Getting to know South Africa
August 15, 2007
It has been a busy past-month for us. The first issue was to decide whether we wanted to stay right here in Richard’s Bay or to push on south about 150 miles to the next port of any size, Durban. We rented a car for a week and traveled to Durban by way of Greytown to visit some old cruising friends of ours, Helen and Nick. They run a farm now where Nick concentrates on breeding cattle. Besides seeing the beautiful countryside and enjoying the hospitality of our friends we had a great time catching up on the many years since we had seen them.
Durban turned out to be a real bust! It is a big city with terrible traffic congestion and air pollution. If the marina prices had been competitive, it would have been a hard decision to make. They were much higher…so, here we will stay – perhaps for a full year.
With the location decided, we proceeded to find a second hand car to own while here. Finding one was not difficult and paying for it went rather smoothly. It is a Ford Fiesta 2000 with a 1.4 cu liter engine and stick shift. One priority while in a country where gasoline costs about $4/gallon has to be the mileage that one can achieve. We have already traveled about 1500 miles with the car and are satisfied that it will work well for us.
One of the first issues with a new car is to get insurance. We were trying to get third party, fire and theft and were dismayed to find out that none of the underwriters would cover us with our US licenses. They insisted on an international license. Of course that is only a piece of paper and has no meaning any longer in most of the countries of the world. The South African police have no problem with our licenses and we had already rented a car with insurance using this license. In the end we had to shrug our shoulders and make the decision to drive the car without insurance. We will fit right in with the 40% of the drivers here who have no insurance - totally ridiculous. On the whole the drivers here are better than those in Thailand where we think we had good training in defensive driving. Of course someone has bashed into the driver’s door and knocked the mirror off while it was parked in the lot. We seem to be a magnet for those irresponsible and careless parking-lot drivers.
Once we had wheels we could really start to get around. Jane wanted to travel south to the town of Alice. If you are looking at a map of South Africa you might find Alice just to the west of Port Elizabeth…still on the west coast of the country. In Alice lives a lady of the Xhosa tribe who has made a trip to the church of my family in Maine. Winnie’s congregation and that of my family are sister churches. We had collected quite a bit of used clothing and shoes and wanted to take them to Winnie to distribute in her settlement. This would give us a good chance to see the other side of S Africa – since 73% of the people here are black and most live in very poor settlements in rural areas and on the edges of the cities. As expected it was an interesting ½ day visit. Winnie told us much of the culture of her people…some of it quite shocking in its old ways. We had a delightful time and are considering a return in January.
On the way back we decided to drive up the west side of Lesotho, an independent country that (like Swaziland) is totally surrounded by South Africa. We stopped one morning in a very small town to find breakfast. At first Jane was hesitant to stop at Richard’s Café saying, “No, that’s a black place.” There seemed to be only black people coming out of the café. Sander reminded Jane that with 73% of the population being black, that was a very distinct possibility. Much chagrined, Jane had to agree. What an interesting place it was!
Behind the counter were several things already cooked up such as sausages in a roll and a huge sandwich with fried egg, sausage, tomato, and bologna. Usually we try to avoid such things as they turn out to be cold and greasy. We decided to be bold and “do as the Romans” - so to speak. Everything was heated up and came with two huge cups of good hot coffee. While waiting for the goods to arrive, we checked out the local bulletin board and found an interesting advertisement. See Photo #1. The proprietor (an Afrikaner, descended from the Dutch/German Boers) told us that the local people had funerals sometimes lasting for a full week. It is important to the family and the memory of the departed to have as many people as possible at the funeral. Service companies have developed who take on the catering for such an event. Family members are not charged admission, but those from outside pay. What an interesting past-time: going to a funeral to enjoy the food and support the bereaved. Richard’s Café provided a good cheap breakfast and a fascinating look at the local culture.
One of the biggest draws for South African tourism is the park system. Do you remember movies like “Out of Africa” that show vast herds of wildebeest and elephants? Due to the loss of habitat, this is no longer the case. Instead, the parks have taken over the job of keeping the animals safe and providing tracts of land large enough for them to roam and multiply. Yes, they do then start to over-populate and need to be culled out. There is an auction system here where those animals culled from the parks are sold to zoos and smaller game reserves. Some of the smaller reserves specialize in certain animals that are on the edge of distinction, such as the cheetah and the white rhino.
We checked out the possibility of visiting the parks and found that we could quickly go broke. Each park has an entrance fee for foreigners of $10US or more/person/day. So we elected to buy a Wild Card. For about $200 US we (as a couple) can enter all the parks in South Africa for a year. At this point we have already visited just three of the parks and have recouped 30% of that charge. We have spent a day at each of Addo Elephant Park, Golden Gate Park and the local Hluhluwe/Imfolozi park. Oh yes! That’s a mouthful as are many of the place names here.
If the parks have predators (lions, leopards etc) traveling in the park is done in one’s car. The animals have, for the most part, grown very used to the people and cars and do not hesitate to cross the road close by or wander up to the car. The giraffe seemed to be posing for us as she stopped and tilted her head towards us. The elephant, on the other hand, seemed not to be very happy with us. You have to wonder about those ears being plastered back by the head.
The last two photos were taken in or near the Golden Gate National Park on the NW corner of Lesotho. We preferred to find a “self-catering” situation each night as opposed to a hotel or large resort. Many folks have developed Granny Flats with a private bath and a small kitchenette arrangement. We have found that the good ones cost about $50/night. One that we rented for the night before entering the park turned out to be a whole small cottage to ourselves…delightful! The owner has just put it up for sale…about $200,000 US and she’s all yours!
The last picture is taken from the entrance to the Golden Gate Park. Rather than concentrating on wild life, this park is more for the beauty of the surroundings. It was quite cold that day so not many other folks were out. It seemed we were the only ones there atop the world enjoying the sites.
Of course we have just started to get to know South Africa. We will haul the boat out soon. Jane is going to the States for two months and Sander will go later to Holland for a month. We should both be back aboard at the end of October. We have chosen a large boat broker in Europe to advertise Satori and will decide on one in the States as well. If the right buyer is out there, we may have to find another style of living soon. Til then we will just enjoy every day and see what comes.
With love to you all,
Jane and Sander aboard S/V Satori