You probably noticed that GABROEN has had a couple of weeks of radio silence, or blog silence rather. Not sure if 'blog silence' is a word yet - I may just have invented it. The reason for the blog silence? GABROEN just returned from an awesome, 3-weeks trip to South Africa. With the limited number of vacation days when working in the U.S., such a long trip is pretty atypical, and probably a first for us since our honeymoon. In the office, coworkers started freaking out in the weeks running up to our departure, as if we would be gone for the whole winter. To make it more palatable, we included the Thanksgiving week - happy belated Thanksgiving everyone, and thank you for following our blog.
The trip being 3 weeks long, this will be a blog post in different acts. Starting with a high level itinerary here, and following with a number of posts to describe some of the highlights - and there have been many. We flew from Chicago to Amsterdam, where Gabri's mom Marianne joined us, and on to Cape Town. The first week included Cape Town, wine region, whale coast and garden route along the country's southwest coast. Second week was a first guided safari, long driving days to get to the northeast of the country, and more guided safaris. And the last couple of days were spent in famous Kruger Park, for some self-drive safari, before returning to Johannesburg and back home.
South Africa has beautiful scenery, much more mountainous than we had expected, and a network of well maintained roads that makes self driving relatively easy, albeit on the left side. Road maintenance also seems to be a continuous activity, and a way to create many many jobs, albeit very cheap labor, as well as a stimulus for the local micro-economies with people selling everything from fruit to phone charging cables. I don't recall ever seeing so much roadwork as in South Africa.
It's also a country of stark contrasts between rich and poor, largely along racial lines. Townships are present everywhere, and you can't ignore them even if you stick to the most touristic areas. In our case, we cut straight through The Cape Flats, the huge slums on the outskirt of Cape Town, because the road we wanted to take was closed off by police to intercept drug traffickers. We also drove through all of Transkei, birthplace of Nelson Mandela, a former homeland during the Apartheid days, and still a very poor area today that does not show up on many tourist itineraries. The contrast within the country is confusing, even distressing. It's incredibly rich in natural resources such as coal, gold, diamonds and platinum, as well as in fertile farmland, while shockingly poor in the vast slumps where the people live that mine and farm all that wealth, making just over a meager 50 cents per hour.
As a traveler in a comfortable rental car, cruising along beautiful landscapes and slums stretching out for miles, on highways that are used as walkway, dance floor, judo practice studio, and meeting place, the country is overwhelmingly rich in impressions, but confusing at the same time. We saw the happiest scenes in the poorest slums, which are devastated by AIDS and most heartbreaking to look at. So we just returned from a trip full of impressions, full of great safari game drives, and feel enriched.