It is important to get in the right frame of mind before continuing. I submit the following link for the video "Africa" by Toto. I suggest playing it in the background on repeat as you read this blog. I take that back, after watching this video, you must also see it once before continuing on. So, take a pause for 4 minutes and 35 seconds and enjoy.
Now that we are all in the right frame of mind, let's proceed. Hard to believeI know, but I have not ventured into the Dark Continent until now. I have kicked around the idea of Morocco in the past, but never pulled the trigger. I have always had South Africa on the list, but it is always an expensive ticket, and I love the bargains. I never pay more than $1K for a flight no matter where it goes. A $700 RT came up and I jumped on it. Of course it had connections through Chicago/Minnesota/Amsterdam, but that never looks too bad on paper. Going in October meant they would be entering the Spring. I figured it would keep the tourist down a bit and the tail end of ideal Safari season. It turns out I should have done a month earlier as it was still extremely hot on the African plains, but the water temperature was still low enough that I was virtually alone in the water without a wetsuit.
Here is the Itinerary
Basically Amy and I would fly into Cape Town and spend 5 days exploring everything within day driving of the beach town. Then we fly to Johannesburg, rent a car and drive 5 hours to a Safari immersion.
Here is your South Africa Primer:
Over a hundred thousand years ago people in what is now South Africa lived by hunting animals and gathering plants. At the end of the 15th Century the Portuguese sailed past the Cape of Good Hope. In 1652 the Dutch, led by Jan van Riebeeck founded a base where ships travelling to the Far East could be supplied. From 1658 the Dutch imported slaves into South Africa. In 1795 the British captured Cape Colony (South Africa).
The Boers (Dutch settlers also called Afrikaners) in South Africa resented British rule. When slavery was abolished in 1834 they were antagonized still more. Finally, the Boers began a mass migration away from the British called the Great Trek. Eventually the Boers founded two republics away from the British, Orange Free State and Transvaal. In 1867, diamonds were found in Northern Cape and the British were keen to bring all of South Africa, including the Boer republics under their control. In October 1899 war began in South Africa between the Boers and the British. At first the Boers were successful but in 1900 more British troops arrived and the Boers were pushed back. The Boers finally surrendered in 1902 and the British annexed the Boer republics. In 1910 a United South Africa was given a constitution. It became known as the Union of South Africa. British began to lose control as Colonialism fell out of favor around the world.
From the start black people were very much second-class citizens in South Africa. Most lived in tribal reserves and laws of 1913 and 1936 prevented them owning land outside certain areas. Most blacks were not allowed to vote. In 1948 the National Party came to power in South Africa (Dutch Afrikaners). The party introduced a strict policy of apartheid (separateness). Whites and blacks were already segregated to a large degree. New laws made segregation much stricter. The hierarchy from top to bottom was Afrikaners (white), Coloreds (mixed race between Afrikaners and black), Indians/Chinese, Blacks. The basis of deciding whether someone was colored, white or black were absurd (ex: if a pencil did not fall out of your hair then you were black vs colored). In 1960 the government banned the black political parties (ANC and the PAC). And in 1963 Nelson Mandela was sentenced to life imprisonment as a political antagonist. The riots spread and continued through 1977.
Meanwhile other countries were increasingly imposing economic sanctions on South Africa and inside the country resistance to apartheid grew. In 1990, Afrikaners pledged to end apartheid. Nelson Mandela was released. A new constitution with rights for all was created. Instantly the black majority had all the power. The first democratic elections were held in April 1994 and in May 1994 Nelson Mandela was elected president.
In the early 21st century the economy of South Africa grew but recently it has slowed. South Africa suffers from high unemployment and extreme water shortages. The country also suffers from widespread poverty. However, tourism in South Africa is an important industry. South Africa is also rich in minerals. Today the population of South Africa is 56 million.
I found this last part about blacks suddenly regaining control interesting. Slavery and persecution unfortunately is nothing new; It happened with Native Americans, African Americans, Aborigines, Maoris, Incas, etc. What was interesting here is that once that group was liberated they immediately took back the country due to the sheer volume of Black Africans. Here in America we killed off most of the Native Americans through disease, but they still would not have had the majority based on their lifestyle and avoidance of overpopulation due to scarce resources. Why did it happen this way in South Africa?
Anyway, after a long 36 hours of flying/airports we landed late in Cape Town. I was instantly thrown to the wolves. A similar thing happened when I landed in New Zealand. I emerged from the airport in Africa, dazed and confused, and was handed the keys to the car. Due to South Africa being a British territory, driving was flipped. So I had to sit on the right side of the car, and all the controls were opposite. The turn signals were on the right side, oh and I was controlling a stick shift with my left hand. Cape Town is not the place for a stick shift. The streets are steeper than any in San Francisco and there is no grace period at the top of a hill. You come to a stop sign and you are at 45 degree angle and cant see left or right traffic due to building obstructions. There are people behind you, so you just gun it and, oh you must also remember that you are pulling into traffic on the opposite side you are used to. You have no idea how much you are programmed to see traffic coming from the left on a right turn until you are thrown into the opposite. Amy did a good job of reminding me when making a turn which side of the road I should pull out into. She reminded me to always keep the curb on my left, which helped a great deal. Also, driving and parking in South Africa is a free-for-all. Cape Town is a modern city with 3rd world traffic. It was crazy and I am stressing out just thinking about it. You pass, park, and turn whenever and wherever you want/can. And we did all this in the dark while trying to follow my spotty Google Map app.
We eventually found a place to park above our beach house near some armed guards and found our way into or AirBnB, where we collapsed from exhaustion.