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.
– 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*
– 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.