The first glimpse from the airplane is endless rolling mountains that look like sand dunes, chasms, ravines and cracks on the earth. One can visualize the prehistoric landscape with dinosaurs roaming majestically, steam vents and volcanoes. The vast emptiness of it all is over whelming. It is an amalgamation of the best of every element needed to support life and mankind; in spite of all the abundance the landscape remains stark and seeped in violent history.
It is Africa!
The Nomad is back from the bush, a whole three inches taller in cowgirl boots at that! Do not ask how I come back in cowgirl attire from Africa. I do not know why and when my fascination for Africa began. It is a continent I have a very weak link to; a great grandfather who lived the life of a plantation king in the Colonial times, a grandfather who was born in Kenya. They both returned to India after the British rule ended to rebuild their lives as paupers.
The fascination is not based on the gold, diamonds, minerals and platinum, but on the exotic wildlife. Ever since the geography textbooks showed Congo, the heart of Dark Africa as one of the most inaccessible and dangerous places in the world, I obviously wanted to go there. That dream is yet to be realized, but to begin with, South Africa did just fine!
On landing in Johannesburg the setting is quite different! Still Spartan, but civilized disinfected emptiness, lots of fences and fantastic roads. What I found most unusual was the lack of people everywhere. South Africa is a big country with population of only 46 million. It is almost impossible to see a crowd of any sorts anywhere…. Unless…. you are thrust in the midst of a bike rally!
For 300km of our 500km route from Johannesburg Airport to Kruger National Park, The Paradise Bike Rally participants kept us company! Harleys, Suzukis, BMW, Ninjas, Hondas, Hayabusas, and lots of, what my non mechanical brain could only fathom as, f*^$#@^ sexy bikes, whizzed past us. Leathers, boots, buttons, helmets, mini skirts, hair dos, (and don’ts!) tattoos and piercings, it was like being at the sets of the Fast and the Furious, except this was live!!
In this stylish and glamorous group the only thing that stood out was the lack of any black riders. The large group of bikers remained overwhelmingly white.
No, it is not racial discrimination. That has long been replaced in a more virulent form as economic apartheid. The black South Africans cannot afford 1500cc bikes or BMW’s. Yes, South Africa does have a black majority rule, but this has not changed things much except for the few black CEO’s and politicians. The rest of the population of course now has the right to move around freely in their own land but not the resources to use that right. Combine that with the large inflow of immigrants from surrounding countries and the high level of unemployment and you see the frustration manifest itself into rape, muggings, and robbery that make up the high crime rate in South Africa. Lawlessness is a way of life and all the whites can do is shut malls and offices at 6:00pm and lock themselves behind all those fences.
So you hear whites complaining about this unique role reversal apartheid. Boo Hoo, but that is what you get after centuries of oppression. First the Dutch and then once gold was discovered in 1886, the French and the English raped the land for diamonds, platinum and minerals. The small time entrepreneurs destroyed forests in search of animals for ivory and skins to fund their mining ventures. Africa truly is a blessed land to yet be so rich in resources after a century of rampant destruction and the African people are truly an innocent race to let the English remain after Independence. When we, said Quit India, we meant it.
Anyways as things stand right now, those who have the freedom don’t have the money and those with the money cannot enjoy freedom.This makes for a seriously pissed off population.
************************* These were the only potholes we saw! Formed by centuries of swirling waters of the Blyde River.
The houses and villages along the way were absolutely from bed time story books. Most of it was colonial architecture, the frigidness muted by bold primary colours and brown sandstone. Inns, shops and hotels had the most apt and fun names. Pig and Pickle, Teaspoon and Tankard, Linger Longer, Duck and Fish, Hook and Tackle.
We past quaint little villages and rest stops. Belfast was one of them.The tulips you see in Amsterdam are mostly exported from here! I also discovered a lovely second hand book shop, run by two very pretty charming old ladies. All excited about discovering some obscure South African literature, I came out rather shamefacedly clutching The Great Gatsby by F.Scott Fitzgerald, and the Great American Novel by Philip Roth (only 90 bucks!), two books I had been yearning to read. What with the frosty weather and natural surroundings, buying something close to classics seemed just right!
The Wilghe, also the Treur (mourning) Wilghe is one of the most common trees to be seen in South Africa.