A Little Adrift… Dispatch from Africa: Impressions

Last Updated on March 10, 2014

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.

Cape Agulhas

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?

Strusbaai Harbor
Sunset in Strusbaai, near the southernmost point in Africa.
Strusbaai Harbor near Cape Agulhas
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.

Cape of Good Hope
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.

African Penguins at Boulders Beach, Cape Peninsula

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.

32 thoughts on “A Little Adrift… Dispatch from Africa: Impressions”

  1. Hey! For literature from this region I would highly recommend Andre Brink’s ‘ A Dry White Season’ . You can also check out other books by Brink, J.M Coetzee and Nadine Gordimer.

  2. Sorry about your computer! That sucks! But loved the podcasts. You sounded awesome!!! Loved when you were talking about the photos and the woman’s hands – spot on! We missed you on Monday – hope you are doing well! xoxo

  3. I’m enjoying your South Africa adventure! Sorry to hear about your laptop! I would love to give some advice regarding Mac vs PC however have only been a PC user to date and am just now making the switch to MAC. I hope your fix comes quickly, I can imagine how frustrating that must be when your work depends on it. :)

    • I’m now in your boat — making the transition to Mac. They won’t fix the PC so I dived in and made the switch. Good luck! I love it already, but there is a learning curve to some of it. :)

  4. Oh, Shannon, you are in one of my favorite parts of the world! Of course, every place I have gone to is one of my favorite places. Your dispatch created memories, of both the wonderful and the still sad vestiges of apartheid. Boulders Beach is one of the best experiences ever….I did not want to leave.

    • The penguins were such a highlight — and I hear you can swim with them if you’re on the nearby beaches, but it was rainy and cold the day I went so I didn’t see anyone doing that!

  5. A quick thought on your computer debate. I always assume my computer will break or get lost/stolen, rust from the humidity (can they do that?), so I always just bought something cheap. My last one was a Toshiba 11 inch netbook – it got stolen (when I was back home visiting family mind you) so I replaced it with an Acer 11 inch. I paid $300-$350 for each. So even if I have to replace them every 12-18 months I’m not too fussed. Even a fancy MacBook Air you will probably want to upgrade in a few years anyway… And you never have to worry about leaving a $1500 computer laying around your guesthouse.
    Disposable computing. Is this where we’re headed? Anyway, just a thought..

    • Thanks for sharing your thoughts here Nate. My theory was going to be along these lines.. but their low-end PCs were in the $700 range here because of import taxes. It made it really hard to decide bc the PCs were crap but would have cost heaps — so I went with the Mac. But, I do generally agree and it’s long been how I travel — with something that’s not too flashy and doesn’t scream money.

  6. Shannon, dump the PC get a macbook, you won’t regret it. I can’t tell you the amount of times my macbook did crash on me (usually during grad school paper or exam) but I could at least fix it myself or take it to an Apple store. A PC on the other hand, well good luck and you end up waiting days to get a repair answer back.

    I’ll keep my fingers crossed that your PC can be fixed, but I would switch if I were you.

    • Thanks for weighing in Lisa; they wouldn’t fix the PC so I made the plunge and am the proud owner of a Macbook Air!!! I appreciate the recommendation :)

  7. Love your insight. As a tourist I loved visiting South Africa but can see a divide still between the races. They are all friendly with each other but definitely not equal. If you haven’t done a township tour I highly recommend it- they are fascinating to explore and usually the people are happy to share their story. Also, if you are renting a car, head East towards Port Elizabeth along the Garden Route – it’s a beauty! If you can check out Plettenberg Bay – that’s where I stay – a lot of fun activities in that area. Hope you enjoy the rest of your trip!!

    • Thanks for the recommendation Katrina! I wasn’t going to do a Township tour at first as I wasn’t sure about them, but I have heard great things, I appreciate you weighing in! :)

  8. So excited for your trip Shannon! We love this post, and we hope your laptop gets fixed soon so you can continue your work without interruption. We’ll continue to follow your African adventure because we are planning to make our way there very soon. ;) As far as switching computers, I made the switch 18 months ago, and overall it’s been great. Less crashing, more stability. I will say that there are often simple time-saving tweaks available on a PC that you end up having to install a paid app to achieve on a Mac. It’s an annoyance, but not enough to make me switch back. The other thing is you will often find yourself in situations where you need an Apple store either for accessories or support, and the nearest one might be a plane flight away! I’d still recommend a Mac…though you might want to also have it configured to dual-boot Windows 7 as well. That way you can kind of still dabble in the PC world when you feel like it or if you have software that is PC only.

    • Thanks Marvin! When are you coming, anytime in the next few months?! Thanks for the advice, I have heard that the dual-boot is a pretty simple way to still have the functionality of a PC while transitioning to the Mac. Hmm… you nearly have me convinced. I think so long as I don’t have to buy a computer here, the Air is in my future. Safe travels and get over here asap, it’s great! :)

      • I wish! If we were, I’d offer to buy you a Mac here in Malaysia and then I’d carry it over to you! ;) We’ll be heading over at the end of summer, and spending about a month there. Hopefully the stars align, and Josephine and I would be thrilled to meet up with you again! Meanwhile, safe travels and keep up the great work!

  9. I don’t want to be one of those annoying Mac guys either, so I will just give you my experience. I was a PC user for 10 years before making the switch. I was tired of my PC freezing up all the time, but mostly I just felt like I needed an OS holiday; I felt stale looking at the same thing everyday. I got a Macbook Air which I still can’t believe how light and sleek it is. I was able to find my way around from day one but it took me a good 6 months until I was completely used to it.

    • You make a compelling case James, because I knew you when you were still a PC advocate. Y’all may have swayed me, and I guess a 6 month adjustment period isn’t too long in the grand scheme of things.

  10. Damn those penguins are cute!

    I switched to a Macbook Air before I left for latin america last year. To be honest I can’t see myself going back to PC’s. Everything is so much easier and intuitive and with the SSD it goes like lightning. The only thing I’d do differently is get as much memory as possible as I’m using Lightroom and Photoshop more. If you’re using alot of PC based programs for work then you can still do so.

    • So cute!! If I switch it will be to the Air, and it’s a pretty nice looking machine, I have to say. Thanks for the rec on memory, I bet it makes it run so much smoother with the heavy-weight programs like Lightroom, so I will def upgrade it if I get one! Thanks for weighing in, so far the Cult of Mac is winning in the comments. :)

  11. I have been telling you MAC for as long as I’ve known you, and I will continue to tell you that until you switch :)

  12. In your Mac vs PC debate, you seem to be forgetting another possibility….Chromebooks. There is a lot of bad information out that as it is really a new category of device. I use mine quite extensively as my primary device. Let me know if you’d like the pros and cons. I’ve used every model they have and can give you some insight.

    • Hmm, I hadn’t considered the Chromebooks, do they have SSDs? It may be that I could get something like that to see me through the rest of Africa if they can’t fix my laptop. My main thing is that I thought you couldn’t really run the intensive programs like Lightroom and Photoshop on those?

      • Yes, it does have an SSD. I’m not sure what you do in Photoshop, but have you looked at pixlr editor? I use that on my Chromebook and it does nearly everything I need it to do that I previously did in Photoshop. I use WeVideo for online video editing. More and more programs are becoming available online because of the popularity of Chromebooks. And, you can access all your files and setting from any device that has Chrome installed (including your iPhone) so your files are easily accessible. One thing I haven’t been able to do is mirror my desktop. I can project it onto another monitor or projector, but can’t then see the desktop on the Chromebook. I would like to be able to do my presentations from it, but that is not possible with the Chromebooks, with the exception of the high-end Google Pixel.

        • I should add Pixlr has an offline mode called Pixlr Touch Up. And, you can get 3 Chromebooks for the cost of 1 Macbook Air.


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