My Epic Blog

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3 Weekends in Africa: The Cliffs, Die Wes Kus & the Loneliness in the Bush

By the time we arrived in Hermanus, it was approximately 180 years since Hermanus Pieters had last gone fishin’. Then, as he stared out from the cliffs that would eventually be named in his honour, the Southern Right Whale was far more common than it is now. Embarrassingly for humanity, whale numbers only officially started recovering about 30 years ago but you’ll be pleased to know that spotting the Southern Right these days is actually not too difficult: Certainly, it was difficult to imagine that the vintage Mini that brought us there was actually older than an entire species’ recovery, and that the world had to wait until 1976 to ban whaling altogether (well, in most places at least). Incidentally, that was the same year that the little red number, my Mini Leyland was built, although that too is purely speculation. Truthfully, who knows.

 

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Whale-Watching-Day-Tour

Regardless, we circumnavigated the chiselled Kogelberg on roads that forced us left to right in a snake like rally, until eventually they straightened – much to my disappointment – somewhere at the bottom end of the Overstrand, past Bettys and then Hawston, until eventually we arrived at Hermanus’s favourite fishing spot – Hermanus.  As we do, we then explored and uncovered two things about the place that we never knew. One: It has a Blue Flag beach that overlook the cliffs of the town, which is as beautiful and well-nurtured as the beach itself, and two, it is definitely further than it looks on the map if you decide to travel by Mini from Kaapstad. Regardless, it’s well worth the visit and the fried hake; I have come to realise that little Cape towns from Hermanus to Jeffreys, spread apart by driving roads built for road trip enthusiasts like me, always are.

 

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A week later, we travelled to the Langebaan lagoon, via the obscure cosmos of a hopeful little South African town called Darling. Pieter Dirk Uys, or Evita Bezuidenhout as you might recognise him, unashamedly celebrates the history of the Afrikaner here – and the shame of our history too. Nowhere else is the liberal tongue of Afrikanerdom as loud as it is in his extraordinary museum – and nowhere else do you feel more proud of it – and shameful in its presence. I love seeing my history celebrated and unpacked in parts of the country I have never been because that, good or bad, means I’m home. Do “Saffas” in Australia celebrate the surprise of heritage in the little towns they visit? Doubt it, I thought as we then trekked west.

 

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The drive to Langebaan is relatively low key as African road trips go. There aren’t really mountains about, except for those in the distance, which, like Cape Gods, are always there. Here though, the hills are neatly laid out into matching farms and then, as the coast nears, fynbos recovers and what welcomes you is what Vasco Da Gama once described as vaguely reminiscent of the Atlantic-beaten Portuguese coast – our most extraordinary of coasts – die wes kus.

 

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The West Coast National Park, specifically the tucked-away beaches of its deserted inner lagoon, deep in the western interior, are some of the most lazy and spiritual beaches in Southern Africa. The lagoon itself is famous for kite surfing – but the reason I return month after month is so much more simple than that: This is Cape heaven at its finest and on a hot day, with perfectly clear colour and weather about, it is truly quite exquisite. Exhilarating in its loneliness. Free. South Africans forget what they have too often – this – and that there is the saddest tragedy of our people.

 

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Satisfied, my search for the pure exhilaration I feel in the lonely company of nature continued the next week, in the heart of Cape Point, and a hike into its middle. When we arrived at Sirkelsvlei we noticed that the obscure body of black water was unusually dry for this time of year – the drought had taken its toll – but it was still pretty in and between the fynbos that basketed it. Its found by a path through several rocky outcrops, then through several rocky overhangs, if you travel eastwards from the Olifantsbos to its lakeside shore.

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It’s the hike there that I loved most though – a three hour round trip – for there, somewhere when trying to find the vlei, you feel brutally alone, without the poison of civilisation nor its politics or opinions, or pieces like this with its bench-warming commentary. Pure bliss, I thought. Elation in this human emptiness. Delight in our own silent company. I wonder then if that too is what Hermanus Pieters sought in the solitude of his cliffs? I wonder if that is what he found when he went fishing? I wonder if before he died he felt spiritually at ease here, in Africa, in this extraordinary place that awards peace as a mere weekend’s gift.

 

Alone again that afternoon, it was difficult to comprehend how this was home. My own home. How I loved it so.

 

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Nieu-Bethesda, Old Spirit

In 1854 American Daniel Halladay invented the multi-bladed windpump. His invention turned inhospitable regions of the world into hospitable ones and in the case of the Karoo, into a rusty region of romantic windmilled sunsets. Aah Danny, thank you boet. But it’s another American, Mr Willis Carrier, who deserves our thanks more than any other because it was his genius who invented the first air conditioner, which we can all safely assume was the Oupagrootjie of our car’s most convenient asset when driving through the Karoo – the beloved AC.

 

It certainly served me well this past December – thanks Willis – and allowed for a comfortable tourist experience of what adamantly remains the most spiritual, character-filled and quite frankly (in this writer’s always correct opinion) most beautiful region in South Africa. And that says a lot. This is South Africa, after all.

 

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If you don’t have AC, finding an oasis like this is life-changing. Meiringspoort, just near Oudtshoorn.

 

 

The Karoo’s semi-desert scrub starts relatively soon after leaving Cape Town. The Cape Mountains steadily dissolve into its plateaus and via route 62 and an amount of still-to-be-counted curio towns and windmills later, you eventually find yourself in Oudtshoorn. It was Stop 1 on our Karoo adventure that offered a much anticipated and deafening kuier with the family.

 

For the linguists who care, the Afrikaans spoken here is frighteningly quick and brutal. ‘Ek’ is pronounced ‘Ik’ and between the shouts of its speakers, you can appreciate 300 years of its tongue-twisting evolution. Like the Karoo, the Afrikaners here are as tough as nails. Makes sense. Our nomadic ancestors, the Trekboers, roamed the Karoo throughout 17 and 1800s and did so without the convenience of AC and the twist of bottled water. All they had was Moer Koffie. And let me tell you, if Moer Koffie doesn’t make your genes tougher, it’s probably because its smashed them and ground-up them up in your cells’ soggy cytoplasm.

 

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Some biology for you just in case.

 

 

 

But it wasn’t Oudtshoorn that was our destination, it was Nieu-Bethesda, so we trekked further still to find the little bugger and eventually did, somewhere yonder about the hills near Graaff-Reinet, off a road that exists for no other reason than to connect the little place to the Africa around it, which incidentally is an Africa 100 years ahead of it in time. Yip. That’s Nieu-Bethesda.

 

Now, there isn’t much that my words can do to describe Nieu-Bethesda because nothing I write here will give it justice but, as you’ve taken the effort to read this far, I’ll tell you what I can:

 

The town is haunted. But in a good way. It’s creepy as hell too but in the most uncreepy way imaginable. It’s a twilight zone of curiosities and past worlds – little restaurants and lonely book shops are squeezed between shells of dead cars and rusty windmills. In its forest, horses appear and disappear through the thick foliage in slow and majestic fairy-tale trots just like the ones you dreamed about when you were a little girl.

 

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I was never once a little girl but you get what I mean.

 

 

The Owl House, which is its oddest and most extraordinary attraction in Nieu-Bethesda is deeply moving, but disturbing too in a refreshingly unsettling way. The place is the house-turned-museum of artist-come-visionary-come-weirdo Helen Martins who, when we eventually left, I strangely missed. It’s sad that I will never get to meet her in real life but I suppose it’s romantic too: At least at her extraordinary Owl House I got to scratch through her fantastic-shaped and vividly-coloured brain and I am a better human for it.

 

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Temple of Colour. Owl House.

 

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The human condition. Owl House.

 

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Helen’s backyard. Coloured glass, wire and cement bring her fascinating vision together.

 

 

The brains of the ancient Karoo are also there in Nieu-Bethesda, fossilized in bone at the river bed and are reachable by fossil tour. It’s brilliant. Do it.  And then, when you’re done, stroll in the heat to the craft beer brewery and back and look for a fantastic little pub called PUB. Alcohol flows at PUB like you would expect it to and after countless beers and conversation with travelers just like us, I fell in love with PUB just like I did with everything else there. Like the restaurant in the post office, and the dungeon at Bruno’s, and that afternoon drinking box wine on the stoep. What a truly amazing place.

 

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Bietjie doos wyn vir die boytjies.

 

 

Our night at PUB was the windmill on top of an astonishing Karoo excursion. Truly. I have said it many times before: The Karoo is not enjoyed enough. It is too often just the lonely space between your house and your holiday. But if you dare to take three more days to try something new, to try a bit of the extraordinary Karoo too, you will be pleasantly surprised at what is on offer. Because remember, there are many beaches and many mountains the world over, but there is only one Karoo. Our Karoo. So trek it like a Trekboer – met Moer Koffie and all! And if you’re looking for a place to start or finish, Nieu-Bethesda is just the pozzie.

 

 

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Miss you PUB. See you soon.

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Cape Town vs Joburg: the Truth, the Magic and the Oke that Lifts

Let it be heard here before it begins. You will glean nothing from these words except this single truth: Cities are loved by those who love them. Despite what is my inevitable duty to needlessly compare cities and sum them up in this here interest piece, no matter how I describe them – with all their shortcomings – it will not change your opinion of them. Johannesburg and Cape Town will forever be subjectively loved by those who love them and appreciated more by those who have left them. That is our nature.

 

 

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H2O. 100% correct.

 

Now, the flight between Johannesburg and Cape Town is the tenth busiest flight on Planet Earth. Certainly, the immensity of that fact will only sink in when you learn that there is not a single European or American flight on that list, which, if read in the many ways it can be read, means that human flows between our two major cities allow for a staggering amount of competitive African banter. And this here is it:

 

I have lived in Cape Town for a year now and it has been enjoyable one to say the least. I regularly surf, hike and drink hipster beers in an urban mash of colourful Dutch-old buildings and enjoy, when the wind is kind, to sit on white sandy beaches. Having sat on many iconic beaches around the world, I have sincerely never loved a beach as much I enjoyed Buffels Bay last week, a tucked-in slice of turquoise “magic” that can be found within the confines of the Cape Point Nature Reserve. Of course, I apostrophise “magic” here because I have come to realise, after getting drunk with thoroughbred Cape Tonians last Friday, that they like to use that word a lot. A lot, a lot! Truth be told, magic is appropriately used. Without wind, magic is just the right word for a Cape Town beach day.

 

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Truly. Buffels was ridiculously good that day.

 

For all it offers though, which is truly magic, I cannot help shake the feeling that living in Cape Town has somewhat starved me of the urban pulse that only truly mega cities can offer. Let me explain it like this. Even if a Cape Tonian doesn’t hike Table Mountain, they would still notice if it was removed. Similarly, if someone removed the ostentatious centre of Sandton from Joburg, a Joburger would notice whether or not they enjoyed Sandton in the first place. As such, Cape Town, for a Joburger, seems to be lacking in real urban depth despite its largely enjoyable urban centre, which of course I enjoy most often, round after round after round.

 

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Cheers choms!

 

I mean, where’s its Rosebank – the real Rosebank that is – the inner hub of over-priced mega clubs and multi-culturalism? Or its Sandton, with its stories-deep-super-train that when caught takes you to another urban centre altogether? For that matter, where’s its Vilakazi? Enjoying the hipster squalor of urban Africa from its townships to Maboneng feels more real than slipping into chinos at Woodstock – and a Bree street visit seems tame compared to Melville where Joburgers have been on the edge of edgy urbanity since the beginning of South African time. Just like a missing mountain or beach, when those urban realities are gone, you can definitely feel claustrophobic without them. Isn’t it strange that that which can cause claustrophobia in the first place can re-emerge in the cause’s absence?

 

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Checks this mal doos! The Soweto towers. Heavy.

 

Of course, as I mentioned earlier, cities are only ever fully appreciated when they’re gone and those things which you glorify when you leave, you enjoy less when you have them. The amount of Cape Tonians I know who never surf or hike or do those Capey things is outrageous considering what their home has to offer, and the amount of Joburgers who insist on becoming suburb-stranded is sinful considering the amount of city at their disposal – or for that matter the real bushveld on offer which is a mere two hour drive from them. Cape Town certainly is beautiful, yes, and the Protea is an awesome sight for even non-flower lovers, but every real South African knows that proper bushveld is khaki as it’s only in its thorniness that you’re really able to lose yourself in the unending wilderness of the Africa that has chiselled our belonging. This Africa.

 

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The real bush. At sunset.

 

For what it is worth there are small things that I can pick at that you expected – perceived differences that are controversial and generalisations that aren’t really true. Cape Tonians are seen to be worse drivers, yes. However, driving habits must be interpreted as cultural and infrastructure as influential. Cape Tonians drive slower and skip through less orange lights because they obey more laws. That is culturally admirable, not exactly worse driving. However, only the Pope knows why they interpret the fast lane as the slow lane but, that said, an awkwardly designed highway system does not help this phenomenon as it often sends you unwillingly from slow lane to fast without you being able to help it.

 

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This doesn’t help your cause, Cape Town.

 

Cape Tonians are cliquey, I’ve heard. But that, I believe, is just a white phenomenon country wide, specifically amongst English speakers from private or Model C schools who become entrenched in their social circles and sometimes, perceived superiorities. Cape Tonians then are as cliquey as Joburgers are aggressive, which is only true when you’re cliquey or aggressive yourself; those who look for fights in any city will find them and those who are unable to crack cliques might, indeed, be a part of uncrackable clique themselves.

 

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Do you even lift?

 

So what is the truth then with the unending battle that is Joburg vs Cape Town? Certainly, it’s not a unique one: Milan and Rome are always slugging it out. New York and LA too. Some city rivalries go back centuries – and some are so intense that they transcend national identity. Madrid and Barcelona are case in point and their rivalry is as bitter as they come. Certainly, in South Africa’s case, the truth should be this: Every South African, if they are able to, should enjoy both because I assure you that both are, in very different ways, enjoyable, as both offer, invariably, very different Africas.

 

I have lived as an African in New York and a ‘Saffa’ in London and loved them both. But, I am always happiest when I am a boet in Joburg and bru in Cape Town. Because lemme tell you, Boet, for real, it’s hectic pal. It’s mal. My life’s jol here is an epic African road trip. And truly, it’s absolute magic bru. Magic.

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My board and meCEO Mondays. Casual.

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Fear the Springboks! Tomorrow or in 50 years.

It seems strange that a travel website should need to write about the Springboks – South Africa’s rugby team. But not really. As the Springboks are the very essence of many lives here, it is appropriate that I dedicate an article to them, to the fifteen giant men that are an integral part of my life’s Epic African Road Trip, the fifteen giant men that you should encounter on any road trip through my extraordinary country. Not seeing a green Springbok shirt in South Africa is like touring Lisbon and not seeing a Ronaldo shirt, or visiting Boston and not seeing a Patriot one. They’re our everything and we love them.

 

Now, there is no denying it. The Springboks are in a spiral. Every paragraph I write is a minute lost; and every minute lost means that the Springboks drift forever closer to the end of what is surely one of the greatest golden eras of national sport the world over. We call it the rainbow years. In the space of 12 years, South Africa won the rugby world cup twice, which, of course, was buried within and between a very successful cricket era too and the hosting of the soccer world cup (btw, that was South Africa’s best ever four weeks in living memory!)

 

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So is it over? Is the golden era, the rainbow buzz of our youth, where the brilliance of our rugby was just a given and the resilience of how we fought back even during the weakest of years, gone? Well, before I can decide, let me just briefly update you.

 

As South Africa braces itself for further economic turmoil, set on by political inadequacy, its rugby faces its toughest test yet. In short, our weak currency is sending our best players abroad, ever younger and younger. Our provincial rugby unions, all 14 of them have spread their money and talent too thin between them. Our geographical location and conservative administration have forced our players into global competitions too many time lines apart and our past has shackled us by, whether you believe in it or not, racial rules that dictate our coaching and player selections.

 

What it all means is this: the Springboks, as usual, have to face their foes with an unreasonable mountain to climb, a mountain that no sport team on the planet should have to climb. None! And yes, I am entitled to sit in my sulk and sulk more. Of course I am! Any reasonable sports fan should be unreasonable and should, in all of his or her passion, find every possible excuse for why we are not winning. That’s my fan’s right! We are unacceptably below par and leap years away from where we should be because global and national forces keep us shackled from ever truly releasing the beast that no doubt exists here but battles to breathe. The frustration!

 

So, is it over? Is the Golden era done? Well. Maybe for now, yes. But forever? No way chom.

 

Sri Lankan schoolchildren play rugby on ...Sri Lankan schoolchildren play rugby on a beach during sunset in Colombo on July 3, 2013. Sri Lanka's youth population aged 10 to 19 make up some 15 percent of its 20 million people. AFP PHOTO / LAKRUWAN WANNIARACHCHILAKRUWAN WANNIARACHCHI/AFP/Getty Images

 

I watched a rugby match today on a Cape Town beach. Did you? A bunch of young boys were showing off their skills; be assured, the same game was being played on the Highveld and they showed off there as well, didn’t they? And the Midlands? Ja, of course my bru.  And as I watched them I was reminded that this here sport is ours. It belongs to us. So, don’t you worry about a thing, South Africa. Don’t you worry about a tiny little thing. Just know this: there will come a day when we will be freed from our restraints and our demons and when we are, these boys will be ready for it. As their fathers were before them and their fathers before them, they will be ready to proudly bleed green blood!

 

May the rest of them fear it. May they fear the rugby child that always lives in Africa. For, be assured, there will come a day when the Springboks will rise again, and higher so, and like the prophecy always predicted, they will return to the summit of world rugby. For that is where we belong.

 

We will be back. Mark my words. Whether next month or in fifty years, South African rugby will be great again.

 

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Ps. Don’t be fooled. A few wins and few injury returns later, we might be back way sooner than later.

 

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When there is nothing left to explore

Towards the end of 2015, the world got its first photo footage of a living Omura’s whale off the coast of Madagascar, a mammal that up until that very moment had evaded what is surely humanity’s most awesome of vain inventions: the camera. The camera has existed for roughly 199 years and during that time it has been unsuccessful at capturing a living picture of one of the largest mammals on the face of the planet. Isn’t it extraordinary that in a world seemingly so small and so explored that any animal, never mind a whale, can go unphotographed over the course of two industrial centuries? Extraordinary indeed.

 

There seems to be no limit to the unfound depths of Planet Earth and recently a delegation was sent to the edges of the Amazon Jungle to prove that there are still pockets of humanity that live in a state of undiscovered, tribal isolation. Flying over never-before-seen territory, videos were taken of human beings staring up at alien flying machines with awe and fear, with bow and arrow on the ready if those who flew nearby dared land and attack. We did not. I am happy to say that we spared them their dignity.

 

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Uncontacted peoples in the Amazon. Similar tribes are believed to also exist in central Africa and New Guinea.

 

How much longer will the undiscovered remain undiscovered? Well, according to a 2011 National Geographic article, it is estimated that 86% of the world’s species are unfound – a phenomenal number considering the fact that I can Google to find that very answer, and then Google further to find the very depths of jungles and deserts that have never before been visited. Mozambique’s Mount Mabu, the “Google forest”, was only discovered in 2005 by Google Earth and exploring it in the years that followed revealed countless new species never before recorded in that big book of animals.

 

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The Google Forest. Northern Mozambique.

 

When I last road tripped through the depths of Southern Africa, there were times when I was sure that I was the first to arrive. Namibia is brilliant for that; the sense of mystery harvested when road tripping through humanless terrain is a feeling like no other. It reaches back to our Darwinian past when we confidently pushed deeper into the unknown, into the bush veld of yesteryear’s undiscovered. It’s that very feeling that Southern Africa still offers so much of; it keeps new generations of hipster explorers jetting to our shores in the hope that they too, at a very minimum, can discover the Indiana Jones within.

 

It must be explained here: I often suffer from the anxiety of exhausted exploration, that everywhere I go might already be spoilt, ploughed backwards or cut away, farmed or mined. But that’s not an anxiety that should scare me. Because it is not actually true. Not true yet at least. The world is still larger than we think it is and it is only because of topography and fast flying jets that we are fooled into thinking that London and Cape Town are friendly neighbours with everything in between seen and conquered.

 

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Masai Mara, Kenya. Halfwayish between Cape Town and London.

 

Perhaps my anxiety is misplaced then. It is not that there is nothing left to explore because there is – and it is not that the world is tiny and small because it is not. Rather it is this: it is the anxiety that those who eventually do explore it will not care for it. Of course, as humans our track record is not a good one. So, I will leave you with this conservationist tongue twister to consider the next time you go exploring in a wilderness near you:

 

When there comes a time when there is nothing left to explore, we must make deadly sure that that which was explored is preserved as if it was never explored at all. Finding the unexplored is not our greatest challenge, but rather it is this: it is preserving the already explored for future exploration.

 

 

My board and me

This is what I should be doing right now instead of writing this effing blog but there’s no waves in Muizenberg today and I am as bored as hell.

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Tourists who visit South Africa are stupid

I live in a country full of South Africans who ask me every single day why I live here. I, after all, am an educated man and have the resources and access to leave this place whenever I choose. Indeed, I have spent time away from here and have enjoyed the depth and scope of global culture the world round. Certainly, those memories are mine and I look forward to making even more of them as my life pushes on with me in hand.

 

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Now, the foreigners and tourists who are reading this now might not understand why there are South Africans who wonder why I live here. Well, it’s simple: tourists are stupid. To you, South Africa is just an endless playground of safari and friendliness, of surf and sun, of intrigue and history. To you South Africa is a high definition wallpaper of epic landscapes, or a bottomless fuel tank for never ending road trips. To you, South Africa is the buzz of the vuvuzela, the deep flat Springbok accent of Invictus, of Mandela smiles and African dance. Compared to where you grew up, where the reasonable restrictions of the developed world keep you safely in check, to you South Africa is freedom from the ropes and the checks; it’s like dancing naked in the storm.

 

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So, you still ask: why is it that South Africans ask me every single day why I live in my home? You see, you must understand: to you, South Africa is a lazy wine farm on a Sunday stroll through near perfect Stellenbosch. To you, South Africa is a winding whale trail with viewing points around every corner. To you, South Africa is just test match rugby Saturday with deep house and cheap beer and biltong. To you, South Africa is just the world’s largest flower display. To you, South Africa is a Saturday’s trip bungee jumping near Vilikazi, or a Sunday trip to the Midlands or holiday dash up route 62. No wonder you don’t understand anything.

 

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I mean to you, South Africa is just never ending wave machine, a cute piece of land for African penguins and rhinos, elephants and lion. To you South Africa is just a real life waldo, a spot-me-if-you-can leopard or wild dog, or a life-changing 4×4 trail and a braai to end it. To you, South Africa is the rhythmic and intriguing sound of Afrikaans rap through hip hop beats, sweaty fynbos trails and mountain pools, sand roads and the Karoo, and little towns of people and museums that no one ever seems to visit. No wonder you don’t understand this place.

 

South Africa, Western Cape Province, penguins on beach

 

I mean, to you South Africa is just orange sunsets and hyena cries. It’s Springbok shots and Amarula sips. To you, my country is just a boiling beach party and tanned skin and Castle draughts and green shirts. To you, South Africa is the Drakensberg, isn’t it? It’s the parched beigness of the untouched Kalahari, am I right? If it’s not safari, it’s shark cage diving. If it’s it not bush, its desert. To you South Africa is literally just a big effing resort, just a never ending jol that spills over into its neighbours, into the impeccably brilliant nations of what is truly some of the most unbelievable parts in this world. To you this place is a fresh water lake with waves and eagles and jungles and snorkelling and art and alcohol so cheap it will make you feel guilty for even visiting.

 

No wonder you don’t get it. No wonder you don’t understand why I live in a country full of South Africans who ask me every single day why I live here. Because Goodness knows, I certainly don’t get it either. I must be stupid too! Maybe they just don’t like permanently living on a resort. Maybe it’s just not their thing. Who knows? Because tourists, I don’t think you’re stupid at all actually. In fact I think you might be cleverer than all the South Africans who ask me that stupid question every single day because no doubt, I love this resort and I love living on it.

 

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Why we eat biltong in the shade

The bushveld is best experienced cold. It’s only then when the dryness of this rugged part of pot-holed Africa smells best, with burning firewood that last had water pushed through it some eons ago. It’s painfully dry here, all of it; the streams that kriss-kross this landscape have all been sucked dry except for the odd few pools beneath a rare and pretty shaded oasis. When you find one, even in winter you swim. Such is the nature of Africa’s sun.

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The winter bush is the best bush. It’s when you can see the most animals as they try their best to warm in the sun; the shade here drops the celcius of the blood quicker than a leopard strikes – but even in winter, you will be very lucky see the most elusive of cats. Trust me, this past weekend I fine combed the koppies that no doubt harboured them but saw none. Not one! Yes, I suppose they wouldn’t be as alluring if I saw them often but annoyingly, I have never seen any before, anywhere. Not ever! Such is the cat’s stealth.

 

This region of the North West province is about an hour and a half from Johannesburg and it’s certainly a drive well worth it. The best road trips pack the most into the smallest distances and as one that is full of great things to see, the trip to the Magalies region via Hartebeespoort, is fantastic. Yes, it’s a barely a road trip, barely, but a drive nonetheless that takes you from the dusty smog of Johannesburg to, what Joburgers always and incorrectly call “real Africa”. Real Africa, of course, is all around us and always, but there is something indeed very “real” in this Africa that does seem to transport you to another time, to a time when its beasts, in all their majesty, roamed this place without the fences to strangle their most ancient of migrations.

 

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No doubt, just for a moment this weekend, just a tiny and awesome moment, I was a part of that “real Africa”, of that unending safari adventure, of those koppies that lead to koppies, of that dryness that gets only drier. We walked for five hours through the magalies bush. For five hours I was a part of it, of those rocks that had settled there before Africa was even called Africa, before the leopard had even evolved its most annoying of elusive traits. I was a part of it all as my ancestors had been and like them, I was as humbled by it as I trekked through it, dry mouth and all, burning red in the low hanging winter sun.

 

There is nothing quite like home, is there? There is nothing quite like the dry African bush and there is nothing quite like the feeling of being lost in it. The reason is simple. This is the identity of us. This is what formed us on Africa’s tip. The dryness of the koppies will forever be ours and the thorn bush that grows from its cracks will forever be sharp with our belonging. Because this is who we are. This is why we are Springboks. This is why we eat biltong in the shade, braai for breakfast and mix perfectly good brandy with a glass of coke.

 

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Cape Lion 2

Now, only us: a story of South Africa’s extinct

This afternoon I will go surfing. And to enjoy its adrenalin as its meant to be enjoyed, I will paddle deeper than I should; the fear of a Great White killing me is, for me, a much better sensation than the feeling of there being no Great White at all. This year, it is estimated that 150 million sharks will be killed for shark fin soup or its meat, which I suppose is better than death by ‘bycatch’. Dying because your texture thickens a bowl of soup or even better, because you possess within you the essence of virility, is better than dying because you were just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Oh, the arrogance of men.

 

shark jump

 

What it all means is this: my father, had he surfed in the 70s – a ridiculous thought, I know – would have surfed in water with 80% more sharks than I will this afternoon, and if these numbers are anything to consider in the decades to come, my own son will surely surf with not a single shark alive. As such, he will succumb to no fear. Sharks, like dinosaurs, will be for movies only and no doubt, exceptionally rendered 3D shark monsters swimming in virtual reality will be his to enjoy and escape from when fake blood spews from its fake victims. Oh dad, how did you ever do this when they were real?

 

Jaws-movie-poster

Spielberg’s masterpiece.

 

The last time anyone saw a Cape Lion was 160 years ago. Amazingly, my grandfather’s grandfather may have seen many, and as I knew my grandfather and he knew his, real stories of the Cape Lion may have been just one voice away. Like my imagined son in Cape waters, I too am flabbergasted that the fynbos I enjoy weekly was once hiked with the fear of being hunted.  Then, in and around Cape Town, black maned giant cats were a part of this landscape but as development pushed inwards, as this land became our land, Cape Lions were hunted to extinction. Game farms then did not exist: as tourism was a one way phenomenon, sheep, cattle and wine farms had little use for giant cats and their impressive fur. As such, now, we are without them.

 

cape lion

Notice the black mane as it extends along the belly.

 

Kwagga Smith, Springbok Sevens livewire and show-n-go boychee, is the only kwagga I have ever seen; the extinct version was last seen in the wild in 1878. No doubt, the Free State then was different to the Free State now; only difference being the kwagga as it barked. Its name, an onomatopoeia, is the sound it made as it kwagga’ed across the dryness of what is now the home of my most epic of African road trips, the khaki plains of central South Africa. But, as the kwagga is no longer with us, no longer here, I can only close my eyes and imagine. Their ghosts haunt me, their herds so quiet that I wonder if it ever it could have been true, if ever the kwagga did bark here, here in the silence of the karoo.

 

Kwagga

Kwagga. Not as muscular as Kwagga Smith.

 

The R10 note has long been synonymous with the rhino – green and proud. And although it will only buy you a coke now (if you shop at Pick n Pay), it will forever be ours, as a part of a currency that was chiseled by the mining hands of our forefathers in a time now gone. From that time to now, rhino numbers have dropped so significantly that experts warn they could be extinct in the wild within 4 years. That’s 1460 days from now. In less time than it takes you to finish high school, one of South Africa’s big five in all its horned majesty will have vanished from the surface of this Africa like a mosquito from a windscreen, like a dirty mark smudged from a pair of white Nikies. On that day, the R10 will not celebrate one extraordinary life lost, but another too. Like Mandela, the rhino will be gone forever.

 

R10

 

In school, we are proudly taught about the ‘survival of the fittest’; uncovering the details of evolution is one of humanity’s proudest moments as it is justification for our victorious psyche: we have conquered beyond measure and will reign supreme as the fittest of the fit. As such, Darwin’s concept is perhaps the most memorable of all the concepts that we learn at school and we often throw it around in fits of “intellectualism” and insert it neatly into arguments for our agendas. Truth is, we consider very little beyond the depths of Darwin’s treacherous concept as we have become blinded and lost in its labyrinth of dead-end trenches.

 

Charles Darwin

Mr Darwin himself.

 

Consider this: have you wondered what drives you to save a spider or a bird – or save a friend before he steps in front of a moving car? Saved by you, these beings go on to produce offspring that without you would have been lost to history. You saved them and gave them life. No doubt, many species have lived on because of those who helped them, because of those who did not drown them in the poisonous misunderstanding of human ‘fitness’. This alternative concept, I believe, is called ‘mutual aid’ and I hope it soon gains the reputation and traction of its most venomous of Darwinian counterparts.

 

 

I have many great stories to tell my son and of course, I will tell them around a camp fire. The smell of a dry wood camp fire, as it has always done for most of us, will draw from me my deepest of pasts. I will tell him of that day in the Kruger when the ranger told us to freeze across the way from a rhino, upwind from its stare. I will tell him when we later armed ourselves with stones in case an elephant charged. Thankfully it did not. I will tell him of my deathly fright as I mistook a dolphin for a shark on the shores of the Southern Cape. No doubt, as a story for his ears, he will relay them to his own son and his son to his. And whether these will one day be stories as fantastical as Spielberg’s will depend on now I suppose; it will depend on the integrity of humanity and how the most arrogant react.

 

The fittest will not survive without us. Click here to Join the herd! Or visit some of the following links to get involved in other ways.

 

Endangered Wildlife Trust

Save Our Seas

 

 

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The West African Rhino. Extinct since 2011.

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My Epic URBAN African Road Trip

Many foreigners ask me what it’s like living in South Africa; when I was last in England, one such person asked me if people in South Africa live in cities like the rest of the world or if we are, as she put it, ‘confined to the country’? Sometimes, many times, I do wish I was ‘confined to the country’ and didn’t have to be suffocated by the urban immensity of this place in all its decay and hope.

 

To be honest, the urban world is, for me, as fascinating as the ‘country’ and I would be lying if said I preferred one to the other. Depending on my mood, it can be as invigorating scouring the underbelly of Africa’s urban jungle as its actual jungle and as a lover of South Africa and all its parts, how could I neglect to love its cities too?

 

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Downtown Jhb grafitti. Sick!

 

Johannesburg, painted into the deep orange of a hipster sunset, boasts one of the most iconic skylines in the world. Up close, it’s a marvel of urban wonder and neglect and just when you think it’s used up and exhausted, buildings from a golden age are re-purposed: a gold rush hotel turned hipster bar or market is Johannesburg’s latest twist in its urban evolution.

 

North of it, it’s clean cut urban centre with Radisons and Banks remains the richest square mile in Africa. Sandton, as its called – or Johannesburg’s second skyline – will soon boast the continent’s first true skyscraper, which, when it comes into being, will officially be a part of a place that only exists because white capital fled Johannesburg’s first skyline at the end of apartheid. What it all means is that two cities have become one, and if we include Pretoria just north of that and all of the dusty bits in between, the Megalopolis that’s forming on South Africa’s Highveld is quick becoming one of the ugliest of large urban places on Planet Earth.

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Sandton’s CBD.

 

There is no shame in calling a spade a spade; there is no beauty in Johannesburg beyond its urban culture but as that very culture is becoming a drawing point for new age tourists – and awesomely so – Joburg will undoubtedly blossom as a leading tourist destination over the coming decade. As hipster Europeans feel Cape Town might just be too touristy, Johannesburg will grow in popularity to settle the edgy impulses of nose rings and jazz symbols. No doubt, I absolutely respect that and am happy that the city of gold will shine ever brighter for it.

 

For now however, its more popular counterpart lies on the tip of the continent and still remains South Africa’s brightest diamond. Cape Town is South Africa’s most historical city and walking around its built environment is a hike all on its own. Like discovering caves or waterfalls in ‘the country’, sneaky bars and museums, restaurants and cafés are to be found here even in the places you would expect them least. As cities go, it remains one of the prettiest in the world; between the colourfulness of Bokaap as it dissolves into the colonial underbelly of Van Riebeeck’s vision, it is fascinating place to experience. There is little wonder Cape Town remains South Africa’s most popular city and it will likely stay so for years to come.

 

Bokaap

A Bokaap Street.

 

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Cape Town.

 

So, long answer short – no. I didn’t grow up in ‘the country’. Besides, ‘country’ here is called bush. Or veld. It’s hunted by lion and leopard and its silhouettes include horn and trunk. Sure, I often wish that I did grow up in the ‘country’. As this website proclaims loudly, there are few things I enjoy more than South Africa’s bush and understandably so: it’s the best in the world with the most to see and I hope to see much more of it – including that elusive leopard that I still, to this day, have not seen with my own eyes.

 

But as ‘country’ goes, I did not grow up there. I grew up here in the urban decay of the developing world, in the sickening inequality found within, in the legacy of colonialism, in its suburbs as they wrap around it like a blanket: a blanket for this sick place.  I grew up in the urban mess handed down to me by apartheid, in its bits and parts all separated into black and white, within the disaster of racism as it splatters onto the rainbow of hope.

 

‘It’s like stepping on a bug’, I explained to her. South African cities ooze sticky yellow as you wipe them from your shoe with a contorted face. But, have no fear. Like that time you stumbled upon that sneaky roof top bar, that gem of gems, I assure that you’ll be pleasantly surprised at what their essence can offer you. South African cities can be so sickeningly poor but yet so rich with freedom; so empty of hope but yet so filled with it; so ugly with history but yet so beautiful with it.

 

‘So much so that when you visit us,’ I finished, ‘You just might wonder this: why the hell did I not visit earlier?’

 

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A Joburg rooftop party at sundown.

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Walk with the Gods

My girlfriend doesn’t like to gym. Nope. She prefers to sit on the edge of her expensive Newlands seat watching sport; when the Springboks do to Ireland this June what they are expected to do – that is, destroy them – her and I will do the same to cases of beer over the same period. Destroy, destroy, destroy.

 

For our South Africaness, much of our mood in the upcoming months will depend on the ability of the green and gold to do just that, to destroy; no doubt, our love affair with the sport will culminate when the All Blacks bring their Kiwi selves to the Republic and we are left biting our nails to yet another thriller. Ah, there is nothing quite like test match rugby Saturday, is there?

 

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This blog however, has nothing to do with that – nor the Irish demolition that will precede it. Rather it has to do with her, with my girlfriend, and her dislike for exercise in the traditional sense. Now, she is not lazy – no, not at all – she just genuinely dislikes the boredom of boring ol’ running and gyming. And I don’t blame her. I mean, why treadmill when you can Cape Town? Why live through the sweats of taebo when you can climb the steps to the Cape ceiling and sweat buckets while you’re doing it? Yes, heaven is up here somewhere and hiking to it can be as awe-inspiring for the soul as it is good for the body.

 

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When you live in a city that’s built atop a wilderness, it’s very easy balancing nature and concrete. For a 10 minute drive southwards we arrived at one of the most breath-taking hiking trails this side of the world. What’s more, it’s perhaps the most beautiful in the world considering its proximity to the city, which to be fair, is the city. I didn’t leave Cape Town at all. I didn’t go searching for wilderness by road trip to find a hike somewhere far off. It was right here, a wilderness where I work and drive and buy my food – a wilderness with views of my house.

 

There are many mountains and hills that split Cape Town into its bits and along them many trails to explore them. This past weekend we but touched the very tip of them while squeezing free the cholesterol from our veins. We did much sweaty work finding the perfect view and succeeded: from those angles, from up there, Cape Town looks a miniature sort of wonderful with its toy houses and roads spaced between its pretty velds and farms. What’s better, it’s the first of many views that lay sprawled out beyond that, that, according to a map, end somewhere 2000kms north of here near Musina. Yes, for hikers, South Africa truly is a paradise.

 

No place in the world will allow you, within its borders, to hike the greyness of the Cape mountains, the khaki of the Kruger koppies, the deep green of the Tsitsikama, the rolling sand dunes of the Kgalagadi, the theatres of the sugar-tipped bergs and of course, the colourfulness of the Namaqualand bloom like South Africa does. And certainly, no place will offer you Africa’s big five while doing so – not to mention the not insignificant cameos of whale smiles along its Cape walks. As such, it’s no coincidence that my girlfriend does not enjoy the type of exercise enjoyed by mere mortals. Because why would she gym with mortals when she could walk with the Gods? Makes sense to me.

 

kruger hike

 

Kalahari-bushmen

 

hike 3