I arrived in Port Elizabeth late at night with my hotel address in hand. At that hour, a taxi would be my only option, but it was hard to find one that looked very official. In South Africa, many cars just pop a magnetic taxi sign on their roofs and when you get in, they take them off. It rarely feels great when that happens, but I have had no issues in the cars. With a nod of the head from the bus driver, I found a cabbie who appeared to be all of about 18. He wasn’t sure where he was going, but stopped along the way to ask other taxi drivers. When I arrived at my guest house, I rang the bell and the owner came out..fresh from the shower… wearing a towel. It was a very homey place. I immediately liked the feeling of the guest house because the room was cozy. You could tell that it had a woman’s touch with tea and cookies, bottles of various products, and warmly painted walls and decorations. The owner made breakfast the next day and shared more about how she came to own the house. As a young woman, she had a job as a hotel reviewer, traveling along the garden route and writing about the various accommodations that were available. Not only was it a fun job, but she also learned about the small touches that made a place unique and exceptional. After being married for a few years, and moving away from her family, she had two young children when her husband was killed in a motorcycle crash. Her daughter was less than a year old and she couldn’t imagine being far from family. She moved into a rental house in PE while deciding what to do next. As she pondered her options, a nearby house was listed for sale…actually there were two joint houses available. She bought both of them and now lives in one and uses the other five room place as a guest house. It was a great set-up. She was overly gracious…making a delicious homemade breakfast, driving me to the bus station to make a ticket change, and providing a beach drop off and pick up. She organized a tour guide to take me to Addo Elephant Park and found a ticket to Cape Town using a convenient bus service. Her story weighed on me throughout my visit, especially while interacting with her kids, but she seemed resilient and strong. On my last morning in PE, my bus was late, so we chatted over tea. I learned her life story was much different than imagined. Her husband’s death was tragic, but after she was married, he was not only abusive to her, but he also began abusing their children. He was an adrenaline junkie who was always looking for a thrill that he often found when working at a casino. When he died on the motorcycle, there was a twenty year old girl on the back who was also killed. Her story reminded me that people have a lot in their lives that we often don’t see on the surface and of the saying that if each of us had the options of trading our burdens with others, we would probably keep our own.
While in Port Elizabeth, I spent a day at Addo National Park which is known for having many African Elephants. I went with a guide in a Land Rover. You can’t hike in parks here because of the wild animals, so you tour the parks from the safety of a truck. It was a really hot day…about 100 degrees, so many animals were hiding in the shade. We saw lots of birds, zebras, warthogs, rhinos, ostriches, and a few elephants from a distance. As the afternoon air cooled down, we were driving around the park when we strum led upon a few elephants standing in the middle of the road, oblivious to the nearby cars. It was fun to watch these marvels of nature, so strong, but so tender…at least on this day.
Port Elizabeth has a beautiful beachfront trail and it was nice to spend a day just walking and taking it all in.
I took a service called BazBus to Cape Town. It is a 15 passenger can that travels along the garden route picking up backpackers and taking them door to door at their hotels. I was excited to learn about this option because the other ticket I bought was an overnight bus where I would have
missed the beautiful scenery along the route. After a few stops, the bus was too crowded, so they got a second bus that traveled straight to Cape Town. Yes!!! The views were beautiful, but my as much as I expected. The crowd on the bus were backpackers who tend to chat a lot about drinking and parties, so it wasn’t great people watching either. But, it was fast, clean, and safe. All good. I lean red on the news that there have been 1,000 road fatalities in the month of December in South Africa. I haven’t seen any accidents, but that statistic has made me very aware of how drivers navigate the roads.
Cape Town has been called the most beautiful city in the world by multiple people I’ve met. My hotel was perfectly situated in the heart of the city, so I could wander around and enjoy the markets, shops, and restaurants. During my stay, I met with a friend of my aunt’s who lives in Cape Town. Carl met me for a drive around the city and a lovely prawn pizza lunch. The V&A Waterfront reminded me a lot of Navy Pier, but with many more shops and an amazing food market. Oh, I loved the market filled with interesting things to taste and all kinds of snacks food items.
Christmas Day was interesting. I woke up feeling a bit cranky about being alone, but I got over it quickly and decided to head to church and go to Table Mountain to see the amazing views. I walked into the church with only about twenty minutes left in the service and people were in the middle of individual prayer time. What I liked is that the prayer time was not head bowing quiet time, but really enthusiastic, devoted, heart cries of prayer. The room was filled with faith and passion. I left church feeling good about the day and thankful for my blessings. As I started my walk to Table Mountain, I realized that most people who had a home were likely enjoying it with their families. As I looked around, the streets were deserted outside of me and some homeless people or people who seemed downtrodden and maybe without someone to enjoy the holidays…sad faces, people talking to themselves, and bodies sleeping in corners seemed to be everywhere. I know it was no more than any big city, but with everyone else off the streets, it felt like a lot of sadness in the air. I wondered if it is the same at home and I just never noticed because I am one of the people enjoying my warm home.
When I arrived at the base of Table Mountain, I had been walking for about an hour. There is a three minute cable car ride to the top that I was planning to take, but I was surprised to see this area was quite busy…I mean really busy with a long line for tickets followed by a long line to get on the car. So, I made the decisions to hike to the top. I knew my flip flops would not impose a problem, but I did not count on the skirt I was wearing being a limitation. It is hard to get a wide stance for climbing rocks while wearing a skirt, but I hiked it up each time ad did okay. It took about three hours to get to the top and it was a struggle. My knee still hurts from when I fell on the bus. I have a bit of an “uh-oh” feeling about that, but I am not letting it stop my hiking. I didn’t spend as much time at the top as I should have because I knew I wanted to walk back to the hotel and wasn’t sure how long it stayed light outside. EVERYONE warns you about walking around South Africa at night. Hotel staff, taxi drivers, strangers…maybe zombies? Not sure, but hinky things must happen at night. I have yet to find out.
My half day tour to Cape Point and to see penguins was fun, but as I left Cape Town, I realized that I only touched the service of all the things I want to see. Having the holiday in the middle of the week limited some activities and I lounged around my hotel one morning. It’s nice to take time hanging out when the hotel is nice, but when I leave, I am always mad at myself for wasting precious minutes.
Back to Jburg…toured with a friend of Carl’s an saw some new places that I missed the first time!
One thing I have noticed about many Africans I have met…they cannot in good conscience let me leave their presence without discussing me having children. It is unheard of to them. Yesterday, I spent 30 minutes in Moses’ taxi and he lectured me about having no one to care for me in my old age, being a bit careless for spending my children’s money to “get around,” and insisted that I head home to immediately have two children of my own. He made me promise to consider it.
Overall, South Africa has been my favorite place so far. I want to move here, work here, teach here, or just come back soon! I already am thinking about summer, 2014 as a good option. Top spots so far that I want to visit again…Belize, Colombia, and South Africa…maybe Guatemala, too, but SA tops my list.
At the airport, I met a woman from Germany. She had a guy who has been her friend for years while they were both in other relationships. Anyway, one and a half weeks before he left for a five month African adventure, they shared a kiss…the first time the have both been single at the same time. He has been gone for a few months and has been longing to see him…both of them agreeing that they were in love. Two days ago, the motorbike he is traveling on broke down. On the dame day, her boss told her she had to use excess vacation time, so in less than two hours, she had booked an 11 day trip to Africa and was at the store buying motorbike parts he needs. Oh, my! My heart felt so good for her and excited about the great reunion they will have.
I am on a flight now heading to Victoria Falls on the Zimbabwe side. It’s a short stop before heading to Tanzania. Even as I say that, I am still awed by it!