I really enjoyed travelling through China, especially Tibet and Nepal, but by the time I reached the Annapurnas I was so over the cold. It's one thing when I have all my gear, but on my travel light philosophy, the cold was starting to wear down even this intrepid traveller. Considering that just last week I had to wear every stitch of clothing I brought with me to bed to avoid freezing in my teahouse to a place where I am not only allowed but encouraged to wear short sleeves due to the warm weather is a welcome change. I am also cognizant of the cultural shift - if it had been warm enough in Asia, the guidebooks cautioned women to dress conservatively. However, if women took cues from ads on TV and on billboards, this was terribly confusing as the women in ads were virtually no different from our own scantily clad salesgirls. But here in Africa there is no question. Bikinis and shorts are in, and except for my very hairy legs, I have obliged. Which means I can take all my cold weather stuff out of my pack, get it cleaned (WOW) and leave it here while I go on safari to Namibia.
Now the worry is not the cold, but to keep my white skin safe from the African sun. I dug out my sun screen, hats, and shades so I am fully protected. Other than th sun to worry about, South Africa is in a word, convenient. I no longer have to squat in the bathroom, and I can flush my western toilet with toilet paper - oh did I forget to mention that detail? In Asia you have to buy your own and always, always have it with you as their is some sort of shortage, and you can't ever flush it, on those rare occasions you have a flush toilet, lest you cause a national sewage backup. Instead you place it in a trash can next to the john, making for some pretty smelly toilets if they are not cleaned, which is never. So here in beautiful sunny South Africa there are modern toilets and it is even safe to drink water out of the tap. I have come from the middle ages (people dumping their shit out of their windows onto the streets below or into the rivers in Lhamsa, China) to 2006 in 24 hours. I also can get a fantastic glass of wine here for cheap cheap (5 rand, so less than a dollar!) whereas in China and Nepal wine was either nonexistent or very expensive for bad wine from Great Wall vineyards. South Africa has incredibly fantastic peanut butter here too, amazing. The traffic here is like home, which is to say, very orderly and organized because there are traffic rules and lights. Since my China and KMD days, I can cross any street without fear no matter how big an intersection. Although yesterday I reminisced that the order kind of takes the fun out of it. Huh, never thought I would miss the run for your life aspect but I guess it is the unexpected element to everyday life that I miss. No cows or goats in the streets here, no crazy rickshaw drivers. Which is why I'm going into the wilds to camp out under the stars so I can once again take a crap out in the open but this time not at 0 zegrees but to make it interesting with the lions, giraffes and elephants. So what does this place look like? A thoroughly modern city with an island-like feel. The Victoria and Albert Waterfront is lovely, with shops and wharfs and the expected boats and touristy street performers.
Some people have complained that it is too much like home, but I'm loving it. A Key West meets Baltimore inner harbor meets Amsterdam vibe. Lots of open air cafes and restaurants, with both Dutch and British influenced architecture. The Cape Peninsula and Table Mountain National Park are absolutely gorgeous, with plantlife unlike any I have seen before. Proteas, interesting multishaped flowering plants that look a bit like succulents, are flowering in colors from white to magenta to flaming orange and provide food for birds, mice and even babboons. The wildlife is as one would imagine, stunning. I saw several babboons yesterday, as well as common dolphins and Cape fur seals who frequent the harbor.
My favorite of course were the African Penquins, who flock to these protected shores for breeding. I saw literally hundreds on the beach, some swimming and others doing what they came there to do.
Arriving in sunny South Africa feels like getting into heaven. The sky is bright blue as in Tibet, but the weather is gorgeously warm without being too hot.