Spent a couple days in Pretoria, the administrative capital city of South Africa. Not a very exciting city tourist-wise but right now it is gorgeous with all of the sidewalks lined with purple flowering jacaranda trees. It rained last night, the first rain of the spring. A guy said it hadn’t rained since April. So people were excited. And it refreshed the air and it was fragrant with all the flowers rather than with the surrounding industry.
We stayed at a very pleasant guest house to carry out the unpleasant task of exchanging vehicles once again. We refuse to travel any further with El Diablo Blanco. (Once when we were in Guatemala, we rented a little blue paddle boat to go out into the ocean for the afternoon, but its rudder wasn’t quite right and we paddled in circles trying to get back to shore and it was completely maddening…. and we dubbed it El Diablo Azul… henceforth devilish transports are dubbed with the appropriate Diablo color..) Yesterday we almost ran out of gas (diesel) twice as El Diablo Blanco was sucking it down like a Shara sucks beer. We couldn’t even manage highway speeds at times, it struggled and lurched so badly. Then we got a flat tire. Thank goodness we’d taken the initiative to pay for the 2 spares to be fixed after we used the one spare in Kruger. Again, a nice passerby who saw us taking the jack down off the vehicle offered to help, so the job was done quickly.
The truck was still performing horribly and now we were stressing about the integrity of the spare tire. So we were left driving a totally unreliable car at night down a stretch of highway that says, “Do Not Stop. Hijacking Area.” Chatting with the B&B proprietor, we told him it would have been OK for them to steal our car, and he said, “Yeah, if you could get them to leave you alive and just take the car, that’d be alright.” Apparently a lot of hijackers and robbers don’t bother leaving their victims alive any more, easier just to shoot them. It’s very strange in the city: there are multiple strands of electric wire atop metal fences around all the private houses and the B&B, just like at the game parks. Literally, each residence is fenced in exactly like a game park. The B&B guy says he can’t get insurance unless he has the electric wire. The B&B is a stone’s throw away from the soccer stadium in Pretoria. He said during the soccer World Cup, it was great because security was so high, it was perfectly safe to walk around the streets at night and everyone was out and having a good time. “It was like we were living in a First World country instead of a Third World country,” he said. “It was great.” Where we are now in Johannesburg (have moved since I started typing post), all the properties are gated with infrared security beams and everything. The man who is letting us park our camper in his driveway told us simply when we asked about all the heightened security precautions everywhere, “This is Africa!” Hard to know precisely what that implies.
We are couch surfing in Joburg and we’ve got an entire little apartment to ourselves with a full kitchen and everything, so we’ve been able to cook up our camping food. Camping the last few nights was fun, but it's also nice to be back in a civilized room. It’s a completely unreasonable accommodation for a free room and the lady is also providing food and drinks; she fixed us fruit salad for breakfast this morning. Amazing. (couch surfing if you don’t know = stay with people for free in their homes) For those who know that I collect Daphne DuMaurier books, a fun totally random find at a goofy little “antique” (note quotes) shop in Pilgrim’s Rest outside Blyde Canyon. While we were in the shop a group of guys started washing our car, and Erik had to yell to them that the car was a rental and we didn’t care if it was dirty, didn’t want it cleaned and we’re not paying them if they continue washing it. Later, Erik said, “We should have dirted it up again just to void their efforts as we drove out of town.” You have to watch people here just doing things for you which you don’t ask them to and then demanding money of you for their unsolicited efforts.
But really, I just don’t even know what to make of these South Africans. The lady we’re couch surfing with in Johannesburg and her sister and brother-in-law are so nice and chatty; when we returned from an outing into the city yesterday, they invited us to sit outside with them and share some beer and wine. Then they said they couldn’t send us off without cooking us a braai. (South African barbecue…. a national pastime…. generally just a metal grate over charcoal). So at noon the next day they fixed us an entire feast with bap (maize… similar to cream of rice) with tomato/onion sauce and fresh tomatoes and garden greens, rolls, and beef sausage and chicken on the braai. It was completely delicious, and just so nice for these people to fix an entire meal for us!
Then when we asked for directions to the airport, the couple decided to just drive their car to the airport and have us follow them. It was about a 45-minute drive, so 1.5 hours roundtrip for them just to see us safely to the airport.
Once at the airport where we planned to drop off El Diablo Blanco and pick up a new truck (no camper) from a different rental company, as we came to the rental drop-off gate where we’d arranged to dump the Diablo, we found our vehicle was too tall (owing to the camper on top) to fit into the parking lot. We couldn’t turn around but there was a parking lot next to it for temporary bus/shuttle parking so we pulled in there and Erik went in to find the rental company. The rental supervisor bent over 8 ways from backwards to make things as convenient as possible for us; I won’t even list the things he did. But the funniest one was sneaking us out of the bus lot so we wouldn’t have to pay a lot of money for having parked there; he told the lot attendant our plight and he had us run through the gate right behind another vehicle when they left. I don’t know how much more good will we can take. Perhaps something horrendous is about to happen to us to offset it all.
Because of all the hassles we had to deal with exchanging the vehicle, we didn’t have time to do much in Joburg itself. We did go to the SAB “World of Beer” tour. They have a monopoly, basically, on the beer industry in S.A. They brew all the beers here, including the “imports,” that is to say they don’t import beers like Miller, Heineken and Amstel but rather are licensed to brew them themselves here. They had a stat that they bottle something like 40,000 cans of beer a minute in each of several rooms in each of 7 brewery sites in the country. That’s rather nuts. We’ve asked some people about microbrewing and they say it just hasn’t taken off. Apparently everyone is perfectly happy with the SAB line-up. Did a little shopping in stalls in what appeared to be a Muslim quarter of town. Women’s clothing was ridiculously cheap. Good thing the stores were all just starting to close or I might have come home with an entirely new wardrobe.
Went into the rough equivalent of a Chinese medicine pharmacy, but for traditional African medicines, with lots of strange roots and animal parts. It's essentially like a witch doctor's supply store. There was an entire taxidermy baboon, which was quite creepy. Also a wide variety of spears.
We are now friends with Tim the taxi driver, and have his direct number to call when we arrive back in Joburg at the train station and need transport to the airport. Tim seems an unlikely name for a somewhat brash and easily-irate black guy with a healthy afro… perhaps he has some difficult-to-pronounce name in his tribal language and chose Tim (like a lot of Chinese people choose American names for themselves). It made me think of Monty Python’s Holy Grail: Tim the Enchanter.
Cape Town was a bit of a bust due to the unpleasant weather, with clouds, rain, and excessive winds. We had a pleasant enough time but did not get to see the scenery for which the city is so famous. The cableway to Table Mountain was closed both days due to the high winds. We drove along the coast, but could not see very far past the shoreline, though that had its own beauty with the fog and the foaming, frothy waves hitting the shore.
But the one thing I most wanted to see here, I did get to see as planned: the penguin colony. And it was so fun. Penguins for some strange reason have huge personality ... which is weird because they have no real facial expression whatsoever, and yet they just ooze personality and you can put words in their mouths so easily. I like this first photo because of how the penguins were acting. There were about 5 of them who were like a secret club, with very serious business to take care of today. They’d waddle back and forth between an open rock face and the club house. At the rock they’d stand a little apart and be socializing like it was cocktail hour. Then several would go over to the clubhouse and huddle together, heads bent in secret plotting. Each penguin going back and forth between happy hour and clubhouse. I would have liked to stick around to see their mischievous plot put into action.The club house, below:
Back and forth, back and forth, to and from the club house and happy hour, below. Tell me the two guys on the far left in the first photo aren't having a fascinating discussion in a distinguished British accent.
Most of the penguins were actually molting and so were particularly fluffy and feathery ... different than how we're used to seeing them. This guy looks a little embarrassed at his condition.
I can't tell if this guy is giving me the stink eye, or what.
Penguins penguins everywhere! And I've been spotted by this one! Uh-oh. He's looking like he may have sinister intentions.
These are my two favorite penguin shots. The one guy just trundling along the beach, and the other one looking up with her precious little penguin face.
But there are most than just penguins on Boulder Beach. A pair of a pair of birds. :)
Believe it or not there is a “Cape of Good Hope Castle.” Actually it’s just a fort, first established in the mid-1600s. But had a castle-like feel and the visitor can roam about quite freely. And it killed a couple hours during the bleak day. We also checked out some market squares and drove up Signal Hill, which would have had astounding views, but had merely lovely views owing to the low clouds and fog. The wind the last couple days has been Nederland-caliber. We have been taken aback by it, and regrettably left most of our warm clothes back in Joburg because everyone said how lovely the weather would be in Cape Town. D’oh.
Staying now at our second couch surfing pad. This is more like what I was expecting… just a bed in a spare room. But it’s quite hospitable of our hosts, for it is just a tiny 2-bedroom flat with the 2 bedrooms, a bathroom and then one living space with kitchen and living/dining, quite small. So we all sit here together sharing space to both chat and drink and to do our own things (like type up blog reports, while host does internet business and Erik reads a book and the co-host watches TV). So we’re off tomorrow on the train; the primary reason we flew here to Cape Town was in order to take the train back to Joburg, a 26-hour ride. We hear it's the best way to see the interior of the country.