Sunday, February 14, 2016

Return from South Africa and Happy Valentine's Day

Hello!  We are back from South Africa after a whirlwind 9 day trip (including extensive travel time), with fantastic memories, cool pictures, safari-dusted clothes and 10 bottles of wine, give or take.  The trip was the perfect antidote to a rocky start to February, and we come back tanned (someone is slightly burnt) and content.

The trip was awesome!  We wish we could have stayed longer, though we really made excellent use of our time while in this beautiful country.  Safari in Kruger was amazing because of the access that we had to nature, and wild animals in their natural habitat.  Capetown was a gorgeous jewel of a city.  We couldn't stop oohing and ahhing over the sunset, the water, the mountains, the blue skies.  It reminded me a lot of California, particularly San Francisco, for its hilly roads, cool mornings and nights, trendy boutiques, and hip but chill vibe.

We flew out of Hong Kong on a South African Airways direct flight late last Friday night and arrived in Johannesburg bright and early, where we first picked up our first rental car (a trusty little red Renault Clio that we subsequently inadvertently abused) before heading toward the Vuyani lodge in Hoedspruit.

Halfway there, between streaming podcasts via bluetooth on the car stereo and chatting about stuff, I got completely sidetracked and we missed our exit.  I chose an alternate route… only to discover, to our mutual horror, that the road was under severe construction.  After driving on a dusty dirt path for about 20 minutes, we then faced the true nightmare: a mining road with potholes so deep and wide that really only 4 wheel vehicles should be navigating it.  At the very last possible second, before we pulled into town, Michael was forced to drive off the road to allow a truck to pass, which resulted in a flat tire.

Fortunately we could pull into a parking lot in town, it was a bright and sunny morning, and Michael is very good at changing tires.  I still felt a little bit uneasy, in a small car in the middle of mountains and farms and not knowing whether our spare tire would hold up for the rest of the trip, but thankfully after this first snafu, our trip proceeded much more smoothly.

We arrived at our resort in the afternoon, in time for some lunch which they had saved for us, and more importantly, for the afternoon safari!  Pictures of the trip in upcoming posts.

A note about something that tinged the whole trip -- one thing I did not completely comprehend was the ugly, bitter aftermath of apartheid.  Yes, the system of racial segregation officially ended in 1994, but 20 years later, its cruel legacy is still pretty evident to any casual observer.  While driving in Capetown, we heard radio commercials issued by the government attempting to address racism in the community.  Shanty towns on the edge of Johannesburg were all black.  In the Cape winelands, the wineries are owned by white families while the grape pickers are black.  We also started to notice, and then couldn't stop noticing, that at every establishment visited on our trip, the manager or supervisor was white, and the employees or waitstaff were black -- and never the other way around.  I don't know if we just happened to have a bad sample pool, but the rules of probability indicate otherwise.  In any event, it's amazing how some places carry their history with them, while others are a meld of the new and old.  I would say that, more than most places we have been, South Africa carries the scars of its tortured past heavily.

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