July 30, 2011

We spent the first half of the day driving Route 62 from Oudtshoorn back to Capetown. More stunning views, a stop at Ronnie's Sex Shop (a small tumbledown building that sold t-shirts, drinks, and biltong), good music on the radio, and quiet conversation. 

The only thing that slowed our trip was a blown tire, which Josh changed with a practiced hand. The replacement tire was luckily a full tire (and not a donut), so it really didn't slow us down. After the fact, I was actually grateful for the diversion, as an Afrikaner farmer walked up to our car and somewhat randomly began telling us bible stories in a thick Afrikaans accent. The man was about 70 years old, and his hands were thick with calluses. He spoke about the land and how Europeans had over-farmed, causing significant soil erosions ("us Europeans are a dirty dozen, let me tell you"). He had been out in his fields trying to divert rain water when he saw our car.

I dropped Josh off at the airport, and it was sad to say goodbye to such a good traveling companion. (Josh has to get back to work in Seattle, so his journey was slightly shorter than mine.) As sad as it was to see him go, however, I've never really travelled on my own for this long before, so it was exciting to suddenly be on my own. As I was walking back to the car from the departures area, I actually got a little big-headed, internally praising myself for having the guts and the know-how to be travel alone in Africa. I was on my way to get into my rental car and and then navigate a foreign African city all by myself. I found the car in the lot, unlocked it... and promptly got into the passenger's side, wondering where the hell the steering wheel was. That brought me back down to earth. 

After getting into the correct side of the car (in his case, the right side), I drove off to find Leah. Leah is my fantastic four-year college roommate who has been working in Botswana for the last two years with the Pediatric AIDS Core. Her contract up with PAC, she decided to relocate to South Africa to work with another health care company that gets AIDS programming going in underserved areas. (Leah is a pediatrician.)

Leah is being put up by her new company until she finds her own apartment, so I drove north of Cape Town to find her. After a happy reunion, we drove to Sea Point to watch the sun disappear into the Atlantic Ocean, and then onto sushi at a swank seaside restaurant. We had a really nice time catching up (we haven't seen each other in something like four years), and talking all about our perceptions of Southern Africa. I think it was Jade who called South Africa "Africa Lite," a third-world country with first-world cities, a place where you can drink the tap water, a place with reliable phone service. Leah said that Botswana was similar, but more rural. Also, the AIDS epidemic (which is widespread in all of Africa) is more prevalent in Botswana, where prevention and treatment programming is only just beginning. 

After dinner, we went down to Long Street in downtown Cape Town, leaving the car with a car guard. When the ANC came into power after the NP Apartheid government, a huge push was made to decrease unemployment (which is still at about 70%). Many positions were created, one of which was "car guards," people who put on a reflective vest and keep an eye on your car so it is not broken into or stolen. Sometimes these people are employed by a lot, and sometimes they just buy a vest on their own and start hanging around on the street. I don't know whether or not all of this actually decreases crime, but it does lend a little piece of mind in a city with a fair amount of "smash-and-grab" incidents. 

Long Street is a bright and busy street, full of restaurants and bars, and populated by the young people of Cape Town. The first thing I noticed when we turned the corner onto the street was that the groups of people were significantly more racially integrated. Whereas before I had seen both white and black people dining at the same restaurant, seldom had I seen them dining together. White table white table black table white table white table white table black table. On Long Street, however, groups of young white, black, Indian, and South African coloureds were hanging out together. It all felt so much more color-blind, and gave me hope that racial inequities may get better as young people grow older and assume government positions. 

We hung out at a Carribean bar for a while, talking talking talking, before finally heading back to Leah's apartment. (The car was fine.)

Tomorrow: the waterfront and Robben Island.