I always have shitty luck with finishing every trip. Maybe I just didn’t try hard enough. The Chimborazo attempt. The Boston to New York drive. Now this. They all happened at the end of my trips and they kind of all turned into disappointments because I tried to do too much in too little time.
I left Cape Town with the desire to climb the Drakensberg escapement. I wanted to leave the way I came in, climbing and hiking, in the mountains where I feel at peace. Little did I know, I didn’t get all the intels I needed to have a good trip. I was aware the Easter weekend is approaching and things might get a bit busy, but I didn’t think between the beaches and game reserves, people would come to the cold Drakensberg to spend their long weekend.
I was only half wrong. People did, but not exactly for climbing and hiking. There are two music festivals in the mountains. One in Clarens, northern part of Drakensberg, the other in Underberg, the southern part of the escapement. All the accommodations from camps to hostels were fully booked, even thou in Africa, booked is not always fully booked.
However, this time, I can’t just go and find out because accommodation are limited and if I set out to drive there, I must be sure. Normally, I would just go try out my luck anyways, but when renting a car is involved, I became more hesitant.
Let’s go back a bit, the trip started with complications. The night bus to Durban was fully booked, so I took the bus to Umtata, just to check out Coffee Bay on the wild coast because it was recommended by friends. You get off the bus in Umtata then a minivan takes you to Coffee Bay. As if the 24 hours bus wasn’t long enough, to get to Coffee Bay, another two hour drive through pot holes is required. To get out is even more complicated but fortunately I got a ride out.
Coffee bay is said to be the poorest part of South Africa, even more poor than Soweto. It isn’t a city, or a town, more like a less densely populated village. It lies on the coast, with a lot of nature near its grasp.
Coffee bay is one of the most popular spot for tourists of the backpacker variety on the Wild Coast, mostly because it only costs 50R to get a half day surf lesson. Europeans love it because I can’t imagine anywhere else that do rentals and lessons for so cheap.
Coffee bay is supposed to be warm, but at night it gets damn chilly and I can’t figure out why. It is at sea level, it is on the east coast, by the Indian Ocean, it shouldn’t have been chilly, but it was and I liked it. What I didn’t like is the German chain smoking gain.
The most popular spot to stay is Coffee Shack, because it is right by the tiny bay. It looks like a small place, but it’s deceptively big. In Africa, people will tell you it’s fully booked, but it never is, because no one knows how to manage the rooms. Of the hundred people staying there, literally, ninety five of them are German and they all have a chain smoking habit. It is hard to sit at the same table with twenty Germans and breath in dense cigarette smoke every second. That’s one of the reason I left.
The other reason is an Australian couple was leaving to Pietermaritzburg for one of the Drakensberg music festivals and life is a lot easier if I just go with them. I really wanted to do the hiking and stuff around coffee bay, for example, the “Hole in the Wall” rock and the cliff jumps, but that would mean a ridiculous combinations of bus and walking to get to Durban. Another reason that made Coffee Popular is the drugs. Locals would walk around and sell foreigners weed, mushrooms and whatever they get their hands on. Some of the mushrooms are blue and definitely would make one sick. There are some crazy drugged out people living in the area too, their blood shotted eyes, and crazy demeanors were just too much for me.
So the next morning, I got in the car and we left. The Australian couple is really cool, and they actually went around trying to find out how does the black population think about the dangers of South Africa and picking up hitch hikers. There are many folks who are just walking on the road and hope to get a ride to make their life easier. It turned out everybody has the same perception of South Africa being a dangerous place and picking up people is an absolute don’t do.
Driving through the wild coast area exposes you to some of the most beautiful landscape I have seen in Africa. It isn’t a game reserve, and it isn’t some special mountain ranges. It is just an infinite amount of land of ultra green low grass up and down rolling hills. To be honest, it gets quite boring after a while, but then you think of driving down the 101, and all of a sudden we are driving in paradise. The real problem is that the drive is slow because there is only one lane, and quite often you are stuck behind a truck that is carrying thatch. You slowly watch the truck loses half it’s cargo on the road because it didn’t secure it’s thatch correctly.
We drove all day and finally arrived in Pietermaritzburg(PMB). PMB is the capital of KwaZulu Natal(KZN), also known as the most boring city ever. Huge streets, giant malls and a gigantic school, but other than that, absolutely nothing to do.
It was full moon again. My third full moon in Africa. I never notice stuff like the full moon back home or anywhere else, but in Africa, you can’t help but notice. The full moon is so bright that it illuminates the streets like street lights. My first full moon was summiting Kilimanjaro, my second was at the Victoria fall watching lunar rainbow, and my third one just happened to be in boring ass PMB. I guess good things don’t come in threes.
PMB was only a good spot for me because it is the closest place to Drakensberg and they have car rentals. So rent a car I did, a little hatchback Hyundai. I drove to the bottom of Royal Natal National Park where the Amphitheater, Tugela Falls, and the Sentinel are located, only to find it was raining. All the camp grounds and hostels are “fully booked” just like when I email inquired, and I wasn’t ready to ghetto camp in my car on the street. Normally, I’m pretty numb to danger, but I wasn’t brave or stupid enough to do that.
So with disappointment, I drove to Durban and decided to just chill for the next two days instead. Durban isn’t my kind of city. First, it’s big, I’m not a big city kind of person. Second, it’s hot, you do less when its hot compared to in the cold weather. Third, the beach and ocean is dirtier than the tar rigged Californian beaches. Driving into Durban was hard too. Drunk mini van drivers are the primary source of public transportation and they have a habit of running red lights. They turn on their emergency lights before they do it, so you are supposed to know it’s happening.
To say going to Durban is like going back to the real Africa is still a stretch. Parts of Durban reminded me of the real Africa in Tanzania, Moz, and Zambia, but the World Cup really did a number to this city. First of all, all along the beach, Durban looks like a giant amusement park. You can literally find everything on this gigantic stretch of beach. It actually reminded me of Salvador Bahia. There is a bunch of restaurants, bars, a zoo, a giant beach walk, pools, parks, and even lifts to get you from point A to point B. There is a huge casino and there is a giant soccer stadium where you can bungee jump off it’s roof. People bike and skate on the beach walk while a bunch of “artists” make giant sand statues with the tarred sand. If you are naive enough to take a picture of their artwork they will start begging you to pay for it. On the beach is the familiar sight of groups of people jumping around in the safe to swim zone of the beach getting bashed by the waves.
I didn’t do much in Durban. I walked around in the city, and I walked around on the street. Ate, drank and slept. I even went to this buffet in a huge water park because I somehow thought that a good idea. It wasn’t a good idea, and being in a food coma thwarted my attempt to go out. Far away from the beach where I was staying is the popular street Florida St, where all the bars and clubs are supposed to be located. I own myself to at least see that part of the town, but I ate too much I couldn’t move.
The world’s largest mobile library, located in a ship called Logo Hope was docked in Durban. I made an attempt to visit that also, but it was docked in a port where people are restricted from entering. One can hop on a transfer vehicle and go see the library, but I just didn’t want to wait for the bus, so I left. On my walk arounds, I definitely felt I’m back in Africa, compared to Cape Town and Jo’burg. The good old “chinos” are back and so are the Jackie Chan wanna be’s. A construction worker performed a whole martial art routine in front of me while chanting Jackie Chan, and proceeded to laugh at his own ingenious. A kid did the same, and waited questioningly for my approval afterward. I gave the kid a thumb down and felt like a dick afterward.
To be real, Durban is cool, but I kind of let my disappointment over not going to Drakensberg affect me. However, I don’t think I had a terrible last couple of days. I didn’t do much, sure, but that’s the beauty of Africa, no one does much. Compared to a rushed trip to the mountain, just chilling by the beach might be actually a good way to spend my last few days.
On the bus back to Jo’burg, I came down with some stomach problem. It seemed to me that I always come down with stomach problems on the buses. I have no idea why or what I ate because I eat pretty much everything and anything except avocado, at all times. I highly suspect it was the mosquitoes doing the damage, transmitting some type of sickness through their bites. I ran out of mosquito repellent and luckily I didn’t need it since I arrived in South Africa. However, in Durban, mosquitoes ran rampant and I just stupidly slept through all the bitings. I used to view mosquitoes with such fear because I’m quite allergic to mosquito poisons and I wouldn’t go to sleep if there is a mosquito in my room that I haven’t managed to kill. However, I’m no longer allergic as I aged and my fear of mosquitoes vanished as I spend more time in Africa. This is probably the greatest gift Africa has gave to me. What caused the upset stomach is of no importance, but I was quite lucky that it didn’t exacerbate while I was still on the bus.
I arrived in Jo’burg and booked a hotel near the airport because I wanted maximum rest to get through the sickness so I wouldn’t have to go to the airplane bathroom every other hour. All the rest and comfort worked and the next day I was ready to indulge myself with the free booze on the airplane.
While I was waiting for the flight, on the flight, and now two weeks after I got back home, I had been thinking. I had been thinking about the things I wrote about in my first post. How I said I didn’t want to leave Africa without good memories. How I said I wanted to feel like all the others felt when they visited Africa. Before I left I watched a ton of videos made by people who visited Africa, Tanzania especially. They recorded the animals. The kids playing around with all the innocence of the world. The rolling green fields. Even the Massai tribes. I know now they didn’t include the decaying buildings ran rampant in large cities. The kids begging for money so their father could get high. The damn “are you looking for a safari”s. The forty taxi drivers cornering you like it’s a zombie apocalypse. Even the Massais are posting pictures so they can get some tourist money. I remember the one time when a kid demanded that I buy a soccer ball for him like all tourists owe them something. I remember the kid followed me five or six blocks begging for money to “eat” and eventually admit that his dad sent him out to get money for drugs. I remember how Africans love soccer, but they only know five teams because they only get to watch Liverpool, Man U, Man City, Chelsea, and Arsenal.
I also remember the piles of burnt trash along a hillside. The errant dumping of trash outside of vehicles, on the street, anywhere someone pleases. The worst is the probably how so many needed education. They use hand soaps to wash dishes because these hand soaps are brought in to sell for money, but no one ever bother to teach the old Africans how to use them. Zambia has ultra fast WiFi’s, but planned black outs happen every week and shower is accomplished with pots and pans. Corruptions is very normal in Africa, because outside keeps giving money to African countries for selfish feel good. I used to be pretty against volunteering in Africa because at the end of the day, short time volunteers don’t achieve much except making themselves feel good. I don’t feel the same way any more, because it is the same with traveling, they are achieving personal growth and gaining valuable life experiences.
I actually met people who are involved with quality organizations and these people, although only coming to Africa couple months at a time, have been working for the same organization for years. Two organizations are actually very interesting and deserve a shout out. Better World Architecture in Tofo, Moçambique, uses local volunteer to teach, and help the community with trash conservation effort. People work together to turn trash into architecture, art projects or useful household items instead of just littering them on the road, and on the beach errantly. This organization doesn’t have any funding, so all the work is done by getting locals to believe the importance of keeping their beautiful town clean, and that’s is the way to go. Africans have to learn to help and better themselves.
The second organization is Skate-Aid. They started in Kigali, Rwanda, and has been building skate parks and getting kids to live a positive lifestyle all over Africa. It is just kind of cool that they choose skateboarding to be the subject of positivity. Spreading a bit of stoke one poor city at a time. I seen the look of these kids when they first learn to skate, the genuine smile is not the same as the smile of curiosity when they see a mzungu, but the smile of accomplishment and conquering fear.
I also found it interesting that despite all the racial tensions Africa has experienced, especially South Africa, Africans don’t spend much time getting mad over race. There aren’t any social justice warriors. They don’t get mad for no reason and goes all “what do you mean you people?” At a comedy club, someone made a joke that they wish they were taken to America as slaves back in the days so they wouldn’t be living in Africa now. Now I don’t agree with that, but that level of comfortability of not being overly sensitive about race is what I feel is predominant among Africans that I have met. I feel this is a good thing, because I believe being too caught on the distinction of race pulls people further apart.
It seems that I’m always talking shit on Africa, but truth is, I would go back to Africa in a heart beat. Africa is a fascinating place, much more fascinating than latin America in a sense that I can’t put into words. Despite all the short sights and miseducation, Africa is a world that I much craved. A world before eating fried chicken on the couches in front of the TVs, before staring at phones like zombies, and before burying heads at work into to make more money than living life. I can’t wait to go back one day. There are so many other places to see and experience. Each country is different and somehow the same. Each place has it’s good and bad, the genuine locals and the tourist hunters. I wrote I wanted to remember the good things by the time I leave, but I know now that all the bad experiences also are part of my life experience. These are something I wouldn’t want to forget, and if I had to do it again, I wouldn’t mind doing it again.