30.11.2009 - 30.11.2009
Though there is still a short port stop back in Walvisbaai, Namibia, to go, Africa has now ended for me, on this trip at least. With luck, I will be back next year on a short visit at least: some people will be kicking round lumps of leather around, and I have some pieces of paper allowing me to watch some of them.
For now, it is over. In any substantive way, this has been my first visit to Sub-Saharan Africa. It has certainly been the first one where I have had had any chance to be any kind of tourist. Watching the waves slide by and the sun going down from the deck of the Green Cape, I started to reflect on it all. For most people, 'Africa' is still kind of seen as one large scary poor and backward place, and more than I did before i got here, I can kind of understand where that comes from. Though a mass of individual tribes, cultures, languages and backgrounds, much of sub-Saharan Africa really is not actually all that different to each other.
A majority theoretically speak English; Many of the local languages are descended from the same Bantu routes, and local customs and laws do not always differ as much as might be expected. Colonial history, and the struggles since independence (economic as well as violent) still weigh heavily on many places. The people are almost all extremely friendly, and optimistic about the future. Racism – with the exception of that by white Boer's – between blacks and whites is generally hidden at the very least, though i certainly wouldn't say that it was gone. Instead, tribal conflicts seem to be of more relevance in many areas, although to many people, a white person still means a rich person.
Politics, political leadership and governance are still lacking by Western standards and ideals, and corruption is still rife throughout public office. That is not to say that all of Africa is corrupt and poorly governed and all of the West is not. Definitely not. But certainly everyday dealings with public officials in Africa requires very different skills than in many other places, and in some areas are best being actively avoided. And at higher levels there are still depressing trends of nepotism (to family, friends and tribes), regular changing/manipulating of rules to cling to power, and corruption on grand scales.
It is a vast and beautiful area, with any number of natural treasures, landscapes and scenes hidden away: But it can take time, money and effort to visit and see many of them. Some of the greatest gems are the people themselves, especially rural ones away from major tourist trails and infrastructure routes.
Much of Africa is extremely poor, but to the average traveler, tourist or backpacker it is not cheap, and that comes as a bit of a shock to many who expect it to operate more like South East Asia or India where things are much cheaper. Much of the backpackers world is entirely unconnected to that of the locals: hostels and tour groups are often owner by expats, and can be almost entirely self contained, meaning only small amounts of money trickle down to a few locals employed in lower level jobs. Prices, whilst possibly cheap by Western European standards are not as low as expected by many. Supermarkets and more western shops/restaurants tend to be Expat owned or South African chains. Crafts and Transport are the exceptions where locals and tourists tend to mix more, but even then tourists tend to use more luxury lines than the local majority (and buses in general are not as cheap as often imagined), whilst on minibuses and at craft markets backpackers fall into one of 2 categories: those who pay what is asked as its only a short holiday and its not worth the hassle of haggling, or those who haggle hard and are often offended at how ridiculous the price markup is, simply because they are white/tourists. At least buses/minibuses are the great reducer, due to the sheer number of people that get crammed in: For many, this is the only true local experience they ever get.
The food can be delicious, but tends to be quite bland and nothing to write home about. Filling and cheap is traditionally more important. Fruit, left to grow naturally and not full of additives, modifiers or grown out of season is normally excellent. Beer tends to be pretty good, although some local brews are literally death-in-a-cup, as are many local spirits and home-brews.
But from a personal perspective, what did I enjoy most or will i miss most?
Honestly, I don't know. I have lots of great memories but lots of regrets. Many great experiences, but also knowledge of things missed: not one single incident or moment stands out as the best, or, indeed, worst. Sadly, there is not a single country that I feel completely satisfied with what I saw/did, meaning that I pretty much have to return to all of them. When I first arrived here, I had no plan (or idea) beyond a few weeks at random in Namibia and then see what happen and how the mood took me. In a way, I think I expected to stay in Africa 2 or 3 months before moving on somewhere else. 9 months later, things went very differently and I could not have guessed or envisaged how things would turn out. Many parts were certainly unexpected. But I have no real complaints. Heck, even Hamish taught me many things and gave me several unique experiences.
And at the end of the day, I think that is all I am really looking for when I travel: that it teaches me about myself and the world, and that I get new and varying experiences and perspectives from it.