Monthly Archives: April 2010

Video: Lioness Roaring at Mala Mala

And ye of little faith thought I was done, didn’t you?  Ha!

So don’t ask why now, but believe it or not I have a rather nice set of videos I was taking the whole time I was traveling that I’m only getting around to uploading now.  Order doesn’t seem to matter in particular when the events we’re talking about took place a year ago, so to begin here’s a lioness roaring in Mala Mala Game Reserve, South Africa at dusk- she was apparently looking for her friends!

Turns out these things take a long time to upload, so we’ll see what’s next.  But my channel is here should anyone wish to peruse the full collection before the individual videos get posted here.

Summary of South Africa

After you finish a round the world trip, the most common question you get is “what was your favorite country?”  It goes without saying that this is a bit of an impossible question to ask- I like all the countries I’ve been to in some way or another, and how do you compare Laos to Austria anyway?- but that’s not the sort of answer people want, so I inevitably say South Africa.  This is probably part because it was the last one I visited and thus the most fresh in my mind, but mostly because it is just plain awesome.  There is no other place half as diverse, from rolling beaches to mountains, remote villages to modern cities, a huge variation on cultures… I could have spent a lot more time here, and if (when?) I go on another wander it would be hard to not place South Africa on the list again.

Highlights:

- Mala Mala is an awesome place, but even then it’s just plain impossible to not love going on safari.  Because lives that involve charging elephants and finding leopards lying in the road and lion cubs playing with their mom are just plain more interesting, even if you find yourself quoting The Lion King more than is acceptable in polite society. (“Step lively children!  The sooner we get to the  water hole, the sooner we can leave.”)

- Cape Town just might be the prettiest city in the world, and if not is certainly on the short list (I actually thought it was very similar to Auckland!).  And when you add in the nearby Cape Point and the Stellenbosch wine region, well!

- Moving along, the Garden Route isn’t heard much of out of South Africa as that’s more a place people in-country go on vacation, which is a pity as it’s a lovely stretch with little gems of towns on it where you can do things like ride an ostrich, explore caves, go whale watching, try surfing…

- I like the Wild Coast/ Transkei region a lot better though honestly, particularly Coffee Bay, due to the addition of the colorful X’osha culture tossed into the mix.  If I get back to South Africa I will definitely spend more time here!

- And finally, the spectacular Drakensberg region filled with amazing mountains and the sensible, down-to-earth ranchers you’d expect to find in such a place.  Honestly, it felt like a different breed of the Wild West to get out there!

- Also, it should be noted that on the whole Afrikaans gents are the most kind and chivalrous ones you will ever meet- funny because Dutch guys are often on the lower end of that scale!  What do you expect from such a proud and courteous people I suppose?  Lucky for me American Midwesterners are probably second on the list of guys knowing how to treat a lady scale, though, so hopefully I won’t have a hell of a commute in my future. *wink*

Lowlights:

- Johannesburg is a bit of a “meh” city to be honest- big and sprawling and not much unique about it, and not even a place I’d want to live because of the crime rate.  I don’t think I ever met anyone who wanted to live in Jo’burg now that I think about it, including other South Africans, and usually you’ll find someone defending their town’s honor!

- While on the topic, crime in South Africa is an obvious detriment- honestly if it wasn’t for this I’d consider living here (as opposed to how I’ve met countless South Africans who moved abroad who love their country but are happy to escape the crime), but anyplace more dangerous than the USA doesn’t appeal much to me in the long term.  The interesting thing about South Africa though is how this was also the only country I’d been to where I didn’t get a key to the hostel room and reception laughed a little when I asked for one as crime was so nonexistent in their Middle of Nowhere location (like rural America where people leave doors unlocked even while going on vacation).  So the take-home message is crime is constrained more to the urban areas in South Africa, though to be clear when it gets bad it gets really bad.

- To carry on, an awful lot of crime in South Africa ties into the desperate poverty in an otherwise modern and wealthy nation- frankly I’ve never seen such a big disparity of haves vs have-nots as in South Africa.  Put it this way, East Cleveland where I go to uni has the highest poverty rate in the country and your house is deemed “substandard” by the city if it only has one bathroom, in South Africa living in a shack with no electricity or water and being unable to send your children to secondary school doesn’t bat an eye.  So when people land in better conditions in prison (such as three square meals a day) you inevitably get tragic results.

- Moving away from sociological issues, I don’t think I was ever as terrified in my life as I was on the world’s tallest bungy jump.  Because I thought I was about to die.  So guess I’m not doing that again anytime soon.

- And finally, it probably would’ve been nice to travel around more towards the peak season in South Africa instead of winter because some places were certainly not as interesting because of a lack of people.  Buccaneer’s Backpackers in Chintsa, for example, is world-famous for its vibe and I certainly liked it but the vibe was missing due to there hardly being anyone there!  Not like I’m a fan of crowds and places being booked solid, but there’s definitely a compromise always to be had in such things.

Anyway, South Africa is a wonderful place and I will certainly be watching the World Cup this summer with excitement (that’s what the Cape Town stadium looked like a year prior to the start- hopefully it’s more done now!).  I have no doubt it will be a memorable one.

Johannesburg and Soweto

Johannesburg is the sort of place that freaks the hell out of other South Africans when it comes to crime, so you know when other South Africans are concernd about a place it’s time to pay attention. (“I would never live in Jo’burg- the people act like prisoners in their own homes while the criminals walk free!” is a common sentiment, followed by a favorite crime-riddled anecdote.) So I wasn’t particularly raring to go there but had to as the plane home flew out of Jo’burg, so this city got to be the last destination on my round the world trip and the first with crime statistics worse than Cleveland.

And actually it turns out that if you’re careful in Jo’burg and stay in a hostel in a wealthy suburb it’s just as generic as any other Western suburb you’ve been to, the only major difference being all the locals who wanted to go out to eat would drive to a mall where there was secure parking and the trendy cafes spilled out onto the atrium. Just like anywhere else but indoors! And because I don’t like malls at home so I can’t imagine hanging out in one my last day in Africa, I spent it instead on a trip out to Soweto.

Soweto is an abbreviation for South West Township and really is a city in itself with well over a million people (it used to be, but now counts as a district of Jo’burg). It is the most famous of the South African townships due to its size and the anti-apartheid uprisings that happened here. Nowadays, thank goodness, things are getting a bit more normal and at a faster rate than other townships in the country.

Typical houses in Soweto being built by the government lately by the millions. They’re not entirely inspiring, until you remember what the standard was up until a few years ago and still is in most townships around South Africa-

Everyone thinks of shacks like these when they think of the townships, but believe it or not these are some of the last in a township of 1.3 million people. The goal was to have new houses built for everyone by the World Cup this summer actually, but I’m not sure how that schedule is going…

The iconic power plant in the heart of Soweto (if such a structure can be iconic), which interestingly did not power the district at all during apartheid as most people didn’t have electricity in the first place.

Anyway, it turns out when you go to Soweto as a white person you do a couple things, like visit a fish and chip shop, look at the largest hospital in the world, and walk down the street where two Nobel Laureates lived (Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela), but invariably someone inquires about going to a sheeben (bar) so that’s where we headed-

Complete with heart and liver on the menu that we didn’t try, but giant Castle beers which we did!And last but not least, the giant football stadium on the edge of Soweto which will host both the opening and final match of the World Cup this summer!  And believe you me everyone is beyond excited to show the world what an amazing country South Africa is. Which reminds me, I still need to pick a team…

And that’s a good note to end on because above all things Soweto struck me as a place in flux more than anything- yes it has a history of struggle and desperation, but things are changing quick and I guarantee I will not recognize it in a few years.  And all in all, that struck me as a marvelous thing.

And so things ended, and I went to catch my flight out of Africa.