It's been only a couple weeks, but so far, Tim and I have learned quite a bit. And the following are just a few of our first lessons that South Africa has taught us.
Lesson 1 - Things are Upside-Down and Backwards
It took about a week (and a whole lot of expensive payments) to get our motorcycle successfully flown from Canada to South Africa, including a transfer in London. But at last we uncrated her in a warehouse in Cape Town, and there she was, sheepskin seat cover and all: our good old bike that had taken us through hell and back again, and was about to do it all again.
And it's not just roads that are backwards here. This is the southern hemisphere, so now the sun is always to the north, the ocean currents spin the other way, the seasons are opposite, and the other night as we were looking at the stars, we found the constellation of Orion (you can see him from both hemispheres near the horizon), and noticed that he was upside-down on his head! But I guess if you think about it, we're really the ones standing upside-down here at the bottom of the world.
Lesson 2 - Tread Carefully
In 2018, the country had over 20,000 murders and had the most recorded rapes per capita in the world. And I know it's one thing to see these statistics or read the news and get freaked out because you've heard only the worst-case scenarios. But it's another thing to hear from the locals on a daily basis that we shouldn't walk around at night, that we should never wild camp, that we should never leave the bike alone, and at one beach we stopped at to take pictures, a fellow beach-goer warned us that we simply shouldn't be there and it would be best if we left right away.
During Apartheid, the land was divided up according to this racial hierarchy, which has equated to a lasting disparity of only 7% of the population owning 70% of the land. As is the case in my own country, an imbalance like this is not easily fixed, and progress towards more economic equality has been painfully slow.
Corrugated metal houses for as far as the eye could see, electric wires held up by leaning poles, lines of laundry strung up between shelters, and dirt streets full of barefoot children and rusted cars with no tires. Actually this is nothing new, but it was the scale and permanence of it all that blew me away. Not hundreds, but thousands of these houses surrounded us, in every direction, over every hill there was more of the same. Nearly 400,000 people live in this shanty town alone, that's a sixth of all the people who live in the entire province of Western Cape!
So no wild camping for us. No leaving our bike outside of pharmacies and grocery stores as we just pop in for a moment. But at the same time, we're determined to explore this incredible country, even if it must be done cautiously.
Lesson 3 - Keep Your Eyes Open for Wildlife
The top of Table Mountain felt like another world from the bustle of the city down below: it's cool up there, foggy, and covered in windswept grassy knolls and swampy bogs chirping in frogs. As we walked around, Tim suddenly pointed to three tiny antelope hopping amongst the bushes. They're called klipspringers, and they stood majestically on boulders, giving us long stares with their dark eyes, not like they were scared of us, but almost like they were just as curious in us and we were in them.
Sure enough, we did see baboons along the roads, lots of them. Baboons are ground-dwelling monkeys with short tails that live only in Africa and the Middle East. These ones we've seen have been Olive Baboons, known for their dog-like muzzles and long fangs. A bite from one of these is very bad news. People warned us of their aggressive tendencies, and once I googled Olive Baboons, I discovered that their real name is Papio anubis, named after Anubis, the Ancient Egyptian god of death and the underworld. Great.
Lesson 4 - Don't Trust Your Eyes, Trust Your Nose
Driving through the hills and mountains along South Africa's southern coast has offered us some stunning views, and we very easily forgot where we were. Around the Cape of Good Hope and toward Cape L'Agulhas (the most southern tip of Africa), sometimes the mist hung over the cliffs and the cold ocean pounded the seashore rocks like we were somewhere off the coast of Ireland. I could smell the salty sea foam in the air, but after suddenly getting a whiff of wet fish, I recognized a new odor: the smell of penguins. And my vision of Ireland quickly faded as I watched a little black and white penguin waddle by.
On another occasion, we were on the winding dirt road of Swartberg Pass. The cliffs were beige and red with little patches of green thorny shrubbery along the streams and wetter valleys. With long and dusty views, I pictured myself in Utah, or New Mexico, but then our local friend handed us a dried sausage of Oryx meat (called Dröewors, DROO-eh-vorsh), and I let the smell of its wild-gamey saltiness soak into my nostrils, reminding me that this is definitely not like home. This is Africa.
I had just been thinking that it smelled like a zoo. And sure enough there were monkeys in all the trees, mothers with babies, older males watching us with human-like eyes. They were Vervet Monkeys, all white except for their black faces. Unfortunately, we couldn't get any pictures of them, but it was a moment, and a smell, I won't soon forget.
“Yes!" I said just as the smell hit me, just like the soap we kept in the bottom of our pannier. But was it melting from the heat of the bike? Or had somebody been wearing some intense perfume as we rode by? And then I realized it: orange blossoms! We were passing orange tree orchards and the tiny white blossoms made the whole region smell like a soapy perfume.
Tim and I sucked in the rich fragrance until all of a sudden we must have passed a cattle farm and both simultaneously went, “Ughhh!" at the putrid stench of manure. Not all the smells of South Africa are inviting.
Lesson 5 - Learn to Braai
But most everything in South Africa revolves around braai, (said like try, but brai) which is the Afrikaans term for barbecuing over wood or coals (and who doesn't love that?). Last Tuesday was National Heritage Day in South Africa, but everyone told us they generally called it National Braai Day. Braai centers around barbecuing meat, such as boerewors (pronounced BOO-reh-vorsh, meaning farmer's sausage) which is a spiraled sausage of mostly beef and clove-like spices. But braaing can be done with any meat, and lamb chops is a regional favorite.
Basically, South African food has simply blown my tastebuds away, and I've been loving every bite of it. And I haven't even mentioned South African wine yet...
Where We Went
Next up we're heading along the Wild Coast toward the mysterious mountains of a little country known as the Kingdom in the Sky: Lesotho (I won't blame you if you haven't heard of it). So stay tuned!
And thank you to all of our readers! Keep following us, and we'll keep up with the adventures!