A Travellerspoint blog

Summing Up

For What it's Worth


It’s Time for Africa!

If Shakira says it, who dares argue? South Africans are generous, friendly without being obsequious, and wonderfully relaxed. Never was heard a discouraging word—“no, you can’t walk there; sit there; eat that; use our men’s room; watch the soccer game for three hours in our bar while nursing a single Campari & soda,” etc. Well, once: “If you step out of the car the leopard will eat you.” But hey: only that one time.

South Africa’s mountains range from majestic peaks to geometric mesas to jagged tumbles of rock and soil. Pastures and vineyards undulate hypnotically for miles; all this landscape shimmers under peek-a-boo mists that swirl and curl like smoke from the caterpillar’s hookah. For sheer jaw-dropping beauty, only Iceland comes close, but it’s a mere postage stamp. And cold: South Africa is balmy even now, as long as the sun remains above the horizon.

And there’s the animals. The Big Five—lion, leopard, rhino, Cape buffalo, and elephant. But don’t neglect the Middle-sized Five—giraffe, zebra, kudu, etc., the Backpack-sized Five, the Underfoot Five, and on and on. Also, not nearly enough is said about the birds. When God finished crafting his Fearsome and Fast, he decided to have some fun--hence the ostrich, penguin, and all varieties of hornbill. And never, never forget the red-knobbed coot.

Cry, the Beloved Country

Anyone—you know who you are—who clucks on about South Africa’s crime, AIDS, and political immaturity should bear in mind that today’s South Africa came into existence in 1994. Before 1994, the black population was educated for little more than virtual slavery. If you must judge the country, please contrast it to other 16-year-old toddlers, recent arrivals like Zimbabwe and Belarus--even Russia.

We in the west have no proportionate appreciation for Nelson Mandela’s stature and achievement. Surely he ranks with Abraham Lincoln, Gandhi, and few others. For a popular example see Invictus—or better yet, the ESPN documentary on the same subject. Clint Eastwood’s film details Mandela’s embrace of the Springboks, the white South Africa rugby team that virtually symbolized apartheid. Consider:

• A white rugby player we met—although no fan of the current political order--assured us that the film is literally and emotionally true. Mandela’s political wisdom and humanity was crucial to calming white fears and shifting black anger from retribution toward reconciliation.

• A black man here—middle-aged, and raised under apartheid—referred to the pre-1994 years as “the time of misunderstanding.” Misunderstanding? Whites ground their boot into black necks for two hundred years, yet so many are so generous and forgiving that they will call apartheid a failure of perception.

Still, one need not scratch deeply to reach hardened and negative racial attitudes (not like the US, right?). History tells us that many racial and ethnic groups lived peacefully—Hutu and Tutsi; Bosnian and Serb, Zimbabwe black and white—until suddenly and catastrophically, they didn’t. The wealth disparity here is reportedly the greatest in the world. South Africa’s poor are so poor, still so undereducated, that one must fear that some flashy demagogue will emerge and strike dangerous sparks. (A young firebrand named Julius Malema is the latest candidate). Mandela’s release and 1994 election addressed the political challenge. But aren’t economic challenges still unmet? Who should own all this beautiful land? How does one group redress another for centuries of virtual slavery? How long can a nation continue to have a population where people receiving grants outnumber those holding jobs?

Tourism feeds both black and white, and a hint of conflict will finish it: Botswana has plenty of animals, Morocco has mountains. So maybe they will be patient and generous for the handful of generations that must pass for an equitable society to emerge.

A Non-Negotiable Demand

But this ravishing country deserves it, and here’s what you can do: Go visit, and soon. See the lions, the smiles, the penguins, diamond mines, and all the sweet people sweating so hard to succeed and live together. When you’re there, spend tons of cash. And give them my very best.

Posted by jfarq 07:15 Archived in USA Comments (0)

On Soccer

Oops, Football


Josh opted out, so I’ll tell you everything I learned about soccer. It’s a fine tabula rasa of a game, as simple or complex as one cares to make it. Soccer drives supposed grown-ups into flights of verbal ecstasy unmatched by any sport, save maybe baseball (Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu, Donald Hall, the benighted George Will, yadda yadda).

I can’t join them. Soccer is a delight to watch, especially in person. My instant-replay-lazed brain learned—again—to rivet its attention to a game where the merest lapse on the field (oops, the pitch) invites the direst consequence. But it was equally a joy to see, from our speeding car, the same game played by township kids. Half-buried tires served as goals on rutted and dusty roadsides, and even in the median of the four-lanes. It’s a kid’s game, after all—and at Johannesburg’s Soccer City and Cape Town’s Greenpoint Stadium, it’s still a kid’s game. That is best of it.

Posted by jfarq 07:10 Archived in South Africa Comments (0)

Cape Town

Penguins! Cape of Good Hope! Baboons!


Cape Town2

First, let me explain Josh’s absence: he has pledged his love to a video camera. It’s about the size of a cigarette pack and captures great video. My blog, not to mention the whole concept of the written word, is so over; instead of adding to this, he’ll post a ton of videos on YouTube.

Cape Town is a modern city, far more shiny and prosperous than Jo-burg. It’s something like the more touristy areas of San Francisco. Many buildings along Long and Kloot streets—the night life strip—sport second- and third-story cast-iron balconies, like New Orleans. Tons of people, crowded streets and restaurants. Beyond the city center are the customary slums, acres and acres of tin shacks separated by narrow dusty streets. Also present were blocks of (what I think is) public housing, tiny rectangles of brick

We spent an entire day driving down the peninsula from the citry to the Cape of Good Hope. A stunning drive under the bright morning sun. The narrow highway is hemmed in by high mountains to the east and the rocky beaches of False Harbor to the west. Resort towns string out along the road, with lovely homes dotting the steep mountainside.

We visited the penguin colony at Simon’s Point. History has it a pair of penguins swam ashore here in 1983. They enjoyed the sheltered beach and the view, spread the word, made love, and now tens of thousands of penguins bask on the beach and bob around offshore. Tens of thousands of tourists watch them; tens of thousands of vendors peddle tens of thousands of stuffed penguin souvenirs. Needless to say, the rich folks who built resort homes above the beach—pre-1983—are not amused by the tourists or the vendors or the smell.

At the end of the highway is the Cape of Good Hope, the southwestern most point on the continent. The view of the jumbled-rock mountains and hammering surf is wonderful, and it is satisfying to see the near end-of-the-earth that Vasco de Gama beheld five centuries ago. (Cut me some slack on this—not on-line, so Wikipedia is not available). Josh climbed to the very top of the Cape, up a steep and narrow trail; John pretended to have “left something back there,” and settled for the observation point. Both views are worth the climb. This is very near where the Atlantic and Indian Oceans clash, and the surf proceeds on long waves, then explodes in huge clouds of spray on giant boulders. Only the suicidal would surf here.

Baboon sightings highlighted our drive back up the coast. After lunch in a town called Fish Hoek we picked our way through a family of baboons patrolling the road. Local, and numeous signs warned us that they were dangerous, and to secure our cars. One old volunteer even said, “Roll up your windows and lock your doors.They know how to work the handles, and they’ll come right inside your car. They’re after food, don’t you know, but they’ll steal your camera—and your passport.” Steal my passport? Fearing identity theft we beat it back to Somerset West.

Now we head home. I looked for baboons on line at the airport. Saw none, but who knows?

Just one more entry, when we return—some superficial observations and half-baked opinions on South Africa today, its past and prospects for the future. Just ignore it--i'll postmore pics, as well.

Posted by jfarq 00:43 Archived in South Africa Comments (0)

Cape Town, at last


So many have sung Cape Town’s praises We have little to add—except to say that everything you’ve heard is true. We drove here from George, a small city more than 200 miles to the east. The road from George to Cape Town is called the Garden Route. Spectacular mountains and rolling farmland form the backdrop on our right (to the north) while to the south we saw neat villages and the occasional glimpse of the Indian Ocean. Something about the light is very special. Even though hazy at distance, nearby objects take on a hard-edged, almost surreal brightness. It’s surprising that the Cape has never been touted as a painter’s paradise; the gorgeous light reminds me of New Mexico, and Georgia O’Keefe would have loved it.

The mountains are rocky, soilless piles of massive tumbled boulders, roughly rectangular, perhaps sandstone. Sloping down toward the highway, hills roll gracefully on, rising and falling, mile after mile. That sheep graze everywhere suggests the topsoil is inferior; where there are no sheep, herds of ostriches peck away at whatever grows.

We are staying at the Enjoy Africa guesthouse in Somerset West, a neat suburb nearly 30 miles from downtown Cape Town. Our hostess is Kathrein Boehl, an elegant German expat. This former journalist now devotes herself to managing two terrific dogs, this establishment and hosting arts-related human-potential workshops. Her breakfasts are wonderful, and she is fine company. Visit her at www.enjoyafrica.de or better yet, here.

Somerset West is manicured and prosperous, and security is clearly a big deal. Nearly ever house is surrounded by a high wall, and cars and people enter through a remote-controlled gate. A morning jog along these gracefully curving streets sets off howling and barking from dogs behind every fence, inside every house. Signs threatening ARMED RESPONSE are posted everywhere.

David and Jean Mayes hosted John for two days. They retired here a dozen years ago, from PA via Iowa. Deeply committed to service, they have the energy and wisdom of couples half their (and my) age. A scholar of French, Jean studies Sugarbirds, teaches English to Congolese immigrants; David is a volunteer and a fervent patron saint of nearly hopeless causes. They guided me through part of the wine country and the Helderberg Nature Reserve. Introduced me to Ostrich meatballs.

Next entry, we pick up the pace. Penguins! Crashing surf! Baboons! And buddy, do not make eye contact with the baboons!

Posted by jfarq 22:57 Archived in South Africa Comments (0)

Argentina v. Mexico

Witness to the Execution


We left our lions and leopards and flew back to Jo-burg in time to watch this match. Our second visit to Soccer City was much smoother than our first. Aftter storing our luggage at the airport we hired a car to take us in, then pick us up. Despite this luxury, we still had a 40-minute walk in and out.

But no matter--the walks to the stadium is a riotous show. Fans compete to don the most outrageous outfit, and hundreds of vendors are thrilled to help. They sold chicken legs, sausages, drinks,vuvuzelas, earplugs so one needn't hear the vuvuzelas, flags, and fuzzy wigs, fake glasses, really silly hats etc. Most sport the national colors of Mexico and Argentina, as do so many painted faces of glowing fans. Josh went over to the Dark Side, buying a vuvuzela. He claimed it was for a friend. Riiiight.

NOTE TO ANDRES: Mexico played well. But Argentina, on this night anyway, was untouchable. Argentina pounced like an Arathusa leopard on the slightest Mexican error. Carlos Teves was a whirlwind; Lio Messi is a force of nature. The immortal golfer Bobby Jones, once said of Jack Nicklaus, "He plays a game with which I am not familiar." Messi seems the same. He is tiny, and singularly quick and precise. Every time he touches the ball we heard an audible gasp as 90,000 people caught their collective breath. It was a privilege to watch him.We have pictures of the pitch, the crowd, the expanse of color and light. We will post them soon.

(But about Nicklaus: don't you wonder how many major tournaments he would have won if at the top of his backswing 30,000 vuvuzelas honked?).

At midnight, back to the airport to wait seven hours for our flight to George. From that small city we will drive four hours. Josh napped on the hard floor; John, sure that his bones would never uncoil after such a nap, wandered the airport, drank too much coffee, and chatted up clerks in every open-all-night retail shop. All were smart, knowledgeable and supremely proud of South Africa. They should be--despite my earlier whining about confusion, this is a delightful party, carried out with enthusiasm, warmth, and determination to shine.

Posted by jfarq 11:40 Archived in South Africa Tagged transportation Comments (0)

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