Travels in Southern Africa

A couple of weeks ago I was fortunate enough to go with Matt to visit the furthest south of the equator I have ever been:  Cape Town, South Africa. 

Best Landmark Ever

Table Mountain: Best Landmark Ever



Cape Town was never a port sailors liked to call on.  Wet, windy, and treatourous seas combined with few landing options limited its use to obligatory stops for supplies or mail.  Most ships just continued around the Cape for India.  Anyways, there were no reliable supplies in the Western Cape and the Khoi indigenous people were not always reliable to have something to trade.  This best explains why Europeans took their sweet time to settle the area until the Dutch showed up with three ships of settlers in 1652. 
Some 356 years later Matt and I departed Gaborone, Botswana on an Intercape bus to begin our 32 hour overland sit-fest to what is billed as Southern Africa’s most developed city.  We arrived in Johanessburg South Africa some 6 hours later.  Against the good advice of “Don’t go outside the bus station you WILL get robbed.  Don’t say I didn’t warn you” given to us by a complete stranger we made right for the exit.  Matt found a fun way for us to pass an hour. 
Matt getting cornrows

Matt getting cornrows

I found someone selling grilled chicken necks (you just eat the whole thing) and after tasting it I was immediatly disappointed no one had offered this more than delicious food to me before.  We also got a good look at Johanessburg’s crumbling infrastructure.  There is something painfully artistic about 20 floor apartment buildings with almost all of the windows busted out.  This city is NOT going to be ready for the World Cup in 2008.  I’m sure they will pull it off anyway, but it is not going to be pretty. 
So after not getting robbed or asaulted we sauntered back to the Park City Bus Station to wait for our bus to Cape Town to board.  I had never been on a double decker bus before, and if you ever get the chance sit on the top level at the very front.  The panorama of the road and scenery is breathtaking enough to probably make you forget whatever you brought on the bus to occupy your time.  Like your school work.  I’m speaking from experience.  The road between Joburg (or Jozi) and Cape Town is long and doesn’t pass much in the way of human civilization.  There is Beaufort West which is an amazing colonial style town in the middle of the country.  There is also the Stellenbosch area where South African wine is grown.  Check out the where the grape pickers live:
what goes good with nothing to eat for dinner?  Because a lot of these people go hungry more often than not.

Wine Test: what goes good with nothing to eat for dinner? Because a lot of these people go hungry more often than not.

So around Stellenbosch I figured out why the Europeans were so late (relatively) to settle this area:  we arrived in the middle of the worst winter storm in 25 years.  Cape Town was practically empty.  We had to walk to the hostel in driving cold rain, sleet, and 50 knot wind gusts.  At first we didn’t know we were in the middle of a winter storm and just assumed this was how Cape Town always was. 
We were staying on Long St.  This is supposed to be a pretty hopping place, unless of course it is 35 degrees outside, windy and rainy.  We made friends with a couple of Japanese backpackers at the hostel.  They had spent four months going from Cairo to Cape Town and were on their way to Brazil.  We walked up the Lion’s rump, a small hill that overlooks the south-east of the city, and stumbled on some old military fortifications.
Coastal Fortifications and Observation Point

Coastal Fortifications and Observation Point

There were trees knocked down all the way up the hill, and from the top we got a look at massive 30 foot breaking waves from the south Atlantic.
Wicked Wave

Wicked Wave

So while we were staying in down-town Cape Town (Motto: We have a police officer on beat every 20 yards.  Literally.) the Anthropology Conference (oh yeah, I forgot to say we went to Cape Town for the Anth. Conference….hmmm….how could I have forgotten the anthropology conference?) was at the University of Western Cape.  The best presentation we heard was a 10 minute oration (better than a talk or speech) by the Rector Brian O’Connell.  He talked eloquently about the need for human beings to understand one another and how we can use that understanding to build better communities. 
Going between the conference and Cape Town meant we got to take the Metro light rail.  If you come to Cape Town people will tell you it is not safe to take the Metro light rail.  They don’t know, trust me, they have never taken it.  I have, many times, and am telling you right now it is safe and a fun experience.  If we would not have take the Metro light-rail we would not have met David, who I am going to blog about on the main page after I finish the travel-log.  So anyway: take the metro.  You can pay 1 Rand more for “First Class” but there isn’t really a difference other than who can afford to pay the extra Rand and who cannot. 
Cape Town is a European city in style and feel.  There is little to no evidence of indigenous architecture or culture.  It is somewhat expensive, but we paid around 10 USD a night for a hostel and food can be had for around 4-5 USD a meal so it is not that bad.  However if one wanted there are 4-Star hotels for hundreds of dollars a night and restraunts to match.  There is major construction taking place on the soccer stadium (I counted 13 overhead cranes) and this city will be so ready for the World Cup. 
The unexpected highlight of the trip was at the Slave Lodge Museum (the Slave Lodge is where the Dutch East India Slaves were kept).  In a small, unassuming room there was a simple round table.  I almost passed it up, thinking the exhibit was not opened or there was no exhibit at all, but then I saw a poster behind the table.  It turns out this leather topped oak table was the very same one that William Wilberforce sat at when planning with his cohorts on how to end the British Atlantic Slave Trade, which they accomplished in 1807.  This is the very table where the political results of the first human rights campaign came to fruition. 
The very table that William Wilberforce sat at to draft legislation to end the British Atlantic Slave Trade

The very table that William Wilberforce sat at to draft legislation to end the British Atlantic Slave Trade

Traveling great distances exposed me to so much geography of South Africa and climates I had never experienced before.  I highly reccomend the 32 hour bus ride, because that is how I saw, first hand, snow south of the equator.
For those of you interested in visiting Botswana and/or Southern Africa here is a short account of a couple of travel experiences and routes to take. 
I left Dallas/Fort Worth on a Lufthansa flight to Frankfurt Germany.  It was the best flight I had ever been on.  They gave us plenty of fluids to stay hydrated, excellent food (as long as you request as Hindu or Muslim meal when you buy your ticket), and quality entertainment.  My layover in Frankfurt was short, and I saved about $20 USD on buying food because my mom packed me some sandwiches.  Thanks mom.

From there I went to Zurich for 12 hours.  The airport looks like the setting to A Brave New World with its concrete and cold steel construction.  Zurich itself is incredibly expensive (at least the down town zone I was in) but mixed in with the rich people from many different countries were a few homeless, some street performers, and cross-Europe backpackers with worried expressions on their faces as they realized that even a cheap beer  costs around $5 USD. 

So Clean

So Clean

The flight to Johannesburg, South Africa was a night flight, and I was pretty much in a sleepless daze by this point.  Swiss Airlines was relatively unimpressive compared to Lufthansa, but I did luck out with an incredibly spacious exit row seat.  I sat next to an Italian guy who was drooling over a Ducati motorbike catalogue. 

I was not expecting anyone to pick me up from the airport so I was standing outside in the cold (around 50 degrees F) figuring out how much I would save taking a bus to downtown versus a taxis.  (A white women on the plane had scolded me for booking a bus from the Park City Station because she swore I would get robbed or worse, I’ve heard this before in Haiti and these people are usually full of it.)  

After waiting around the airport for a bit I caught a ride with Jacque and his wife Koren.  Both were extremely gracious, and not only took me to a different (“safer”) bus stop but also made sure I was all set before dropping me off at a gas station where the bus would pass.  The gas station had a restaurant that was in a walkway over the highway (think the giant McDonalds in Oklahoma Hwy 69).  I got a cheeseburger and coffee for $4 USD, or 33 Rand (would have been $40 USD in Zurich).  If you have never been to Johannesburg you probably have no idea how expansive the city is, I was blown away.  Think of the entire DFW metroplex and you might get close.  It is expansive.

The hustle and bustle of Johannessburg

      The hustle and bustle of Johannessburg

(There are 55 Mercedes automobile dealerships in South Africa, German cars are popular)

The bus ended up passing through downtown Johannesburg and filled up at the Park City Station.  This is where I met Ari, a Canadian who works for the NGO CIET doing research on cultural/social perceptions of HIV/AIDS.  They have just completed a 96,000 person quantitative study in 10 countries.  An earlier study of 240,000 teens found that 1/6 of the survey takers said they would knowingly spread HIV/AIDS if they had it and 1/3 of them thought they had the disease (the actual prevalence rate in this age group is close to 4%).   

While Johannessburg was astoundingly massive, the road from there to Gaborone, Botswana will come close to fulfilling your expectations of rural Africa.


This is where the bus made a pit stop.  This is cattle and farm country, and houses have rustry appliances, farm eqipment, and vehicles out fron just like in the U.S.

This is where the bus made a pit stop 250km North of Johannessburg. This is cattle and farm country, and houses have rustry appliances, farm eqipment, and vehicles out fron just like in the U.S.

Because of immigration laws we had to disembark the bus and walk across the boarder of South Africa/Botswana in the chilly darkness of a winter night in the Southern Hemisphere.  The night smelled like the desert and plenty of chirping critters were working away.  It was somewhat cloudy, and the only things lit were the border stations and guards.  I was really glad I didn’t fly over this.








7 responses to “Travels in Southern Africa

  1. This sounds like a great experience. I agree with you, flying is not the way to see things onthe ground.


  2. Thanks for the trip and taking time to share it with us…..and to touch the very table where at least some of creations shortcoming came to terms with righteousness and allowed humanity a shot of hope.
    I think that Beryl Markum would argue that flying over the dark continent might allow an impressive argument from a birds perspective

  3. Love the stories and of course the pictures:)
    What another great journey!!!!

  4. Great photos Graham. Keep them coming please

  5. I have enjoyed your adventurs. You are doing a great job. Could you send me a few pictures of yourself for the Dsitrict Conference? When are you coming back to Texas?

  6. Super website hope to come back again=D

  7. Was looking on various directions on this topic and i must admit your method may be the 1 that makes far more sense to me. thanks for sharing

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