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You may not have noticed it because we stay so grounded in our attitudes and perspectives on life, but over the past few months we’ve hit the big time and morphed into international celebrities spanning at least (and most) two continents and multiple media platforms. In addition to the ever-more popular youxin.org albums and rare (and therefore valuable) blog posts, here is a quick rundown of our recent international exposure; this is likely an incomplete list and we can only assume we have been feared in number of other outlets – it’s just so hard to keep track of these things without a good publicist: Read the rest of this entry »
Our initial plan for South Africa called for around five days in Cape Town to get settled in and then hit the road in TianMa. Well, five days turned into 20 (of which four were spent in the atmospheric fishing village of Paternoster) and still we didn’t manage to see the Kirstenbosch Gardens, Haut Bay, the city’s Castle, Robben Island, Chapman’s Peak drive or even a single museum. The famous flower and craft markets? Forget about it – the closest we came to it was a day spent in a giant suburban mall.
And yet we don’t feel we “missed” anything at all. In fact, all but two of our days in CT were filled with activities and we were regularly out and about. In between meeting, socializing and staying with four wonderful couchsurfing hosts, eating extremely well (out and home-cooked), strolling neighborhoods, sampling great wines, learning Afrikaans catch-phrases and taking in the World Cup atmosphere we just didn’t get the time to do everything (or even most) on the tourist check-list. Which is exactly why Cape Town is our favorite city that we’ve visited on this trip and the only one we can imagine ourselves moving to. Sure, we did see some great tourist sights and were lucky enough to have great weather in wintertime but what we really loved was the simple and sincere comfort and happiness we felt there. There’s just something about the city and its people. Had we known this in advance, we wouldn’t have spent so much time resting and enjoying life in Buenos Aires – it’s now been over two months since we’ve done serious travels.
So it was more than a little difficult to finally make ourselves pack up and get on a bus to see some more of South Africa. “A bus?”, you ask “Where is TianMa?” Well, unfortunately, he is still in Buenos Aires and not due here until mid-July thanks to an unfortunately-timed port strike in South Africa that really delayed our plans to get him here. But we hold out hope that we will reunite soon and we are getting by without so far, even though public transport here is much worse than in South America, making budget-oriented backpacking difficult.
Which brings us to the reasons why we’re not yet abandoning our trip and just setting up shop in Cape Town even though we loved it. First, it’s just too car-oriented. Like in America, there’s way too much of a auto-freeway-suburbs-malls culture that we’re just not sure we want to be around long-term (although it’s much easier to deal with here because it lacks the “workaholic” element that we so often saw in California and the buildings and infrastructure are much newer and more pleasing to the eye, even if they are suburbs). More importantly, there’s clearly still a big gap in poverty and between the races here in South Africa. We can’t quite articulate what it is (certainly not overt racism) as all the locals we’ve met are extremely nice and welcoming, but there is some social tension that we can’t help but notice. Perhaps it’s a subject for another post… for now, we are just glad we’re here.
So here’s what happened and how we wound up here: after eight months of fairly intense South American travels – mostly moving every 2 to 3 days, never having slept in the same bed for more than 5 consecutive nights – we were feeling pretty lucky (e.g. less than 10 days of rain or other bad weather in the entire stretch) and fulfilled (as was our hard drive with tens of thousands of unsorted pictures) but also quite tired. So we sat down to reflect on our trip and what we wanted out of it.
We thought back to the inspiration for the journey – our 2007 summer vacation in east Africa and the long-term travelers we met there. Ever since, our plan was to do extended travel in Africa. But we started with South America because it was a continent we had never been to together and because we were afraid that if we started in Africa we would just get seduced by the continent and get stuck there as other explorers, adventurers and travelers have for centuries. Our plan for South America was always for a more or less 8-month trip. Our good fortune to add Colombia and Ecuador to our itinerary and our amazing and longer-than-expected stay in Patagonia meant that we still had plenty more to see in Argentina and we hadn’t even touched Uruguay or Brazil within that time frame. So yes, there were many more beautiful roads to drive, sights to see and interesting people to meet in South America. But the time ran quick and the budget was draining even faster. So if we wanted anything more than a Latin American trip, now was the time to make a move.
Africa immediately came to mind. May was around the corner, which meant that the World Cup in South Africa was just over a month away. We always thought of the event as a reason not to go to the country at the time. Then we looked into what it would take to get TianMa shipped from South America to Africa – not easy and quite expensive despite the geographic proximity. Then there were doubts about how much of the continent a 17-year old 2-wheel drive van with no readily available spare parts could realistically cover before keeling over somewhere in the Kalahari. Our stomachs were also voting against Africa – the only blight on our previous African visit was the awful local cooking and although there were some great exceptions, South America had been much the same.
So for convenience, culinary satisfaction, and budgetary reasons we seriously considered going to Asia instead (much cheaper, tastier and easier). We also toyed with the idea of driving all the way up to California, taking our sweet time through wonderful Mexico. Yet our hearts and dreams kept going back to Africa. So we looked for reasons to justify the decision. First, once we looked into the World Cup, it turned out the event likely would not be as hectic or expensive as expected and, in fact, plenty of tickets were still available (thank you global recession yet again). We also met several South Africans in Chile who assured us that TianMa was ideally suited for the roads on the other side of the Atlantic (but no guarantees for the other countries). Finally, flying one-way into southern Africa was cheaper and faster from Buenos Aires than just about anywhere else in the world. If we were to go to Europe, North America or Asia it would be a long time before we’d have a chance to explore Africa again. And the food? Well, the South Africans sold us with their stories of the south fusing European and Asian influences into something uniquely delicious. Whether true or not, it was enough to convince us to book a one-way flight to Cape Town.
Of course, we were still tired and not really prepared for more of the intense pace we were traveling at, especially between mid-December and mid-April. So we decided to take it easy and even rented a flat in Buenos Aires for a month. Proved to be a great decision as we really got to know the city, made good friends, and even welcomed a couple of visitors from back home. But the time flew by and before we knew it, we were boarding a plane to Cape Town less than 24 hours after the over-the-top celebrations for Argentina’s 200th anniversary wrapped up.
So here we are in Africa… can’t wait to see what happens.