Tuesday, January 20, 2009
WHAT I DID ON MY SUMMER/CHRISTMAS VACATION
Three of us banded together to rent a car and live the high life in South Africa. The partners are Madeline (61 yr old teacher and PCV who will be here for 8 more months) and Karrin (44 yr old nurse who is in my group). Karrin did all the research and made all the reservations so I had the pleasure of following along. I also knew that I wasn’t ready to drive on the “wrong” side of the road, let alone with a stick shift – so Madeline and Karrin did all of the driving.
A friend drove us across the border from Lesotho to the closest nice city in S.Africa, Bloemfontein. It is about an hour across the border and a couple of light years in culture and amenities. I find myself becoming so disoriented when I step across into the world of S.Africa where it is White –people- filled, English speaking, modern and clean. Bloem has a couple of big malls, great restaurants, movie theaters (there are none in Lesotho), and hotels. This all equals culture shock and a great sense of abundance. PC gives us permission to go into S.Africa (within an hour of the border) 2 weekends per month, without having to claim vacation time. It seems to be good for mental health days, when the constriction of village life gets to be too much. We spent the night in Bloem then headed-out with our rental car the next day.
We drove south and then east toward the Indian Ocean for nearly 10 hours. Our first six nights were spent in Port Saint Johns, a smallish town on the “wild coast”. I believe it is called the Wild Coast because of its remoteness and its weather. It has a long history of shipwrecks with interesting stories to go along. The coastline is gorgeous, with countless white sandy beaches, each with their own character and surf. It reminded me a lot of Big Sur, with jagged cliffs dropping off into the ocean. The water temperature was perfect for frolicking and wave-jumping. The area itself was low-key with a comfortable mix of Blacks and Whites. During Apartheid, the area was a township, where Blacks were sent to live, but many still had to leave the area to find work. This is also very close to Nelson
Mandella’s home. It is mostly Xhosa-speaking and culture. It is also known as an old hippy-enclave which, personally, I feel gives it a little extra charm. The town of 5,000 had a few nice restaurants and I ate great fresh-catch fish every night. Karrin seemed to be a man-magnate so one evening, after meeting someone on the beach, we were invited to their lodging for an amazingly scrumptious meal of fresh line-caught Kob and Rock Lobsters, cooked on the grill in front of us. Their lodging was in the park reserve with a single house over-looking the ocean and beach. Just as we were finishing dinner, the infamous ship-wrecking winds arose like a banshee and practically swept us off the hillside. These 2 men run an “outdoor leadership” program which takes people into the game parks and teaches one all the skills you might want for the great outdoors – sounds like an Outward Bound for adults -except you have the excitement of wild game all around.
We combined the time with beach-walking, swimming, exploring the area in the car (waterfalls, overlooks), and hanging on the deck watching the surf revelers. We split the time between 2 hotels on 2 different beaches to have a variety. All of the customers were White, most of the help was Black. We would always take the opportunity to talk as much as possible with both races to find out about the South African experience. Anyone over 20 has lived through some of the Apartheid era (“ending” in 1994) and it continues to be palpable; through the wounding you can feel in the Black culture, through the poverty, and through some of the patronizing airs of the Whites. Unemployment, poverty and AIDS are crushing the country. (Ironically, most everyone in Lesotho dreams of going to S.Africa for work.)
I forgot to mention that we actually celebrated Christmas a tiny bit. The lodge had a nice buffet and was sweetly decorated. I brought some special cherry liquor and we had a little present exchange. Madeline and I attended an Anglican Xhosa church service that morning. ( It wasn’t nearly as rockin’ as the nuns get here!) Our beach area filled-up with many people doing the tail-gate parties and cooking, music blaring, bars rocking, people racing in and out of the waves – it was very merry.
After those 6 nights, we drove north past Durban and then headed east along the northern edge of Lesotho. The beach area around and south of Durban looked like California. It was filled with jet-skis, pretty cars, and super hiways. I will tackle Durban on another vacation. We spent the next two nights in a town called Clarens, just over the northern border of Lesotho. It is known as an artist enclave and another wonderful getaway place. It is on the edge of a very gorgeous area called Golden Gate Park – reminds us of Sedona and Zion Park. It has some game – Eland, Antelope, Zebra, Baboons. We spent a day hiking around the various look-outs and driving through looking for game. In town, the shops, restaurants and galleries were top class. This part of the country was fought-over and settled by the Boers (historically it was Basotholand) and that mentality is bursting through the thin crust. On the edge of Clarens is a Black shantytown that is made of tin and concrete. We saw some of these in the various drives around S.Africa. It is always shocking and dismaying to see the terrible circumstances in which people must live.
After doing a 360 around Lesotho, K & M dropped me off at the nearest border crossing to Peka where I easily grabbed public transport to get me home. I think I am beginning to get the hang of driving on the wrong side – it is almost the right side. If I had an automatic I think I could do it. Car rental places are not easily accessible, still requiring some significant travel to get to one, but for us rich people, it seems the best and most efficient way to travel out of country.