Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Why didn't anyone tell me South Africa was this nice?

Hi all, checking in this time from Dundee, South Africa. Seeing as after 10 days prepping and waiting in Cape Town, and the fact we have now headed north, I can officially declare the adventure has started! That said, due to issues I will explain further down the page the trip seems to be taking on a quite different route than the original Cape-to-Cairo drive we were initially envisioning, but more on that later.

After an uneventful (due to the event we were going to being sold out) but enjoyable New Years, it was time to get to work prepping as much as we could. I had no idea what that was about to entail, but it slapped me straight across the face when we entered the Canal Walk mall in the suburbs of Cape Town. If you know anything about me, you can probably guess the mall is the last place you can expect to find me, and this is as serious a shopping mall as I've seen anywhere on earth! We didn't really end up buying anything, but I got an idea what prices were like here in SA and we discussed a lot of the supplies we would be needing so it was at least productive. Oh, and we ate at Subway, haha. (which is more expensive than it is in America, plus in SA cream soda is GREEN!)

  To be totally honest, while we did a few interesting things in this couple of days, this sums up a lot of it. Unfortunately not all world travel is meeting fascinating new people, witnessing beautiful scenery defying death on public transportation or pushing your limits on cultural experience and tolerance. Right now, it was a waiting game. We passed some of the time drinking Castle Lager, the local beer and watching what is almost exclusively American TV: 90s shows like 3rd Rock from the Sun, mediocre sitcoms like Two and a half Men and some crazy Japanese obstacle course show called Ninja Warrior.

Despite this we still managed to do one interesting or productive thing each day and today’s excursion was to hike up Table Mountain, the picturesque stone giant overlooking the Cape Town city center. The hike consisted of a steep 620 meter climb to the top, which consists of almost entirely man-made stone steps. They say it is a two hour hike for most people, but Chris and I moved quickly and even with a short break reached the top in just one hour. Naturally I was in my flip-flops and while I couldn't understand all the languages of the people we passed, “flip flop” seems to be the same in all of them and I could tell my choice of footwear was the subject of more than a few conversations!

  Victory! While it is an easy hike just minutes from the city, the cliffs are gorgeous, the wild flowers are extremely colorful and the view from the top is world class, at least when you are not clouded in as we were. We ate a lunch of ostrich meat at the restaurant on top, and waited for a break in the clouds so we could enjoy the view we had worked for.

It doesn't get much better than that.

The hike down was quick, and we returned home where as every day, we could watch the sun setting behind the mountain. This is a sped up video of about two hours into a little over a minute.

The next day we had a lazy day. One thing I did accomplish however was to spend some time with my new GoPro camera testing the different video modes and practicing shooting and editing. I bought a carton (yes, a carton) of wine and drank as I explored editing the footage I took that day. Sadly due to slow internet connections through the majority of Africa I might not be able to show much of what I create, but I'll do my best.

The day after was more interesting, as we went on a day-trip to the town of Fish Hoek. This is essentially the public commuter train, and while not glamorous, it is as good as any other commuter trains I've been on in NYC or elsewhere.

We stopped off at the local fish market a little ways before Fish Hoek, where one of the most common fish is one called hake and after a quick look walked on, along the coast to our final goal.

Haha, I had one without the kid in it but it was too funny this way! Anyways, after passing the flag that tells the current shark watch conditions and eating lunch, we took in some of the beach sights, including these local fisherman loading up their nets. This is a very touristy little town, but the beach is truly fantastic and the water is far warmer than the waters around Cape Town, so unlike those beaches people were actually swimming here!

No AK47s. No Axes. No machetes. No spears. (A sign at the train station)

We had intended on taking a train to Durban from Cape Town, but the first day we went to the station to buy tickets they were closed, and the next day tickets were sold out. Instead we shopped around the different bus companies and settled on TransLux for 640 rand. 

After getting our transportation settled and feeling good to have it sorted out we headed back to the bus and towards the mall again this time to actually buy some things. Along the way we walked through a few middle class neighborhoods which I thought were interesting to see.

At the mall Chris and I both ended up spending a lot of money on some of our much needed supplies. We each got a tent and sleeping pad (599 rand on sale from 799, and 99 rand, on sale from 129 rand!). We probably could get by with one tent for the two or even three of us, but we figure we have enough time together, being able to have our own space will be important. I also picked up another 1TB external hard drive (which I should have bought back in America where it would have been almost $30 cheaper....) so I won't have to worry about taking too many pictures or videos, and I also bought a camera tripod, since the one I'd ordered in America didn't come until after I'd already left.

In the evening we met one of Chris’s friends Dan for a drink and had a good time chatting.

And yah, the sunset is pretty good from that spot as well. (that's the last one, I promise)

Chris and I headed out to some bars on Dolphin Beach, and we attempted to get their via the bus. Once we got to our stop, someone told us the previous stop was where we wanted to be, so we got back on. This however proved to be a mistake and we found we were in fact much father away than our original stop. To solve this, we decided to run, which while slightly absurd was pretty fun actually. When we got there, I felt somewhat awkward being in bars where the drinking age is only 18, two different guys on the street tried to sell us cocaine and I was denied access to a bar because I was wearing flip flops, haha. We took a taxi home and called it a night.

The next day Chris and I had intended on going scuba diving, but due to high winds were unable to go. This was a big disappointment to both of us because it would be a very new diving area for both of us in new conditions, and we both had brand new underwater cameras we wanted to try out. Instead we hung around and did some errands. I went to an internet cafe and they tried to rip me off saying I'd been online twice as long as I actually had, despite the fact I showed him I timed myself with a stopwatch, but I didn't feel like fighting very hard and he only got a few extra dimes out of me.

Later in the day Chris's parents Rassie and Susan who had been kind enough to let us stay at their place, showed up and I got to meet them. In the evening, all of us went to his sister and her husbands place for a very nice dinner.

Finally after all our downtime in Cape Town it was time to head on the road. Chris and I were seen off at the bus station by his parents and boarded for what would be a 19-or-so hour bus ride, on joy! It wasn't going to be exciting, but the bus was nice, clean and well run so no complaints about TransLux.

Passing through the mountains outside of Cape Town and through a tunnel. Some pretty country for sure. Once we got farther on, it became very dry empty semi-desert, and beyond that became quite green again. It was pretty interesting to see it all change, between the c-list movies on the bus screens.

Shortly after sunrise, the bus dropped us off at a gas station pretty much in the middle of nowhere, and Weon came to pick us up. This of course was my first time meeting the guy who I will be spending a LOT of time with in the coming months/year, but not to worry, initial impressions are good, haha.

Weon drove us to the small town where he is from, Dundee, and we had our first ride on the truck that will be our transportation for the trip ahead. It is a 1998 Isuzu KB 260 LX. Naturally it is right hand drive which will take some getting used to, especially since it is a manual, but I'm sure I will master it quickly. Features include AC, and even power windows and locks, deluxe! It is also a gas 4-cylender rather than diesel. Apparently it is rather easy to get dirty diesel in Africa, which can obviously lead to major problems.

Welcome to the Kwa-Rie Caravan Park. After careers in the military and construction, Weon's father started this place out, beginning as just a quarry. In 10 years, it has become a great little space filled with birds, green lawns, ponds, a pool, playground and much more. This is where we will spend a few days doing more prep before setting off north again.

This is the inside of Weon's parents home, pretty awesome isn't it? (The campers bathroom is just about as cool by the way).

After a quick tour it was time to get down to business, and here is where the trip is potentially changing in a major way. All of the countries on our initial route up the eastern continent are fairly easy to enter. All but Egypt. Currently, they require a deposit worth 200% of the vehicle value to enter the country. Because that works out to nearly $20,000, none of us have the cash to put up on a deposit like that and as a result it appears our original dream of the full Cape-to-Cairo drive has officially been crushed. Due to the recent revolution in Egypt and the almost imminent execution of the former (US supported) dictator of the country, supposedly they are hoping to ease entry restrictions to the country, but unless that happens soon it is impossible for us to make the full journey.

What this means is a new trip has been formed. The idea Weon has proposed, is that instead we drive up the east coast countries as originally proposed, making a good stop in Zanzibar , then once we reach Kenya, turn inland, drive through the Congo which is likely to be the roughest part of the journey, then back towards the west coast countries and eventually return to South Africa. Part of the carnet de passage which is a permit allows us to drive through many of the countries we will be passing through means paying a 6000 rand deposit (~$734) that would be lost if the car did not return to South Africa, not to mention the likely loss that would be taken selling the truck in another country. The idea is we return to SA, Weon sells the truck, and then we FLY to Egypt which is very easy. Egypt and the Red Sea are supposed to be some of the premier diving in the world, so we are all very hopeful that we make it that far north, it is just a matter of how.

Originally when I'd planned to for travel to be my life for the next few years I was headed to Central America. Then it was six months in south/central Africa. Then it was a year doing the Cape to Cairo. Now it is a totally unknown period of time doing a loop from South Africa up the east, down the west and back, then flying to Egypt. While I still hope we can manage the full Cape to Cairo trip somehow, the truth is none of this upheaval bothers me. In fact, it's what I signed up for when I decided to sell most of my possessions and travel for a few years. The fact is I'm on the road going where the wind blows me and not only have I prepared for it, I'm loving it!

Dundee may be a small town in South Africa, but incredibly it still has a Mexican restaurant! Much bonding was done over discussing politics and eating fajitas.

As I mentioned earlier, I bought a tent and mattress out here and this is it: my new home for the foreseeable future. The tent is by K-Way, who I'd never heard of but apparently is Australian. I have to say not only was it fairly cheap, it is surprisingly good quality. Since it will be my home for quite some time, quality matters and I'm satisfied with my purchase. In fact, it's raining fairly hard out outside of the tent right (a first for me in Africa so far) now and there is a pretty decent thunder and lightening storm going on but I'm dry, comfortable and confident. The mattress is a real cheapie, one of those 6” thick K-Mart style inflatables, and I don't have full faith in it, but man is it a hell of a lot more comfortable than a hiking-weight Thermorest! The advantages of 4x4 travel verses backpacking eh? We will see how it holds up.

The afternoon was spent in slight frustration trying to pay for the carnet de passage with my debit card and then with my credit card, and the results will be known tomorrow, but we did much important planning/discussing as well as buying a burly propane stove that I'm actually pretty excited for. Being a small town, things close early, and we got to the bar for more important bonding time just before 8pm, when they close! Despite this, and without getting anyone in trouble, lets just say we managed to do alright.

In the next few days we will continue to get the paperwork sorted out and gather supplies. The hope is within three days we can begin the true trip, driving northeast towards Durban for more supplies, and then northeast for a few days of diving before we cross the boarder into Mozambique. That first week or two will be a real test for us in terms of preparation, camaraderie, the vehicle and supplies, but I'm very confident we will manage to make it.

In one short sentence: Our future is uncertain but looking bright.