A Travellerspoint blog

May 2010

End of a continent. For now, anyway.

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.

Posted by Gelli 22:26 Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

It's all wet around me again

Standing on the deck of the m/v Green Cape in the harbour, I half watched Cape Town going about it's business and the occasional cable car gliding up to Table Mountain in the distance, and half watched the loading of provisions on to the ship via a large metal cage. The flatbed truck parked below was overflowing with all the essentials. A few sacks of potatoes came up, followed by 2 sacks of onions, several boxes of eggs and, finally, well over 200 crates of assorted booze.

It was going to be one of those sorts of trips.

To be fair, I could see it coming – looking at the manifest when I initially boarded, something had already told me that spending the next 18 or so days on a ship with 1 German, a South African and 25 Poles (all men, and mostly, large men) would not necessarily be the ideal place to detox...

Part of the loading of alcohol in Cape Town

The m/v Green Cape is my home for the next 18ish days. She is a mixed usage freighter, owned by a German company, MACS, with, as noted, a mostly Polish crew and is flagged in the Marshall Islands. She makes a regular round trip between Europe (4 or 5 ports, always including Rotterdam, Hamburg and Antwerp) and South Africa (5 or 6 ports, some of them twice, and with the occasional additional double run) plus sometimes Walvisbaai, totaling roughly 50days.

She was built in Italy almost 30years old, and is due to be retired/scrapped and replaced within the next few months. She is only scheduled for one more trip after this, although rumours suggest she may survive a while longer as the Chinese company who are building her replacement have gone bankrupt, and in these economic times priorities change slightly.

Her age makes her design slightly unusual to the now common mid-size container ships, in that she has space for some containers behind the tower/cabins. Also, and much more unusually for a ocean going freighter, she has a vehicle deck with full ro-ro capability. On this voyage, we leave Cape Town with a lower hold full of coal, the upper hold containers, plus a dozen or so petrol tankers on the vehicle deck, and another 50 or so containers on deck. At Walvisbaai, we are due to gain another 135 or so containers for a total of 500ish. At total capacity, she can handle about 300 containers on deck, plus 500 or so below and whatever she has in the hold and vehicle decks.

And for me, she is now home.
Goodbye, Cape Town


Posted by Gelli 14:24 Tagged boating Comments (0)

Rich and Fortune

It was my last night in Africa, and, to be honest, I was not necessarily looking forward to what must inevitably come next. The 3week journey was not the issue – indeed i am actively looking forward to it – rather the destination: Europe. Europe is now in winter, which means that it will be cold, wet, grey, miserable and constantly playing Slade Christmas songs. It also contains lots and lots of evil people, who unaccountably believe that if they are going to be paying me, then I should be working for the money. I mean, who on earth came up with such a deranged idea? And the fact that I am not even allowed to go home to Sweden, but instead am being forced to go to a strange country – one that I have absolutely no wish to live in – not of my choosing to work for a while hardly adds to my excitement.

With funds low and with no wish to attempt to acquire more, my final night was in a way anticlimactic: I had a takeaway dinner from, of all places, Nando's. But it was cheap and that works for me. I then retired to sit in the bar of the Long Street Backpackers, where after the masses had mostly gone out, I fell into conversation with a really cool Zimbabwean guy, called Fortune. Which seemed to cause much hilarity (and confusion) to pretty much anybody else that entered the bar.

The barman/receptionist insisted on introducing us to everybody who entered as, quite accurately, Rich and Fortune. But you could tell by the looks of some of the faces, especially non English speaking natives and new arrivals, that they really couldn't understand what was going on and assumed it was some kind of strange joke...

Somehow, It seemed a fitting end.

Posted by Gelli 14:02 Archived in South Africa Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

A Simon and Garfunkel song

An old traveling adage says that it is time to go home when you start to look like your passport photo. In my case, it is time to go home when everything, including yourself, is broke(n).

What will eventually be 15months away and 9months traveling around Africa, has taken it's toll. My Osprey Kestrel 32 rucksack, bought specially for the trip, did reasonably well but has been showing rapid signs of deterioration in the last month or so: Stitching around the zip on one side has been coming alarmingly away, and there is a small but growing hole in the base. With luck it will survive the journey back, but it will then be retired/donated or returned under warranty as faulty. My small canvas daysack has started to irretrievably come apart, as has a small bag/pouch used to keep assorted odds and sods together in my main bag.

All my underwear has holes in, and one pair has more holes than material remaining. Both pairs of trousers are showing signs of requiring urgent attention: One has lost the button and a zip and gained 3 holes, one in the rear end. The other has a kaputted zip, paint stains and has lost stitching from all pockets, pretty much rendering me a walking sieve. Neither will ever be the same colour they began with. My sandals and towel can both be smelled several kilometers away, and are probably classified as hazardous waste under most international treaties. The heals of my shoes are disintegrating fast.

Surprisingly, most of my tops are still reasonably OK: A few pulls in the stitching, and some obvious discoloration to be sure, but none are likely to get me arrested or thrown in a homeless shelter on sight. My sleeping bag is also fine. Even more amazingly, though one pair are now almost dead, most of my socks have survived in tact, although the white pair are very definitely no longer white.

Unsurprisingly, though, my rope is still in excellent condition

Of my more hi-tech equipment, my camera died in Namibia from a probable combination of seawater and sand, though its replacement is standing up well apart from superficial scratches and dents. Musically, my ipod had one dead pair of headphones (much better than my last trip, where i seemed to kill headphones almost weekly) and the scroll pad now has a delay of several seconds, and the buttons are increasingly struggling, in what is probably a fatal poblem. The solar power charger is now very temperamental. My EEE laptop has no working mouse buttons anymore, and also had one 48hour death when it refused to do anything at all but is otherwise fully functional, as is my external HDD, both of which have been a pleasant surprise. The external mouse died and has been replaced, and all of my USB sticks (3 at last count) have picked up PC Malaria – viruses – except for the one that I lost on St. Helena. All phones, excepting the stolen one, are still happily working.

What that basically means is that on my return to Europe – wherever I end up - I will have to undergo an extensive period of disposal, burning, repair and probably allot of shopping to fix, rebuild and replenish my kit before it is needed again for the next trip, which, is as yet undetermined but will hopefully be very soon.

And both my bank manager and boss are starting to make increasingly unsubtle and suggestive comments that perhaps i should return and become an unproductive member of the working drones again.

Yes. Sadly. It's time to go home.

This picture doesn't have anything to do with the entry, I just happen to like it!

Posted by Gelli 14:01 Archived in South Africa Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

Part 2-ish

I'm not sure exactly why, but this, my second time in Cape Town was nowhere near as much fun as the first. Partly it was the company I now kept, or lack of it. Maaret had obviously been with me last time but was now in Pretoria about to fly back to Europe. Adrian was also away, and whilst last time there had been a good group of people in the hostel to hang out with, on my return it just wasn't working for me. Then there was the fact that the novelty and initial 'wow' factor of Cape Town had obviously worn off. Plus, I had many chores to do in only a couple of days and the undeniable realisation that it was pretty much all over: In 2 or 3 days I would be leaving Cape Town on the beginning of the end of my trip.

With all that in mind, perhaps it is more surprising i did not spend the whole time crying or committing suicide than anything else.

But Cape Town itself seemed to have changed allot as well, even though it was barely 2weeks ago that I had been here. A shipment must have come in (or I looked really bad), as I was suddenly being offered drugs every 50metres or so on Long Street and even elsewhere. And the number of beggars had also sharply risen – i was even accosted by somebody from California (or perhaps with a California accent) who looked dodgy as hell and gave me a long sob story about attacks in a minibus (which do happen) and kids going hungry as passports had been stolen, and how I as a foreigner was the closest the had to a friend at that moment.

The one tourist thing I had left to do – Visit Robben Island – had to be dropped due to a lack of tickets, although I did somehow successfully get all my chores done to my own surprise (Yay, Hospital, Yay. And Yay, spending lots of money, Even Yay-er), as well as enjoy a couple of last good game dinners (Mmmm. Springbok steak and warthog ribs).

The little things that I had sort of brushed off about South Africa, the car guards everywhere out to conn to you, the fact that you have to pay for absolutely everything: Entrance to nothing is free, plus the beggars, touts, and the financial system as already mentioned all started to get on my nerves a little, and I started wishing it would all end.

I am still not entirely sure if i like South Africa (as a whole) or not.

Posted by Gelli 22:57 Archived in South Africa Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

(Entries 1 - 5 of 36) Page [1] 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 » Next