A Travellerspoint blog

South Africa

South(ern) Africa

The cliches are true. The stereotypes are false.

sunny 84 °F
View A Backpack, A Bicycle, And a Bonderman Grant to Travel the World on dericvito's travel map.

I recovered from malaria in style catching a train from Johannesburg to the Eastern Cape coast on a mostly empty train in my own compartment. Next door was my new best friend in South Africa, Zonke. During the ride Zonke brought me up to speed on contemporary South Africa. We dined together as the countryside passed by and discussed her potential for an appearance on "The Apprentice." Soon enough I arrived in Port Elizabeth. While I'm still getting a feel for how people interact in South Africa, I can say South Africans are very gracious and generous. The first day I was given a coke while putting my bicycle together in the train station, a map when I couldn't find one in the book store, and a water bottle for no reason at all in the checkout line of a supermarket.

Physically South Africa looks a lot like California to me, with the exception of the townships and makeshift housing. With no real strong connections in this modern country, I followed more of a tourist route here. But, I didn't cage dive with sharks, visit the snake sanctuary, do the highest bungee jump or ride the ostriches. Mostly I was reading and riding. I delved deep into Nelson Mandela's autobiography during rest breaks as I cruised along the coast toward Capetown. It was really fascinating to be engrossed in this country's political history book while observing modern South Africa. While it was mostly a solitary experience (not a bad thing), I did arrange a visit with a family of cyclists on a farm through a site called warmshowers.com (the cyclist's version of couch surfing). It was a very pleasant experience to dine, converse and stay in their country cottage. Even the irony of a refreshing cold shower in this drought ridden territory made me smile. They directed to some of the most beautiful territory I've visited, off-road and into the desert and mountainous Karoo.

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With all this time on the bike I've had some time to contemplate my habits. Thus I present the top ten things I do while cycling in southern Africa:

    1. Look around
    2. Respond Bom Dia (Mozambique) I am fine (Malawi) Good Afternoon (Zimbabwe) Thumbs up (South Africa).
    3. Sing (from Jorge Bem to Cat Stevens to K'naan)
    4. Compose blog entries and reflections in my head that occasionally get written
    4. Look down at the ground
    5. Think about food
    6. Think about things other than food
    7. Listen to music
    8. Swelter in the sun
    9. Practice good posture
    10. Ride on the wrong side of the road though there were so few cars most of the time it didn't matter

If nothing else, I have made people here laugh, sometimes intentionally, sometimes for no apparent reason. At times my helmet was a most ridiculous accessory. While I enjoyed the sound of laughter, I preferred the sound people make here of surprise or acknowledgment. For women it's something like: eeiiii and for men: aghghghg (with mouth wide-open). I've picked up both. Something else I've gained a greater appreciation for are trees. There are all types of big beautiful trees here, most well utilized for their shade as meeting spaces and relief along a short or long journey. I'm told most people come to Africa to see animals. I prefer humans (they're much easier to see and interact with). However, I did get to observe a number of interesting species along the way, plenty of baboons, wild boars, elephants, etc. But mostly I saw birds. From ostriches on down, all colors, makes and models.

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I had a fantastic week with my father in Cape Town. We covered the city well with a different journey everyday, mostly by foot, but also train, bus, and finally car. It was a nice break from my vagabond ways to spend time with my father and sleep in the same place for eight nights. In Cape Town I put on my urban affairs hat and tried to understand how the city was making up for hundreds of years of inequality by attempting to provide new housing for townships dwellers. The task seems virtually impossible. But I found the sociology of Cape Town perhaps even more interesting then the politics that caused it. Apartheid titles like "coloured" are still used. Coloured was a term used essentially as caste that sought to group all people of mixed identity and those of strictly Asian decent. What's fascinating today is that at some level, it worked. We went to a "minstrel show" a traditional event of the "Coloured" community which involves singing and dancing competitions between neighborhoods. It was amazing to see the mix of faces and religions in this group and the absence of white or "black" faces. While the terminology used for this event and this identity group is pretty hard to digest, I do think Seattle needs a dance-off between neighborhoods.

Today my father set off on a train for Johannesburg and I a plane for Porto, Portugal. However, just to end my time in Southern Africa with a surprise, I was abruptly stopped on the street by some undercover Cape Town police. They looked like something out of '21 Jump Street' in basketball jerseys and couldn't have been older the 24 or 25 so of cours I didn't believe they were police. I had made the mistake of trying to take the alternate exit from an underground internet cafe ending up in a shady spot. Still I was shocked when these two grabbed me 2 blocks down the road. I finally agreed to a search, and stuck my hands in the air, though they repeatly told me it was not necessary. This fortunately and faithfully proved my innocence before a streetfull of onlookers.

Now on to Porto en route to Cape Verde and Sengal fully itinerary here

But before you go, this is my time in southern Africa summarized in moving pictures with sound:

Posted by dericvito 01:29 Archived in South Africa Tagged bicycle Comments (2)

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