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Published: February 28th 2007
Far-flung from Asia, not many in Asia would consider going to Africa. There are always all the health and safety concerns. For those who would consider going, they would rather snuggle in the comfort provided by luxury safaris. When I decided to go to Africa, alone, I knew if I told someone, people would think I was crazy, hence I kept the plan pretty much to myself. Afterall, Africa is a continent ravished by wars, civil wars, tribal wars since the age of time. Just as you thought they have stopped fighting, Malaria, AIDs, poverty... are slowly finishing them up. It's hard to change people's mind about Africa when most news clips about Africa are those showing piles of dead bodies scattered on the streets (Darfur), little kids in refugee camps with bloated bellies and flies at the corner of their eyes and mouths (Niger), or torrential floods washing away the entire village (Mozambique). Statistics are thrown in to support these reportings. BBC claims, "Zimbabwe's inflation rate surges past the 1000%-mark." CNN screams "Almost 1/3 of the population in Swaziland are infected with HIV!" Some even said that Johannesburg is the second most dangerous city in the world after Baghdad.
Surely there was another side of Africa and I was eager to see for myself how things were really like.
Preparing for an overland trip in Africa is an experience altogether. Step 1 - convince my boss that I needed time off to recharge and regain my sanity, if that was not possible, I would quit, afterall, I don't really like working anyway. Step 2 - sort out visa and all necessary entry permits. Step 3 - get all the required vaccinations, boosters and prescription drugs. Usually I would not bother with Step 3 but some countries would not grant any entry permits if we fail to produce the little yellow book with WHO endorsement, showing that we have had all the required vaccinations and prescription drugs. Step 4 - pack up and go.
WeiL, who just finished serving her time in Beijing, decided to come along. We get along pretty well and share an eclectic taste in music. But it has been a while since we last travelled together. After all these years of business travel, staying in plush business hotels, there will be some lifestyle adjustments to do, especially when we were planning to travel on
African Trading Post
Victoria & Albert Waterfront
a truck and camp all the way across. Nonetheless, we were very excited about the trip.
Our plan was to fly into Cape Town, travel overland through Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Zambia and finish the trip at VicFalls, and for me, if I still have the cash, time and energy, push on further to Tanzania, climb Kilimanjaro and end my trip chilling at Zanzibar. A little too ambitious? Hmm...
After 12 hours, 4 in-flight movies, 3 meals and 2 cocktails, we arrived at Cape Town. We knew immediately that it would be very hard to leave Cape Town for our overland journey. The weather was pleasant, the air was fresh, the food and wine were good and reasonable and most of all, there were a lot to do. Cape Town was everything that Africa was not. It was very cosmo
and European! When we were at the Victoria and Albert Waterfront
(V&A), we thought this was more like the Rocks in Sydney or Fisherman's Wharf of San Francisco. Most people were white, spoke good English and perhaps another European language. The whole place was just very international and new world
if not a little too touristy.
Other than all the
fancy shops, bars and restaurants, V&A was also the gateway to Robben Island
, where Nelson Mandela spent 27 years of his life in exile. During the apartheid regime, Robben Island was used as prison to house opponents of apartheid. Since 1997, the island has been a museum. The guides at Robben Island were mostly ex-prisoners at the island and they could provide a true insight to life at the island and they were happy to share their personal experience there.
Instead of taking the Table Mountain Cableway
or paying for a guide
to trek with us to the top of Table Mountain, we were convinced that with a good map, we would be able to find our way up the Table Mountain all by ourselves. I must admit, I must have given WeiL the impression that the trek would just be like a walk in the park. But we soon realised that we were not taking the 'easy' route as we initially planned but we were on the more challenging path through the Skeleton Gorge via the Maclear's Beacon, all due to the lack of signage and proper marking along the trail. The map which we purchased from Kirstenbosch Gardens was of no help. The
Leaves at the top have all been munched off by the giraffes
route seemed to be very quiet and there were no other climbers. I could see WeiL was somewhat worried that we might take the wrong turn and plunge to our deaths. After reaching the half way mark, we met an English couple trekking ahead of us and we just simply followed them. I learnt from a taxi driver later that trekkers get mugged from time to time at the Table Mountain.
I first heard of the Cape Malay settlement from Lonely Planet 6ix Degrees
. For historical reasons, I have always been interested to see how the Malays in South Africa had lived after leaving the Malay archipelago. When the Dutch East India Company established a new trading post at the Cape of Good Hope, they brought in slaves from the Malay archipelago. Many of these slaves were skilled artisans such as masons, goldsmith, cobblers and tailors. They spoke the trading lingua franca of the Straits of Malacca then - the Malay language. The Cape Malays brought with them their traditions, cultures and religion and they were responsible for introducing Islam to South Africa. When they were freed, most of them settled at the foot of Signal Hill in an area called Bo-Kaap.
Although at that time, Bo-Kaap was a land of nothingness, today, Bo-Kaap is a colourful and picturesque quarter dotted with mosques and museums.
Along with their skills, the Cape Malays (as they are known now) brought with them the Malay cooking and spices. Today, cape cuisines still bear a strong resemblance to traditional Malay food. Bobotie
, a dish made up of spiced, minched meat baked with custard, derived from Indonesian bobotok
. Sosatie, skewered meat with spiced sauce, is actually satay
. These food are common staple food in South Africa. Some of the women in Bo-Kaap still wear headscarves and the men still wear a jellaba
with skullcaps. The Cape Malays may have retained much of Malay traditions but most of them no longer speak Malay language. Strictly speaking, I am not a Malay but I still find the Cape Malay settlement fascinating and intriguing.
The more popular (and perhaps more commercially-run) safaris of South Africa are located at the eastern part of the country. Out of desperation, WeiL and I decided to visit a private game reserve which was easily accessible from Cape Town - Inverdroorn
. The game reserve itself was not spectacular but what made it special
was it was my birthday when we visited Inverdoorn. It was like having many many animals attending my birthday bash, although I have a feeling they may see me as the birthday cake instead! We saw what National Geographic did not show us in their series of Animal World, Kingdom of Animals. The animals are just bunch of lazy creatures. They spend most of their time sleeping and doing absolutely nothing. There were no dramatic scenes of a lion chasing the antelopes or a wildebeest goring the leopards or a giraffe giving birth to a calf. The carnivorous animals are kept in a separate section of the reserve and have a strict diet as required by law. The herbivorous animals spend most of their days grazing and doing nothing except occasionally when a 4wd full of tourists come by, they will look rather amused by the sight. Having said that, on that day and for the first time, we came face to face with lions, leopards, antelopes, giraffes, oryx, kudus, zebras, impalas and other animals. It was still special.
We spent some time stocking up on food, loo rolls and toiletries in preparation for our overland journey, it was just hard to leave the Cape but if we did not, we would never see the real Africa. Next stop - the Orange River.
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