Wednesday, 21 September 2011

A Few First Impressions

I am finally in South Africa! I'm at the Moafrika Hostel now and it's the nicest hostel I've ever stayed at. Actually it's nicer than any hotel I've ever stayed at, cool African decor and very clean and peaceful. I think I'm the only guest here which is weird. Hostels are usually full and there's always someone to talk to. The staff seem really nice and they speak good English but they speak Zulu among themselves so joining their conversation would be awkward.

Every property here has serious fences around it, mostly concrete walls topped with razor wire, and this is the good part of town. The hostel has a fence and a couple of guard dogs. I was a bit alarmed to see a rotweiller bounding up to me but he just pulled up one of the garden stakes and wanted to play fetch. I wouldn't want to break in uninvited though. They say this is a suburb but it doesn't look like a suburb to me. It is all fenced compounds scattered over the landscape with dirt tracks between them. The adjacent compounds contain houses or apartments, and some don't seem to have any buildings at all, just a fence around some dry grass and red dirt.

I spent yesterday in Heathrow airport, which is huge. It's at least a ten minute walk to get anywhere, and that's on those moving sidewalks. I had to take a subway between terminals, and another subway within the second terminal to get to the gate. The whole place was like an expensive mall, but with planes. All the stores seemed to sell the same stuff, mostly liquor and perfume, so it was not very interesting. Of course, I was very sleep deprived and spent the whole day falling asleep on my feet and waking up just before I fall. I didn't sleep at all on the plane from Calgary to London because by the time it felt like bedtime the sun was rising under the wing. I had a window seat and got a good view of dark blue sea, with ice in it I think. Planes take a shortcut over the arctic so we flew over southern Greenland in the night and I guess there could be ice so far north. It was light by the time we flew over Ireland, which was very pretty, but I didn't see much of England because of the clouds. I would love to visit Britain some day (the airport doesn't count even though I did have to get my passport stamped to change terminals).

The flight to Johannesburg was longer but I was tired enough by then to sleep a little bit. The Johannesburg airport was much less fancy than Heathrow, more like minor airports at home. The driver who picked me up thought it was funny how impressed I was with the local plant life. Our fancy garden flowers back home are just plants here, growing wild. Apparently I arrived just as the spring flowers are getting going. There are bushes with blue and red and purple flowers, and succulent plants and palm trees and trees with little spiky leaves along their branches that may be monkey puzzle trees, and I don't recognize much of anything. I tried to go for a walk but couldn't figure out how to get out through the fence. I could have asked someone but the fence seems like a sign that it's not a very good idea to wander around aimlessly so I walked around the yard. There were chickens and ducks in a pen, and the rotweillers came with me. Dogs like having someone to follow. There were ostriches down the street, a male and two females. I took a picture but they were too far away so they just look like dark dots against the dry grass. The soil itself is a distinct red colour, almost but not quite like PEI. It looks like I thought Africa would look.

I thought it would be hot here but it isn't. It was perfect this afternoon and now that it's dark it's downright cold. It got dark faster than at home, not much twilight, and early around 6:30 or so. I tried to watch the sunset from the porch but it didn't last long and I missed it when the dogs tried to climb into my hammock. There are crickets that sound just like the ones at home and a few night bird calls that I don't recognize. 

Dinner will be some kind of venison pie made of three kinds of local antelope, and after dinner I'm going to bed early. I have to leave at 5:30 AM to get to the bus station by 9. It's about 40 or 50 km but it's rush hour. It seems like an incredible waste to have people stuck in traffic for hours every day when they could be doing more interesting and productive things like, well, anything else. If a million people waste three hours every day in traffic jams, and they do this every day, that must add up to lifetimes of hours down the drain. A reasonable commute is one of my requirements for how I want my life to be, even if that means living in a smaller place to be close to downtown.


  1. It's fun to read your bit of surprise at how little time a sunset lasts. When I was a teenager, playing soccer in Angola, a time of day would arrive when you would set out from one end of the field in daylight, and arrive at the opposite goal in darkness.

  2. So glad you are having a good time! Is the compound really big enough for a decent walk? At least you will have someone to scratch behind the ears - I really missed that in Woodstock.

  3. Hi...I follow your Mom's blog...I'm excited to hear all about your trip... my daughter was in Argentina for 6 weeks this summer it was fun learning about her adventures..she tried blogging but the computer at their apartment was old as she mainly updated through face book...

  4. I hope you're not feeling sleep-deprived now - there's so much to take in in a new place, let alone a different continent.