26 MARCH 2008 :: SOUTH AFRICA
In my short life I've already managed spend time on 5 continents. During these journeys I've seen and done some incredible things. Yosemite National Park, New York, snowboarding in the Alps, fine dining in Paris, raves in Hong Kong and sailing through the Whitsundays.
None of it prepared me for Africa.
I want to say it's not been an easy journey, but that's not strictly true. How you approach your time here and how it affects you seems to depend entirely on how willing you are to turn a blind eye. I've seen a lot of things that I'm finding difficult to digest, I'm not sure how I feel about them yet. This really only leaves me with one place to start, the top, if I can work my way through everything I'll make it to the worst as well.
Weeks before my arrival Shelley told me she'd planned a surprise, I was not to even ask about it, all would be revealed in good time. I kept to my part of the deal and did not pester Shelley once about the surprise. Over dinner on my first night in Jo'burg Shelly finally revealed the surprise to me, we were leaving Jo'burg the next morning to go on Safari. I was left speechless, it would not return or another two days.
The drive out of Jo'burg was an adventure in it's own right, entering the nature reserve was like entering another world! This was not only one of the most incredible experiences of my life, it was also one of the most humbling. Being inside the nature reserve really makes you realise just how small we are in the scheme of things. The landscape itself was breathtaking, seeing animals would be a bonus, and what a bonus it was: Zebra, Giraffe, Hippos, Rhino, Gazelles, Monkeys, Wilder-beast, Hyena, Warthog and a Kingfisher, to name a few.
Having taken some time to get to grips with the magnitude of my surroundings, it was not long before I was completely in my element. Hanging half out the open window of our moving car, spotting animals off in the distance, firing off photo after photo and all without spilling my beer!
In stark contrast to the safari park Shelley and I spent the night in a casino that would have been right at home on the Las Vegas strip. Waterfalls, wavepools, wildlife, tacky bars, dodgy punters and a tidy profit for us after a couple of hours of roulette and whiskey. Having not managed to see lions inside the park Shelley and I decided that we'd cheat and make sure we saw lions on the way home. There was only one place to go.
Discount Lion Safari!!
This was a totally surreal experience, it's literally a couple of smallish lion pens that you drive into. Most of the lions were sat right by the side of the road, they were only a meter or two from the car. With the window down to take photos the whole experience bordered on terrifying! The icing on the cake was the opportunity to play with some lion cubs. Having minutes before been face to face with full grown lions, all the protection of a rolled down Peugeot 307 window between me and the king of the jungle, I was more then a little apprehensive about the lion cubs!
There are photos of me with the cubs at arms length and a look of terror in my eyes that is in no way masked by the smile on my face. Yes it's me, yes I look terrified, because yes, that's a lion I'm petting!
Upon landing in Cape Town the following day our air hostess announced over the PA "Welcome to gangsters paradise, if you're not where you're supposed to be you're in a whole world of trouble. For those of you who are returning home, we hope your car is still where you left it." Having been through Jo'burg I found it difficult to believe I was in for more of the same.
After leaving the airport it became clear that while I was not yet in the safety of London streets, (I never thought I'd hear myself say that!) I was certainly a long way from the war zone that Johannesburg resembled.
Although having said that, Cape Town is no less confusing then Jo'burg was. Incredible houses surrounded by armed guards and electric fences sit along the shoreline, while literally blocks away people in shanty towns of tin sheds and decrepit tents seem to get along with their daily life.
It's now been several days since I started writing this, I'm still not 100% certain how to relay all of the contrasts I've witnessed here in South Africa. I've not turned a blind eye to it but I can't work out how to describe what it's like to stay in an amazing house with breathtaking views, say good morning to the armed guard as he opens the electric fence for us, then drive past rows of people sitting on the side of the road hoping someone will pick them up and give them a days work...
We picked up a hitch hiker at one stage, a nanny who was leaving her town to meet the family she worked for when they returned home from holiday. She seemed to be a lovely woman who was extremely grateful for the lift which saved her a very long uphill walk in the heat of the day. Shelley and I had been bitching about our pokey little hire car and the complete lack of space. Our hitch hiker commented on what a lovely car it was....
Maybe one day I'll get my head around it all. On to more positive things.
I feel like I've barely scratched the surface of Cape Town, I can't wait for the opportunity to spend a lot more time here. There are some beautiful beaches, amazing restaurants and seriously cool bars. All of them populated by welcoming and interesting locals.
Rather then try an fit everything into the short period of time I have here, we decided to just take things easy and enjoy ourselves. As a result I'm so relaxed I'm basically horizontal, but don't exactly have many stories to tell! I guess all I can do is point you in the direction of the photo's, sunset drinks on the beach, watching the surfers make the most of a nice little break, breathtaking views of table mountain and a blissful afternoon in the wine country.
I had wanted to go on a day long crawl around vineyards, I'd even found a chauffeur who would drives us around in a Rolls Royce for the day at a price that was so cheap it did not make sense. Shelley was not too keen on the idea of being driven around and instead organised for us to have lunch with a group of her friends.
A table was booked at Dieu Donne and Shelley and I managed to arrive fashionably late having spent the morning walking along the beach. The view was absolutely incredible, the people I met were all warm and inviting. Wine was consumed, food was ordered, more wine was consumed, I'd lost my voice the day before and some good humored mocking ensured, food was set out before us, yet more wine was consumed...... The view was admired, did I mention the wine? Yet more bottles were brought out.
Having made our way through this feast, a cricket set was produced and with the breathtaking backdrop of mountains and vineyard's I was able to give the locals a sporting yet friendly lesson in just how the game should be played.
Little by little, one travels far.
J. R. R. Tolkien