PART FOUR: Dubee, Dube, Dubai

My feet looked like they belonged to a hairless Hobbitt – swollen beyond recognition, and painful. But, I had chosen this flight so that I had the time to meander around Dubai’s souks, and by golly, that was what I was going to do. I hobbled through to the bathroom – the first stall I walked into was definitely going to prove to be too much for me to handle in my current sleepless state, but fortunately, Dubai knows they need to cater for international visitors and the next stall had more familiar plumbing.

No. No, I am not using that.

No. No, I am not using that.

Then, walking the 15 miles to where I could leave my carry-on luggage. (On my return later that day, it turned out to be only a few meters, but at the time…), and I was on my way towards the taxis. The driver navigated his way through extraordinary traffic more like Johannesburg rush hour to Old Dubai and dropped me off at the souk I wanted to go to. It was the second market on my list, but my feet were not going to carry me along the far longer adventure I had planned.

The first couple of vendors were amusing, but I quickly tired of seeing every vendor selling the same thing, and trying the same harassing tactics – and clearly not recognizing me from the less than 5 minutes I had passed by previously. I stopped for a smoothie, sitting among a clientele of mainly women, dressed in everything from western clothing, to full burkas. All the servers were men, as were the vast majority of people on the streets.

The spice souk would have been much more fun if not for my feet and my exhaustion, but breathing in the rich scents of exotic spices and flowers made me wonder if a return trip would be worth it. It turned out the spice souk is very small, and I made it through quickly, on my way to the Dubai Creek.

The abras were filling up and for a Dirham, I hopped on board to be ferried across the gorgeous creek to the old historic sites. It is truly gorgeous - modern buildings glistening in the sun, the Creek's sapphire blue waters lapping against the abra.... and just the few minutes provided some relief to my poor feet, now blistering badly despite the comfortable shoes I was wearing.

I limped through the old souk – again, with every vendor selling the same pashminas and ornaments. Stop at one and you've seen them all, and after that, there seemed little need to keep walking. I'm an idiot: I kept walking, finally reaching an ancient-looking building which turned out to be the Dubai Museum. I tried to enter the exit and was sent on another 1000-mile hobble around to the front of the building, and found that it was actually worth the visit. If I ever return to Dubai, the museum would be on the itinerary: it looked like it was an interesting view of the country and its history. A tourist from one of the Asian countries took much of my attention as she stopped every few feet with her Wand of Narcissus, and took pictures, without once reading the information plaques, or studying the exhibits.

My feet carried me through it, and I longed to study the exhibits in greater depth, but the pain and exhaustion didn’t allow me to linger - all I longed for was a shower and comfortable seat back at the airport.

Click on pics to see them all:

On the way back to the old souk, I stopped to check out my feet, and they were covered with blisters and blood. Nothing for it, but to find the abra, and then a taxi to get me back to Terminal 3.

The abra was easy. On the passage across the creek, I asked the man sitting next to me where I could get a taxi to the airport, and he suggested that I rather get the train.

I followed him through the streets until he pointed towards a large building and said I could get a train “down there”, or a taxi – he waved vaguely – “over there". I thanked him for his helpfulness, hoping my sarcasm was lost in translation, and pondered the options: I’m probably never coming back to Dubai. I’ve already caught a taxi. So, in the interest of a new experience, I made my way to the train station. As I got closer, I started to think that it really didn’t look much like a train station, but rather more like a mall. I asked a couple of people on my way in that direction, and it was only the final person who pointed away from the large building, currently at my 12 o’clock, to my 9 o’clock, and a small glass pyramid-shape nestled in trees.

It was only another block. I could make it.

Down the escalators and into the subway, towards an information/ticket counter where the man rattled off the names of the stations I needed to get to. You know, when one lives in a place, names are familiar, and the idea that they sound like gibberish to a foreigner doesn’t occur. I hoped I’d caught enough syllables to make it.

The trains in Dubai are fabulous: smart, clean, fast, and safe. I suspected any effort to graffiti even the smallest item would result in severe punishment. I changed trains from Baniyas Station to Union Square and a quick change to land happily at Terminal 3. Considering my ability to get lost on a bridge (yes, that happened), I was amazed and wondered if I shouldn’t do more navigating when dead-tired, since alertness clearly doesn’t work for me. More on that later.

I fetched my carry-on and started the very long trek across the terminal to find the showers. Up escalators, down lifts, follow maps, guess at directions, and eventually I made it. A lovely spa on an upper level, that charges a pittance for about an hour of freshening up. They provide everything you need, including a robe. I stood under that shower for a very long time. It’s not that Dubai was hot or dusty, as one might expect in a desert city. The day had been warm, but perfect. It was more that I was so tired, I didn’t know what else to do but let the water run over me… and my poor feet, which were now adult hairless Hobbitt, with injuries.

And then to check in. A diligent official stood guard at a scale, weighing all carry-on that he deemed suspicious.

I was suspicious.

And double the weight of what was allowed.

I had made it virtually around the world with nobody checking my bag, and now, on my final leg, I was stopped.

I tried arguing, but could feel the emotions start to get the better of me so relented and walked all the way to the counter where I had to check the bag, then all the way to the opposite side of the terminal hall to pay over $200 for my “small” bag, and then back to check in. It was Wednesday night; having been awake since Monday morning, I just knew that the overnight flight to Johannesburg would be the perfect time to sleep.

A little duty-free shopping, venturing to the restaurant and foregoing the free meal option for something that sounded more appetizing, and I was able to sit for a while. Blessed relief. Sadly, even with the condition my feet were in, I’m really not one for sitting too long, so I did another walk or three around terminal 3, a little more shopping, and eventually the small rejuvenation my shower and meal had provided started to wear off, and I found my seat near my departure gate, closed my eyes and tried not to drop off. I closed my eyes, and listened to the men nearby, chattering away in strong, South African accents. I felt all warm and fuzzy. Pretty sure that's because I knew I was close to home, and now the fog that had taken up residence in my addled brain.

Finally, it was time to board, and as I found my seat – another 2-seater aisle I thought would leave me space – hopes were dashed as a rather large South African sat down next to me. I breathed deeply, prepared for a bad trip. Tall men in planes that are designed to fit the maximum of bodies are not a good combination.

He was next to me for less than 5 minutes when an attendant came by and asked if he’d like to move to the front seat in the bulkhead, where his legs would have more room. I wanted to kiss her.

Popped a Melatonin, always guaranteed to give me a 4-5 hour sleep, and tried to decide whether I wanted to eat. I did. I wasn’t hungry, but I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to try the food on this flight. I ate about half and left the rest: not that it was bad per se, I just felt myself getting drowsy and not feeling very well.

I closed my eyes, leaned back in the seat, tried various positions, failed to find comfort, leaned back in the seat, felt drowsy, shifted around, and after an hour, gave up and started watching James Bond.

Having been awake since early Monday, heading into Thursday morning and the start of my new life, I felt more irritated than I wanted to feel at this point in the journey. I had been anticipating a lump in my throat, a feeling of excitement, waves of optimism. All I felt was exhaustion, frustration, and pain. Not the way to start a new adventure.

I barely remember getting off the plane in Joburg. SA time was 5:20am – and I was not in a frame of mind to breathe deeply that special scent of Africa. I hobbled across to get my luggage. In America, luggage carts are chained and bound, only being freed by the insertion of coins. In SA, you get one and go. It’s part of the service.

I had planned to get the fancy and impressive Gautrain through to Sandton where my niece would meet me. However, somewhere over Ethiopia, my 3 suitcases had gained several pounds and I suspected the Gautrain would present a set of challenges I was in no state, mentally or physically, to cope with.

I hauled the bags onto the cart clumsily, and headed towards the exit. I tried using my US phone to text or call my niece, but couldn’t get through. The Vodacom store opened it up, saw it’s a wi-fi phone with no Sim card, and offered to sell me a phone. I declined, and went for a shot of caffeine instead. After years of varying qualities of American coffee, from the godawful crap they call coffee at Starschmucks, to some excellent local roast that almost persuaded me to move to Portland, Oregon, the excellent cup served at the airport was a sign of things to come. Since I've been in SA, I have not had poor coffee, or food. More on that later.

Pushing my cart of luggage through the terminal, I paused to look for a phone and a security guard approached me. I would say they should change “security” to “hospitality”: he rearranged my luggage for me so it was more secure, led me to a phone booth, took coins from my hand (since I had no idea what was what), dialed my niece’s number, and stood by ready to insert more coins. I didn't need much persuasion to avoid the Gautrain - a quick discussion and the idea didn’t making sense to either of us. Instead, he led me to where taxi drivers lingered, rejecting three before settling on Sipho – who promptly loaded me into his car, took my niece’s number and called her for me so I could tell her I would be arriving at her office by car. Sipho was simply, warmly, wonderful. A fantastic help and driver through the insanity that is Johannesburg rush hour. How there aren’t more accidents continues to bewilder me.

Sipho was all ready to haul my luggage up to Tracy’s office, but I stopped him, tipped him what I hoped was generously, and sent him on his way. T settled me into the boardroom, where I spent the morning pretending to be mentally competent.

A trip to the spa for a mani-pedi-leg wax was spent laughing and chatting with the delightful Lucia, who rewarded me with a big hug when I left, wishing me well with my Hobbit feet.

It was that warmth that started me thinking it reflected the general mood of this country. The optimism, the hopefulness, the welcoming embrace of a country righting itself. Slowly, gradually, finding its feet in a monumental shift that may still take a couple of generations, but it feels well underway.

After nearly 2 decades in America where “friendly” is skin deep, and guarded suspicion (with an unhealthy dose of neuroses) is the norm, it was a welcome culture shock. My visit a couple of days later to one of the very many malls that dot every neighborhood made me feel like I had been living in a third world country, and had returned to a South Africa very firmly planted in the 21st century. I was impressed. Or gobsmacked, really.

Welcome home, Leigh.

Part Five: The long, strange trip begins

PART TWO: The Goal Is To Dream

The decision was made. The flight booked. And into the unknown-somewhat known I jumped.

It is an odd feeling to be somewhere familiar, yet not. I had been away from the country for 18 years, and I anticipated both a feeling of familiarity AND a feeling of being a stranger in a new country. I was not proven wrong. Apparently, like Madonna, I have an accent best described as “Huh?”, an amalgam of the rather proper English, for which even my own family would tease me, saying I had a ‘hot potato’ in my mouth, and the nearly 2 decades of blunting that same accent by living in America. To Americans, I sound “kinda English, but not quite”; to South Africans, I may as well be a blue-blooded Yankee-almost. Suffice it to say, it’s a curiosity. As am I. For many South Africans, the idea of leaving seems to be the goal to work towards, so for me to have lived in another country and then return? Shocking! Yet, the longer I paid attention to what was going on in US politics, the more I’m almost amused at the outrage of South Africans paying attention to the corruption! Cronyism! State capture! Almost every one of the scandals perpetrated by the SA government would barely raise an eyebrow in America – it’s called “lobbying”, and “representing your district” (also known as “pork barrel spending”). The fact that these actions are given constant scrutiny and politicians held to account makes me so very proud of our young democracy. Keep fighting, people. You don’t want to end up like America.

My goal in returning was to launch a publication. A crazy notion by anyone’s estimation. Presently, journalism is dying a rather painful death. Consumers demand information about their country and their world, and yet refuse to pay for it, the business models are rapidly becoming defunct, with journalists hanging on for dear life, growing more dependent on grants and fellowships to survive. And here I come, wanting to do something that is out of the mainstream (no Kardashian scandals, sorry!), and focus on the current affairs of our times. The issues and humanitarian news that have far more impact on everyone than whether Brad and Angelina are splitting this week, or not ... yeah, that’s me. Doing the unpopular with no support, no money, no publisher (well, long story) – just a whole heap of gall and spine and courage to try.

Three issues in, with contributions from writers and photojournalists around the world, and “Perspective: Africa” is well and truly launched. Will it survive? Who knows. But, if these are the last days of my life, what better way to go out than to say to the world: I did it. I did something that truly makes me proud. I did not falter. I stepped up and produced something worthwhile. I made a contribution to the world.

Was it easy? Let's see now: I launched a publication on zero budget with international writers and renowned photojournalists focusing on humanitarian and current affairs issues while I was moving my life back to South Africa, and doing an awesome, solo, 5-week road trip. Yep, a woman in her 50’s, driving alone through the country, and loving every freaking minute of it.

 

LST-Part Ten: Welcome home

I did not get lost.

No, really!

Apparently, my car's GPS was designed for Cape Town driving, and it has all the roads, place names, and correct maps. After getting me lost multiple times across the country, telling me I was "off road" when I was actually on roads that pre-dated national highways, it seemed to perk into life at recognizing where we were.

I had hoped for a clear day as I drove into Cape Town, but clouds masked the mountain so I could see the lower shape of it, but it hid shyly as I scrambled for my camera.

not quite the first view of table mountain i had in mind

not quite the first view of table mountain i had in mind

somewhere... over a mountain...

somewhere... over a mountain...

muizenberg

muizenberg

K2, in attack mood

K2, in attack mood

cape town humour

cape town humour

someone didn't get the "rainbow nation" memo

someone didn't get the "rainbow nation" memo

you can't go anywhere without bumping into a mountain

you can't go anywhere without bumping into a mountain

the indescribable beauty of noordhoek beach

the indescribable beauty of noordhoek beach

horses, wine, mountain, beach.

horses, wine, mountain, beach.

closing out a long, strange trip

closing out a long, strange trip

I had left Matjiesfontein after breakfast, not in any hurry to anywhere, and enjoyed the drive from the Karoo towards Worcester. As the mountains grew nearer, I swept around a corner, and slammed on brakes, finding a gravel driveway that afforded a place to park. A little dog was trying to cross the road, and would have been squashed with the speed of the trucks and cars. I jumped out of the car and made my way towards it, bottle of water in hand. As it saw me, it scurried away, and the closer I tried to get, the more nervous it was. It disappeared towards a farm, and I found a take-away container on the path, poured some water into it, just in case, and headed back to the car. I was some distance away and I saw a person walking away from the car, crossing the road to the farmstall on the other side. It was at that point I realized that I had left the car open. Not just that, I had left the engine running. I hustled back, looked around, found nothing missing, and headed back onto the road, hoping the little dog was going to find its way to the next day.

Now well into the mountains of Paarl district, and the famous Huguenot Tunnel came up. Nearly 4km long, and a worthy toll road for the building cost and level of sophistication it offers. Equipped with 13 cameras, they feed into an "incident detection system" that alerts authorities to any stopped vehicles, accidents, fast or slow moving traffic, wrong-way driving. With one lane in each direction, it's a fast moving tunnel, and one feels nerves tingling. I swopped my sunglasses for clear ones, paid my fee, and set forth into the belly of the beast.

The bright sunshine that had accompanied my trip so far left at that point. It was odd. As I came out the other side, the weather had completely changed to a foggy, damp, high mountain climate, and I wondered briefly whether somewhere in the bowels of the mountain, I had perhaps been transported to another world. High mountains, extraordinary beauty, and a completely different weather system.

It cleared as I approached Stellenbosch, and decided to stop in and get petrol and fuel for myself. Wimpy was the only place on offer, and the staff were delightfully friendly, with my waitress having as wry a sense of humor as me. We exchanged some laughs and I chowed down on a chutney and mince toasted sandwich. Filled up the car, and headed for Cape Town.

The wonderful SA pop star legend, Heather Mac, had offered me a bed for the night at her home in Muizenberg. My car navigated me correctly to the street, where I parked outside a house with no number, but since it was next door to the next number up from Heather's, I figured I could stay there until she came home. I repacked valuables into the trunk of the car and set off to explore Muizenberg.

My first two sights, other than the fabulous False Bay were interesting: a couple getting out their car at the beachfront: him in casual dress and flip-flops, she in full, black burqa.

As I strolled along the beach, I passed 5 young women, friends having a wonderful time, eating ice-cream, sipping cold drinks. 2 were in shorts and t-shirts, two in pants or sundress and the 5th in black Niqab, with only her eyes showing. A perfectly normal scene across the city, as I know by now, but after so many years in America, where it would be, in most areas, a very unusual (and sometimes unaccepted) sight, I was reminded that I was, truly, home. In a country with as much diversity as any, and with a tolerance for that diversity that remains a point of pride. I felt a surge of love for this place that I had expected to feel on first sight of the mountain, but since the view hadn't allowed for that, feeling that love for the people was a darn sight better.

Heather and hubby arrived home - on the other end of the street. Apparently, the numbers don't really work the usual way there, so I turned the car around, trying to avoid the extremely narrow streets where a car my size was not designed to go, and parked outside the house. Heather and mark opened their arms to me, and insisted on dinner at Kalk Bay. They took me for a drive along Boyes, overlooking the city, and we landed in the harbor at a joint perfectly situated to grab the best fish off the boats. And what a meal it was! Snoek, calamari and chips in such quantity, I could barely get to halfway when I had to admit defeat. I packed up the rest, prepared to save it for the next day, when on our way back to the car, we passed a beggar. I immediately handed him the leftovers, knowing he could probably feed a couple of people on what I hadn't been able to eat.

The next morning, I wished them farewell as they went off to work, and I wandered around Muizenberg's shops, buying a card and flowers for Heather and Mark's hospitality, and finally packing the car to make it up to Dave Reynold's house, where I would be house- and pet-sitting for a long weekend. Again, astoundingly, my car knew where to go, and as I rounded a very tight corner, Dave nearly ran into me, moving his vehicle out the way. A big hug, a little vehicle maneuvering, and I was parked.

The family left on vacation, and I became fodder for the kitten, who couldn't decide whether to be cute and playful, or be a raging, vicious lion. The 3 days were a continual crapshoot of not knowing whether I would be attacked or not. He's adorable. My maternal instincts were in high gear as K2 would balance on the edge of the balcony, and all playtime was relegated to throwing things away from the balcony. The last thing I wanted was to explain how the kitten had not survived Life #1, let along all the rest that were to come.

Dave and family returned, and it was onto my next place of shelter. Charlie and I had dated in my early 20's, and was the reason I had first come to Cape Town. He had traveled, I had stayed, falling in love with this most beautiful city in the world. So, it was lovely to know that he and his wife would welcome me into their home, and look after me while I found a place of my own.

Apartment hunting went easily, and I took the first place I saw. It didn't really matter to me where I lived, but I had heard enough stories about crime, especially property crime, that I knew I didn't want to park my fancy car in any street. I also didn't want to live where I would need multiple locks on my doors, or where I couldn't go for long walks.

So, when I saw the ad for a studio apartment on a gated community, with private vineyard, I said ye before I even saw the place. The agent met me, introduced me to the owners who seemed very nice, as was their dog, Butch, and a quick look around the place, and I was ready to sign the papers.

Of course, doing a background check and credit check on someone who is new to the country poses its own challenges, but that's what estate agents are for, right? Ordered a bed for delivery on my move-in day, and I had a home. It took another week for my boxes to arrive in port, and days of unpacking, repacking stuff I knew I didn't need, and bought some basic planks of woods, trestles, and cement blocks for furniture.

For so many years, I had admired the simple, clean, basic living that is known to be "Japanese-style". I'd never been able to do it. I always accumulate too much stuff. Well, I still have a lot of stuff, but since I don't have room for much furniture, and certainly don't need it, keeping it minimal is finally living the dream.

So, I'm home. Life is pretty good, and now all I need to do is find a way to spread the word about my various talents and skills, so someone can pay me.

So far, jobs aren't coming my way, although some have commented on my resume. Words like "overqualified", "intimidating", "daunting" have been used. Of course, none of it means a damn thing when all I'd really like to do is pay the rent. Wish me luck.

always leave a good impression.

always leave a good impression.

LST-Part Nine: Lost In A Moonscape

I set off after a lovely breakfast from Pumulo Lodge, driving through Knysna and instantly regretting not exploring the town more. The idea of driving unnecessarily was always on my mind, and I avoided it like the plague. Once parked, I could either walk, or relax, but driving locally seemed too much of a chore. As a result, I missed out on a lot, and if I do the road trip again, I'm taking someone who can share the driving duties. Anyway, it was a gorgeous day, and I headed to the stunning Outeniqua Pass.

It may seem like I'm whining here, but on one of the most beautiful mountain passes, possibly in the world, there is no place to stop and snap memories if you're heading towards George. Driving east, there are plenty of places to pull over and admire the view. Heading west? No way. I wouldn't actually recommend taking pictures while driving a curvy mountain pass, but I did it anyway.

 

After the gobsmacking wonders of the Knysna and Wilderness region, George is something of a boring wake-up call and I got through it as quickly as possible, roundabouts notwithstanding, and headed north towards the Swartberg Mountains and the Karoo.

I chose the long route into Cape Town because until that point, my drive had mostly been through the lushness of the Garden Province, and the coast, so including some desert in the mix seemed logical.

About 200km outside of Knysna, Musician-singer Wendy Oldfield replied to my text, and invited me to stay with her. Really bad timing! A little earlier, and I would have been happy to do a U-turn and head back to the coast, but instead made my apologies and pressed on. My car's GPS, as usual. had no idea where it was, so I relied on my hand-drawn Google map. Not that many options existed - the road stretched out empty and straight ahead, mountains in the distance, dryness all around. The stark beauty of the Karoo is magical. There is nothing for miles, except for an occasional rusty windmill, and random bushes that look as parched as the earth. The road, as always, perfect.

After Oudtshoorn, I took a left turn onto the R62 and headed for Calitzdorp. About 20km of nothingness, and a building appeared. I pulled in to the delightful Bella Karoo - a farmhouse plonked in the middle of nowhere, offering "plaas kos". I couldn't resist. Freshly baked farm bread, or "Roosterkoek", with cream cheese, figs, and biltong, washed down with a homemade ginger beer. Gourmet, mouthwatering, and delicious. I sat and lingered over the very rich food, watching chickens peck around the garden. It took a lot to make me leave, since afternoon tea, dinner, and their breakfasts all sounded rather tempting. But, enough.... I had to reach Matjiesfontein before sundown, and that was some distance away.

Blew through Calitzdorp, and my map said Ladismith, so I stayed on track until then. Ummm. Wrong. I should have taken the turnoff to the R323, which was some distance before Ladismith.

So, I drive through Ladismith, following the signs.... until suddenly the tarred road ended, and I bumped onto gravel. Not bad gravel, and a few kilometers on I passed road works, so I figured this was just par for the course of SA's development, and kept going... and going. It dawned on me that this may not have been the right road, so the first signpost I came across, I stopped, got out, and tried to figure out where the hell I was. The sign pointed to Laingsburg to the left. Excellent. Montagu to the south. Also correct. and Ladismith back there. Clearly, I was where I was supposed to be.

Of course, I wasn't.

Let me say here: Anysberg Nature Reserve might have gravity, but that is all it has. Sandy, rocky, mountains, occasional things masquerading as plants, and in one spot, a huddle of cattle under a windmill/well. Otherwise? Nothing. No people, no cars, I tried to look out for a tortoise or even a puff adder, but nope. Nothing. For about 2 hours, although it seemed much, much longer than that. And doesn't it always? Whenever you're driving to an unfamiliar place, it seems to take a really long time? I knew I was reaching somewhere civilized when I saw a white car in the distance. As it came closer, I saw a couple of entrances to farms, and I breathed a sigh of relief. As much as I enjoyed heading off the beaten track, the idea of being in the middle of nowhere, with no signs of life at all, conjured up the prospects or: what happens if I hit a rock and my tire blows? Or I walk around and get bitten by a snake? You know, all those things that make you want to find the nearest coffee shop and breathe in civilization? Nothing happened, I found the tarred road, and was back on track to Matjiesfontein.

Middle of nowhere

Middle of nowhere

still in the middle of nowhere

still in the middle of nowhere

guess where i am? yep. middle of nowhere.

guess where i am? yep. middle of nowhere.

if there are signposts, does that mean i'm still nowhere?

if there are signposts, does that mean i'm still nowhere?

grand canyon? seriously? did i drive that far?

grand canyon? seriously? did i drive that far?

I thought it was closer to Laingsburg, and when I missed a road sign, for once I turned around and drove back to see whether it was one I was supposed to have missed. Turned out to be Sullivan, so another U-turn and back on the N1. Another trick of memory, and I had thought Matjiesfontein was on the right, so when it suddenly showed up on my left, it was almost as much a surprise as the place itself.

Many South Africans and tourists have either passed by Matjiesfontein, stopped in Matjiesfontein, or heard the song about the train to Matjiesfontein, but I'd never met anyone who had actually spent any time there. As I parked, I noticed the famous Blue Train at the station and several people milling around, relaxing at the bar, generally loitering.

the magnificent lord milner hotel, matjiesfontein

the magnificent lord milner hotel, matjiesfontein

Checking in was easy enough, and a porter walked me through the hotel and the back grounds of the estate, to my motel room. By the time I reached the room, I was in love with Matjiesfontein. The place is simply beautiful. The town is basically a tourist attraction/hotel, but instead of being "touristy" in a way more familiar to American attraction where it becomes commercialized to the point of losing all the charm, Matjijesfontein is charm itself. The estate is lovely, and a walk across the dried river bed (which my room overlooked) to the swimming pool, and pond was only slightly marred by the signs warning visitors to watch out for snakes.  I saw none, but potential snakes make me as nervous as the real thing, so I cautiously explored the grounds before heading back to my room.

At 6pm, I was ready for the tour. Shortest tour in the world, according to our adorable tour guide, who blew loudly on his trumpet to summon all visitors to the old London double-decker bus, held together by love and gum by the clearly long-suffering Zimbabwean driver. Major regret: the driver disappeared after the tour, leaving Johnnie to collect all the tips. I hope he shares them.

While pointing out the house where he was born, the venue of the first international cricket match between SA and England (SA won) and a surprisingly long list of interesting things in a very small town, the bus dropped us off at the hotel again, where we were ushered into the private suite of the Lord Milner. A lovely suite of rooms with the main attraction being a specific point where you can photograph a ghost. No, really. Johnnie positions himself in a comfy old chair, holds up his hand, and invites people to snap away. The photograph shows a bright light that is obviously a lost spirit who just never wanted to leave the town.

site of the first international cricket test match - south Africa vs England, 1889.

site of the first international cricket test match - south Africa vs England, 1889.

johnnie, matjiesfontein born and bred, and leader of the shortest tour in the world

johnnie, matjiesfontein born and bred, and leader of the shortest tour in the world

I didn't really want to leave, either. I cannot express just how delightful the place is.

After the Milner suite, Johnnie directed us to the Lairds Arms Pub, where he sat at an old piano, and while playing what seemed like the same tune repeatedly, sang many popular songs, for which we were required to join in, and drop tips in the jar. Looking around at the lovely antiques, old photographs, and long history of the place, I had a momentary lapse of reason when I looked up to see a disco ball hanging from the ceiling. Completely incongruous. I nearly choked on my G&T. I caught the eye of someone in the room, who clearly didn't see the joke, and gave me that blank stare that reminded me I was supposed to be singing "Bobbejaan klim die berg", not giggling over a disco ball. Fuck'em. I thought it was hilarious.

lairds arms: antiques and disco ball

lairds arms: antiques and disco ball

an abundance of signs throughout the town, imploring guests to refrain from spitting

an abundance of signs throughout the town, imploring guests to refrain from spitting

Some years ago, I had been to a Bob Dylan concert at Mac Court in Oregon. The sound was dreadful, and nobody could actually make out what he was singing. Not least because every one of his songs were sung exactly the same way. I'm not exaggerating. Every song was identical. The only way we could figure out what we were hearing was to try and make out some of the lyrics - no easy feat when the sound was so bad. When we caught a few words, we'd play "telephone" and pass it down the line. "Just Like A Woman!" And everyone would nod, enjoy, and then revert to confused position. After 10 songs from Johnnie, deja vu was setting in, so I headed back to my room to shower and change for dinner.

Sadly, I couldn't get any hot water, so tolerated as much cold as I could, dressed, and went to the ancient dining room in the hotel.

Do you remember when formal dinners were served with Melba toast? I remember that as a kid. The ultra thin toasts made their appearance next to me, as I ordered. My entrée was a Springbok Wellington - a perfect blend of English and South African tradition that made me want to sit around for a while, and then order another. The waitstaff are delightfully old-fashioned, and some very old. Johnnie had told us that there was zero unemployment in Matjiesfontein: everyone had a job to do, and the number of people ready to serve dinner outnumbered the people who were in the dining room. Satiated, I headed to the verandah to enjoy a coffee and watch the night fall over this little gem. There are no TV's in the rooms, so one is required to relax. There really isn't anything else to do. Would putting in a spa bring more customers? I think so, but that does seem like a very "modern" thing to install in a little historical village with enough charm to satisfy even the most seasoned traveler.

Breakfast the next morning, and I had no appetite, so settled for a croissant and coffee, cursing myself for passing up what would have been a superb spread. The next table was occupied by 4 men in police uniform. I struck up a conversation with them, and learned that their job was to inspect police stations, make sure everyone was doing their jobs, cut any corruption, and do any training required. I left them with a friendly, "I hope we never see each other again", and went to explore the museum at the train station. Some exceptionally old artefacts taking up two floors, including a basement, and this trip down through the annals of time was accompanied by a soundtrack of Swedish pop group, Roxette. It was bizarre, and quite honestly, I moved through the place a lot quicker than I would have if the music hadn't been so obnoxious.

From there to pack the car, and be on my way to Cape Town. I was certain I would not get lost again.

there is a mountain in them clouds, ma'am.

there is a mountain in them clouds, ma'am.

 

 

LST-Part Eight: Walking with the elephants

Knysa - another gorgeous location, another chance to take the wrong turn. Certainly, by the time I arrived, I was exhausted. It had been a very long day of driving from Port Elizabeth, and the last thing I needed was to get lost.

Somewhere along the way, the paper with my hand-drawn map (always more reliable than my car's GPS), had fallen to the floor, but I thought I remembered which turn to take. The reader will no doubt see that sentence, sigh, and shake their head despairingly. I knew it was a left turn onto Howard Street. And it was, except that Howard takes a variety of unexpected turns, which I hadn't noticed on the map. After asking directions from locals, I pulled over and called the hostess of Pumula Lodge. She asked where I was, told me it was too difficult to explain, and suggested I head a little further along that same road and ask at a B&B - Knysna Country House - where she knew the owners. I follow directions better than I follow a map, apparently, and found the B&B.  A woman came out to the gate, and I asked her how to get to Pumulo. She'd never heard of the place. I asked if she would be so kind as to call them, and get directions. She couldn't do that, either. I don't know if she was just unhelpful, or really didn't know how to use the phone, but being in the hospitality industry, one would imagine those two qualities would be foremost in mind. So, exasperated AND exhausted at this point, I called Pumulo, and this time she gave me clear instructions on how to get to her. Howard, then a left and immediate right jog. Relief flooding as I arrived at the gate.

It's not a cheap B&B. The room was simple, basic, with a lovely balcony overlooking the lovely garden, with hadedas and assorted birds stalking worms, and a view over the trees towards the Knysna Heads. Only the 3 basic SABC TV channels on offer, which made the evening spent lying on my bed rather boring. Cheaper B&B's usually do have all the available channels, so if one is not exploring the neighborhood, at least one can watch a re-run of Madam Secretary while drifting off to sleep. I understood why the people who checked in after me filled the communal fridge with copious amounts of booze.

leave only memories. taking this picture caused me to almost lose my balance and land on some sharp rocks. knysna.

leave only memories. taking this picture caused me to almost lose my balance and land on some sharp rocks. knysna.

I was out too early for breakfast the following morning, as I had the long drive to Plettenberg Bay, and I anticipated "rush hour traffic". The traffic was easy flowing, and I reached the Elephant Sanctuary at The Crags in perfect time. Welcomed by a former Zimbabwean guide, who was exceedingly warm and hospitable, and decided to treat me as his favored guest, we waited for the other parties to arrive before he walked us down to the enclosure.

I had always wanted to get up close to an elephant, and in doing the research to which place would be the best, I had come across the Knysna Elephant Park (KEP), also dba as "Elephants of Eden". The NSPCA, not known for being litigious largely because they simply don't have the funds to create nuisance lawsuits, had filed charges against the KEP in 2014 after photographic evidence of the most horrific abuse came to light. The photographs are still available to see online, but I urge you to practice some self control over your anger if you look at them. The treatment follows the standard human practice, followed in countries around the world, of breaking the animal's spirit. The lack of understanding of an elephant's anatomy and psychology has resulted in so many horrific abuses: from chaining, bullhooks, and other forms of torture, to tourists harshly scrubbing the animal and riding on its neck or back. The clear evidence of abuse by KEP was fully and roundly denied by owner, Lisette Withers, who claimed the NSPCA manufactured the story to get donations. While it seemed at one point the story was going away (to rumours that KEP had paid their way out of the lawsuit), recent reports as of November 2015, indicate that it is ongoing, and the NSPCA is not giving up.

The story was front and centre in my mind as we approached the elephants, and my guide, Xolani, explained where they came from, and how two of the ladies had possibly lost the tips of their trunks (likely poacher's snares). The one bull kept his distance, and the one female, who hated humans for reasons unknown but can be imagined, also stayed away, although very curious. The other three ladies ambled forward sociably with their guides. I noticed the guides had bags of feed around their necks, and everything they asked of the elephants was rewarded with a snack. In later conversation with my host, he explained that the abusive methods had been the way things were done, but he had managed to persuade the owner to try something different: instead of abusing the animals, reward them when they learn natural behavior on command. Nothing was taught that was outside of what an elephant does in the wild, but they learn to do it on command.

I was relieved that only one woman in the group had booked a ride, but I wished afterwards, when the guide was giving us a lesson in elephant anatomy, that he'd pointed out how damaging riding an elephant - whether on its neck (the better option) or back (terribly painful and harmful to the animal) - really is. One point to note: the ride was very short. I doubt she was on it for more than 5 minutes, which is darn sight better than some places that will do entire, long safaris, who place a heavy chair on the animal's neck, plus the human weight, and expect the elephant to endure carrying hundreds of pounds without injuring itself. One of the most common ailments found in captive elephants are sores where the chair/saddle is placed for long periods of time, as well as where the strap rubs against the delicate skin under its tail, as well as muscular strain and damage to leg joints. If you are ever in close proximity to an elephant, watch whether it rocks from side to side. No wild elephant does that, and it is a sign of extreme stress.

My guide placed me with one of the girls, and her handler showed me how to hold her tipless trunk. We started to walk, taking care to match her pace, as my hand got snottier and muddier with each step. The quiet amble through a wooded glade and into a clearing was all caught on video and my camera, as X-man decided to appoint himself as my personal photographer. We sat on stumps as the trainers put the heffies through their paces: including how the tipless girls cleared their trunks of excess dust, as they were unable to separate it as undamaged elephants are able to do. A large flap of the ears created a breeze, and we were invited to a closer inspection of the beast. One of the common misunderstandings about elephants is that they have thick skin, when in fact, it's rather thin, and very sensitive. The tourists scrubbing elephants in some Asian countries probably aren't aware that they are causing severe pain, but because of the abuse metered out in the training process, the animal is taught to endure the pain without complaint.

up close and personal. really personal.

up close and personal. really personal.

really, really personal

really, really personal

I collected my video of the experience, wished X-man well, and headed back to Knysna. It was a gorgeous day, so my first stop was at Knysna Heads. Now, this may come across as sour grapes, but here's a message to the wealthy: just because you can build a house somewhere, doesn't mean you should. Spoiling the incredible surroundings of the Heads with your little MacMansion does not look good on you. I only stayed a couple of minutes, snapped some pics that avoided the tourists, and made my way down the narrow roads to the bottom of the Head. My habit of not carrying cash has to end. I scraped some money together, including finding a $1 bill, and handed what I could to the vendor who sold his beautiful stone carvings. He wanted R150. I managed to give him less than half that. I tried to walk away, embarrassed that he insisted on me taking the little sculpture that I clearly been drawn to, but he was having none of it. If I gave him enough to buy lunch, he was happy. A charming man from Zimbabwe -if anyone goes there, please give him the asking price to make up for my lack of coin?

I headed back to Pumulo, and downloaded photos, caught up on emails, and then made my way to the pool, where my minimal social skills came in handy for the duration of a glass of wine. Then, back to my room where a dearth of entertainment awaited. The next day would be another challenging drive through the Swartberg Mountains and Karoo to Matjiesfontein.

Where - guess what happened?

Do I really need to tell you I got lost? Really?

LST-Part seven: Are we there yet???

It was just as well I’d picked up the car manual before leaving Hogsback. It was bad enough that, on pulling into a petrol station earlier on the trip, I’d automatically asked the attendant, “Could you check the oil and…. Oh no, don’t worry!” on realizing that I had no idea how to open the hood/bonnet of the car. But with the thundering in Hogsback, I thought it might be a good idea to learn how the wipers worked. As I crossed the gorgeous Great Fish River before Grahamstown, it poured down on me. It was the one place I really didn’t want it to – photographic opportunities abounded, but it was all camouflaged by wet stuff. After that, it dried up and by the time I got to Port Elizabeth, it was a balmy, hot summer day. Once again, my GPS failed to find the road I needed to the guest lodge that was my roof for the night, so once I started seeing signs to Addo, I thought I might be close and pulled over to fire up my laptop and mobile wifi to check the map. The wind howled and I’ve no doubt cars driving by got an eyeful as I tried to handle laptop, wifi and a billowing skirt. All to no avail, and I dug out my hand drawn map in my notepad, crossed my fingers, and got back to driving.

My map was fine – I found the turn-off to the lodge, but after that, it became unclear. Gravel roads (again), residential neighbourhood, roads left un-signposted…. A couple of stops to ask residents where the lodge was and I eventually found the Happy Jackal. Happily, it was just meters away from the gate to Addo. There wasn’t much to do, so a walk along an abandoned bridge (with dire warnings about snakes!), left me little else to do but wait for the promised braai for dinner, and watch a Trevor Noah special on TV.

happy jackal, port elizabeth

happy jackal, port elizabeth

old rusty bridge near happy jackal and entrance to addo

old rusty bridge near happy jackal and entrance to addo

Except that, while I could hear the audio, there was no picture. More futzing by the hosts left me without audio and static. The wifi wasn’t working, and I was reluctant to use up my data in case I needed it for some of the long distances ahead, so I headed to the braai, a glass of wine, and rude German tourists. Aside from myself and a sweet English couple, the other 8 guests were German or as one man who shared my table made very clear Bavarian. And the Bavarians have better cheese than he tasted in Cape Town, so my suggestion of hitting the Midlands Meander farms on the way back to Johannesburg was greeted with derision, and an interchange with his wife in German that they didn’t realize I understood. I may not speak the language, but I know enough to understand much of what was said. I shrugged, and had a lovely conversation with the English couple until the Bavarians attempted to be polite again.  I trust their trip to Joburg was as boring as they were rude.

yes, it was that close.

yes, it was that close.

I set off after breakfast to Addo. Very few cars, as always, and a nice drive along very bushy landscape where I was certain many animals were hiding. A close encounter with an ambling buffalo, disinterested in me thankfully, and finally, elephants! A very small herd of a very large mama and several youngsters had stopped traffic. The mama walked confidently over the road between the vehicles, almost as large as a very big tour bus that for some reason had parked on my side of the road. The vehicle next to the bus, inexplicably moved forward to block the gap in the traffic, leaving us humans to stare at these extraordinary creatures, separated from Big Mama, and huddled together, trying to figure out how to get to her. Finally, a little one of around 6 months old took the proverbial bull by the horns, and walked sedately to the end of the line of cars, crossed over, and joined BM, with the rest of the family following suit. Before they made it over, I moved on, winding my way through vehicles driven by people who had clearly forgotten to think.

yes, she really was that big.

yes, she really was that big.

babes in the bush, waiting for silly humans to clear the path mama took

babes in the bush, waiting for silly humans to clear the path mama took

brave youngster, figuring out an alternative

brave youngster, figuring out an alternative

curious kudu cow

curious kudu cow

i believed them and didn't linger

i believed them and didn't linger

After that, I saw no more animals, and headed to the Main Gate and the restaurant. Lunch was bigger than my stomach: venison carpaccio appetizer and a platter of various yummy things, most of which I had boxed up and took with me to eat in Knysna.

I left Addo, and decided to give my car’s GPS another chance. I don’t know why I do this. I had looked at the Google map, and the quickest route to Port Elizabeth was left out the gate. GPS’s disembodied voice said right. So, I turned right for about a mile, told GPS Voice to fuck off, did a U-turn and followed Google maps instead. I was “off road” for a very long time until I joined the N2 and GPS Voice figured out where I was.

At Storms River Bridge, I pulled over to stretch legs, take pics, and generally revel in the exceptional beauty of the area. The walkway under the N2 is not for those with vertigo, and neither is taking pictures of the dramatic cliff that falls away below one’s feet.

storms river

storms river

Back on the road, and a few miles later, screeched to a halt at the Bloukrans Bridge at the border between Eastern and Western Cape. An illegal stop, but I had to. I ran back to the bridge, took a picture as quickly as I could, and then back to the car. I was finally in Western Cape. Was I home yet?

LST-Part six: Closer to fine

Port Elizabeth and Addo Elephant Park and then, Knysna. I’ve booked two nights there, and hope to meet some musicians with the idea of both a compilation album to raise funds and awareness for MAP (it’s featured in Perspective: Africa, March issue), as well as chatting about the possibility of developing more dance productions with SA artists. We shall see if they’re open to the idea.

Good news: I have shelter in cape Town! SA hospitality continues, and I am so grateful to an old friend and his wife for inviting me to camp in their spare room while I find my feet. It’s a weight off my mind to know I have a bed to sleep in when I get into Cape Town, without trying to find a cheap B&B at the last minute.

God, I do love the people and this country.

I just wish I met more South Africans who felt the same.

pedicure not keeping up with the trip. port edward

pedicure not keeping up with the trip. port edward

LST-Part five: Onward for now

In Port Edward, I was a guest of a delightful couple - friends of a friend of a friend. I was spoiled for a week with good food, and warm hospitality from them and their houseguest, who apparently never realized that he wasn't actually welcome. When I arrived, the entire household was sick, and it was a matter of a couple of days before I caught a miserable cold. I did have the attentions of Boomer, who quite quickly ruined his reputation as a big, bad, vicious guard dog who, when I left to go for a walk one day, stood by the gate and howled like a baby.

My original plan was to hop from Port Edward to Port St Johns, then to Hogsback. Since I had three articles about the Wild Coast David & Goliath battle going into the publication, an invitation by the photographer deeply involved in that community to spend a few days at his farm in Kokstad, and once he returned from assignment, he would take me to the area impacted, and I could see and speak to the people myself, was irresistible. So, scrap Port St Johns, and head instead to Kokstad. I arrived on Friday, hung out with his friends for the weekend, and met Max on his return on Monday. On Wednesday, after some lovely days writing and teaching his dogs to fetch sticks, he came to break the news that he wouldn’t be able to get away. It had been a very long way out of my way to train someone else’s dogs to do something completely futile, but I was on vacation, after all, so not all was lost.

Not getting things done, or places visited, along the way was turning into an ongoing trend of this trip. The problem comes down to driving very long distances alone – as much as I tried to limit my driving time to less than 4 hours a day so I could have time to explore wherever I was resting my head that night, between Google’s occasional miscalculations of time/distance, getting lost, and selecting paths well off the beaten track, driving took up far too much time and energy, and I felt myself getting exhausted again.  

So, off I drove, this time back to the plan: Hogsback. Birthplace of the great JRR Tolkien, the folk in the village have taken that to heart and have adopted everything from Middle Earth to fairies.

a room with a view, granny mouse house, hogsback

a room with a view, granny mouse house, hogsback

a bath with a view, hogsback

a bath with a view, hogsback

I’ve never been to Hogsback. I would also be reluctant to return until they fix the freaking roads. Boy, am I sick of potholes! It is a lovely place, filled with magical corners, and touristy attractions that depend on people’s fascination with fairies and Hobbits, although the reliability of them actually opening when they aren’t in the mood is what separates them from the usual tourist traps.

Also, road signs. I went for a walk, as the thunder rolled over my head (no driving my car over unknown roads in case I couldn’t get out of a hole), I planned on making my way to “The Edge” and its famous labyrinth. There is a road that turns off to the right, where some place signs are marked, but the sign to The Edge is a large arrow that points straight ahead.

So, straight ahead I walked. I tried to pace my steps to the rhythm of the thunder, but even the cows languishing along the roadside started looking at me funny, so I just hummed a tune to it, instead. Seems they were as tone deaf as I am, and ignored my song.

I stopped in at the beautiful Eco-Shrine, an artistic representation of the spiritual and physical world through the artists’ eyes – with a magnificent view of the three mountains that give the town its name. I chatted to a couple about going to The Edge, and they laughed: they had also followed the “straight ahead” sign, in the rain, long enough to discover they were going the wrong way, and that the actual way to the place is at that right turn, and about 20 minutes from there. I was grateful I hadn’t continued walking, so returned to Granny Mouse – whereupon the storm started as I reached my room. Disaster averted, so thank you to the couple at the Eco-Shrine, whoever you were.

Three days at Granny Mouse House with a lovely host, Ingrid Luyt and her sweet Ridgeback pups. Despite Friday being largely spent indoors, building my Perspective website, it has been a lovely break in a very magical place that I really would love to hike around (without the thunderstorms) and if I get a chance to do this road trip again, with a friend and a 4x4 next time, it will be on the agenda.

Of course, the morning I left, the sun was out and the weather was absolutely perfect.

main road, hogsback

main road, hogsback

hobbits that-a-way

hobbits that-a-way

Time again to hit the road – this time a long leg to Port Elizabeth via Grahamstown. The entire way, my car’s GPS showed me as “off road”. I flew through Alice, then Fort Beaufort, where the turn-off to Grahamstown was supposed to be. Driving through the little town, I filled up with gas, as a local who worked at the hospital approached me about buying my car. He was interested in everything about it – except how I would get the hell out of Fort Beaufort. I wished him well, and headed towards the Grahamstown signs. I had learned not to rely on my phone’s battery, or my car GPS, so I had drawn a map, with directions.

And then I ignored my own map.

And kept driving.

I can only claim tiredness, but that’s really no excuse. I just did not see the sign to Grahamstown.

Through Adelaide, and there was a mighty big green sign: Grahamstown that way.

“That way” led to a T-junction in suburbia.

U-turn, head back to the petrol station – petrol station have people who know where everything is, I’ve learned.

“Oh no, that’s an old road. It’s all changed. Go back to Fort Beaufort, and take that route.”

 I don’t like going back. So, I checked my phone GPS, and saw a different route, but I had to make it to Alice.

I made it to Alice. And then, I saw the road to Grahamstown.

I went back to Fort Beaufort – 60km back “that way”.

Thankfully, the road is excellent, and I covered the distance quickly. Just before the town, I saw the sign I had missed earlier.

This time, it was a good road for a “Route” as opposed to a “National” road, and a long winding drive through mountain passes and typical Eastern Cape scenery, which is a little moonscape-ish – light, dry earth, rocky, sparse shrubs –always on a road with hardly any traffic.

I stopped in Grahamstown, on the main street where some beautiful old churches stand watch, and headed to explore – and find lunch. The ubiquitous car guards in their yellow jackets stood around, waiting for the pittance in coins for the privilege of them making sure nobody breaks into your car. I tried to imagine what it was like during the arts festival. It seems an odd place to hold a massive festival, but no doubt the revenue it creates keeps retailers and car guards in rent money for some time.

100_0350.JPG

I found a Spur – that oddity of all South African chain restaurants.

Why a SA restaurant would choose an American Indian theme remains beyond me. I sat and pondered on that, while trying to surreptitiously take pictures of what appeared to be quite absurd décor surrounding me. Perhaps the founders had spent time in the USA, because the portions are certainly American-sized. I had half boxed up, and walked back to my guarded car – it was the only one in the parking lot, with the very old man standing over it, protectively. The four young men with him looked just as poor, so I handed over the remains of my lunch, R10, and immediately the guilt that I had so much for myself, and the 5 of them were so obviously grateful, made me wish I’d been more financially generous.

Poverty is a scourge, and a person’s ability to rise out of it is almost impossible. It becomes a generational issue, as parents who live in poverty struggle to raise a family. The cruel would suggest they don’t have families – but for most humans, a family is something that is desired. One cannot judge people for wanting that. But, when it truly isn’t complicated to end poverty, the question must be asked, why is there still so much of it around? A lack of desire on the part of the “haves” to share?

How different the world would look if all of us who were fortunate to be born into families that could provide an education, a decent home, the stability of a life that allowed us to find a good job, could share that good fortune, or privilege, a little. Look around you right now: how much of the stuff you see is stuff you could live without? What do you need versus what do you want?

As many balk against the term “white privilege”, believing that their middle class life was not somehow privileged, perhaps the term Warren Buffett likes to use could be used: the “ovarian lottery”. The gift of being born into a home that allowed you to make something of your life. Now, imagine being born into a home that is a shack in some distant village where simply getting clean water is a chore that takes hours. Getting to school is a virtual impossibility. The desire to grow your own food is shattered with the knowledge the ground you live on is not fertile enough to do so.

Along this journey, I hear white people talking, sometimes bitterly and often resentful, that their previous benefits are being chipped away as those who were disadvantaged by apartheid now try to move forward. And they try to move forward without that inherited knowledge and wisdom of previous generations.

To make a simple argument: if you are the first person to ever see or use a flushing toilet, what would you do? Would you not need someone to show you how it works? Would you not need someone with the wisdom and knowledge learned from others before them, to show you the handle, the button, the motion sensor that flushes the waste away? That knowledge is not intuitive, it is inherited, and if you are trying to leave your history of generational poverty behind you, would you not need someone to show you how?

Generations of oppression, disadvantage, poverty cannot suddenly be expected to resolve itself, people cannot simply “know” how to behave or adapt to a new lifestyle, to an economy suddenly opened up to them, and all in the face of a continuing shoddy education system and faulty infrastructure inherited from those who designed it to only benefit a handful of “their own”.

America has had many more decades to fix the issues created by slavery and Jim Crow laws, and yet still, in this 21st century, it still struggles with many of the same issues the current activists’ grandparents had to fight. Will South Africa’s story be any different? Will South Africa, in this still new and exciting struggle towards democracy, learn from the experiences of others and get it right?

I am optimistic.

The anti-apartheid generation of fighters appear to have taught their children how to be activists for the work they need to do now – from land rights to education to politics and beyond. Repairing history can take generations, but I’m finding an awareness and an energy that tells me many of these issues won’t have the opportunity to become entrenched.

Is there corruption? Has there ever not been corruption? Is the ANC corrupt? Yep. From local chieftains to municipalities to the highest levels of government. Is this a different kind of corruption from what was practiced under the National Party-apartheid government? Not at all. Perhaps the difference is that the media is doing a better job at shining a spotlight on it, and making sure the country’s people stand up and do something about it. Not everyone, which is what should happen. There will always be a segment of the population that watches TV news, whines about the government, forgets their history, refuses to understand that history and its repercussions, and turns the channel. I call those the Kardashian South Africans.  Thinking, acting, being accountable for one’s own country and future, becomes too hard.

But, there is a loud and growing segment of the population, across all colour and political lines, who are standing up to be counted. Some of these actions have been tainted by property destruction and that is never helpful to any cause since it makes many turn away in disgust, and weakens the message. I suspect those who are leading the activism efforts understand that.

The media is doing its job. And that truly is the yardstick by which we can measure a democracy: as long as the media can represent the people, and not be cowed by government, it can shine a white-hot spotlight on issues like poverty and corruption, and nobody involved in those activities want to do it in the light. They can only exist if nobody is watching them. That spotlight shortens careers, disgraces politicians and their civilian cronies, and can move a country towards a better future, represented by those who are determined to do the right thing. It should be remembered, however, that politicians are rarely within that group. People “doing the right thing” are most often civilian groups, media outlets, non-profits, who can stand up to the government.

Public shaming is effective, so I send kudos to those who report it, and those who fight against it. Far too many countries (not only in Africa, but the continent surely has its fair share) have been allowed to turn corrupt, largely due to a citizenry prepared to look the other way, as the media falls into the pockets of the corrupt through either financial gain or favor or fear, and the people slowly become voiceless.

I hope SA learns from those examples. I hope everyone becomes an activist in some way, shape, or form, because only then can we beat back the corrupt.

But, I digress.

I have a vacation to continue, and many more miles to drive.

LST-Part four: Kinda-sorta home again

My hope was to meet Les and his wife, Kay, walk through the house, and then leave, heading to Port Edward.

Les and I walked through the house (an experience repeated when Kay arrived home) with me telling them what had been where, pointing out original fixtures, and explaining why some things they had discovered in renovations were the way they were. We hung out a while, and then they invited me to stay the night. I was taken aback, but accepted gratefully. Spending the night in the house where I was born was beyond anything I had anticipated.

THE FRONT ENTRANCE WITH THE BEAUTIFUL STAINED GLASS WINDOWS AND DOORS. THE TILES ARE NEW, BUT THE BRICKED PATH WAS SOMETHING MY FATHER LAID DOWN IN A FEW DAYS WHEN I WAS A KID.

THE FRONT ENTRANCE WITH THE BEAUTIFUL STAINED GLASS WINDOWS AND DOORS. THE TILES ARE NEW, BUT THE BRICKED PATH WAS SOMETHING MY FATHER LAID DOWN IN A FEW DAYS WHEN I WAS A KID.

At some point, they decided they should take me to Durban and show me how the beachfront had changed, so off we went. Navigating Point Road to Addington Beach, and walking past uShaka, and the extraordinary replica cargo ship that houses a restaurant offering an otherworldly, underwater dining experience , we settled in for lunch at a little place on the beach, where, on Les's recommendation, I had some of the best fish I’d ever tasted. A superb meal, after which it was generally decided that a walk along the beachfront was out of the question due to the heat, humidity and general tiredness, so we’d drive it.

Not even the sand sculptors can resist a kardashian backside.

Not even the sand sculptors can resist a kardashian backside.

From Addington Beach to Blue Lagoon, passing all the familiar hotels I’d either dined in, danced at, visited mother’s art exhibitions, or just walked past at some point, it was a lovely trip down memory lane. We made our way back home, and it took a while before I realized where I was, and the familiarity of the area washed over me.  Driving the “Old Main Road” home – a trip I’d taken thousands of times as a kid, seeing Cheshire Home, the little shop at Moseley train station where we’d walk to as kids to buy a Fanta (before it became overly sweet and I turned to fruit juice, instead) or gumballs – oversized gob stoppers, usually licorice-flavored.

Back home to a casual evening chatting about politics and life in general before turning into bed – in what used to be my parents living room.

It felt odd taking pictures of the house – intrusive. But my niece would never have forgiven me if I hadn’t, and the only pics I have posted publicly one cannot make the connection between Google Street View and the house. 

It was a perfect example of the hospitality for which this country is so famous: it’s not a superficial, polite friendliness. It is very real and genuine, and what a lovely thing to come back to.

I had one more treat in store: I had sent a disappointed email to Sarah's workplace and it had finally reached her. I convinced her to come and visit me, rather than me trying to navigate my way back to Kloof, and she did. She was warmly welcomed by Les and Kay, settled in with a cup of tea and a lovely chat as the owners made their way out to their vacation.

What irony. Sarah’s home is on the same street as the Ammazulu African Palace, so we had missed each other literally by a few hundred feet.  Breathed a silent sigh of relief that she wasn’t the weak-minded neighbor, and oh, the regret of not getting in touch before I'd booked at that weird place.

Unfortunately, Port Edward came with a lie and a threat that if I didn’t show up on the day as promised, the world would end. My stay in Moseley had apparently been an adjustment that required a lie about car trouble, rather than the simple truth, and as much as I wanted to spend a couple of days with Sarah back in Kloof, I gave in and headed to Port Edward. I regret succumbing to pressure, and it's my own damn fault that I did. A lovely conversation on email and phone resulted in me making the decision that while at some point we would indeed have to make a plan to catch up - heading back north for a couple of days, merely to head south again, seemed far too much for me to handle, especially knowing the distances I had already driven, and was still going to. But I really wanted to spend time with a lovely friend with whom I’d had some great laughs and conversations way back when, and I felt that connection growing again over our cup of coffee at Moseley.

But now, I’m definitely too far to turn back. One day, Sarah, one day.

LST-Part three: Zulu on Acid

Meandering around the Midlands, I made a couple of stops: Marrakesh cheese where I picked up a couple of delicious options, and left them at someone’s house a day later. Some arty things: windchime, candle, and a stop for food in Nottingham Road where I had my first ginger beer float in years. The owner told me she couldn’t remember the last time they had a request for one. Perhaps it was the last time I was there….

On my way, a stop at Pete’s Herbs, and then to Lions River and the Mandela Arrest site. The construction on the new museum is impressive – massive – and the temporary site was an interesting walk-through of his life. It then leads to the “Long walk to freedom”, down through a garden, and one sees the odd spikes in the distance. As one gets closer, the form starts to hint at a face, but it’s only when one stands on the provided slab that one sees the full effect of this extraordinary sculpture. But with a bunch of Scandinavian tourists around, it was hard to simply breathe it in and appreciate, so I wandered back, chatting to their tour guide.

From Lions River to Kloof and the Ammazulu African Palace – and hopefully, to see Sarah. I hadn’t heard from her, and had no idea whether whoever was receiving the emails had passed them along, or had simply ignored them, despite clearly being addressed to her.

My car’s GPS, once again, lived up to its reputation, and got me completely lost in Kloof – sending me into a closed-but-for-residents road, and coming out discovering it was a one-way. And not the way I was going. Finally, found the right way and followed the roads to the top. At the gate to Ammazulu, I pushed the buzzer. No response. Several times. Nothing. I hooted. I yelled (that got a reaction from the neighbor: Where are you? At the gate! I yelled, not knowing who was speaking to me. What gate? She called back. Ammazulu! Oh, she said, then I can’t help you.

To that neighbor of Ammazulu’s: actually, helping was one thing you could have done. You could very easily have called Ammazulu, and told them there was someone at the gate. It would have cost you a few cents for a phone call, and a minute of your time. But no, you’re a stupid human who can’t think, but hey, you live in a nice house, so who cares.

I’m not bitter. I was simply exhausted, and standing outside a hotel that is expecting me, yelling and hooting, is not something I want to do after a long day driving. .

Finally, someone left Ammazulu, and they called back to tell the office I was there, and the gate opened.

At reception, I was given the excuse that the lightning had knocked out the power (the electric gates worked perfectly). I don’t know what excuse they had for not having my reservation, but that got fixed promptly and I was shown to my room.

I still have no idea what to make of the place. Gaudy? Ostentatious? Overdone? Zulu-on-Acid? An extreme example of “white money” gone mad? Amazing? Artistic? A reflection on the exceptional talent of the Zulu artisans?

the main entrance, which was locked and inaccessible. guests are taken in a side entrance.

the main entrance, which was locked and inaccessible. guests are taken in a side entrance.

a close-up of one of the 18 massive columns. yes, those are black tin mugs.

a close-up of one of the 18 massive columns. yes, those are black tin mugs.

another close view, showing left over construction materials.

another close view, showing left over construction materials.

the only glimpse one can get of the beautiful kloof gorge from the hotel.

the only glimpse one can get of the beautiful kloof gorge from the hotel.

Pick one. I can’t. I walked around for a while in this large cavernous building, filled with stuff, and eventually it just got too much and I hightailed it back to my room. The place is not warm, inviting, hospitable. Quite the opposite. Unfriendly, albeit polite. I stayed in my room, ordered Nandos delivery, feeling deep sympathy for the driver who had to run the gauntlet from Hillcrest to Kloof and then accessing the gate (he had no problem). I had over-ordered and over-tipped out of guilt, so I ate as much as I could, watched TV, and went to bed.

the main bedroom of the suite

the main bedroom of the suite

living area of the suite

living area of the suite

balcony overlooking some jungle

balcony overlooking some jungle

yes, in the humidity of kloof, who wouldn't want to wear a warm fleece robe?

yes, in the humidity of kloof, who wouldn't want to wear a warm fleece robe?

I couldn’t wait to get out of there.

At breakfast, the mood was quiet, and not welcoming. Four other guests at the table, two colleagues who chatted to each other, a man on some business trip, and a woman whose brief words indicated English tourist, but she didn’t talk to anyone. What a change from Wild Horses, where conversation flowed amongst strangers, and the atmosphere was homely and relaxing.

As I made my way towards Pinetown, it occurred to me that I hadn’t called Les to tell him I was nearby and whether it was convenient to stop at my old home. I wasn’t going to pull over and look for the number, so found my way to Moseley (muscle memory), and pulled up at the front gate. Thankfully, he was there, and insisted I drive in and park inside. Little did I know my car was going to be there for longer than I anticipated.

 

 

LST-Part two: Lost in the Free State

The plan was to detour through the Free State to meet my friend, Pops Mohamed, at Rustlers Valley, where he had been in a conference all weekend with the new owners of the former annual music festival venue/farm, Jay Naidoo. I got lost. My GPS hadn’t heard of any of the places I tried entering, soI relied on memory of the general Google map, and got lost. I managed to get my US phone receiving GPS and it guided me along. Eventually, I landed on the dirt road to Rustlers. It wasn’t bad, as dirt roads go. Well, it wasn’t for several miles. And then it got bad. Very bad. I ended up at a guest lodge, and they told me: Go back to the village, and just after the gate, take the road to the left. Follow that to Rustlers.

I stopped at the road to the left, staring in disbelief. Dongas, ditches, and gullies awaited me and my fancy Mercedes, but there was nothing for it. I tried texting Pops, and I tried calling, but there was clearly limited cell reception. If he was waiting for me, there was no choice but to forge ahead.

The scraping of the bottom of my car on some of the worst roads I have ever seen – and the word “road” is used very loosely – made me and my poor car very unhappy. Eventually, I saw a cluster of houses, parked and wandered over to a group of men, sitting around, shooting the breeze. One man pointed me in the general direction, and said he would open the gate for me.

As I drove through, he waved me down, and another man got in the car, offering to take me to the farm. I tossed everything that was in the front seat over to the back, not paying attention to where stuff landed, he climbed in, and off we went, scraping car tummy along the way, as he kept cautioning me to go really, really slowly.

At the farm gate, he stopped me and offered to run to the office to ask for Pops. I waited, hanging with a grazing sheep, until he returned with the news: Pops and Jay had already left.

I didn’t know whether to laugh (hysterically) or cry, so did neither, bit my lip and my tongue, and we drove back to the houses where I dropped off my guide, and continued to hobble over the ditches, dongas, and gullies back to wherever it was I had come from.

And then my phone rang – it was Pops. He had reached Bethlehem, got cell reception, and my multitude of texts and call attempts landed like a barrage on his head. He was in the car with Jay, who offered a free night at Rustlers to make up for the inconvenience of missing Pops. I laughed. Loudly. Missing Pops was one thing – but it was not that inconvenience that mattered. There was absolutely no way I was driving anywhere near Rustlers, ever. Never. Anyone wants me back, they can send me in by helicopter.

I reached a 4-way junction, and my phone had lost any signal. I stopped, not knowing which way to go, and waited until a vehicle came along. I flagged him down, and asked for directions. It wasn’t the road I would have chosen, but it landed me back on tar road a lot quicker than the road I had come in on. And then, there was a signpost: Fouriesburg or Ficksburg. Oh great, I had no clue.

I searched for my mobile wi-fi, assumed it had dropped out of the car when I picked up my guide, tried both my US and SA phones. Tried my laptop. Nothing. No signal, no GPS, no clue.

I seemed to recall that Bethlehem was the road north to Johannesburg, so I picked Ficksburg. Nearly 50km later, I pulled into the gas station, used the loo, asked for directions, and was told to get on the Bethlehem road.

I waved at the Rustlers turn-off as I passed it, again.

Finally, I saw signs to Clarens, and breathed a sigh of relief. At last, I knew where I was going. Through Clarens, through Golden Gate Park, and onto Sterkfontein Dam.

And if I had thought that getting lost around Rustlers was bad enough, getting to the guest lodge at the dam was a sour cherry on the cake.

Without GPS – my car hadn’t heard of Harrismith, and my phones had lost any sense of direction, I drove through Golden Gate, hopeful I would see a sign to Wild Horses Mountain Lodge.

Well, I saw a sign, but missed seeing the road, thinking the sign was a forewarning that the turn-off was coming. I drove on until I saw the sign to Sterkfontein Dam, headed up to it, asked the security guard – who confused me with several turns I couldn’t picture in my over-tired head – and I left, back down past the zebra, and wondering what I should do.

I figured the safest bet might be to head to Harrismith, and take it from there.

Of course, that wasn’t the right thing to do.

Pulled into a petrol station, the attendants pointed me back in the direction from whence I had come, and sent me on my way, cheerily.

Seems the sign to Wild Horses wasn’t a forewarning. It was the dirt road turn-off.

And boy, what a dirt road. Initially, not too bad. And then the turn-off onto the actual road to the lodge, apparently “maintained” by the Parks Board. More dongas and ditches – although honestly, it wasn’t as bad as Rustlers, it just felt like it was because I was exhausted from all the driving and getting lost I had done that day.

I arrived at Wild Horses, no working phones, no GPS, and a locked gate. I hooted. Again. I drove to a gate a few meters away. Then, I drove back to the “official” gate. Hooted again. A man appeared, and told me I had to call the lodge. I replied I couldn’t, so he did it for me, and the gates opened. I learned later the man was the delightful, warm, funny maître of the lodge, aptly named Blessing.

The owner, Trish, was outside to greet me as I drove up, and gathered the staff to get all my luggage into the room (a task more designed for strong men than the maids, and I felt quite guilty about my heavy suitcases). What followed was a couple of days of blissful peace, gentle walks around the lodge, incredible food, and absolutely nothing I had planned on doing.

The idea had been to drive to the Drakensberg the next morning, see if I could tackle the climb to Tugela Falls up the chain ladder, and visit the cave where my father died.

Instead, I walked up the little koppie behind the lodge, and even at that altitude, it was obvious a Berg hike was a fantasy. No matter. It was a lovely rest, with great company – two couples from England who traveled extensively, occasionally as a group, and were simply charming people.

The chef was standing in for the regular chef, and if there was any reason to spend time in Clarens, it would be to stay at his B&B there, and eat his food. I have had some good meals in my life, but Francois was undoubtedly the best chef I have ever come across in my lifetime. No exaggeration. THE best. I started to understand why some people take photos of their food at restaurants, as I took out my camera and snapped a picture of our breakfast fruit salad. no really, he even made a fruit salad that was worth dying for. Or at least embarrassing myself taking a picture of it.

But, driving to the Berg was not going to happen – not on that road until I had to leave. And I had to leave, sadly. The road out was bad, but I realized that part of the awfulness of driving in had been due to my terrible day driving to Rustlers, so while reaching tarred road was a relief, it wasn’t as bone-jarringly awful as I’d anticipated.

As much as I would love to visit Wild Horses again, many times, until those roads are repaired, I’m sorry. And the same goes for equally lovely places – like Hogsback in the Eastern Cape. Local government has decided that the people who earn their living in these places are recipients of “white privilege” and therefore the roads aren’t worth fixing. I would like to ask these decision-makers how they like to get paid? If these areas are not supported by tourism, residents will leave, and rates and taxes will go away. An alarming story: my host in Hogsback had her rates raised dramatically, and her property of 8 acres valued at almost R1 million. Her neighbor, whose 28 acre property was valued at R8,000, is black. Explain that.

Anyway, leaving Sterkfontein Dam behind me, I chose not to drive by Harrismith and see the farms where I once lived, but to stick to the alternate route through Bergville and Winterton, to the Midlands Meander. I had booked a B&B in Lions River area, and was looking forward to a quiet night on a farm.

The roads were fantastic, through the extraordinarily beautiful Drakensberg mountains. I passed Bergville, drove through Winterton, and was a few miles outside of that town when I had to make a choice.

The road narrows over a river, and the mostly weed-covered kerb juts into the road. A large truck was bearing down, filling up a little too much of his lane for me to comfortably stay entirely in my lane – and the next thing, I felt my tires blow out. I pulled over immediately, flashed my hazards, and noticed a car pulling up in front of me. A man got out, and rushed over to check on me.

I was fine, but the two left tires were destroyed. It didn’t look like any real damage to anything else, but it was hard to tell without crawling under the car.

Possibly the most excitement these cops have seen in a while

Possibly the most excitement these cops have seen in a while

The purple house, winterton

The purple house, winterton

interior, the purple house, winterton

interior, the purple house, winterton

back in the day when kids were allowed to fall and scrape their knees, without the fear of a lawsuit.

back in the day when kids were allowed to fall and scrape their knees, without the fear of a lawsuit.

The mural outside my room. 

The mural outside my room. 

My good Samaritan turned out to be Dave, a financial planner who spent his days travelling the province. He promptly got on the phone to his contact in Winterton, who called the local tow truck, who came and got me. Dave handed me off to him and went on his way. Dean took over the role of kind helper, got me back to town, dropped the car off at Mark’s Tyres (who had to drive the half hour to Ladysmith that evening to get tires to match), and then checked me into the local B&B – The Purple House.

An old, charming, family home, filled with heirlooms and memories of days gone by. It was delightful. My room was small, clean, basic, although the towels were a particular brand of skin scourer. Certainly got the dust of the day off me, plus exfoliated at least another layer.

I wandered around town, finding “Nightshade Jam” – bought some, figuring if Winterton was going to fail at killing me by car, I may as well take a chance on poisonous jam. I still haven’t opened it.

The one place that seemed to offer food was "The Bridge". I ordered a gin and tonic, and ordered what seemed the most likely edible option on the menu: calamari salad. I think the heat and the accident had fried my brains. It was disgusting. I nibbled at the calamari, tried to force down some warmed lettuce, and then claimed to not really be hungry, and settled for another gin and tonic.

I made my way back to the Purple House after calling Dean to find out how much I owed him – R1850. Cash. Ouch.

My room was stifling, so after figuring out the ceiling fan, I started opening windows. I opened the kitchen window, and heard a crash. I peered outside, and the bottom of the window frame had simply fallen off, leaving two glass panes shattered on the tiles outside.

Another shower, and off to bed. The next morning, I was fed a farm breakfast – yoghurt, muesli, eggs, boerewors, tomato, mushroom, toast, coffee, the works. Quite honestly, at this point in my journey, that breakfast is wearing a little thin. I’m starting to look for pancakes or a croissant, at this point.

The driver from Mark’s Tyres picked me up after breakfast, and after I paid over R4000 for my two new tires, sent me back on the road.

Fortunately, when I got to the bridge the opposite lane was clear and I made a wide berth around the kerb. Once bitten, and all that. 

The long, strange trip - Part one

GETTING OFFICIAL

My niece, Tracy, accompanied me to the bank to see what was needed to open an account. Passport didn’t cut it, and my ID is outdated. The officer told me she needed the ID with the barcode. Neither of us knew what that was, but realizing I would need a new ID, a trip to Home Affairs was in order.

Her husband, Danny, dropped me off at 7:30am at the local office. Signed in on the logbook, and at 8am ventured slowly into the building. First stop, cashier, where I handed over R140 for an ID in exchange for a receipt and a number. Next stop, pick up form for temporary ID so I could open the bank account. Then, wandered outside to the independent photographer in a wooden hut just out the gates. Then back to wait for the official photographer who takes the permanent ID pictures.

Word of advice: do not smile at the camera. Especially when you’re a teenager and that’s all you know how to do when a camera is pointed at you.

The numbers were getting closer, until a young lady was sent from the ID counter back to the photographer with her rejected photograph. From where I was standing, it was clear why. She sat, smiled slightly. Rejected. Posed again, remembered to not smile. Broke the computer.

Rebooting took around 15 minutes, whereupon she took her final photograph, returned to the counter queue, and we could all get back to our places.

Funny how the man operating the camera spoke in English to all the black-skinned folk, and Afrikaans to white-skinned. Struck me as rather odd. There was the rebellious part of me that wanted to tell him I didn’t understand a word, but I just pretended I did, and figured out what he wanted.

A shorter wait this time – smiley teen had taken up enough time that the counters had almost caught up with the photographer – fingerprints, and was told that they would SMS me in 3 days. At that point, I realized that I hadn’t actually thought about how long it would take and, if I was leaving on Sunday, how would I get the damn thing? Turns out, SA bureaucracy is pretty damned efficient. Three days.

So, now to get my temporary ID so I could head to the bank at Westgate and open my account.

There are two counters that deal with a variety of issues, and the confusion was clear. No specific lines, rows of chairs that didn’t indicate any order and everyone wanting something different.

One official walking the floor decided to place us all in different lines, and we all dutifully did so.

And then one woman behind the counter, who wasn’t assisting in that area, started yelling that we all had to sit down, in order, and nobody would serve us if we weren’t sitting down. Looking around, we wondered if we should double up and sit on each other’s laps? We reshuffled, and she went on her way. Floor guy did further filtering and moved me up to the 2nd row.

Temp ID, thumbprints, back to cashier to hand her R70, return to counter to show receipt, and wait. 15 minutes later, I had a temporary ID. I searched it for the bank’s required barcode, found nothing, shrugged and went out to wait for Danny to get me to Westgate.

Standard Bank: asked me a lot of questions I couldn’t answer (income? Job? Type of account?) but he still helped fill out a form, promised they would open an account manually and they will call me to come in and finish the process.

I asked about the temporary ID, and that caused more confusion hen I showed them my temporary ID, with photo of my non-smiling face. There was no barcode. He stopped another bank worker, and were asking each other questions – it was only when the one said the words “receipt” did I click. It wasn’t the Temporary ID they wanted, with my photo and pertinent details – it was the receipt showing I had paid for it, and THAT had the barcode!

I presented both receipts, and they were finally happy. Perhaps I could have picked up a receipt on the street and they'd have opened an account on the strength of that? I was confused, but too tired, too Hobbit-footed, and too hot and sticky to say/do anything.

Sat at Wimpy for fish and chips and rest before slogging the couple of miles home – with my swollen feet, and in heat that was becoming humid and very unpleasant.

Several times over the last days, I heard people make comments about “it’s the new South Africa”, meaning to denigrate, to belittle, to sigh and believe that South Africa just isn’t good enough, it’s useless, it’s bad.

I started to counter with my own story: I renewed my Green Card in July 2015. I was told it would be ready around February or March 2016 (despite it expiring in December 2015). It’s now March, and the email I sent enquiring about the delivery date took over a month for them to respond, saying it’s being “reviewed”. This either means I’m on the terrorist watch list, or they’re trying to figure out how to turn on the printer. It’s now the third week of March, and still no word.

RACISM

Ouch. When I left America, the discussions about racism there were front and center. Every day, everywhere – ongoing conversations about what it is, why it is, how it manifests decades after the Civil Rights era. The discussions were brought to prominence by the too-frequent killing of black men by mostly white police officers, and it’s an important discussion to have.

My arrival in SA was greeted with anti-racism protests in various cities, and student protests and subsequent violence on campuses.

What I’m missing from all of this activity is what the definition of “racism” actually is.

And it seems like a lot of people truly, honestly, do not know.

“I’m not racist. I don’t see skin color. My nickname for this (adult black man/colleague) I adore is ‘monkey’. We’re great friends.”

“Why are you walking to the shop? These black people are crazy. It’s dangerous.”

I have heard shades of the above comments from several people. I cannot decide whether to patiently educate them, or throw up on their shoes in disgust. So far, I’ve kept quiet – an unusual thing for me, but a deliberate choice I’ve made in these early days of my return. I have decided to listen, and to learn. I’ve been away a long time, and all those discussions I’ve followed in American media have served to educate, inform, enlighten me so I return with a heightened sense of awareness, of sensitivity. To tackle such a complex issue in a conversation with anyone who has entrenched views, or a level of cluelessness, becomes exceedingly difficult.

BUT - if South Africans truly want to tackle racism, we had better start by telling people what it is, instead of attacking some because they’re ignorant. Seems to me, from what I’ve seen so far, almost everyone is ignorant in some way.

On the Monday, I head to my niece’s office and my first stop is breakfast at the superb bakery nearby. The waiter, realizing my foreign-ness and indecision, tells me he will create a breakfast that he recommends “for the best experience”. I find myself falling in love with Africa.

Traffic! Such aggressive driving, South Africa! It’s eye opening to see cars trying to fill every inch of space, with little to no regard of the most basic rule of driving: consideration. There’s plenty of space – a whole 5mm! This is going to take time to adjust…

Lunch at Tashas, Sandton: Heirloom haloumi salad with pomegranate seeds and other yummy stuff; Rooibos and Rose Crème Brulee: delicious infused custard, with a curl of tea-leaf dotted wafer, and a pile of pink candy floss. A rock shandy to wash it all down, and I’m a happy camper. The one thing this country has always gotten right is the food.

Well, maybe two things :)

I had a list of things I wanted to do in Joburg. Not one thing on the list was “Home Affairs” or “Standard Bank”, but that does feel those two items filled my 10 days in the city – all being resolved the day before I left. My niece’s family did get me to Braamfontein to linger at Neighbourgoods Market, and it confirmed my belief that the country, again, gets food right. We settled on the booth with the shortest queue, being the Greek food. It was worthwhile, and chowing down massive chunks of Haloumi cheese got me wondering. Haloumi was available at one supermarket in Eugene, and is generally an unknown cheese to Americans. In SA, it’s piled alongside the Cheddar, and Gouda, and is on fast food menus. My degree of bliss inclined sharply.

Two things that struck me as I wandered around a local mall: Baby changing pods - an excellent idea. And the Christian bookstore that stopped me in my tracks.

Saturday rolled around, after a lovely week with my niece and her family, including spending one night chatting about our shared family until the wee hours – a conversation long overdue, and, I felt, much needed. It made me more comfortable with my decision to leave the past as history and to not revisit it on my way through the country.

My car was delivered, and it’s beautiful. Unbeknownst to either myself or the seller, it would be a long, frustrating effort to pay for it, since most of my money remained in America. My niece’s husband couldn’t wait to drive it, and I really could. I had seen Joburg driving and wasn’t about to do it until early Sunday morning when I would be the only one on the road trying to figure out how to drive on the wrong side of the road, the wrong side of the car, and with a whole lot of bells and whistles my old Camry had only dreamed about. It was far noisier than anticipated, and with an odd scraping sound every time the foot was removed from the gas. No lights flashed, so Danny and I reckoned it was probably nothing serious, and could wait until the next service.

So, Sunday morning, the family gathered to say goodbye, and I hit the road. My first experience with the GPS was to take me around the block in a long u-turn (it should have been a warning of things to come), but eventually it got me to the highway, and I was off.

PART THREE: Flights of Not-So-Fancy

Somewhere over nowhere

Somewhere over nowhere

Bombadier Q400. The name of the plane always brings to mind an old war plane, and I wonder if the interior has changed in size from those old days. It gives a new meaning to “cattle car”, with not enough room under my seat to store my carry-on. Note: nobody weighed my carry-on. My two suitcases did put me less than 2 pounds overweight, which is completely remarkable, since I can barely pick up the larger one – something I’m required to do multiple times on my road trip - it’s where all my summer clothing is, and boy, is it hot!

Sitting crunched into my window seat, it’s dark out, and Eugene’s light rain forms strands of pearls down the window. I suppose it's fitting to be leaving in this, rather typically Oregon, weather. There’s a low misty fog and I can’t help a smile as the plane thrusts itself into the sky, pushing me back into my seat. The lights of my 18-year home fade into darkness below me, and I wait for the sky to lighten. I'm so tired, I cannot wait to get past Seattle and hit that long flight to Dubai so I can sleep.

I woke at 2am on Monday morning – not that unusual. I’ve had trouble sleeping since my back injury and months of dealing with an awful specialist whose skills should probably have been better targeted at bicycle repair, rather than human repair. It wasn’t the pain that kept me awake, but my mind, fighting him in ways I couldn’t do in reality. Months of anything creates a habit, and now, insomnia is my reality. It’s one you never grow accustomed to – just a constant feeling of tiredness pervading every waking moment. I spent Monday cleaning the apartment, and doing some final packing. Monday night delivered no sleep, either. After saying goodbye to my wonderful friends, I made sure everything was ready to roll. And then I spent the rest of the night staring at the ceiling. By the time I reached Eugene Airport at 4:30am Tuesday morning, I was staying awake aided by airport coffee and a stale muffin. The alternative to collapsing in a heap and hoping someone would carry me onto the plane.

It’s foggy over Seattle, but I managed to catch a glimpse of the beautiful, small islands that make up the region around the city. Collected my carry-on and wandered into the airport to await my Emirates flight. I found a wall at SeaTac that clearly was in need of support, and waited for my flight to be called.

Settling into my Emirates window seat, hopes of comfort were dashed as someone took the B seat in my two-seat aisle. Not just any someone, but a very tall man, who struggled to find a space for his legs and his elbows – and I dreaded being scrunched into a seat next to him for the next 14 hours. Fortunately, so did he, and as soon as we were airborne, he moved to a center aisle, where he was able to take up 2 seats, and I returned to what I had wanted when I selected the seat: the row to myself.

9:40am, and the plane starts reversing away from the terminal.

This is it. This is when the last 18 years are left behind, and my entire life changes. One often hears about “life changing” events, but more often, they’re a dramatic hiccup in the course of a life lived more stably than mine. Relatively few simply upend everything they know, and fly into the unknown. Granted, it’s less dramatic than the last time I did this: heading to America with 5 dogs, with absolutely no plan, no connections, no knowledge of what was awaiting me, so this is easier. Still, dramatic and life changing.

The half hour delay in departure was due to Seattle’s famous fog. If they could bottle that, instead of coffee, they’d be truly onto something. We leave the fog at the airport, and taxi slowly down the runway, and I start noticing planes on the runway opposite us taking off. We're in a long queue and I start to count the take-offs.

7 – 8 – 9.

This is a big city traffic jam.

10.

We’re 11, and I can see another four planes behind us, waiting to join the skyway.

At 10am, lift off, and snowy mountain peaks reflect the light in the distance. I'm leaving winter behind, but the snow is going to be around for a lot of miles.

Emirates video screen shows us at 31,000 ft, around Mt Alberta, and we’re close enough to touch the snow. John Denver creeps into my mind as we head over the Rockies. The monitor tells me the temperature outside is -47C, but inside the plane is rocking and something smells delicious.

13 ½ hours to go, and we’ve travelled 400 miles. And then it all goes white.

My watch is showing 12:55, flight time 1:55; distance travelled 1099 miles, 7145 to go and we’re somewhere past La Loche, Canada. I note that soft clouds can sure be bumpy.

12:30pm and we’re heading towards the North Pole, but still over white-as-white Canada.

It's getting white out there...

It's getting white out there...

I see ice floes, and it’s still not the Pole.

I haven’t slept since Sunday night and even that followed months (years?) of 3- 4 averages so with the very long flight ahead of me – the time intended to be spent proof-reading articles for their final send-off to layout, and sleeping - was rather spent miserably ticking off the hours as the promised on-board internet connection eluded my computer, and my brain rejected all efforts at focusing on work. Or anything else, really. It also rejected any effort at sleeping. Even the Melatonin, while it made me drowsy, didn’t knock me out as it usually does.

Lest I put too much blame where it doesn’t really (entirely) belong: yes, there was the obligatory high-pitched screaming child that I believe every airline is obliged to place in certain parts of economy class flights (it’s how they make sure you sign up for business class the next time you fly). It might break your bank, but at least it doesn’t break your soul, or clear out the ear wax. In my case, it was a clearly non-verbal child whose attempts at communicating were relegated to high-pitched screams, and his younger brother, a baby at that perfect age to mimic everything, obliged.

(And, just in case I hadn’t learned my lesson: the family were in front of me at the Arrivals line in Dubai and we were all allowed to appreciate his vocal range, and the parents’ infinite patience, all over again.)

4am by my watch, Oregon time – approaching Reykjavik; monitor tells me it’s 1:30am outside. Still no sleep, despite taking a stronger sleep-aid. It made me drowsy, but clearly I needed a sledgehammer. So, another sleepless night.

5:30 my watch, approaching Faroe Islands and heading towards Copenhagen. 4043 miles down, and 7 more hours to go. Maybe at some point in this, a nap attack could happen?

By the time the sky is light enough to see anything again, we’re over Romania, with 4 hours to go.

Its 8:20pm my watch, altitude 36,996 ft, and I hope it’s enough to clear those mountain ranges we’re flying over.

Turkey: my watch reads 9:45pm. Almost bedtime in America. Yeah, funny. Not.

Different snowy mountains this time at 37,000ft, it seems that’s all I’ve seen for thousands of miles: big, snowy mountains, with no sign of civilization anywhere.

The monitor shows us doing a sharp jog, avoiding having breakfast in Syria. I think that’s wise under current circumstances… although we are heading straight for Iran. And the snowy mountains continue. Iran, however, does have what appears to be roads traversing the mountains, and occasional buildings or villages can be seen.

We’re 10,282km from Seattle, and its 10:05pm by my watch. Definitely bedtime.

At 10:30pm, or 10:30am, depending on which timepiece you’re looking at, we make a sharp turn to head south along the border with Iraq. The snowy mountains turn gradually into hills, and brown landscape. Oops, spoke too soon: snow-capped mountains over Kirkuk. A lot of roads, but there’s no indication they lead to anything in particular, certainly as far as the eye can see, and at 37,000 ft, that’s quite a distance.

1 ½ hours from Dubai, and the snow tickles the tips of distant mountains only, but there’s nothing flat, either. Fascinating folds of earth as if some haute couture designer plucked the earth into random, close pleats.

Around 11:10, I start to see little rivers or dams, with no beaches, just a straight upward incline of mountain. The water is pure teal and a perfect complement to the brown of the mountains.

We’re flying between Basra and Shariz and I finally see a town. It’s the first actual sign that humans live on earth since we left Seattle nearly 9,000 miles ago.

I see water.

40 minutes out of Dubai, and we’re finally over the Gulf, and gradually descending. Small islands dot the waterscape, and one wonders how many gazillionaires have their Macmansions built on them.

We land in Dubai at 12:39 (am and pm). I haven’t slept since Monday morning, and the planned nearly 12-hour exploration of Dubai seems more daunting than anticipatory.

Part Four: Dubee, Dube, Dubai

PART ONE: Eugene, Oregon - 12/27/2015

Change is always a little nerve-wracking: whether it be changing a job, buying a house, or even a political election. One never really knows what is lurking around the corner, and the best one can do is shine as bright a light as possible and hope to dispel any shadows that are bound to trip one up at any given moment. Life is not supposed to be lived in a vacuum, and I never believed that not leaving home is a desirable way to exist. There is a Kenyan saying: "The eye that leaves the village sees further" - as much as one can pay attention to the news, read about different cultures, and, yes, even be a tourist in distant lands, one can never imagine what it is like to live in that land as one passes through.

It is perhaps interesting that I was the only daughter of 4 (the youngest) that was born at home. My 3 sisters were all welcomed in the sanitary white of hospitals, but perhaps by the time #4 came along, my mother had figured it out and simply called the family doctor to swing by at the appropriate time. I recall a visit to his office during a teen year to be patched up after being bitten by fighting Afghan Hounds, and seeing my patient card with its first entry: "Baby" and the date.

So, after 18 years of living in that same house, leaving seemed the obvious thing to do. What? You mean that should really have meant finding my own home in the neighborhood and stay there for the rest of my life? Uh-oh. Guess I screwed that one up, since I spent the rest of my life moving, staying only in places 2 or 3 years, until I was familiar with it, and my feet started to itch again. I would joke that I never took a vacation, I would just pack up my stuff and move. Which is what I proceeded to do: birth home to Johannesburg to Pretoria to Cape Town to Johannesburg to Harrismith to Magaliesburg to Johannesburg to America.... I think that's the full list.

How ironic then, that I would find myself spending all but 2 of the last 18 years of my life in the same city, split between only two homes. Granted, that wasn't the plan - as much as I tend to make any plan at all - but Eugene, Oregon is certainly far from the worst place to live, and it did open its arms to me and allowed me to wallow in some level of comfort - certainly compared to the two years I spent in Los Angeles. Not a completely god-forsaken place, but there is absolutely nothing to recommend it. Absolutely nothing. Oh, Malibu Canyon is a pretty drive. And then there's.... I scratch my head to think of somethingthat would compel me to return. Apologies to the "freaks and the chic and the Aztec elite" as the ever-amazing singer/songwriter William Topley put it, but I can't think of a single reason.

What brought me from South Africa to America? I've been asked that countless times since 1998, and all I have is the honest answer - which invariably gets me a response that veers between somewhat curious to a definitive "you're crazy, but I'm too polite to tell you"-look: It was there. When I follow it up with the information that it was me AND my 5 dogs, that elicits the equivalent of someone slowly backing out of the room. It seems inconceivable that someone, least of all a woman on her own, would think of leaving "home" (at that time, a house in Johannesburg), taking her 5 dogs and flying off to a strange country, with absolutely no plan in mind. Frankly, as much as I can try to understand the reaction on an intellectual level, I still don't really get why that is such an "amazing" or "brave" thing to do. The world is out there, buy a plane ticket whenever you can afford to do so, and go see it. Granted, there is a very, very thin line between bravery and stupidity and perhaps I'm good at balancing. Taking the dogs with me was a no-brainer: I never considered an alternative for an instant - they were my family, my kids, and who would leave their kids behind? That would be somewhat sociopathic, no?

And now, after my second stint in Eugene of the last 7 years, it's time to move again. And it is the call of "home" I follow this time. My babies have long passed on, and I leave them buried in Eugene, taking merely their memories with me. The other big difference is that, this time, I have a ...... plan. I always hesitate to use the "p" word: for my entire life, every time I try to plan something, there is a Spirit out there that heaves his feet onto the coffee table, and chuckles darkly into his whiskey glass, conjuring ways to make any "p" go awry. But, this time will be different. This time, I get to say "fuck you", toss the coffee table over, and storm into a new life with a direction and a goal and a PLAN.

"Home". I hesitate to use that word, as I feel I don't really have a "home". "Home" has always just been wherever I am - and where my dogs were. While I am South African by citizenship, I disagree vehemently with the notion of borders and nationalism, so South Africa is "home" by virtue of being where I lived for most of my life.

The "PLAN": It's a little insane to launch a publication (let alone a series) with little to no support, and most especially in this Age of Information where consumers want to be informed about the world, but have no desire to pay for it. When my mother told me as a kid that I should study journalism, I rejected the notion immediately. My idea of journalism was to pry and poke into other people's business and ask awkward and embarrassing questions, and I was never going to do that. But, when I found myself repeatedly drawn to media: first on SABC in Johannesburg and working on television, then onto writing a column for a (now defunct) newspaper, and then in America where two radio stations opened their arms to me (and my odd accent), I had to finally acknowledge that I have a "calling". Life is like that, right? It keeps trying to put you on a path, occasionally knocking you over the head with a 2x4 in the hopes you'll get the message.... and then, the light bulb goes on, and you can no longer deny it.

As stressful as it is to pack and move across the world - again - I am using this time to launch "Perspective: Africa". It is intended to be a quarterly journal with news, views, editorial, photojournalism, and more, reflecting the incredible changes that are taking place across the African continent. I am constantly impressed, depressed, hopeful, exhilarated, at everything I see happening in Africa. I hope that in some way, I can bring that to the readers, who, as I've learned in 18 years of American life, generally know little to nothing of anything related to Africa - and sincerely want to know.

To add to my plate, as if the above wasn't enough, "Perspective: Africa" is intended to be only the first in a series, each focusing on different regions. So, once I've caught my breath from launching "Perspective: Africa", I shall be launching Perspective: Middle East/Europe". I have a feeling there's a lot to talk about there, too.

So, to anyone reading this who is in a position to support, advertise, or spread the word about any of these publications, I shall swear fealty to your greatness for the rest of my days. Either that, or I'll give you a discount.

I think I may have forgotten to mention that in the last year, I have written several narrative dance productions, and I hope to persuade some brave company in South Africa to work with me to bring them to the stage. Just in case I get bored, waiting for all of you to send me content... 

But for now I sit in Eugene, in an almost empty apartment, 6 weeks from my flight away from America, stressing about things that I know will all work out in the end, curious about my future, hoping I can cajole people to work with me in some area, grateful for all that I have done, the places I've slept, and the people who have crossed my meandering path as each and every one has contributed something to who I am, and each experience has added some steel to my spine, giving me the strength to follow that PLAN.

the oh-so-familiar Owosso Bridge, over which I crossed on a river walk almost every day for many years. Eugene.

the oh-so-familiar Owosso Bridge, over which I crossed on a river walk almost every day for many years. Eugene.