South Africa: An American’s Perspective, Week 1

It’s been quite fascinating traveling with my wife, Shanna, back to her home in South Africa. I’d like to share here some things I’ve observed; differences, similarities, and the like.

First some context.  South Africa is one and a half times the size of Texas. It’s as big as Washington, Oregon, and Idaho combined. We are visiting the southern regions of South Africa, so this does not include Johannesburg, Pretoria, or the Kalahari Desert.  This does include Cape Town, the Cape of Good Hope, the wine fields of Cape Farms, Swellendam, Knysna (pronounced ny-sna), Port Elizabeth and everything in-between.

So, here’s what I’ve experienced so far:  Cape Town itself and its surrounding areas are a lot like California.  You have your palm trees, sunny weather, beaches, and slums much like Los Angeles.  Then you have your wine country much like Northern California.  Did I mention it’s hot?  This is especially true in the wine country, as it’s surrounded by hills, forming a basin of heat.  It’s also more humid, so 70 degrees feels more like 90.

Basically, though, it’s not too dissimilar from what I’m used to; there are roads, freeways, malls, businesses, traffic lights, traffic cameras, Saturday markets, etc.  This might sound like a bit of a letdown or boring, but it’s actually quite interesting.  The slight differences certainly spice things up.  You have different power outlets, toilet flushers, co-ed bathrooms, simpler street signs, subtler business signage, and public bathrooms are simply referred to as ‘toilets’.  Jaywalking seems to be a favorite pastime, as you’ll see people walking across busy streets and highways on a regular basis as though everyone secretly desires the experience of going up on your windshield and breaking a few ribs.  The city wildlife is a bit different; no crows, raccoons, opossums, squirrels or sparrows, rather olive baboons, bats, and birds called hadeda (pronounced ha-dee-da) and mossies.

Also, there are the fast-food restaurants.  First of all, McDonald’s and Burger King are uncommon, but KFC is everywhere.  But in America KFC has contracts with Pepsi and Burger King has contracts with Coca-Cola.  In South Africa, it’s the other way around.  In fact, most places have Coke products (if they have soft drinks), because South Africans don’t like Pepsi products.

The biggest differences are the townships, shoddy little tenements or shacks packed compactly in each city or town that house a large percentage of the blacks (these are also where most of the jaywalking comes from).  Don’t get me started on the socio-economics or politics of South Africa that spawned these dwellings!  But it’s quite interesting to see one side of an overpass with nice, wealthy businesses and housing developments where you can dine in the sunlight and get lovely Swedish massages while another side of the overpass is packed with these shacks with garbage strung all over the place.  I’ve taken lots of pictures of these to help give some idea.  I’d love to visit these townships to get better photographs, but I’m told they are very dangerous.


Anyway, hope this serves as a good start.  I hope to provide another post or two with my continued experiences.

Hadedas, South Africa

hadedas, a common bird



Cape Point, South Africa

an olive baboon chilling out in the Cape Point. These guys will sneak into the outdoor dining section of a restaurant to swipe bowls of sugar packets



South Africa

subtle business signage. no big signs by the road for businesses; just a flat sign above the door



Canal Walk, Cape Town, South Africa

a mall in Cape Town called Canal Walk. Yes, that is a mall.



Canal Walk, Cape Town, South Africa

more nice buildings near the mall in Cape Town. I believe these are near the area known as Century City.



Cape Town, South Africa

Cape Town’s township viewed from the airplane just before it landed. This is where a large amount of the blacks were pushed off to since the apartheid era.



South Africa

here you can see people walking on the side of the highway. they will inevitably try to cross. the township can be viewed in the background.



South Africa

view of township from highway



South Africa

another township viewed from the highway.



Knysna, South Africa

a township not far from a tourist/business locale called Knysna



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