Monthly Archives: February 2012

South Africa: Sun, surf, race-consciousness, remote working and travel

I had the great fortune of spending the last three weeks in Cape Town, South Africa. My girlfriend, Lidiya, was working there for three months and I made plans to join her for the end of the stay. I stayed at Salty Crax, a very cool hostel by the beach, for the first two weeks of the trip and worked remotely from there while enjoying only a tiny bit of huge amount Cape Town has to offer.

Salty Crax Backpackers

Salty Crax Backpackers

I’d been talking about the trip for a long time and any mention of South Africa seemed to be met by horror stories. Even Lidiya’s impressions from her first few weeks there were filled with stories from locals about murder, theft, quite open racism. Arriving in Cape Town though, I felt good from the moment I arrived and the dangers seem to be the same as any other big city. I didn’t experience or witness or even hear any stories of crime while I was there. Any other travellers I spoke with commented on the overexagerations of people ‘back home’ and even from locals. I’m aware not all spots in South Africa are as welcoming as Cape Town, but without writing an essay on balancing the pros and cons of visiting South Africa, I’d like to suggest things are not as bad as many make out and the country is an amazing travel destination.

One thing I did find was that I was super race-conscious initially. I noted how all cleaners, ย construction workers and most people working in convenience stores and on the public transport systems are black. And then soon after realised that I was searching for inequality, remnants of apartheid and that my short term and limited observations were by no means an accurate reading of the situation in the country or even in Cape Town. From the little I experienced, I’m deeming myself unqualified to offer any opinion on the social equality of the country.

What I did experience were some of the gems South Africa has to offer, especially for travellers. And I met some amazing people… Here’s my story in pictures.

Hiking Lions Head, Table Mountain in the backgroundHiking Lion’s Head with Lidiya as clouds pass over Table Mountain in the back.

Accidental caricatures on Lion's Head descentAccidental human caricatures…

Cool tree

Very cool and interesting plant life, almost all local plants appear exotic if you’re from Dublin.

Penguins on boulder beach

We visited Boulder Beach in Simons Town and walked among penguins. They’re amazing!

I saw jaws drop a couple of times when I mentioned that Lidiya and I hitchhiked in SA (all our trips were short and great and safe). After meeting the penguins, we walked back through Simonstown and decided on a cheese-less pizza. We have 20 minutes before the last train departed for Cape Town. After explaining the situation to the pizza people, they assured us it would be ready in 10 mins. We paid up while waiting and got ready to make a quick exit… about 10 minutes later we were jogging, pizza box in hand, towards the station with plenty of time left. It was a 5 minute walk and we should have arrived 5 minutes before the trains departure. When we got to the station a guy across the road was bellowing at us ‘You missed the train! Whatch you gona do now!?’ over and over… We were early, though it turned out the train took off early and left without us.

After a half minute of indecision we headed across the road and stuck out our thumbs, and within the next 20 seconds the first car stopped. It turned out to be a Hungarian couple who were also travelling. We got in and talked and explained the train story. They told us about their travels and recommended their most impressionable spots. Wild Spirit, they told us, was a magical place in a rain forest on the garden route… We didn’t even know there was rain forest in South Africa. We noted the place around the same time we understood that they were not travelling back to Cape Town, but only going a few towns further. We decided we’d try to continue to hitch back and worst case, resort to a pricey taxi. Then we spotted out train; up ahead four of five hundred metres, snaking along the coast. We hadn’t planned on catching up, but after two towns we seemed to be ahead of the train. The next town was where our Hungarian friends were stopping for the night, so they sped up and searched through the town for the train station. We’d lost sight of the train at that stage and were no longer running parallel to the tracks. At what seemed like the last moment, we spotted the station, asked to stop, said goodbyes and thanks as we ran from the car, almost lost our pizza as the wind flipped the lid open, ran across a courtyard, ran through the unmanned entrance and arrived on the platform just as the train doors slid open. We boarded the train, smiled, and thoroughly enjoyed the pizza, the cause of the whole experience… ๐Ÿ™‚ It tasted great. ๐Ÿ™‚ Our hitchhike lasted only 15 minutes and it ended up shaping the best part of our trip…

Success Pizza!

We met an innovative busker half way hiking up table mountain another day…

And went on a day safari (which was like going to a big zoo really…)On safari at AquilaI feel so fortunate and grateful that I can take my work with me anywhere… ๐Ÿ™‚ And got to work from some beautiful places.

Pukalolo Sunset

The autumn has just started in SA and so many local fruits were in season… We stuffed ourselves regularly with mango, grapes, honeydew melon, watermelon, prickly pears, queen pineapples, peaches… And the fruit is ridiculously cheap as well.

Mango in Company GardenFor any chocolate lovers, I discovered a the shop of Honest Artisan raw organic vegan Chocolate. They have only one shop in the world, in Cape Town, and hand make their chocolate in a small space at the back of the shop. The chocolate is hand tempered and made with only organic ingredients. It’s some of the best chocolate I’ve ever tried… They make the most amazing mint truffles! Check them out.

Honest Artisan Chocolate

We visited the Old Mill Biscuit Market, the greatest market I’ve been too in terms of atmosphere, diversity and quality.

Old Mill Biscuit Market, Cape TownLidiya, Thabo and I on Glen Beach. Thabo picked us up from hiking Devil’s Peak and we explored some of the coast line and had a great evening together.

Hitchhiking on Glen's Beach

We canoed through a valley, in the middle of a rain forest, on the Touw river in Wildeness National Park. The water was warm and very swimming friendly.

Canoeing on the Touw, the Golden River

Showers with a view at Wild FarmShowers with a view at Wild Farm Backpackers. This place was one of the best I’ve ever stayed at.

Wild Spirit wood workTo continue the story of our brief Hungarian hitchhiking adventure. We did end up visiting Wild Spirit as the couple recommended. I could write pages on our short stay here. First off, I felt at home, and so happy here from the moment Lidiya and I arrived. As if we had stumbled across something magical, like we were really meant to find this place. Shortly after arriving I met Jenny, the owner, and we got on so well immediately. She impressed me straightaway as a very happy person, and I soon experienced the strength and love and creativity and vision that made up some of the rest of her incredible character. I was privileged to hear some of her story, and that of Wild Spirit and it’s evolution over the years. While we talked, a couple who were staying in the room next to Lidiya and myself, picked a corner and played a set of their own songs. They were amazing, some of the happiest people I’ve ever met. Another after another got up to play and sing and all that seemed important or unimportant in life became easy and clear. I blissed out, walked to the handrail of the dining area, which was outdoors on a raised platform, leaned my head over the rails and the sound of crickets and other bugs intensified in the night. I breathed deeply and saw the Milky Way clearly above, then bowed back into the sound of the music with a smile and a feeling that I would remember this night as something special…

Monkey Land

We saw monkeys!

Waterfall Swimming at Wild Spirit

And swam naked at waterfalls…

South Africa national flower: Protea

This is the Protea, the national flower of SA.

 

VinesWe found the most amazing vine…

Bungee at Storm's River Village

And did the worlds highest bungee, 216m. ๐Ÿ™‚

I will go back to South Africa for sure. There’s so much I want to see and do. I feel like I experienced 0.5% of the country, but it was an amazing 0.5%. ๐Ÿ™‚