Three weeks into my trip from Cape Town to Cairo, I’m finally getting around to my first blog entry. This is not for lack of wanting to write, but has been almost entirely due to poor internet connectivity. After all, “This is Africa.” I’ve heard that phrase will be repeated very often over the next six months… I won’t bore you with all my travel details here in this blog, but rather hope to give you some highlights and interesting stories, and share with you some of my pictures from Africa’s stunning landscape.
The trip for Los Angeles to Cape Town was exhausting… 36 hours to be exact. I arrived after 2 delayed flights, 1 missed connection, and 2 missing bags. The flight from London to South Africa had a few nice surprises, like a huge midnight meteor shower over the Sahara (yes, I made a wish!), and a gorgeous pastel colored sunrise over the Congo. As we flew the last 8 hour leg over Africa after sunrise, the horizon kept on going and going, seemingly without end. I remember thinking to myself, “And I’m planning on doing this reverse trip up the continent in a 4×4 truck?” No wonder it will take over five months…
I arrived in beautiful Cape Town with a wonderful case of vertigo. My first. Apparently I got an ear infection during the long trip because of the airplane pressure, and I could barely keep my head straight once I got to Cape Town. Vertigo is a funny thing, you feel dizzy, but not lightheaded, and it’s worse in the morning than at night, and it lasts five days… It’s an awkward feeling.
Cape Town is stunning, and the highlight was going to the Cape of Good Hope, where the Atlantic and Indian Oceans meet. It’s an incredibly windy place, and wind gusts regularly hit 60+ knots! It feels like the end of the world, as there’s nothing else beyond the horizon besides Antarctica. Which makes sense, since there are hundreds of thousands of penguins at this tip of Africa. I never knew that penguins are white on their bellies to avoid being mis-identified as seals by sharks from below, while they are black on their back so they blend in to the sea from stalking birds up above. Go figure. Nature is incredible like that.
I left Cape Town soon after arrival and headed for my friend KK’s wedding in the wine country outside Cape Town, in a small town called Robertson in the Karoo (a semi-arid plateau that covers much of western South Africa). South Africa’s scenery reminds me a lot of California: mountains, desert, sea, and farmland all co-exist side by side. A small group of friends had come in for the wedding as well so we made several stops along the way at wineries to
reminisce about old times. We also did a detour to see an ostrich farm, but thankfully it was raining and they were wet, as no way was I about to ride that prehistoric looking thing! The wedding was a beautiful event, at a spectacular sunset; it was great to celebrate with old friends.
After the wedding, I parted with my London friends and started an 8 day trek through the Garden Route, Addo Elephant Reserve, the Wild Coast, the Drakensberg Mountains, and all the way to Durban. The Garden Route is a very lush, green region of the country dotted with lots of holiday towns and B&Bs on the waterfront. The highlight was definitely zip-lining down the jungle canopy like Tarzan, swinging from tree to tree, thankfully without vertigo!
I spent Christmas on my own in the Wild Coast — a gorgeous stretch of verdant, very rural scenery on the southeastern coast of South Africa. This area is also called the Transkei — a former “homeland” for blacks during the apartheid era. The Wild Coast is sort of like a cross between Ireland and Switzerland (at least I think so), with incredibly green rolling hills and pastel colored villages dotting each hill top. I’m not sure why the apartheid regime thought it was doing the black population a disservice to banish them to this area — it looked like paradise to me!
After Christmas, I headed up into the Drakensberg Mountains, an escarpment that borders South Africa and Lesotho, with 3000m peaks. The colors in the Drakensberg were surreal, I think the sun must shine differently in Africa. I almost had a panic attack when I found a tiny garden snake outside my lodge room here. A whopping 18 inches long. And I willingly chose to camp all the way up the continent? Better get used to the wildlife, Kian; There ain’t no shoe shampoo in the Bush.
My first road trip in Africa ended in Durban, the country’s third largest city and a huge beach haven on the Indian Ocean. Be careful though, sharks abound and there are shark nets all over the popular beaches. The locals like to gather right next to the lifeguard shacks (for security maybe?) thus forcing 1000 people to share a 100m stretch of beach. Cozy…
Two weeks after leaving Cape Town and 2500km later, I’ve returned to chill out here for a few days before New Years. Cape Town doesn’t feel like what you imagine Africa to be. It’s a gorgeous European city that begs one to linger. And I had no problem doing just that as I had a semi-private villa to myself with my own pool in a gorgeous part of town with amazing views! Lucky for me, the other guests canceled. But the peace would not last for long. On Dec 30, I woke up to what sounded like an armed invasion of the villa. I rushed out to see that my entire street was being evacuated, with South African Defense Force airplanes hovering overhead. The hill next to where I was staying was on fire, and a score of helicopters and planes were water-bombing the hill to put out the fire and save multimillion dollar homes just 100m away from my villa. It was a super windy day (55+ knots), and very hot, so the fire spread all day, but firefighters were able to contain the arson fire by nightfall without much property damage.
On New Years Eve day, I forced myself to do two things I hate: 1) get up before dawn, and 2) go swim with sharks. I got up at 3 in the morning to catch a shuttle to Gaansbai, the great white shark capital of the world. Did you know that there are only 5000 great white sharks in the world? (and yes, they are in the Med too!) 2500 swim South Africa’s waters, and 500 call Gaansbai home at some point of the year. But not on Dec 31. For the first time in over a year, not a single great white shark was sighted that day, maybe they were on strike for a better pension, or resting in anticipation of the New Years Eve party later that night. Pity, as I had become increasingly comfortable with the idea of flailing helplessly in a steel cage, dangling like bait from the side of a boat in icy Antarctic waters as a 14 foot great white shark swam by. I was bummed, but I wouldn’t have made a good snack anyway, not enough blubber for Whitey…
I’m off in the morning to meet my mom in Johannesburg as we head off for a ten-day safari through Kruger National Park and Zimbabwe. Lots of animal pictures to come for sure on the next blog entry. Wishing you all an adventurous 2011 from the Bush!