My first African impression: it's cold, I underestimated winter and after enduring at least 40C (105F) everyday in Egypt, I'm freezing.
My second African impression: wow, it looks just like home. Gently rolling wooded hills and urban neighborhoods that could just as easily be suburbs of New York as Johannesburg, except the people are speaking Zulu on the streets.
For lunch I had a banana burger and my first decent stout since Boulder. If no one shoots at me, I think I'm going to like it here.
1948: Apartheid established. Its four pillars were:
1963: Nelson Mandela and other ANC leaders jailed for promoting the idea of a nonracial democracy.
1966: Blacks are divided into 10 tribal groups and forcibly relocated to "homelands" irrespective of where they were born. Ostensibly they were given self rule but the lands were poor and with no infrastructure so most still had to work in the white cities where they had no rights at all.
1976: Soweto students protest over being forced to use Afrikaans in schools. Police open fire on the protesters triggering an era of strikes, riots and police activity that would claim thousands of lives.
1985: South Africa declares a state of emergency in what is verging on civil war.
1988: South African police have detained 30,000 people without trial.
1990: FW De Klerk announces he will repeal discriminatory laws, Mandela released from prison
1994: Mandela elected president.
Max turned me over to a camp resident, Chris, who showed me around. He took me first to an orphan's shelter and proudly showed off their drum majorette trophies and demonstrated how the TV worked off car batteries. Then, we were off for a Coke (served anonymously through a hole in the wall) at a neighborhood pub.
As we wandered the labyrinthine paths lined with corrugated walls people pointed and stared and children ran along behind us. But, the attention all seemed good natured humor and curiosity. No one seemed angry about me being there. I sat down with some children and learned the Zulu greetings. With all the pain and hurt that has been focused on Soweto, I was amazed at the warmth and vibrance of the people in the camps. I asked Chris what they did for money.
He took me to a shack like all the rest. Inside, the woman who lives there sells sweets to children and chibuku to the adults. For 1.5 Rand (US$ 0.25) I was offered a class of chibuku, a milky white drink brewed from corn meal that's often referred to as "African beer." I sipped my way through a watery, yeasty tasting third of it before offering the glass to a local who gulped it down, chunks and all.
Chris brought me back to Max and his waiting car. Max took me around the tourist sights of Soweto, Winnie Mandela's house, a huge compound on a hill; Nelson Mandela's old home, now a museum documenting his lifetime achievements; a "famous" restaurant, now more popular with tourists than locals; and finally to the Hector Peterson Memorial.
Hector was the first black child killed by South African police in 1976. A picture of a another student carrying his dying body away from the riots, with Hector's sister running alongside, made the cover of several newspapers and became a symbol of the struggle.
The memorial is a simple stone monument ringed by a bit landscaping and shipping containers. The containers hold photographs of the Soweto uprising. The pictures show the riots and the beatings, blacks armed with assault weapons defending themselves against police in armored troop carriers. They are powerful images.
The struggle against Apartheid was the issue of my generation. I participated in protests and demonstrations alongside lots of other people who didn't really understand the issues. Standing in those shipping containers looking at the images of shot and bleeding children, I can only wish I'd "gotten it" sooner.
My tour ended at Max's own house, a typical Soweto dwelling he told me. His half of the duplex was a kitchen, living room and two small bedrooms. There is no running water and the bathroom is outside. Not as nice as many of the places in Soweto, but he does well enough that he doesn't have to host squatter's shacks in his back yard. Like many, Max has aspirations of improving his house, but not of moving out of Soweto. There is a strong sense of community he told me, everyone knows and likes each other and there are few problems. Soweto is home to him, a good home that he loves.
Easy enough, except I almost ran out of gas which was really scary. You hear so much about the crime in South Africa, it's hard to know what is safe and what isn't. Driving around lonely, poorly lit neighborhoods at night looking for an open gas station with the needle on empty was nerve wracking.
I led some 10a-ish cracks at a crag called The Boneyard. I climbed about the way you'd expect given that it's been two months and I'm way out of shape, but it was great to get out and move over rock again.
It's a one traffic-light town in the middle of nowhere, but there was a pleasant bed & breakfast. The Sundowner Hotel is a bit run down these days, but it's easy to see that it must have been beautiful in it's glory days and it was still more comfort and respectability than I'd had in a long while.
At dinner I had wonderful Zulu waitress and my attempts at the clicks and other sounds that are part of the Zulu language entertained us all night. A lot of the African people I've met love to laugh and I've found a side-splitting hoot at nothing in particular to be a great ice breaker.
From the brochure:
Please Note: Lion, leopard, elephant, black and white rhino, buffalo,
hippo and crocodile occur in this reserve and are potentially dangerous and
unpredictable wild animals. You enter the reserve at your own risk.
Don't leave your vehicle unless at a designated hide, view site, or picnic site.
No motorcycles. No pets.
This park was recommended to me by a South African I met in Sharm el-Sheikh and it did not disappoint. Just inside the gate I found herds of giraffe and zebra. There were impala (antelope), warthogs and all sorts wildlife covering the park.
I'd been driving two hours when I spotted a rhino grazing about 20 meters away from me. I shot almost a roll of film trying to get a good head shot (hard to do while they are grazing). Then, just as I finished the roll, it decided to saunter on over to my car. Yikes. It crossed the road about five meters in front of me. I managed to get a few shots off with the digital camera as I fumbled new film into my 35mm.
Drive to Waterval-Boven (six hours) and sleep in my car at a campground.
Still, one can dream. I read that book hundreds of times and each time started with a glance at that photograph. If it has done one thing for me, climbing has honed my desire to do the things I dream about.
This morning I visited that waterfall. The climb is still beyond my ability, and there were no partners around to even try, but it felt as if I'd closed a circle. I'll have to return someday to actually do the climb, one more dream to keep on the list.
After my pilgrimage, I drove to Kruger Park, South Africa's biggest and oldest game reserve. Kruger is crowded though and highly developed. As I drove around I saw antelope, hippo, and monkeys, but I couldn't help being a little disappointed. The interesting animals were always marked by a cluster of cars. Then, as I was returning to my 120 Rand a night tent, I stumbled across an elephant in the road.
as I jockeyed for position, trying to get a good shot in the fading light, the elephant went down a dirt pullout. "Great," I thought. I quickly drove to the other side and waited for it to show up. She did, and glared at me angrily as I was now blocking her path. oops.
Wildlife photography tip: Keep the car in gear and your foot on the clutch.
Remember, the digital camera has no zoom. If you can see the animal clearly, I am way too close.
The entire experience had a Jurassic Park feel to it. I'd be driving down dirt roads though scrub forest gazing intently into the underbrush, waiting for something to happen and then I'd look in my rear view mirror to find I was being tailgated by a herd of giraffe. I kept expecting a lion to come bounding out from behind the nearest tree and jump through the passenger window. It never happened. Rats.
My best sighting of the day was a pair of rhino. They were too far away for good pictures, but they were much more animate than the other rhinos I'd seen. I soon found out way. A leopard came flying out from under a bush and chased them away. The leopard was ridiculously small compared to the rhinos, but they took it very seriously and thundered off. Mother Nature, live and uncensored...
In between I drove through rolling green hills of pristine veldt. Pristine that it is except for the industry. Factories and mines dotting the landscape like open sores on the arms of a Hollywood junky, the pollution so thick that at times I needed headlights to see the road. The town where I stopped for lunch was in the midst of a labor dispute; desperately poor people trying to wring blood from a tattered economy.
That is South Africa -- black and white, rich and poor, breathtaking beauty and heart rending tragedy -- a land of tension and energy filled with people who haven't lost their ability to laugh as they begin sorting through a huge pile of problems.
This seemed like an ok idea until we were all actually standing in the Botswana desert watching the few drivers that went by ignore us. Luckily we all discovered senses of humor that hadn't been evident on the overnight bus right and we were soon laughing at our predicament and started trying to flag down anything that went by.
A huge truck (20 meters long) stopped. At first we though it was a joke, but no, he was sure he could fit us and all of our junk in the cab. And so we found ourselves cruising across the desert just north of the Kalahari in what the Continental women referred to as, "a lorry."
In Maun we got some locals to help us not get fleeced on the cab ride out to Audi camp. Of course, the first question they asked us was, "What name are the reservations under?" "Umm, what reservations would those be? And no, we don't have any camping gear..." With a few forlorn looks we managed to talk them into letting us stay on the condition we set up the loaner tents. With that accomplished we sat down to a candlelight dinner. Audi camp isn't quite roughing it.