Categories: AfricaSouth AfricaTravel

A Little Adrift… Dispatch from Africa: Impressions

Week two of the African journey has ended, and I’m on my own from here out. Looking back though, the final leg of our South African road trip started at the country’s rugged coastline as we left the wide stretches of farmland behind and worked our way down the southern coast.

We spent days hugging the coastal waters and skirting mountain ranges until we reached the southernmost point in Africa. Cape Agulhas is a rock-strewn and windy beach punctuated by a shipwreck, a lighthouse, and a long boardwalk allowing us to watch the clash of rough waters where the Indian and Atlantic Oceans meet. From there, Gary and I headed further along the coast to the Cape Peninsula—and a much more touristy area of South Africa—before heading into Cape Town and then, sadly, parting ways as he heads to St. Helena and I am here for another week or two.

On Tech and Travel

Along with the pretty vistas though, this past week was entirely framed by the sad demise of my laptop. And, if you follow me, you know I use my laptop for client-work, which is the sole way I fund my travels. A small water incident just as our road trip hit the coast led to an endless litany of international phone calls, domestic phone calls, and back-and-forth with my international warranty providers to get it fixed. It is, if I am lucky, getting fixed, so cross your fingers.

And this entire debacle begs the question of tech gear and which laptops are best for international travel. In 2010, I used a Mac on loan for three months and I loathed it… I really just loved my PC. In addition to familiarity, I have easily fixed PCs many-a-time on the road (Bangkok in 2009 and Bali in 2010 to name just two—I’m hard on my gear!). But Gary made a compelling case for switching to a Mac, and that is their policy on international repairs, which seem a lot more friendly than what I just went through.

Add to that strong recommendations from my favorite tech-travel gurus at Too Many Adapters, and I may make the switch this summer. Import duties here make buying a Mac here astronomically more expensive than in the US, so I am hoping they can fix my PC. But, change is a’comin’ methinks.

Thoughts? I know the Cult of Mac has many diehards, can anyone weigh in on what it’s like to fix a Mac overseas?

Sunset in Strusbaai, near the southernmost point in Africa.

Kids fish at dusk in the calm waters of the harbor.

On South African Culture

This past week, OnTravel, a show on the American Forces Radio Network, invited me to join Gary on a two-part episode about our South African road trip (part one, part two). We discussed our first impressions here, from what it is like to travel through post-apartheid South Africa to the infrastructure and misconceptions surrounding this region of the world.

I own up to holding many misconceptions before I landed because I did not properly prepare for traveling here. With the flurry of NatGeo activities just before I left, I did far less pre-trip reading than I had planned.

The reality on the ground here is of a developed infrastructure ideal for tourism. I know some of the more developing places I will visit next won’t have this, but I had lumped South Africa into that as well, and it’s not the case. The country has well-maintained roads, many guesthouses, and well-run tours throughout the more populated areas. While vast distances do separate many cities, it’s easy to use the web of hotels and roads to explore. It’s travel-able in a way many people overlook or assume is not the case.

The mainstream media paints this entire continent with a twin brushstrokes of unsafe and troubled under the best of circumstances and war-torn at the worst; South Africa is casually marked within those assumptions too. Yet the are moments when it seems as easy and high-functioning as any modern city back home.

Gary and I noted that Cape Town feels a lot like San Francisco in climate and vibe. But then, that is just a perception as well. The legacy of issues here snapped into view when we drove through the outskirts of each city. Before I make the picture too rosy, a short drive out of Cape Town yielded views of the largest township I’ve seen so far;  corrugated tin houses stretched far into the horizon and the stark poverty of this predominantly black area lied just on the edge of wealthy towns built to pull tourist dollars from the hot-spots of the Cape of Good Hope and Cape Point.

A shot of the Cape of Good Hope from the Cape Point Lighthouse right at the tip of the peninsula.

Just last week, I described how the vast plains often gave way to the sudden rise of towering mountain ranges, so too, the cities change from very developed and Western, to sprawling townships awash in poverty. Some locals in town tell me of changes, of the slow process of building solid homes in these areas to replace the tin shanties, but to understand more I need to read up a lot more on this part of the country’s history.

I’d like to crowd-source some good books I should read about this region—any recommendations?

Exploring the Southern Coast

Like any new place, there are fun and frivolous discoveries as well. Tourism dollars pour into the Cape Peninsula for good reason—gorgeous views and cute animals are pretty compelling.  Cape Point is home to a very adorable colony of African penguins, marked by a pink blush above their eyes, which live in just a few coastal colonies in this region. A lot of people assume these little guys don’t live outside of Antarctica, but places like Melbourne, Australia also have their own breed of penguins calling home to their cool waters.

The penguin colony have a prime spot too, they live on a beach just down the road from Cape Point and the Cape of Good Hope—panoramas worthy of applause. From the top of Cape Point, only white patches of surf mar the stretches of unrelenting rough blue waters to give evidence the dangerous, rocky coastline boats face as they round the southern tip of Africa into Cape Town Harbor.

Thus far, the trip continues on a more travel-y side until I can fix my computer and start investigating some social enterprises. In terms of places to be stuck for a while though, Cape Town is not shabby. The clucking toddler wandering my internet cafe reminds me it’s time to head out into the sunny day and continue exploring the neighborhoods and markets of my new and very temporary home.