Travel Tuesday: A Land of Contrasts - South Africa
Article and photography by Anine Olsen Englund
I find it fascinating how people send postcards back to their families at home when they travel. The reasons for doing so are numerous: some do it to send a lovely note back to their beloved grandchildren, some to brag to a family member they dislike. Others do it to set themselves apart from everyone else. And me? I don’t send the ones I buy. I’m merely a collector of postcards. I buy a few postcards from each place I journey to and I glue them into a book, so that I know when and where I’ve been, and with whom. This book of mine is still quite empty. I began this pastime quite recently, and I haven’t had the time to fill it up yet.
On my travels this year to South Africa, I came across a somewhat thought-provoking postcard. On it read ‘Land of Contrasts – South Africa’. There were pictures of beautiful landscapes, wildlife and coastal areas, paired with an urban landscape. After having spent nine days in South Africa, the ‘Land of Contrasts’ began to have a slightly different meaning.
I started off the vacation at San Lameer, a beautiful summer resort about an hour south of Durban. In the area, there is a hotel and a spa, as well as a number of villas of various sizes, all of which have the same facilities as the hotel. There is a large golf course, which is very popular among the guests. A number of the villas have private swimming pools, even though everyone has access to the communal hotel pool. Central to the resort, the guests have access to a private beach with its own restaurant, the Mariners Seafood Restaurant, which overlooks the Indian Ocean and all of its mighty waves. There is also a leisure centre where the residents can rent everything to their heart’s desire, from paddle boats and kayaks to tennis rackets and board games. To get around the area, the residents have the opportunity to rent golf carts. All of this costs from 780 rand per night.
Then there’s the nature. South Africa has many truly beautiful landscapes, scattered with mountains, waterfalls and vast plains of grass. Along the N3 between Durban and Johannesburg, there are times when all you can see is corn. At other times, your eyes might focus on a single rugged mountain standing tall on the undulating landscape of the Free State. Botanical gardens give a great insight into the flora of the country, and so the famous Walter Sisulu National Botanical Garden with its majestic Witpoortjie Waterfall should be on your to-do list. The hike up the path to the top of the waterfall is a great way to start your day. A bit of simple advice: do it before peak heat! If you don’t, then you run the risk of getting heat stroke before reaching the top. On your way back, stop at the Eagles Fare Restaurant for some refreshments, which is named after the nesting black eagles that dwell in the park.
If you’re interested in archaeology and caves, then the Cradle of Humankind is a great place to visit. It is not one single attraction, but consists of a large area of 45,000 hectares where archaeologists have found some of the oldest human fossils. You can either buy a single ticket or a joint ticket to visit both Maropeng and the Sterkfontein Caves. The guided tour of the caves was highly informative and didn’t last for more than an hour. Maintained at 18 degrees Celsius all year round, the caves are a cool alternative to the midday heat.
What is a trip to Africa if you don’t get to see some wild animals? The Rhino and Lion Nature Reserve is something that you definitely should not miss if you’re travelling to Johannesburg. It lies outside the city and covers a large area where the animals are allowed to roam freely within an enclosed area. The visitors drive their own cars on marked paths through the reserve at their own pace so that they can take as many pictures as they want. The predators, which consist of wild dogs, cheetahs and the endangered white lions, are kept apart from the prey in one corner of the reserve. Visitors can also pay forty rand to pet, among others animals, white lion cubs, baby leopards, baby white tigers and the two-year-old cheetah Anabelle, which is both a terrifying and exhilarating experience in itself.
If you desire a proper African cultural experience, then I recommend the Rosebank Art and Craft Market. The artists themselves present their goods, ranging from beadwork and statues to tree carvings and paintings. This was an experience out of the ordinary, with the artists attempting to pull you in and convince you to buy just their goods, because (according to them) theirs are of a much better price than the ones of their fellow artists. Their prices might start off pretty high, especially if you’re from overseas, but if you’re skilled at bargaining, have a fair amount of luck or simply a lot of charm, they’ll give you a great discount!
On a clear day, you can take a drive out to Hartbeespoort, or Hartis, as the locals call their town. It is set beside Hartbeespoort Dam, an artificial lake which had its water completely destroyed by a plant which was accidentally introduced to the lake from the US. Despite this, Hartbeespoort is still a place where people choose to retire because of its golf courts and its beautiful location. The best view of the town and the area is found by taking the Hartbeespoort Aerial Cableway up to the top of the mountains surrounding it. From the Lookout Bar, you can get cold drinks to enjoy as you admire the beautiful panorama.
There are, however, many scars on the face of the South African soil. One of these was caused by the informal settlements. These settlements are remnants from the racial segregation of black and white people known as the apartheid. Many of these settlements remain as some of the poor people refused, or could not afford, to move away from segregated areas. This means that the majority of people living in the informal settlements are black. Some of these settlements are new, but all of them lack order, electricity, a sewage system and water. The government has no way of getting in contact with the people living in these informal settlements as they don’t have addresses or an internet connection. Many of the people who live here are elders and children, as their parents often live in the city during the week and then come to visit during the weekends. The children are brought up by their grandparents, and have friends and go to school in the local area. The children do, however, join their parents in the city when they get older.
These informal settlements are different from the squatter camps. These can be set up anywhere, and are built from rubbish and stolen goods. These shelters protect against the weather, yet they are not proper houses, as they can be torn down at any time. There is, however, a catch. The shelters can only be removed from the land if the landowners themselves find a new patch of land in which to move them, which the landowners have to pay for themselves. Some of these shelters, like the informal settlements, can be found close to work opportunities, such as factories, or around towns and cities.
I find postcards fascinating: they are a new obsession of mine. They depict the way in which a country wants to presents itself. On postcards from my own native country, Norway, there are always pictures of the great fjords, the majestic mountains, and the colourful Bergen docks. South Africa, on the other hand, wants to present its diverse and rich nature, its highly developed urban life, and its relaxing beaches, in an attempt, you could say, to cover up the horrible scars of its past.