Tuesday, September 15, 2009

South African Adventures and Anecdotes

We recently spent about a week in the stunning city of Cape Town, South Africa. Cape Town is located at the very southwestern-most part of the African continent map , and is a completely different world from Rehoboth- geographically, economically, and socially.

You might not be aware of the extremely strong ties between Namibia and South Africa. Until 1990 (?), Namibia was referred to as Southwestern Africa, and was controlled by South Africa. Although the political relationship has changed dramatically since then, Namibia is still greatly influenced by South Africa economically, as a huge portion of goods sold in Namibia are imported from South Africa. For these reasons, we have studied a bit of South African history, and were really excited to see the place for ourselves.

Our travel plans changed last minute, and we had to more or less throw the trip together. Realization: it’s difficult to pack for a 10-day trip when you aren’t sure what you’ll be doing. First, we traveled to Windhoek to take care of our last-minute errands and catch the bus. We quickly stopped at a KFC (yes, I mean Kentucky Fried Chicken), but they didn’t have wedge fries or sporks, so what’s the point? I here our hometown is getting a KFC, so at least that gives us something to look forward to ; ) The following are just a few adventures and anecdotes from our time in South Africa.

***Our first day began at 3am with a border crossing, which basically involved standing in a long line outside in the cold. For those of you who think Africa is always some sort of perfect tropical climate, you are wrong. It is definitely not cold like Minnesota, but it still wasn’t pleasant. Nonetheless, we mad the best of it by talking to those around us. As soon as we settled back in, we found out we had to do another border crossing- one for Namibia, one for South Africa. So much for efficiency. I often have to remind myself that I live in Africa, and things aren’t bad, they are just different.

***Both of us woke up sick after a night on the bus. That’s what happens when you travel from a place with zero humidity to somewhere on a coast. The man sitting in front of us who was hacking up a lung (and not covering his mouth) probably didn’t help, either. As soon as we arrived in Capetown, we searched for a pharmacy. After walking quite a long distance (we later found out there was a drugstore about 1 block in the other direction!), we found one and went in to search for some over-the-counter medicine. As medications all have different names here, we had to ask for help. I had no idea how difficult it would be to explain the concept of “Dayquil” to someone who barely spoke English.

***The weather was a wee bit…well, ridiculous. It is sunshine-y and dry, dry, dry here in Namibia, and anything but in Capetown. About 2 weeks before we visited, it actually snowed. It was overcast or raining all but our last day, and was rather chilly. I actually ended up buying a sweater from the second-hand store (something I definitely miss about the U.S.)- a sweater! Thankfully, hot water was plentiful and free at our hostel, so showers were my new favorite activity (and I now have the flaky skin to prove it!) About halfway through our stay, Josh found a hole in the window of the door that led to the “balcony” off our room…a few pieces of duct tape later, and our room was practically tropical. Yes, we do carry duck tape with us wherever we go; what of it?

***One night, we hadn’t been hungry for dinner, but were looking for a place to get some hot chocolate or something. We had been walking for a couple of blocks in really windy conditions when Josh said that if we didn’t find a coffee shop in another 2 blocks, we were turning around. Luckily, at the next intersection, we could see a restaurant one block away, located right on the beach. It looked pretty fancy, but even we can usually afford coffee or hot chocolate at most places. However, as we approached the building, we realized the doorman was wearing a tux- on a Monday night. All of a sudden, I remembered reading that there are quite a number of restaurants in Capetown that have a dress code, and with our jeans and my seriously windblown hair, we doubted we’d make the cut. We turned around before we ever reached the entrance. Luckily, just a block down the road we found the best hot chocolate in Capetown!

***On all but two nights, we cooked our own food in the hostel kitchen, but one night Josh took me to a tiny family-owned Italian restaurant. The restaurant itself was great if unremarkable, but the adventure was in getting there and back. It was pouring outside, so we decided to call a rikki (sort of like a taxi) to take us to the restaurant, even though it was only around half a mile away. When we got to the restaurant, the driver asked whether we had been quoted the price when we called, and we said we hadn’t. He said he asked because it was R70 (!) and he didn’t feel it was fair to charge us so much for such a short distance without us being aware of the cost (usually it would cost R20, but it was more since it was after 7pm). He said he would only charge us for one fare. This may not seem exceptional if you don’t have much taxi experience, but it is certainly noteworthy.

Our transport home? A romantic walk in the rain.

***You know the phrase, “It’s just like riding a bike”? It is usually used when someone needs to do something they haven’t done in a long time. Well, I was going to do an unofficial experiment as to the accuracy of this expression. Is it possible that it is analogous to “sweating like a pig,” when, from what I gather, pigs don’t sweat? Our tour of the Cape Peninsula included a bicycle tour, and I was set to do some investigative work, as I haven’t ridden a bicycle in at least a decade. However, due to the unfavorable weather conditions, I was not allowed to risk making a complete fool of myself in front of a dozen strangers. What a shame.

***While on our tour, we had the pleasure of witnessing a family of baboons who figured out the timing of the automatic doors of a coffee shop and snuck in. They stole packs of cookies. FYI: Baboons are rather powerful and dangerous creatures. And ugly. REALLY ugly. (But don’t tell them I said that, or they’ll figure out a way into my house…)

***Although the World Cup will not take place until the summer of 2010, Capetown is already obsessed. The are building a beautiful and gigantic stadium. Roads are in complete disarray due to construction. It seems almost every shop has some sort of merchandise related to the event that will surely inspire an unofficial national holiday for weeks. I played soccer for 10 years, and love the game, but I am still thrilled we don’t have to endure this for another year.

***A couple of days before we left, there was an actual shipwreck right off the coast. We didn’t even know they had shipwrecks anymore. It was carrying coal, and the crew had to be rescued in the middle of the night during a bad storm. Read more here. Other newsworthy events? There was a shark attack the week we arrived.

***On the day we left, we were taking a taxi to the bus station, and the cab we were in hit a man! He was running through traffic, and ran out from in front of a truck- it was all very dramatic. He rolled up onto the windshield, then down to the ground. After a moment, he stood up, put on his hat, and walked away as if nothing had happened. Yep, T.I.A. (this is Africa).


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