Dec 30, 2012


So our first sip of safari was a guided tour through Addo Elephant National Park (see yesterday's post South Africa - land of weavers) and it tasted like more. The only problem was that the big game reserves were a 2-day drive away, through an area called Transkei, or "yonder side of the Kei River". We were not looking forward to the long haul, but decided against flying this stretch as it would give us an opportunity to also see this part of the country. And there was something mysterious to an area called on the yonder side of the Kei River.

We were not comforted by the owners of the citrus farm where we were staying in Addo, making remarks like "are you driving that route?" and "well, it's not unsafe, but you'll see for yourself". Well, we did see indeed. Taking heed of their other advice ("fill up on gas before you enter, close your windows, lock your doors, and do not stop for that 6 hour stretch"), we drove through a place that was different from anything we ever saw before. Transkei is the birthplace of Nelson Mandela, is black and very poor, with grassy hills littered by small huts as far as the eye can see. 

Kids in school uniforms are walking or hitch hiking along the highway at any time of the day, making you wonder if they actually attend school, or whether their uniform is the only clothing they have. Most of them do have a smartphone, which must cost more than the hut they live in. And most of them are happy, dancing, singing and laughing along that same highway. 

The highway in South Africa, and in particular in Transkei, functions as the town square in other areas of the world; a central point where people meet, chat, dance, take judo lessons, you name it. And cars, heave trucks and taxi vans loaded with more than 12 passengers zip by at over 60 miles per hour. All of this becomes a big beehive of people when the same highway takes you through the city of Mthatha, where thousands of people crisscross the road doing nothing in particular. Or at least it was not clear to us what people were doing, but that could very well be pure ignorance on our behalf. We were mere spectators from the comfort of our rental car, keeping that strange world out by locked doors and closed windows.

It was a strenuous and long 2 days of driving. Interesting to see, but next time we'll probably fly.

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