town through the Garden Route, into Addo and then up to the Wild Coast we encountered first California-like seaside resorts where the white people play and are separated from the poverty-stricken townships where the black people live in order to work. Past Addo, we experienced the chaotic nature of towns where we were the only white people in sight. People were walking, chatting, buying, selling - there was activity everywhere. Then we drove past large, orderly farms with big equipment and onto the wild coast where families worked, bent over using hand tools while tending to their small plot of subsistence land. 

We have talked to people who are proud of their heritage but seemingly only theirs - be it British, Afrikaans, Zulu, Basotho, Indian, or mix - not necessarily their other countrymen’s. And it is clouded by their own perspective. A woman we met described South Africa as having no indigenous people other than the San Bushmen who were nomads over 5000 years ago and are now extinct. She described the blacks and whites all as immigrants, however, the early blacks had migrated from central Africa beginning about 2000 years ago while the whites arrived in South Africa about 300 years ago. 

I am confused and perplexed. I thought that 20 years post-apartheid would look very different. I thought we were visiting an African country not one that feels mostly western. Is this just the difference between my expectations and reality or is this kind of wacky?

I think Nelson Mandela's quote says it all:
"I have walked that long road to freedom. I have tried not to falter; I have made missteps along the way. But I have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb. I have taken a moment here to rest, to steal a view of the glorious vista that surrounds me, to look back on the distance I have come. But I can only rest for a moment, for with freedom come responsibilities, and I dare not linger, for my long walk is not ended." 

There is still much work to be done and the complexity of it all is mind boggling

Our plan was to rise early and be on the road to Bulungula Lodge quickly. We got up at 6:00am but so enjoyed the beauty from the deck of our chalet at the Avoca Riverside Cabins that by the time we made our poached egg breakfast, got packed up, picked some oranges from the trees, said goodbye to our hosts Dave and Judy and stopped and got a good cup of coffee, it was after 8:00am. How on earth will be ever adjust back to a working, scheduled life at home?! Well, it’s a good thing we got going somewhat early because it wasn’t until we were about 4 hours into what we thought was a 7 or 8 hour drive that we looked at the instructions from Bulungula Lodge, an accredited fair trade in tourism accommodation, that said it was about a 9.5 hour drive.

Knowing it was essential to arrive before darkness set in, we hunkered down and drove hard. The last 30km of road that heads to the Wild Coast was described as 'a bumpy gravel/dirt road…in poor condition’. The description on the website (bulungula.com) and the correspondence we had from them certainly alerted us but somehow was neither what we expected nor what we encountered! The previous weekend, they had had torrential rains that had washed out many parts of the road, adding to the challenge of incredibly steep hills and bumps that have to be driven at no more than 10km/hour. The 500 meter walk on the hillside with all our gear prepared us for the upcoming experience. Now, this was Africa!

We stayed in a safari tent equipped with a double bed, perched on the hill overlooking a beach. There was solar power that afforded a tiny light in the tent but not one from which we could read. In fact, I found a good novel about South Africa in the Lodge library and buried my nose in it for the 3 days we stayed, reading mostly by the light of my trusty headlamp. 

The experience of wandering the village, learning about the local community and visiting the Bulungula Incubation Centre grounded us in the way of life of the Xhosa people. We went out in the car one late afternoon to take photographs and a couple of teenaged young women in grades 8 and 9 asked for a ride to their homes. They walk a long and very hilly road to and from school every day. When we arrived at their destination, they didn’t know how to get out of the car likely because they probably are rarely in a car.

Our sunrise pancake breakfast on the sand dune about a kilometer down the beach was interrupted by the loss of my camera (again). Somehow I had dropped it as we walked down the beach so before we could enjoy Pinguay’s delicious pancakes made right there on the dune, Jim and I had to dash back, retracing our steps until we found the camera near the start of the walk.

Once packed up, we left Bulungula Lodge and set out on the crazy road. After 30 minutes driving about 5km, Jim said to me, ‘where is my money belt?’. We got out of the car, tore apart our luggage, searching high and low. He had no memory of where it might be so we drove back to the lodge, walked the 500 meters and scoured our tent and the area unsuccessfully. How could we possibly have made it this long on our trip and then less than two weeks before we return home, we lose a passport and other important documents?! 

Just as we were feeling hopeless, it was like a light came on. Jim remembered he had hidden it in a place that would guarantee its security so much so that he couldn’t find it! The bummer was that the money belt was with us all along and we had just wasted over an hour and a lot of stress for nothing. Between the camera and the money belt, what was going on? As the locals would describe it, the tokoloshe (a Zulu word describing a mischievous spirit called upon to cause trouble for others) were visiting!
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Ruth-Ann on

Glad you are safely home. I will miss these blogs! I use them as my morning reflection on the days I receive them. Once again, thanks so much for sharing this incredible life experience!

Cousin Larry on

I'll miss all the wonderful reflections of both the words and light sent to us over the months away. Welcome home to Canada. I remember getting back to Canada after my travels. Home then as 116 Seignory Avenue in Pointe Claire.

Sue Walker on

You must be back on CANADIAN soil once again. Probably having a little withdrawal from all the wonder of your travels.
Welcome back, enjoy your re adjustment, and remember to enjoy nature in your homeland as much as you have these last months.
Love Sue xo

Kathi on

One journey ends where the next begins.....welcome home to the next part of the road. Glad you have arrived home and look forward to hearing tales told face to face, although I too will miss the regular blogs, photos, and stories. Happy spring in this part of the glorious world.

Darl n Jo on

Glad you're home safe. What a trip! Good on ya for doing what most of us just dream about!

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