Thursday, August 28, 2003
8/27/03 to 8/28/03: Over the past 60+ days, Shannon and I have been keeping a list of things we noticed here that were a little different than the good old USA. Some things are better, some things are worse, and some things are just different. One way or another, we've enjoyed making the list, and I hope you enjoy reading it: (1): Some common South African phrases that were new to us are "Brilliant!", "Let's have a look", "Sorry?", and the use of "Aye?" after just about every statement - (2): Most the grocery stores bake their own sandwich bread and you have to slice it yourself, either in the store using scary looking machines, or at home - (3): There are a TON of "Turnabouts" here, just like in European vacation! I'm still not sure if they're better or worse than stop lights. They're definitely cheaper! - (4): There are HUGE potholes in most rural roads, which makes night driving a whole new adventure. They also use 6 to 18" boulders to mark areas of pavement that are under construction. While the rocks look a little random in the middle of the road, I think they might be more effective than the orange markers we used to run over in high school - (5): It is almost impossible to find tortillas, taco spice, or any type of Mexican food anywhere on this continent. We think Taco Bell could make a killing! - (6) Speaking of fast food, "Wimpy's", "Something Fishy", "Steers", "Nando's", & "Debonairs Pizza" were all new to me, however; KFC and McDonald's were familiar, if nauseas, calorie dealers. Don't worry; we've eaten at normal restaurants too! (7): No one pumps their own gas - (8): They still sell a ton of leaded gas and diesel engines are popular because diesel is much cheaper. - (9): Everyone drives on the left side the road which makes intersections very interesting for American drivers. Supposedly England chose the left side of the road so right handed drivers of horse drawn carriages wouldn't hit people on the sidewalk while whipping their horses. Urban legend? Who knows? - (10): There are more malls here than any other place I've ever seen. I'm not sure if it's because of hot weather or security issues, but South African's love their malls - (11): Almost anywhere you go, there is someone offering to watch your car for you, and it's not free - (12): There are walls and barbed wire around almost everything. I'm not sure if it's leftover from Apartheid, or just related to overall crime, but it's definitely noticeable. - (13): Everyone uses electric kettles to instantly heat up water in the kitchen for instant coffee and instant tea. In fact, instant coffee is so popular, you have to specify "Filter coffee" when you order coffee in a restaurant. - (14): There are very few police officers using radar guns. They simply have video cameras set up along all the highways and freeways that document your car and speed and then send you a ticket. I'm a little bit worried about this one - (15): In order to control litter, South Africa recently passed a law making grocery stores charge 31 cents (+/- 4 US cents) for grocery bags. This means that many people bring their own bags to cut costs. This has drastically reduced litter, but it has also increased shop lifting and impacted shopping bag manufacturers. I personally really like the idea. - (16): Every six months all vehicles need to be inspected and certified as "Roadworthy". You have to have this done to register your vehicle and it's supposed to work pretty well for keeping junkers off the road. I'm not sure any of my cars from the states would have passed their inspection though! - (17): South Africa is all about pre-payment. They have pre-paid phone cards where you buy your minutes in advance with no monthly charges, and they even have pre-paid electricity! When your power meter runs out, the lights go off. No collections, no phone calls, nothing. It sounds pretty efficient to me, not to mention good for the cash position. - (18): Last, but not least, you can say "F__k" on the radio!
08/20/03 to 8/26/03: After our incredible trip to Robben Island, Shannon and I raced to the top of Table Mountain, one of the most noticeable landmarks in Capetown. If I knew enough HTML, I could insert a picture of it here, but since I don't, you'll have to settle for our Ofoto website. Just cut and paste this address (http://www.ofoto.com/I.jsp?c=19axxocb.ujp2dpj&x=0&y=6xlsnc) in your browser to check them out. If you look at the last picture of the grounded tanker, you'll see Table Mountain's silhouette in the background. It's MASSIVE! We took a ski-lodge-type cable car to the top and the views were breathtaking. After a couple great days of sun and tourism, Shannon and I finally got our Carnet de Passage, finalizing our paperwork quest for the trip. Unfortunately, our celebration dance was cut short by the news that the Cruiser's engine compression was horrible and we needed to rebuild the entire engine before the trip. Ouch! Since we got the news on Friday, we spent a couple days flipping out before we took the Beast into the Toyota dealership for a 2nd opinion. As it turns out, the first mechanic we went to was retarded. The engine compression was great (Hooray!), but the clutch was shot and the exhaust manifold gasket was blown out again (Booooo!). The good news was these repairs are way cheaper than a new engine. The bad news was we were stuck in Capetown for another week! Everything has turned out great though, mostly because of Louie, the best host in world! Louie has completely taken us in; given up his bedroom, introduced us to some of the funnest people we've met, and let us borrow his car! Needless to say, Louie will be set up in a BIG way when he comes to visit Shannon and me in the states. Speaking of South Africans, I can't say enough about how great they are. Not only are they incredibly fun, generous, and positive, but they are extremely proud of their country and amazingly entrepreneurial. There is a sense of opportunity in the air, and they're all taking advantage of it. Five out of six of Louie's good friends have started their own businesses and not one of them is over 23 years old! Jason Myhill, Tammy's friend from University of Capetown's MBA program has also started his own company and it sounds like a winner. Jason said it seems like in the States their are five companies chasing one idea, while in South Africa, there are five people with ideas chasing one company to help them with it. I have a feeling some of my entrepreneurial San Diego friends might be relocating soon...
8/18/03 to 8/20/03: Since Shannon and I were effectively stranded in Capetown waiting for the South African Automobile Association to process our Carnet de Pasage (Document needed to cross borders in Central & Eastern Africa), we decided to put our "Typical Tourist" hats on and check out everything the South Africa's finest city had to offer. Touring Robben Island, the former prison used to detain Nelson Mandela and several other political prisoners, was at the top of our list, however; the "Cape of Storms" lived up to it's name with FOUR straight days of rain, hail, and over 40 foot seas. On the fifth day we got lucky as the sun broke through the clouds long enough for our floating tourist trap to race to the island. Once we got off the boat, our history lesson began. Until 1913 Robben Island was known as the "Island of Damned" and was full of the lepers, the blind, the retarded, and the terminally ill outcasts of colonial South Africa. Next it was converted into a military base for the World Wars, until 1948, when it became a medium and maximum security prison for the Aparteid regime of South Africa. When Nelson Mandela was imprisoned circa 1973, he joined by not only several hard core criminals, but also by a virtual "Who's who" of anti-aparteid revolutionaries. What the Aparteid regime didn't realize was that by imprisoning all of these leaders together, they were actually accelerating the development of the new South Africa. One of Nelson Mandela's famous quotes from the era was "This prison, shall become our university"...and that's exactly what it became. Since several of the political prisoners were college educated teachers, doctors, and lawyers, they became instructors, and began planning the future of a new nation. Hundreds of prisoners walked into Robben island illiterate, and walked out with college degrees. Incredible! Talk about taking lemons and making lemonade! What also struck me was the spirit of peaceful resistance. Even when guards buried prisoners up to their necks and urinated in their faces, Mandela mandated that there would be no relaliation. No violence. Instead they wrote letters to government officials that would listen, and made a difference. One of the best parts of the tour was the fact that our tour guide was incarcerated on Robben Island for TWENTY YEARS. He lived three cells down from Mandela for 18 of those years and his stories were incredible. Until 1989, none of the cells had beds. The prisoners slept on concrete and were only allowed to eat brown sugar, because "White sugar was for whites". What blew me away was that he said none of the political prisoners ever tried to escape. They believed their cause was just, and justice would eventually prevail. Can you imagine spending EIGHTEEN YEARS behind bars, never losing faith that you would succeed? In fact, when Mandela was eventually freed, he encouraged his nation to forgive those who had persecuted them for decades. If you ever get a chance to visit this country, I think you'll see that this spirit of forgiveness, along with working together to build something meaningful, has helped create an incredible nation...just like it's founders dreamed about in their prison cells...
Monday, August 18, 2003
8/12/03 to 8/17/03: After a quick drive through the beginnings of the South African wine country, we came to Hermanus, one of our favorite stops of the trip. The Great White Shark cage diving expeditions of Hermanus are known around the world, and we happened to stumble in during peak shark season. Needless to say, we weren't exactly racing to pull our surfboards off the rack. After booking our shark dive, we wandered down to the waterfront to find eight whales breaching, mating, and relaxing in the bay. It just so happens that shark season corresponds with whale season, so things worked out perfectly. The whales were less than 50 feet from the shore and they were putting on a show! It was a good thing too, because they kept my mind off the fact that I was going to be spending the next day about six inches away from a shark's mouth. Since the Great White's are completely wild and nomadic, the dive shops rarely see the same shark twice. This is good because the sharks don't grow to depend on humans for food, but it's bad because you never know if you'll see sharks. "Luckily" for us, our guides lured six full size (3 to 4 meters) Great White's right up against the dive cage. The experience was beyond anything I can describe here, but the combination of seeing an "Apex" predator (Top of the food chain) up close and watching the "Great White vs. Surfer" video my good friend Jay sent me, made me second guess paddling out in the cool waters of the Cape. We'll see... On our way off the boat we got a message from Louie, a great guy we met in Durban, with an invitation to stay with him in Capetown. I swear, sometimes things fall into place too well. Since we had NO IDEA where we were going to stay in Capetown, we took Louie up on his offer and we've been loving it ever since. The past couple days have been packed with insurance, logistics, inspections, and other exciting trip preparations, but we've managed to squeeze in some fun with Louie's South African buddies and Jason and Claire, two University of Capetown students referred to us by my good friend Tammy in the states. I'm really starting to believe in the whole "Six degrees of separation" thing. Our "Friends of friends" have tripled the fun of the trip so far. I just can't wait until they all start coming to visit the States. You guys are going love'em!
8/8/03 to 8/11/03: After +/- seven weeks of enjoying from the creature comforts of Plettenburg Bay, Knysna, and the rest of the 1st world Garden Route, Shannon and I were starting to get pretty anxious to see the wild side of Africa, so we started moving a little quicker. During a random drive through the evergreen-covered mountains South of Knysna we realized that we were miles from nowhere with no food in our bellies. When we saw the signs for Sally's cafe, we took a hard right and hit the bouncing dirt road with no clue that our entire trip was about the change course. After about 30 minutes of driving, sliding, and swerving without seeing another living organism, we came upon Sally's guest house/cafe/mine museum in the middle of an immense pine forest. Since our stomach's had begun talking to each other, we were extremely grateful to see Pete, the Irish curator coming out to meet us. Unfortunately for us, after a half hour of fantasizing about omlettes and club sandwiches, Pete had to inform us that the combination of no tourists for the last week and no electricity in the forest had sent his cafe into hibernation for the winter. Ouch! Good thing we still had some moldy PB&J stashed in the cruiser or we probably would have started munching on pine cones. Since Pete hadn't seen many people in a while, he was more than happy to join us and share his 50+ years of travel advice. When we told him we were planning to head through Mossell Bay along the coast to Cape Town he told us we were dumb tourists and had me go get our map so he could set us straight. Luckily for us, that's exactly what he did! As it turns out, the most scenic 4WD drive roads ran from Pete's forest to Outshorn, a town known as the world capital for Ostrich farming. From Outshorn we were directed through the hot springs at Montague to the Great White Shark diving port of Hermanus. Thanks to Pete's expert advice, we completely scrapped our previous plan and set out through the forest wilderness of the Western Cape. The combination of sleeping the back of the cruiser and not calling ahead for reservations in over 6 weeks has definitely given us some much needed flexibility. Not surprisingly, Outshorn was incredible. We split our days there between riding Ostriches (At least Shannon did - I was over the Ostrich weight limit!) and exploring the 2 miles of underground caverns of the Cango Caves. On the way out of town, we drove past the snowcapped peaks of the Swatsberg pass (No snowboarding this time) and made it to Montegue in time to realize "Hot" springs are "Luke Warm" springs in the winter time. It wouldn't have been that bad if Montague wasn't below freezing at night. Brrrrrrrrrr!!!! With our teeth still chattering, we kick started the Beast into gear and headed for the Great White haven of Hermanus.
Thursday, August 07, 2003
8/2/03 to 8/7/03: After Jeffrey's Bay, our next stop down the coast was the "Tube & Axe" hostel at Storm River, a town known for the highest bungy jump in the world, absailing, black water rafting, canopy flying, and a variety of other adrenaline sucking activities. As usual, we bumped into Tim & Phil again, and the water splattering on my forehead at 3AM helped us find out the hard way that the Beast isn't quite as waterproof as we might have hoped. Oh well, I guess there's nothing a little duct tape and silicone won't fix. After enduring our first rain day in the last 6 weeks by the fire at the Tube & Axe, we packed into the cruiser with 3 other travelers and headed to the Bloukrans River Bridge, home of the highest bungy jump in world. While the longest bungy free fall is somewhere in New Zealand, the 216 meter high Bloukrans bridge gives you the highest platform in the world to jump off. The feeling of free falling for 5 seconds as the river below rushes towards you is something I can't quite describe, but if you could have heard high pitched involuntary sqeal that came out of my mouth on the way down, you would have thought I had a pig in my pocket. Shannon was smart enough to jump the next day when it stopped raining, and she says she won't exactly be waiting in line for the next bungy we come across. I guess watching your life flash before your eyes once a year is good enough for now. After a fabulous 3 hour hike along the Tsitsikamma Park coastline to 180 foot waterfall that emptied into the ocean, we packed up the cruiser and moved South to Plettenburg Bay, South Africa's "Playground of the millionaires". Luckily we're here in the off season, so we've been able to avoid the millionaire crowds and just enjoy the breathtaking views. On a different note, while watching Densell Washington in "The Hurricane" the other night I was reminded that I've come here from glass house. Now I know that not EVERYTHING put out by Hollywood is real :), but the graphic American racism documented in "The Hurricane" made me wonder how similar South Africa, nine years after the end of Aparteid, is to the US in the era of Martin Luther King. Reading "Stupid White Men" by Michael Moore may be tainting my efforts to stay objective, but I'm definitely becoming more and more aware of how much work there left to do all over the world...and in my own back yard...
7/30/03 to 8/2/03: After hemoraging gas for over 600 kilometers along the South East coast of Africa, we managed to get the Beast bandaged up in Port Elizabeth. Our stay in PE was mellow but fun, and we met Tim and Phil, two hostel workers who just finished their 4 month tour of duty in PE and were en route to London via Capetown. They probably wouldn't have made the blog if it wasn't for the fact that we've bumped into them at EVERY hostel we've stayed at for the past 10 days. Such is life on the well worn traveler path through South Africa. After enjoying some incredible scenery while trying to find some wild penguins off the coast of PE (Shannon's obsession of the trip so far), we moved further south to Jeffrey's Bay, home of the best wave in the world. The combination of currents, ocean swell, wind, reef, and shoreline come together perfectly off the coast of this small beach town, to create a perfect wave that breaks cleanly left to right for almost 3 miles down the South African coastline. I quickly learned that while this wave is "perfect" for experienced short board surfers, it's HUGE, quick, and a little too powerful for a rookie Californian on a 9 foot longboard. Since there was no way I was going to leave the place of surfing legends without catching at least one wave, I paddled, flipped, floundered, and battled my way into the lineup long enough to enjoy my best ride of the trip. After about an hour in the swell, I protected my board long over the rocks long enough to gash the hell out of my feet, but I guess that was just J-bay's way of telling me to come back with a little more skill next time. Oh well, humble pie never tasted so good. During our couple days at Jeffrey's we also learned that the surf there is incredible when the wind blows offshore, and it's about as flat as your hottub during a power outage when the wind blows on shore (Perfect for us!). During this surf "tech session" we got from the Australian surfers staying at our hostel, we also learned that all surf videos are sinister and deceptive. There are NEVER beautiful girls in bikini's on the beach next to great surf spots. Only a bunch of dudes watching surf videos and eating top ramen. Nice!