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The difference in African perceptions

I was expecting the worse. Everybody had warned us. Maaret had been there 3 years previously and remembered it as being very bad. The hostel staff the night before had said it was terrible, and a couple of people who had just driven from Coffee Bay confirmed that it was a horrific road. But a brief chance discussion with an elderly couple along the way had led to the comment 'it's really bad, and you have to go slow, no more than about 70'. And then I started to wonder. 70?! Perhaps it's not really that bad...


Coffee Bay is a small town and resort on the wild coast, nestled in a small valley between the cliffs and with just one road in and out. This road, a 90km stretch from the main N2 to the coast, is what I had been constantly warned about, and I had initially viewed it with some trepidation. This increased due to the fact it was starting to get late and the light was fading, and the by now familiar dark clouds were beginning to gather apace. There were no signs along it, but several small turn offs, and at one point my passengers were convinced we had gone the wrong way and wanted to turn around and go back, or find somebody reliable-ish looking to ask.

Typical houses - Rondavels – in the countryside around large parts of South Africa

In reality, it was fine. We arrived just as night finally drew in, and whilst i admit that it was possibly the worst road I have driven in South Africa, by African standards it was high class. It was tarred for all but the last 1km, 2 lanes wide and had white lines painted on it, and though there were quite allot of potholes they were mostly fairly easy to avoid, and none of them were of the sort of size or depth that swallows cars whole (something I once saw in Romania, for example). In some countries in Africa, the main road of the entire country has been in significantly worse shape. It was also slightly odd in terms of habitation: The map showed 3 small settlements along the road, but we only passed one. However, the whole way along – the full 90km – there were dwellings, often rondavels, along the road and in the surrounding areas, so that at no point in the entire journey were we ever out of sight of at least a couple of dozen houses. Which would have been more interesting had it not been annoying as I was increasingly in need of a rest stop, and didn't find anywhere secluded enough for one...

The kind of rest stop i required, but could not take...

That night, listening to conversation about how bad the road had been an how poor the area had been, i reflected on the road and all the warnings I had heard, and realised that in a way they were correct. It was a bad road, but by South African or Western European standards. And that it is all about perception and experience: Most, if not all, of the people who had warned us about the road were basing the warning on South Africa. I, in my naivety had taken the warning that it is a really bad road as being bad by African standards, and thus been very pleasantly surprised. Yet again, I am beginning to realise how un-African (and in a way insulated) South Africa and some of it's tourists really are.

This is about as bad as the road got. Sure, a few potholes, but on the grand scheme of things it really isn't so bad

Posted by Gelli 00:19 Archived in South Africa Tagged round_the_world

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