Monthly Archives: November 2011

Goodbye South Africa and some thoughts

After a great week in Cape Town I took a long train ride from Cape Town to Johannesburg on a cheap train. .. 26 hrs. Along the way I got to see mountains, desert, plains and felt I started to understand So. Africa a little better.

Around Kimberley the holes, where they mined for diamonds, are filled with water. There are plenty of ducks, cranes and flamingos in the water. I also saw plenty of ostriches and springboks.

Most of the whites are doing pretty good here. They have cars and live in nice houses here in So. Africa.  Some blacks have this too, but the great majority are trapped in sub-standard housing. I really am shocked to see the aluminum corrugated shacks that many live in.

Many of the whites told me that conditions have deteriorated since the black government took over. I try not to stereotype people but this is what I observed here. The whites have Euro values of hard work, schedules, cleanliness and industry. The blacks are more layed back and not so hyper.. I saw plenty of happy people here who really have nothing.

This country is rich with diamonds, gold and very rich agricultural land. This place is one of contrasts. I am glad I got to see it for myself.  It is not the easiest country to move around in.

As I looked out the window of the train at the golden meadows of So. Africa I keep thinking of Sting’s song Fields of Gold. South Africa was a great country to visit…difficult in some places, but I had a great time here.

A few days in Edenvale close to the Johannesburg Airport then off to an easier place for me.. Thailand.

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Cape Town, South Africa

I left Port Elizabeth early because the hostel was empty and I wanted to move on to Cape Town.  Everybody told me that this was the place to go.  Got a taxi to the bus station and had a great ride to Cape Town.  The bus took me along the coast and I could see some beautiful beaches and little towns along the way.   The bus went through some incredible mountain ranges and got to see ostrich ranches, plenty of grapes and African people living there lives along the way.  Some modest houses and some mud huts and some very expensive mansions.

The physical beauty of Cape Town hits you first.  There is a large bay and the place is dominated by Table Mountain and Lookout Mountain.  My introduction to Cape Town, as I got off the bus, was my sandals falling apart. So I took a taxi up to my hostel which was just under Table Mountain.  A nice place in a seedy neighborhood (this is getting to be the norm for me).  The kitchen is excellent and I am making my meals here.  There is a balcony which looks out at the mountain.

There is a bar under this hostel and I could hear the music until 4am… not nice but that is the way it is.

The fist thing I did was go find a new pair of sandals.  I then met up with 3 UK people and we took the cable car up to the mountain at sunset.  So nice to be up there and look down at the port.

On Sunday morning I took a walk and heard music playing at the Catholic Church and went inside.  Just in time for the Sunday morning mass.  It was a nice experience.  They have HDTV screens which provided the words to the songs.  A great big organ and plenty of incense.  I heard the prettiest lady’s voice singing at this mass.  You have to go up to the altar to give the offering.  I guess they want to monitor how much you are giving.  I felt good going to Mass and I have tried to go to some kind of church, temple or mosque in every country I have visited.

Today I got up early, walked down to the train station to buy a ticket for Friday to go to Kimberly, the largest diamond mine in the world.  I then walked to the water front and it was incredible.  Plenty of upscale shopping malls and I bought a ticket to take a ride on a sailboat.  Today it was windy and sunny and the ride was rough and fast.  5 guys worked the sails and we went past Robbin Island, the place they kept Nelson Mandela for 27 years.

One night at the hostel I went with a US guy downstairs to the Kerioke bar and saw some great singers who really belted out some nice songs. Some day I will get up there and sing a song…in the future…maybe.

I am going to take a train to the wine region tomorrow and maybe have a glass or two of wine.  Next week I am off to Thailand again.  This is going to be the end of this post… I have run out of things to say..

Durban and Port Elizabeth

This was a good choice (just damn good luck).. Getting to see a good example of the different places of So. Africa and Swaziland. I went with a lady from Switzerland and France from Swaziland, across the border, back into So. Africa. The van rides were crowded but I was traveling with locals.
We stayed in a large hostel near the Durban Aquarium.

They have a beautiful beach which reminded me of Rio. We took a long walk to the Victorian Market which has a large population of Indians. Durban is a large port city. I just saw the nice parts of the city.

I was smart enough to visit the Aquarium. They have a very large old ship which contains all the fish. They have a large collection of sharks there and I hope to avoid these creatures forever.

I got to see a great dolphin show. The audience was full of school kids in colorful uniforms. I was really impressed with the tricks these animals can do. I was then off to the Durban Station to catch an overnight bus to Port Elizabeth which is at the very bottom of Africa. This is a clean city and they make VW cars here. In a few days I am off to Cape Town. My days of So. Africa are getting short.

Web access is limited but I  am doing my best. My food is great plenty of good veggies and I am cooking some good stuff.

Off to Swaziland

I enjoyed Nelspruit.. I visited the Botanical Gardens there. They have suspension foot bridges next to a massive waterfall. Hippos live there but were hiding from us.  Plenty of signs warning about snakes but we did not see any.  They have big lizards with blue and red colors.  I learned that many of the trees and bushes are poisonous. That explains how I got a red mark on my finger.  When I was in Kruger I opened a pod to see what was inside…   still iches.

9 Nov. 2011… Got a ride to the transportation center with Maria from Denmark. We were off on a 4 hr. ride to Manzini, Swaziland. The 12 passenger van had 15 people in it… All women except me and the driver. Most of the ladies were bigguns… They were eating chicken and were very loud.  The ride took us through beautiful mountains and fields of sugarcane, pineapples and pulp wood trees.

We checked out of So. Africa and got stamped into Swaziland. We were dropped of at the Sondzela Lodge in the Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary. The place has a pool and looks out over a valley full of wildlife.  An impala was right out my door. A couple of warthogs graze on the lawn and Zebra wander around.  They also have crocs and hippos down in the river.

Last night we went over to the cultural village and got to see a pretty good African song and dance show. It was a tourist thing with plenty of rich types in the crowd but I really enjoyed the drums, the singing and dancing.  About 30 people entertaining us.

We are on the Tropic of Capricorn and it is hot here. Plenty of water and taking it easy. I am very relaxed here.  There is a UK couple who have driven their bikes all the way through Europe, the Middle East and down the east coast of Africa. How amazing is that!

So a few more days here then off to Durban…

Kruger National Park

The bus trip to Nelspruit was nice, we went past coal mines and orange groves.  When I arrived I called a taxi and it took me to my hostel, way up in the nice neighborhood above the city.  I talked to the owner and he got me a 4 day tour of Kruger National Park.  The next day a van arrived, loaded with 4 German doctors, a Canadian, a couple from Cape Town and off we went.

Our tour guide was Andre, who never wore shoes and was an incredible teacher, cook and driver.  We first visited a couger rehab center and took a land-rover around to see the animals.  The cougers are bred there and they also had a couple of old lions and a pack of wild African dogs.

We then went to our camp down a bumpy road next to a river.  It was starting to get dark.  He made a great dinner, including a veg meal for me.  He briefed us on the area.  Wild animals walk through at night and he scarred the hell out of us.  He mentioned what to do when confronted by a lion, a leopard and hippos.  I had the smallest little flashlight with me and was very nervous walking back to my tent.  He told us that a couple of nights before a leopard killed an antelope in the camp.  The first morning our guide saw a couple of giraffes grazing around the tents.  At night we heard all kinds of noises, including the growl of lions on both sides of us.  That was enough excitement for me…. I need a bigger flashlight!!!!!

We then were driven to a private game reserve for a night drive.   We all had to sign waivers before we got on the open air vehicle.  We got to see a very large owl, a hyena, and a herd of Cape Buffalo.  The next day we were off at 4 AM to go into the Kruger National Park.  As soon as we went in, we saw giraffes, ostriches, elephants and a rhino.  The whole day was amazing…  I think the highlight was seeing a herd of elephants, there was over 60 of them walking over the road past us.

That nite we got back to the camp, I had a veg wrap and we were joined by 12 people from Lebonon who were workers from Dubai on vacation in South Africa. Up early again for another full day in the park.  We got to see 3 lions from a distance and were lucky enough to be right next to some Rhios, elephants, monkeys, hyenas and plenty of birds.   They have eagles which look just like the American Bald Eagle.

At the end of the day we saw a pod of hippos in the river with crocodiles hunting up and down the river.  The last day we drove up into an amazing canyon and were brought up to a place called the Panarama.  The view was one I will never forget.

On Sunday I returned to the hostel in Nelspruit and I took a taxi early in the morning to the city center and walked up 5 miles back to the hostel.  Tomorrow I am off to Swaziland and then Durban.  All well with me.. it was nice to have my android phone which guided me back to the hostel with its amazing GPS navigation system.

Going from North Africa to South Africa the hardway

So it took about 2 days, most of them in airports but I got to Johannesburg, South Africa.  my ride up to Madrid was easy and in the daylight.  I could follow the coast line on my maps on my smart phone.  It was nice to look down at the entrance of the Mediterranean and see Spain on one side and Morocco on the other.

The flight to Heathrow was another easy one..through  UK customs again and had to wait at the airport for about 20 hours.  I watched a couple of good movies while I waited and somehow got through the ordeal.  Finally I got on an Air France plane to Paris and after a very long walk and short wait we were on a AF 777 on the way to Johannesburg…  The ride took over 10 hours and was during the night so I did not get to see any of Africa from the air.

Of course the French did it again… the dinner on the flight was the best airplane food I have ever had.  When we landed I traded a little bottle of red wine for the use of a stranger’s phone to call my hostel.  The owners came and got me at the airport.  As we drove on the interstate to the hostel I could see the Johannesburg skyline which looked like the one in District 9 without the hovering spacecraft.

The first thing you notice here is the manner in which people live.  The white people all live in homes surrounded by walls, electric fences and gates.  Our hostel is like a little armed camp.  The blacks are all very nice but as I walked along they do not look you in the eye.  I like to say hello to most people but here I am reluctant to acknowledge anyone’s presence on the street.  I got to meet some nice people from Norway, and Sweden at the hostel. We all walked a couple of blocks to a pub and I had a nice draft beer and a veg pizza.

The town of Edenville has a nice little shopping area and in the middle is a bakery with a dutch windmill where people can have some nice food.  I had some great coffee and croissants and meet a young black man eating there who happened to be a pilot for South African Airlines.  He flies the big jets and he is so young!

I got a sim card from a local store and I found out they were ZULU.  I sang Hold em down you ZULU warrior, hold em down you ZULU chief, chief, chief… they all got a kick out of the song. Today I went on a tour of Johannesburg, and then right into the middle of Soweto, the black township.  We got to see the stadium they built for last years FIFA World Cup, saw Winnie and Nelson Mandela’s house.  We got to see the Apartheid Museum which told the story of this country.  Part of our tour included the slums of Soweto, we got out of the car and walked right into the middle of it.  The conditions are terrible and I hope they change soon.  There is plenty of hatred here between the blacks and whites.

The area around Johannesburg has many hills made from the result of mining for gold.  There are also many shanty towns of swatters from other countries.  These places are just terrible with garbage and debris all around them.  I have never seen anything like that in South America and even Asia.

Tomorrow I have a bus ticket to Nelspruit, a city up near the Kruger National park.  I hope to see some wild animals and continue discovering what this country is like.