Shades of grey
Trip Start Feb 18, 2004
80Trip End Dec 05, 2005
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Of course South Africa is in Africa, but it's quite westernized so it still doesn't feel like Africa (but I haven't been to game park yet). My flight from London to Cape Town wasn't so bad as BA has reasonable food and a variety of movies to choose from. I arrived bright and early Saturday morning (Nov 27) and got to wait in the passport control line for over an hour (slowest I've yet been in). The hostel I stayed at picked me up and took me their spot in Green Point. It's within walking distance of the V&A Waterfront so I went there right off - very touristy shopping area.
V&A Waterfront, Cape Town
I took a ferry out from the waterfront to Robben Island for the tour of the prison where Nelson Mandela and others were at. In my ignorance, I didn't realize the apartheid regime was still in power until the early 1990s. It seems crazy that a western nation could get away with restricting people's rights so much until recently. Though it wasn't too long ago that the U.S. had similar policies. There are still things left as a reminder of the bad policies of days past (e.g., an area called District 6 in Cape Town in which blacks were forced to relocate. Everything was demolished but nothing rebuilt.). Despite all that, people seem to get along quite well. The white South Africans I met seemed genuinely upset about what the past government did. Mandela and others should be credited for that as they helped the changeover in government go smoothly without a lingering animosity. There is definately still an economic gap though. Townships exist all over where people live in small, rundown houses. I heard a couple different things about this though - some people choose to live there and receive a government stipend and make no effort to find work; a couple travelers who went on a township tour said they went inside some of the houses and found the people have good tv's, DVD players, etc... Crime is a major problem in all the cities too. There are kids begging for money even in the small towns. So, obviously, there are still a lot of improvements that need to be made here. Just don't ask me how to fix it.
Public transport in Cape Town is virtually non-existent. Minibus taxis are the best way of getting around, but those only run in certain areas. My second day there I went on one of the double-decker tour buses to get me around town. It took me all around downtown and then up to Table Mountain. The gondola wasn't running due to wind so I hiked part way up for some views of Cape Town. After that it took me to Camps Bay where I had lunch and sat around the beach. Hey, I'm working hard here for you people!!! In the evenings, I would hang around the bar at the hostel since it's not too safe to go out at night. The people there were friendly and we'd play card games n' such.
The staff at the hostel were very helpful in booking me future accomodation, bus tickets and tours. Monday I went on a day tour to the Cape Point Peninsula. Did a bike ride and a couple hikes. Definately some pretty coastal scenery around there. We even got to see some penguins at Boulders Beach on the way back.
There's a bus service along the coast and up to Jo'burg called BazBus that will pick you up and drop you off at your hostel. I got a ticket for that between Cape Town and Durban. Tuesday morning I had to be up early to catch the BazBus for a ride up to Knysna. That first day on the bus everyone was kinda quiet and not too social. It was quite a long ride too...around 7 hours, I think. Knysna was a bit disappointing. It's a little town on a lagoon, but it's a ways to the actual ocean. The lagoon itself isn't that attractive. You can go on boat rides through the lagoon to the ocean but I wasn't too interested in that (and later heard from someone that did it that it was lame). Seems like you have do to a tour of some sort from there to see anything worthwhile. There weren't too many people at the hostel I was at so it turned out to be kinda boring.
I caught the BazBus again the next afternoon up to Plettenberg Bay. Some of the same people from the day before were on the bus so everyone was more social and talking about the places they were at (a couple girls stayed at a really horrible place). Everyone getting off at Plett was going to the same hostel so I figured I'd go to that one too (I didn't reserve there). The hostel and people there were cool. Quite a nice place to chill-out. Another place that was good at organizing stuff to do as well. An English guy and I got a ride out to the Robberg Peninsula and did a hike around there. Saw some seals, a lone penguin, pretty coast and some sand dunes.
It was fun just hanging out at the hostel with the other travellers so I just did that at night. That night a couple mentioned they were going to Monkeyland the next day so, of course, I voiced that I would be interested in going too. The people from the hostel dropped us off there (and assured us it would be no problem getting a lift back). We went on the guided tour around the forest where the monkeys are free to swing and roam around. Saw quite a few varieties. Would be fun just to run around crazy in there chasing monkeys. On our way out, we were watching some squirrel monkeys rolling around on the ground and playing on the fence when a big spider(?) monkey came walking along the path with his hands in the air. It was funny - I tried to get a video but only caught a second or two of him. He climbed around the fence a bit then went over and sat next to one of the squirrel monkeys and put his arm around it - it was so cute. BUT, I was too slow getting a picture (damn!). It turned out not to be so easy to get a lift back to Plett. We had to walk back to the highway (2km) to catch a minibus taxi into town. I hung out on the beach for a bit that afternoon.
Tom at Monkeyland
After Monkeyland and the beach, I caught the BazBus up to Jeffrey's Bay. It's a surfer spot and more touristy. The hostel was right on the beach and kind of a party spot. They were having some sort of celebration going on in the bar so there were lots of people. The people there weren't quite as friendly...trying too hard to be cool. The weather there was cloudy and sometimes rainy so it didn't turn out to be so nice. The days were spent just chillin' out reading and trying to stay out of the rain. A couple people I met before made it to J-Bay the second day I was there so I had more people to hang out with.
Caught the BazBus around 8pm from J-Bay for ride up to Port Elizabeth. Just stayed there one night (you have to stop-over there to continue north). Barry, a mellow English guy I met in Plett Bay and was at J-Bay, was on the same schedule as me for the next couple days so he was there too. Just had a beer and a game of pool (it was already late when we arrived).
Up early the next morning for the bus ride to Cintsa. Met Heike, a cute German girl, on the bus that morning and talked to her for most the trip. She was continuing on to Port Edward. I got off at Cintsa with Barry and others. The hostel there was kind of like it's own little village. Unfortunately, being a beach place and the weather being crappy, there wasn't much to do (there's a lack of pictures around when the rain started as the beaches don't look as nice with grey clouds overhead). We went out on a "pubcrawl" to one bar and played some pool. Back to the hostel for dinner and hanging out. It started pouring rain that evening and continued raining the next day. Just hung out avoiding the rain 'til the BazBus came to get me.
The BazBus ride from Cintsa to Durban is a long one...over 10 hours so I knew I was in for a long day. After 7 hours of mostly boredom, we made it to Port Edward and picked up Heike. The bus ride was much better then. I had reserved at a hostel in town, but decided it would be better to stay at the same place as Heike. That hostel was on a bluff overlooking the ocean a bit outside of town (but still cloudy and sometimes rainy). We arrived late so just hung out and chatted. We got a ride into town the next morning with the guy running the hostel. He was telling us the couple sights to see and all the various places to avoid ("if you go to the waterfront, avoid that street. Always get a taxi when going to the beach. Don't go to Victoria Market...."). Ya, doesn't make you feel too safe wandering around. We had some breakfast then wandered around a market area and to the waterfront. It's really not an attractive city. I got robbed! No, not by a mugger...by the freakin' currency exchange people. I had some US$ travellers' checks and they changed it into SA Rand then back to US$ AND charged a commission on top of that! Geesh, I ended up losing over $50 (it was necessary for me to get the money for African visas). Heike and I caught a bus back to the hostel. One of the guys there was asking what we did and said the Workshop market is a dangerous area. That's right where we wandered through a couple times and it was fine. I guess extra caution is always better than not enough. We cooked some dinner and just hung out again. It's great meeting cool people like Heike, Barry and others but it's sad to say goodbye when you know they could be good friends and you may never see them again. Just gotta enjoy the little bit of time you do have.
So my overland tour starts Sunday and lasts 32 days. I finish in Johannesburg on Jan 12. Not positive where I'll be for Christmas and New Year's. I think I will have just left Zanzibar right before Christmas so imagine I'll still be in Tanzania. I'll probably be somewhere in Zambia for New Year's. I hope the group I'm with is fun...especially since I'll be with them for a month. I'm looking forward to seeing and playing with all the wild animals. I want to ride a giraffe, rub the big kitties' bellies, tease some hyenas, wrestle an elephant, swim with the hippos, etc... People tell me I can't ride a giraffe, but don't worry I won't let them spoil my dreams.
(you have to sing this with a bit of sarcasm as the rains down in Africa kinda spoiled my time by the beaches)
"It's gonna take a lot to drag me away from you
There's nothing that a hundred men or more could ever do
I bless the rains down in Africa
I bless the rains down in Africa
Gonna take some time to do the things we never had"
- "Africa", by Toto