Dear Friends and Family,
This email is about my last month of traveling in Africa, around South Africa plus bits of Lesotho and Swaziland. It happened last July and August, 2002, but only now, after my first semester at Duke in the statistics Ph.D. program, am I sitting down to write it. Very soon this email will be on my website with photos. My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org My website is http://ervance.com. I have lots of daily and weekly emails too, if you want more of the story.
1st month: Flew to Spain, ferried to Morocco, hitchhiked/got-lifts across the Sahara to Senegal.
2nd month: I think I was bitten by a mosquito in Mali, then had the malaria in Burkina Faso and Ghana.
3rd month: The most unusual country I've ever been to--Ethiopia.
4th month: Lots of animals on safari and a big mountain, in East Africa.
5th month: More animals on unexpected safaris and other stuff in Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia.
6th month: South Africa, Lesotho, Swaziland.
Cape Town is a great city. There's lots of water, history old and new, modern city stuff, and the looming flat-topped Table Mountain dominating the scene. I climbed the mountain once, then was on top a second time during a freak snow flurry.
One night I went out with a group from my hostel to a bar, led there by Ishmael, a bartender at the hostel bar. It was karaoke night, though nobody was singing, only dancing. Besides us tourists, the place only had young "coloreds". It was a hang-out spot for a South African community separate from the other separated communities (white, black, Indian). Coloreds aren't "colored" because their mother was white and father black. It's more likely that their great-great-great grandfather slept with his black slave creating a separate ethnicity, shunned by whites and blacks for centuries.
From Cape Town I went on a tour of some Cape vineyards and wine-tasting venues. Then for a day I went diving with great white sharks.
On the road:
In Cape Town I wanted to meet someone with a car, or willing to rent one, who wanted to do everything in South Africa I wanted to do. It took several days, but I did meet other like-minded travelers, Wilfred and Marieka, a mid-20s couple from the Netherlands, in South Africa for 3-4 weeks; and we rented a car together. Anderson, a Brazilian guy, came with us for a week until he had to leave us to use his already-bought bus pass (sucker!).
The highlight of the first week was the ostrich farm in Oudtshoorn where Anderson got to ride an ostrich and I got to kiss one. Every part of the ostrich is used (leather, feathers, meat, eggs). The meat is good (tastes like cow), and so are the eggs (tastes like chicken). I bought one and cooked it, the equivalent of 24 chicken eggs.
Did I mention I got to kiss an ostrich? That was for sure the best part. Linda is the only publicly kissing ostrich in the world. Most ostriches are skittish around people, but Linda likes them, and especially likes when they put corn between their lips. In Africa I was kissed by an ostrich and a warthog and I think that's it.
What I saw of these former Homelands was everything I'd seen throughout the rest of Africa. People, huts, farms, farm animals. The only difference was the good road.
Q: What would you get if you built a highway across Africa?
A: Lots of dead sheep, goats, cows, and donkeys, and lots of smashed up cars and people.
Why did the villagers set their goats to graze on the side of the road, or put their sheep in the median? Why did everybody walk on the highway dressed in black, at night? Why the heck did Anderson and I drive these roads, at night? I guess Africa makes you take risks. If you're hungry and have AIDS, and you've never driven a car, but there's grass for your animals on the roadside, then who knows and who cares? One evening/night drive I counted one dead horse, a dead donkey, one dead sheep, two dead dogs, and one big feathered dead bird, and then one cow which had to be helped off the road with a rib sticking out its side (and a smashed-up car a bit further on).
In recent years under Apartheid, Lesotho was just the kind of place the Afrikaners wanted, a place for blacks to live and mind their own business. A black could come into the white city and work a job if there was one, and live in a dormitory in a township outside the city. If the job was finished, the black should just go back where he came from, not being useful to anybody anymore.
Today Lesotho reminds me of Ethiopia. Mountains with no trees. Too many people working unproductive land. It was cool to see because I was very insulated on the tour, surrounded by friends and driven everywhere by trusted locals who spoke English. We visited a school, some San Bushmen cave paintings (where I became the guide), and a hut to sample local foods. It was comfortable and I learned some things. If I had just gone to the village on my own and walked everywhere and arranged my own food and lodging and transportation and tried to learn some basic Sesotho (seh-soo-too) I might have learned more, but it wouldn't have been as fun. A tour once in a while is a nice break.
After the mountains Wilfred, Marieka, and I drove to the battlefields. We saw a museum about the Anglo-Boer war, an Anglo-Zulu battlefield (with a tour from a boring old Boer [Afrikaner]), and the best site, Blood River, where 300 Boers fought off 10,000 Zulus. I'm not sure of the numbers, but in 1832, the band of Voortrekkers (Afrikaner/Boer pioneers in covered wagons, hoping to create their own country free from the English) circled their wagons into a defensive laager and fought the thousands of charging Zulu warriors. It's the essence of legend. At the end of the day there lay dead 3000 Zulus and zero dead Voortrekkers. Only four Boers even suffered a scratch. That affirmed the Boers' belief that they were God's new Chosen People. Later on God told them to keep the races separate, so they did.
Wilfred, Marieka, and I drove through the nights, seeing stuff during the day. Swaziland was another real country that seemed kind of fake. Tiny, in the western mid-corner of South Africa, ruled by a king who chooses his wives from the annual parade of grass-skirted dancing girls, and soon to be decimated by AIDS.
Blyde River Canyon:
When I came to South Africa I didn't want to go to Kruger National Park. In Zamibia I went on a booze cruise which turned out to be a sunset boat safari. Then in Zimbabwe I just wanted to go to Victoria Falls and move on, but the Dutch girls I convinced to cross the border with me convinced me to accompany them on safari for two days. Then I thought I was going on an historical tour of rocks and Bushmen cave paintings. It was, but we also tracked giraffe and rhinocerous through the bush. In Botswana I went on safari from a dugout canoe when I thought I'd just see the plants and villages of the Okavango Delta. Then I got a lift with two Hungarians into Namibia and we drove though another national park and saw a leopard cross the road. Then we went to Etosha NP for three days and saw so many animals. Then I got nervous about leaving a sure ride for the unknown hitchhiking road so I went with them for another day to Waterberg Plateau NP and saw all sorts of rare and exotic wild animals. I guess what I learned on all these unplanned safaris was that every one is different, and that I like safaris.
Kruger was the first place I drove around the animals in my own car. We got lucky with accommodation, so we could spend all day driving around seeing the animals, then sleep inside the park in the overnight huts. On our second day we left the camp as early as possible (just before sunrise) and entered the next camp as late as possible (just after sunset). In the meantime we saw, well, I wrote it all down in a notebook, all the first times seeing some bird or animal, but I lost it. I'll never forget, of course, that we saw all of The Big Five: lion, leopard, buffalo, rhino, and elephant, in just one day.
We dropped off our car in Pretoria (one of South Africa's three capitals). I still had no way of getting back to California in order to pack up to go to North Carolina. But I'm lucky with transport, so I found a reasonable plane ticket home via Hong Kong.
The day of my flight I went on a tour of Soweto, a township of Johannesburg. Apartheid is over, but the townships remain. I was hoping to be shocked, emotionally touched by the down and dirty realities of present-day South Africa. Whatever.
A township is like Tijuana, a world away, but still just a regular community with nice parts and slummy parts. Nelson Mandela has a house in the townships, as do thousands of unemployed peasants looking for city jobs.
We toured through one of these squatter camps. In this temporary tin-roof development we were subjected to the horrors and injustice of the people having to use car batteries to run their TV's, as there was no municipal electricity. And the depravity of the government-provided rent-a-toilet stalls being emptied only three times a week.
The local community council president was our guide. I asked him,
"What are some solutions to your problems here? What can be done to
solve these problems?"
"Solutions? What is solutions?" he asked.
"What could make people's lives better? What do you think should be done?"
"I don't understand," he said.
"What is the first step? What is one thing that would help the people here?"
"Oh, I see. Even we just need support."
"Support? From whom?" Now I didn't understand.
"From the government. They just need to give us more support. If they make houses and give us jobs, we need the government to give that support."
"So you think the government can solve all your problems."
I'm done with traveling,
West Africa I:
M email ,
West Africa II: M email , D&W , Photos
Ethiopia: Both M&W emails , Photos
East Africa: M email , D&W , Photos
5th Month: M email , D&W , Photos
South Africa: M email , D&W , Photos