When most of us think of Africa our minds tend to wander to the National Geographic scenes with lions and elephants milling about, masked inhabitants with spears and drums and villages made up of tiny thatched roof huts. Or for the more cynical of us, we think of the news stories of bloody civil wars, corruption, AIDS and mind-boggling poverty.
Before arriving I think I was somewhere in the middle. I knew I was on my way to South Africa so although I expected the lions and elephants I also knew I’d be staying in a modern city, albeit a city that although struggles with an extremely high crime rate.
Living in Johannesburg for 8 weeks left me with more questions than answers I’m afraid. Due to the crime we didn’t see much of the city…in fact we saw next to nothing. Because of this I feel inept to comment on the city itself. We stayed in a northern suburb and outside of a couple museums and a few malls and restaurants I didn’t experience enough to even get a “feel” for the place. The only thing I did feel was a sadness that people had to live their lives completely within daylight hours. Just like everything in Johannesburg, I felt the culture and vibe of the city was guarded and hidden behind a ten foot wall.
The weekends, thankfully told much different stories. Our 3 safari trips left me in amazement of South Africa’s wildlife. It seems that they are doing a great deal to protect and expand the parks. I hope they continue to do so because it would be nothing short of a travesty to lose any part of this incredible national treasure.
Cape Town and the rest of the Western Cape we visited gave us a completely different view of South Africa. In Cape Town we saw a big city that embraced the outdoors and refused to be kept inside. Not only did they have a nightlife but it was fun and vibrant and had something for everyone.
The Western Cape showed us a more charming if not more glamorous side of South African life. All along some of the most beautiful coastline I’ve ever seen we found award winning wineries, five star restaurants as well as quaint little farms and sleepy fishing villages.
South Africa is a changing country...a 16 year old democracy with many deep wounds left to heal but, the land itself...what has always been there, through the darkest days and is still there now as the light is just beginning to shine is what really makes it so special.
We didn’t even put a dent in the amount of sights South Africa had to offer…but the things we did see we’ll never, ever forget…