Travel Report from South Africa (17 May 2004)

Greetings from South Africa, our final destination!

After our last report, we exited Namibia at the Nakop border and arrived late at night in Upington, (Northern Cape), and just in time to get a steak at the local steak house before they closed. A well deserved meal after a long and boring drive. We left Upington early the following morning for Kimberley, the famous old Diamond Mining town, our plan being to see the ‘big hole’ and do an underground tour of an active diamond mine.

These plans changed as soon as we arrived in Kimberley as neither of us took to the town. Described in the Lonely Planet as a quaint, colonial, mining town with a distinctly wild west feel about it, we felt that we had arrived in the backwaters of the beyond, the only features being very friendly people, a drive-in movie theatre, and old ‘mining bars’ with a contrived atmosphere. The underground mining tour was booked out for the whole of the following week, and the prospect of staying in Kimberley for an additional week just to visit the mine was out of the question for both of us. We settled for an overnight stay, a few drinks in one of the bars, and went to see the big hole the following morning – and it is big! Both Christian and I were given prospecting cards, and exactly one pail of gravel in which we could search for diamonds. Christian found two ‘diamonds’ in his pail, which we traded in at the miners store for a miniature magnetic dart board and dart set – good for those evenings in the car when we have nothing better to do.

We left Kimberley for Johannesburg, arriving with my parents just before midnight, but both my sister and Mum were up to great us and congratulate us one reaching our final country of destination! We spent the Easter weekend with my family in Joburg, doing things we haven’t been able to do for a long time: relax by the pool, ride, sleep in, go to the movies and enjoy the company of my family and a superb Easter feast, and relaxing in the gorgeous balmy, autumn climate here. Christian summoned up the courage (after a few drinks) to ask Dad for my hand in marriage, much to the excitement of my family. So now we are engaged, and were able to celebrate our engagement with my family.

But, once the Easter weekend was over, we were again hit the road, this time direction Cape Town. We had to make an overnight stop at a backpackers in Colesburg after 8 hours of driving, and left early the following morning with another 8 hours of driving and stormy weather ahead of us. All we saw on route were large balls of tumble weed blowing across the road.

In Cape Town, we stayed in Camps Bay with Rodney and Janet, whom we had met in Egypt and driven through Sudan and Ethiopia with. This was a super reunion, and we spent most of our evenings sitting in front of the log fire in their lounge reminiscing about our travelling experiences. Rodney and Janet wined and dined us in the best restaurants and wine bars in the area and treated us to sundowners overlooking Camps Bay, our first theatre visit in nearly a year, fabulous markets where we shopped ‘til we dropped and drives with breathtaking scenery. We also visited the Cape Town Aquarium and Robben Island where Mandela was imprisoned during Apartheid. We also visited Muizenberg, famous for its colourful Victorian beach-houses, and the pigeon breeding ground in Simon’s Town. Emile, an old friend of mine, ensured that we got to experience the best that Cape Town has to offer in terms of bars and clubs. It took us days to recover! The only unfortunate incidence in Cape Town was that our car was broken into and our clothing, a camera, the GOS, our CD’s and CD Player stolen. Take a look at our replacement radio on our website:

We left Cape Town for East London and enjoyed more beautiful scenery whilst driving along the Garden Route. We overnighted in the Western Cape at Wilderness in Fairy Knowe Backpackers which lives up to its ethereal name. The main house comprises of an old farmhouse set in beautiful leafy grounds close to the river. Lights floating in the trees give the feeling of being in a tree house, and the showers are outside, under the trees and have vines creeping through the cracks in the doors. From Wilderness we had an easy drive to the East London (Eastern Cape) where we stayed with Niels, another very old friend of mine. Niels treated us to a weekend par excellence in East London which involved Springbok Stir fry’s, Champagne in honour of our completing our trip (which we enjoyed on his balcony overlooking the Quelegga River), flights in his plane along the Wild Coast, and an overnight stop at Trenneries where we enjoyed their infamous Saturday night seafood buffet. Who could possibly want more?

From East London, we left for the student town of Grahamstown to meet yet another friend of ours and exchange travelling stories: Sean and Melinda hitchhiked from Kenya to South Africa two years ago. After a good braai, we visited some of the favourite student haunts with Sean, which made us feel old! The following day we left for Graaff-Reinet (Karoo) where we stayed with Sean and Melinda for two days, taking the opportunity to see the ‘Valley of Desolation’ and ‘The Owl House’. The Valley of Desolation is made up of unusual rocky outcrops which do give a feeling of other worldliness, and the Owl House is famous for its original owner who locked herself away from the world and began decorating her home and garden with crushed glass, concrete owls and figurines. Visiting this house leaves one feeling both sad and incredulous.

From Graaff-Reinet we again headed back to Gauteng, Johannesburg, to start making enquiries for shipping our trusty truck back to Germany. We can not sell our car in South Africa, as South Africa recently passed a law barring left hand drive vehicles from being registered in South Africa. Frank, a friend of Christians from Germany, came to spend the weekend with us in Johannesburg. He brought with him a keg of Christian’s famous German beer, ‘kolsch’. Christian was delighted. It didn’t take long to finish the keg! The highlight of Franks visit was a night tour of Shabeens in Soweto.

The thought of touring a township where the poor and disadvantaged people in South Africa live sounds grotesque. Yet it is the best way to see all there is to see in a very large area without getting lost, and to ensure that the money goes directly into the hands of the local communities within Soweto. We visited the wealthier parts of Soweto, known as Beverley Hills, and home to such Anti-Apartheid Activist greats as Bishop Tutu and the now disgraced Winnie Mandela. The houses here are as large and attractive as in any ‘white ‘suburb of South Africa. In the poorer areas, families live in tin shanties with no electricity and water. In every corner of Soweto one can see evidence of the government building schemes for the people. In Soweto, the streets are alive and full of people and activity, very much like London on a Saturday night! All the people we met welcomed us and chatted to us. After dinner in Wendy’s, we went off to the coolest Shabeen of the moment, where we purchased a 6 pack of Castle’s and swapped stories with everyone there. The night was a great laugh, and a real eye-opener into the positive attitude in South Africa and how far South Africa has come since the fall of Apartheid. The hot topic under discussion was: Will South Africa win the bid to host the 2010 Football World Cup? The whole of Soweto was banking on it. Tonight, the night that it has been announced that South Africa HAS won the bid, I can imagine the whole of Soweto is celebrating.

In between enquiring about shipping, we went back in East London for a weekend to attend my youngest sisters’ graduation, soak up more hours on the beach at Cintsa with my uncle and family, and again catch up with Niels. As soon as we were back in Johannesburg, we left immediately for our very last drive on this trip in our car: we left for Durban. Here we left our car at the Durban Docks, packed with our souvenirs, locked up securely and ready to board the ship for Bremerhaven in Germany. We were sad to leave our car behind, and we miss it! Taking the night bus back to Johannesburg felt wrong after being in our own vehicle for the length of Africa.

So what now? Our trip has ended, the car is gone. Christian and I plan to have our wedding in South Africa some time next year. Christian will return to Germany at the end of May to receive our car. I will stay on in South Africa to attend my Fathers 60th birthday in July. And then, Christian and I need to see where we end up. This depends on what jobs we get and in which country those jobs are posted. Rather than working, I am more interested in planning our next trip through West Africa!

We thank you for all of your support, feedback and comments during our trip. This always made stopping at Internet cafes with very slow connections more than worthwhile! And we look forward to seeing all of you again soon!

Best wishes,
Julianne and Christian.