I woke up early this morning with the hope of sleeping in the southernmost tip of Africa. I was out of my hostel by 7:15. I stopped for about 10 minutes on my way to the taxi rank to brush my teeth and watch the sunrise. I planned a similar day to the previous, where I would take taxi’s from town to town. This scheme didn’t last long. I got to the taxi rank and they told me I had to get on a long distance taxi to cape town and get off at Swellendam, where the road goes south to Cape Aguhlas. They put me on a taxi to a different taxi rank just outside of town. There was no one at this rank. I asked someone, he talked to someone who was driving by in a pick-up truck, and I was told to hop in the back. My friend in the pick-up told me that the long distance taxis didn’t start loading til about noon. He dropped me at the local hitchhiking spot. I had one companion there, he was from cape town, but was working in Mossel Bay. He was going to see his family. He had been there since 7:30, I arrived at about 8. I was thinking about the affect we were having on each other. I was an obvious tourist, standing there with my Ghana jersey on and a vuvuzela in my pack. He was an obvious working class South African. Other football tourists would be likely to pick me up, but not him. Other South Africans might be inclined to pick him up, but might be disgusted by a tourist who had the means to get here, but was taking advantage of people to get around. Many people have laughed at me as I’ve been hitching, I don’t think white South Africans really do it anymore. Lastly, two people must seem more of a burden to pick up than one. I thought of walking up the road a bit, but I was struggling with race issues. I was honestly thinking I could get a ride easier standing alone as a white man, not next to a black man. So I stayed next to my friend. Two younger men came at about 8:45. At 9, I decided I needed a sign to let people know I wasn’t going all the way to Cape Town, which would be the assumption because that’s where Germany and Argentina played today. I turned and walked towards the gas station we were standing in front of. I looked back and they were all hopping in the cab of a tractor trailer. I ran to see if they had space, but they pulled off before I got there. I stayed by the road now. Five minutes later four men with long beards came to the spot, greeted me, and walked about 20 meters passed, I think to establish disassociation. I was slightly hurt, but I bounced back. Five minutes later a small car stopped with only two spaces in the backseat. By the time it came to a complete stop, it was up by the other men, they rushed to the window and spoke to the driver. I figured they had claimed it, and if they got in there, there was no space for me. After a brief conversation, the car drove off without them. I realized the car had probably stopped for me, cause 1 person could fit, but my complacency lost me the opportunity. I had to get more aggressive. In another 5 minutes, a car stopped that was pulling out of the gas station and accepted me. It was an attorney with his wife, an auditor from the northwest corner of SA. They had flown into PE and were driving to the match in cape town. We had a nice chat, it was good to hear a voice in the growing black middle class. There are many growing pains in this young democracy. The ANC, Mandela’s party, pretty much has all the power. The country is I think 80% non-white, and the ANC delivered them from apartheid. They have no real challenge to political office. Side note: The voters choose a party, then the heads of the party choose the president, they don’t vote for an individual. Not sure how local politics work yet. So the ANC has no real accountability, and therefore, have been a reckless in certain areas. People from all walks of life have frustration with the ANC, but the majority of non-whites are not ready to put a white person back in leadership for fear of going back towards Apartheid. My impression is the more legitimate leaders getting bits of the vote are white. Also, the opposition is too fragmented. On a ballot there might be 50 parties to vote for. I have talked to a number of people who have voted against the ANC in hopes of better balance, but it’s not close yet. That’s my brief synopsis of SA politics, I’m sure with significant inaccuracies. He was also very interested in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, how I felt about our involvement, and how other Americans view it. So other Americans, how do you view it?
My friends dropped me off on the highway with a km to walk into Swellendam. I got into town and must have looked lost (I try not to) because I was waived over by a couple football fans on the porch of a restaurant. They offered me a ride to Cape town, but I told them I had other ambitions and was off to find the taxi rank. Now many people had told me that I couldn’t catch a taxi to where I wanted to go, but I didn’t believe them South Africans get to where they need to go somehow, and people must need to get to Cape Agulhas sometimes. I found the taxi rank, no taxi’s went even in the general direction I needed.
I figured this may happen since everyone told me it would, so my back up plan was to try hitchhiking out of Swellendam on R319, the road that goes to Bredasdorp, from whence one can connect to R317, the road to Cape Agulhas. As left the taxi rank I examined my map and realized that R319 in fact does not come out of Swellendam, but it begins it’s southerly journey 10km further west on the N2. At this point I walked quite briskly back to the spot where the lads had invited me to hop in their car to cape town. There were no signs of them, so it was back to standing on the side of the N2. Just to be clear, I have only been hitchhiking around small towns and national parks, the same types of areas that would be safe to hithchike around in the US. I’m not doing anything too crazy. After about 10 minutes I got a ride in a DHL tractor trailer. The driver thought I was going to Cape Town and seemed a bit annoyed when I told him I was only going 10km down the road, I don’t think that was worth him stopping his big truck. I was glad though cause I had never ridden in one, so now I can check that off my list. I now wonder if his initial expression was the annoyance I initially assumed, or if he was concerned that I wanted him to drop me on that road. Once he did, I wondered why as well, and why I hadn’t just stuck with one of my three possible rides to Cape Town. I didn’t have a single car turn down my road the first ten minutes I was standing there. A couple came up the road and turned on to the N2, so I figured one would have to come the other way at some point. One finally did, and accelerated as it passed me. They started coming every few minutes, five or so passed me by. Then at last an SUV type vehicle with a man and his wife in the front, and an empty backseat slowed down and pulled over. I bent down to grab my pack and looked up in time to see them driving off. My guess is they were having a debate and the objections of one led to change of heart, it could have also been a mean joke. I stared until the vehicle was out of sight, thinking they might still be arguing, and the decision might be reversed again, no such luck. But the next vehicle was my chariot. It was an old rickety minibus carrying a crew from the rural town Barrydale. It turns out there is a fan park in Bredasdorp, and they were on their way to watch the afternoon match. I think it was about a four hour drive for them, I was just over halfway. I jumped in smiling and greeting everyone, aniticipating the normal I’m a stranger who just got in your car so lets get to know each other a bit conversation, but everyone just sat back. I was a bit puzzled, so I tried to spark it. I soon understood, as I could barely hear myself over the engine. I had a brief, difficult exchange with the leader of the group, I gave up and enjoyed the scenery.
We arrived in Bradensdorp at about 2pm. I went for a walk to find something. I did my usual walk around the entire town, I ended up eating on the first block I walked. I did find a produce store. I bought a bag of about 30 oranges for $1.50. Citrus fruit is cheap here. I brought a couple other snacks back as well to share with the group that picked me up. On the way back I stopped and grabbed my fish and chips at a take away spot right next to the fan park. I bought overpriced fish and chips when I was at the airport in London. I figured I’d sample England’s traditional fare while I had the opportunity. Little did I know there would be places in SA where my only Choice was fish and chips. At this particular spot my I could choose between five different types of fish to eat with my chips or I could’ve with one of the sausage options.
My peoples were all in the fan park when I returned, you can’t bring your own food and drink in so I left the oranges and other stuff on the bus. I hung out in the fan park and waited for the match to start. With about 20 minutes til match time, the teenage girls who had been on the minibus approached me and asked me for money to buy food. I told them had oranges and a couple snacks, on the bus, but they obviously needed more. I left them to start with the snacks and walked across the street to the grocery store. I got some bread and chicken. The chicken was r50/kg. I knew a kg is more than a pound, but I didn’t know how much more. I asked for 2kg. the woman put a lot of chicken on the plate, basically. Easily enough to feed 5 or so people. She weighed it and apologized to me, it was barely more than 1kg and it was all she had left. I spose I need to look up lbs-kg conversion. I brought the food back to the bus and chatted with the girls for a minute, then went and watched Germany beat Argentina. As a waiter told me today, Germany has a great gameplan….they get the goalie to come out of the net, then pass to a teammate to knock it in. They do have a good gameplan, it may be a bit more complex than that, it is definitely effective. I’m not sure if it’s worse to surrender a goal to Germany or Spain. Ignore last night, Spain was terribly out of rhythm, I’m sure Paraguay’s pressure played a part in that. Spain showed their ability to kill a game with their possession in their round of 16 match, and Germany waits so patiently for their chance to couterattck, and then the precision of their runs and ball striking/passing is brilliant. Now they play each other, should be fun, history says Germany, we shall see.
Now to reflect a bit, the topic of today is Generosity. I am on a vague, yet tight budget on this trip. I have plenty of money to finish the trip, but I have a furnace to replace and tuition to pay upon my return. In that way, I didn’t have the money to come here in the first place. South Africa is pretty developed place and it is growing, but there is still much poverty, poor living conditions, and people whose hunger is obvious by looking into their eyes. Thus far I have not been too generous, I have turned down most beggars, I have paid people regular price who are not well off for their goods and services, when throwing in even a few cents more would make a difference to them. I have accepted help from many people and not given them anything in return, understanding that my wealth greatly exceeds theirs. In part, the small gift I might give someone has no real impact. Their life wouldn’t really change in any way. And I can’t really afford to be generous with every person I meet. And I don’t want to substantiate the perception that tourists have money and might give some away. Africa has an amazing potential tourism industry that is starting to be realized, but tourists won’t enjoy their travels if they are constantly pestered. A man in the industry told me that every 8 people that come to South Africa create 1 job for one year. That seems extreme, not sure if it’s accurate, but it is a very healthy means of economic growth. That being said, I have always thought “if I could share this food with someone in a poor nation, I would, but it’s impossible, they are too far away, so I should just polish off this 2000 calorie meal.” Well, now I am here, and in a little more than a week, I am going to hit much more impoverished areas in Africa. How do I share what I have? How do I accept help from people who are struggling, and then not give them $100. Even $20 might be a whole weeks, or months wage for some of the people who have been generous with me. How do I look someone I the eye who has eaten less than my day’s portion in a week, and keep walking? Again, I cannot afford to help many people, maybe 10, maybe 15, even 20 perhaps….and I sure can’t solve any systemic problems. But I also cannot remain indifferent. Maybe I can start to share meals with people…not increase my expense, not buy people a meal, but simply share what I am eating with someone each time eat. We will keep struggling with this.
So after the Arg-Ger match I started to explore my options for the night. It was just about dark so I didn’t want hitchhike the last 30 or so km down to Aguhlas. The leader of the group I rode with told me to ask at the police station. So I did. There was an information desk right when I walked in, they told me there was a bus that brought people to the fan park from Aguhlas, so I should find that. I thanked them and started to walk out. They called me back and asked me where I was from, they were excited by response and opened the visitors book for me to sign. The book was empty, I don’t think it was a new page, I think I was the first traveler to stumble into their visitor information table.
I walked back to the fan park and found the bus. The driver agreed to take me, he told me the bus leaves after the last match, around 10:30. I left my big pack on the bus and went to a restaurant, ordered a small meal and typed for a while. At about 8 the driver somehow found me and told me the bus was leaving, not sure why they left early, but I was appreciative that the driver found me, not sure how he did. The bus was rowdy, three adults, lots of kids. I sat next to a ten year old boy, I wanted to be his best friend, he was really cool, but I didn’t know how to progress. I asked the adults if they knew the streets I had to get to, they did, and when the bus stopped outside of town, they arranged a ride for me to get to the hostel. They were the best ever. The people who run this hostel are great, it’s much more laidback, I would guess because its well off the beaten path. I enjoyed a drink the owners then had a fantastic shower and called it a night. It was a long day as you can tell by the length of the blog.