When we planned our trip to South Africa, we thought three weeks would be plenty and we could cross South Africa off of our list. Boy, were we wrong. The country is beautiful and there is a ton to see and do. We will be back.
So, with no further ado, our final thoughts.
- Going on safari has to be one of the most amazing experiences of our lives. Spotting lions out for a drink of water and a walk? Watching a baby elephant challenge a water buffalo (and then go running back to mom)? Seeing zebras and elephants and giraffe in the wild? Watching a buffalo get annoyed with a lion? Amazing. We couldn’t have asked for a better time. If you can afford it, just go. Seriously, just go.
- Safari is best in winter, but South Africa is cold in the winter. Very cold. And many of the places we stayed didn’t exactly have central heating. Indeed, some of our hotels had no heat. Others had a porcelain square on the wall that plugged into an outlet and was supposed to be sufficient to heat the entire room. It wasn’t. Let me tell you, I missed central heating. (We also miss our tans…).
- South Africa is beautiful. Within six hours of Cape Town, we visited three different wine regions (Stellenbosch, Franschhoek and Darling), farm regions (cows, sheep and ostrich), mountain regions, lake regions, seaside regions, and something that appeared to be desert-like. We drove through “you can see forever” country that easily beats the beauty of Big Sky, Montana. And mountains that were more interesting than those in Colorado. And rolling farms that were more beautiful in the winter than Wisconsin farms are in the summer. I don’t think anything can beat the variety of South Africa.
- That said, South Africa is pretty messed up politically. Everyone we talked to (regardless of class) seems to think so. And, from an outsider’s perspective, it appears to be true. The poverty in the townships is overwhelming. Many people live in dwellings that barely qualify as shacks, with huge holes in the walls and roofs and no running water. It is also one of the most segregated places we have ever seen. In fact, we rarely even saw non-whites in a restaurant (unless they were the serving staff). Even more shocking when you learn that whites make up less than 10% of the population (and probably less if you take into account the undocumented migrants). And the casual racism is pretty hard to believe. What do you say when someone looks at you in all seriousness and casually says “well, you know blacks just don’t see as well as whites” (explaining why they can’t be dentists) or “well, you know blacks just can’t plan past today.” In retrospect, we should have said something but I think we were both so stunned we didn’t know what to say.
- We were both amazed at the number of people who hitchhike (families with children, singles, couples). This activity is segregated like everything else, and we did not see any white people hitchhiking. I suspect there isn’t really another option for most people. There is no public transport to speak of and I’m guessing huge swathes of the population cannot afford a car. Interestingly, some of the hitchhikers hold out money so I wonder if there is some expectation of payment (it didn’t look like much — the equivalent of a dollar or two). We were also amazed at the number of people walking along the highway even thought the next exit wasn’t for miles and miles.
- The wine here is first rate. And, dirt cheap. Spending only $2-3 for a bottle of wine was not uncommon. In fact, at one stop, the wine was so cheap I was all set to pay the case price for a single bottle of wine….
- I’m so bummed Die Antwoord was playing in Europe and the U.S. while we were here. We also were bummed that we never heard them on the radio. Instead, we got to listen to the Top 40 based on iTunes downloads. Or, as I call it, music liked by 15 year old girls.
- Robert wants everyone to know that the meat here is second to none. I’m pretty sure he had sausage every day except today. And back bacon most days. And some biltong. And some kudu carpaccio. I thought the breaded chicken was worth having over and over and over (in my defense, it comes in multiple forms, including schnitzel and strips and burgers). Too bad we didn’t get around to trying the ostrich or the piri piri chicken.
- Can I tell you how nice it was to be back in a country with clean public bathrooms? My bladder was quite pleased.
- We learned a new term: load shedding. Apparently, the electrical grid here is a disaster. (Rumor is that nobody did any preemptive repairs and it is now falling apart and there is no money to fix it). So, the electric company just shuts the electricity off every now and then. There is somewhat of a schedule but as I understand it an entire town will lose electricity for two hours so the draw can be reduced. Stores have signs saying they are open during load shedding and we even saw restaurants that offer discounts if you eat before the loadshedding window opens (I guess b/c that means they don’t have to run the generator).
- The amount of overt Christianity here is a bit over the top. Bible versus in hotel receptions. Wineries that close for “all Christian holidays,” whatever that means. Yet, they are also considering making Eid a public holiday. Go figure.
- Robert says the local tonic is amazing. And the local gin is even better. Guess what he thought about the gin and tonics?
- Customer service here is seriously lacking. While everyone is very friendly, the customer certainly doesn’t come first. Like the car rental agency that did not have the car we had reserved at the time we reserved it. They gave us a different one, but only if we agreed to come back that evening and swap. Hmmmm….. Or, the hotel that cleaned up breakfast 45 minutes early because “most” of the hotel guests had already eaten. Who does that?
- Anyone who is offended by the Washington Redskins logo probably doesn’t want to set foot in the local chain restaurant called Spur. Just saying.