We've decided to add this new section for every country we visit. In every country, we've noticed some recurring, consistent themes which help give each place a unique national flavor. We thought we would share these "Country Impressions" with you all to give you a better idea of what our day-to-day life is like in each place we visit. Also, at the bottom of this page you'll find some examples of "What Things Cost". This is for you other travelers out there interested in what travel costs are like here.
Impressions of South Africa
- "A world in one country". This tagline from a recent tourism promotion program pretty much sums up the South African experience -- there really is something for everybody here. Outstanding beaches, cosmopolitan and hip cities, great restaurants, some of the world's best national parks, and on top of it all the famous African wildlife. A note to all you folks back home who think that Africa is a country and not a continent: come visit and find out for yourself what an outstanding travel destination South Africa is! It's a long way from home, but we truly believe you're not likely to find a better place to visit -- anywhere
- Nelson Mandela is The Man. As we mentioned a few pages back, Mr. Mandela was (and continues to be although he no longer holds official office) an amazing leader. Despite being imprisoned by the white apartheid regime for 27 years, he emerged humble and unvengeful to lead his country to true democracy in the 1994 elections. Everywhere we traveled in South Africa, people sung the praises of Nelson Mandela. Black, white, Indian -- everybody loves the man for what he did and who he is. Truly one of the twentieth century's greatest leaders. To get a true understanding of what life was like for Mandela in prison and as president, we highly recommend his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom...a great read!
- Apartheid may be dead, but its spectre lives on. Every once in a while, we would run in to whites who would make terribly racist comments about their black countrymen. Such racial prejudice almost always came from the mouths of the older generation -- people over 50 years old who grew up under the Apartheid government and had little contact with the "real" world outside of South Africa for a long time. Quite often, this would catch us off guard, as we might be talking with a white who was otherwise quite pleasant and nice, and then they would say the most outlandish things about blacks being an "inferior race" that was "lazy, with no desire to work." This happened one time at our guesthouse in Plettenberg Bay (which is definitely a white enclave). The general manager, a very pleasant white lady in her 60s, had a few glasses of wine with us one night and the slurs started coming out. She blamed the country's economic problems on the blacks. Also, she claimed the poor shanty-town that was growing just outside of downtown Plettenberg Bay "didn't exist until the blacks left their 'homelands' and became squatters in this white town." They certainly did exist, it was just far out of sight of the priveleged white minority. We managed to bite our tongues and not remind her that it was the white regime that created the homelands artificially as a way to drive the blacks out of the white areas. The blacks were simply returning to land that was rightfully theirs to inhabit as much as it is the whites' right. The younger generations don't seem to be quite as biased. Hopefully, this terrible remnant of apartheid will go away as younger generations come into power in the future.
- Rent a car, it's really the only way to see the country. South Africa was the only country to date in which we had a rental car for our entire stay. The country is really quite big, and having a car gives you the ability to reach out-of-the-way places that would be impossible with public transit. Not to mention that the South African bus and train systems leave a lot to be desired (unless you have the bucks to cough up for the legendary Cape Town-to- Jo'burg Blue Train, of course). Auto rentals are cheap and the road system is up to U.S. and European standards.
- What an incredible travel bargain! We're not kidding when we say that South Africa is one of the world's great bargain travel destinations. At least as long as you're coming from the U.S. or Europe. The poor South African Rand has depreciated terribly over the past few years against the U.S. dollar. This makes the unfortunate South Africans "prisoners of the rand," unable to afford travel outside of their own country. But the flip side to this is that, for many foreigners, South Africa is an unbelievable deal. Example: A multi-course dinner with excellent wine at one of Cape Town's most exclusive and trendy restaurants set us back $35 US... for two people! A beachfront two-bedroom apartment in beautiful Jeffrey's Bay cost us just over $70 per night (a splurge for us, but imagine this on a regular holiday budget?). See our "What things cost" section below for more details...
- Crime is definitely a problem. But nothing the usual precautions won't help prevent. We got several emails from friends and family back home concerned about our safety when we first arrived in South Africa. Given the bad press the country gets in the international press, it's no wonder. We were a little nervous ourselves after first landing in Johannesburg. What we found over time was that South Africa has its bad parts (usually old downtown areas in the big cities) and its good parts (the countryside and small towns), and that the same precautions that work at home work here. Jo'burg has a high crime rate, but so do Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York City. Not acting like an ignorant tourist, not dressing fancy with lots of jewelry, and generally acting like you know where you're going and what you're doing will do a lot to deter potential criminals. Most of the crime here is economically-driven and directed at unsuspecting people who are hanging out in the wrong places. Don't let the international press keep you from visiting this beautiful country -- just be cautious in the big cities.
What Things Cost
(All prices are converted to U.S. Dollars)Spring Water (1.5l bottle)...................$0.50 Orange Juice, fresh squeezed (glass).........$1.00 Coffee or tea (glass)........................$0.30-0.60 Beer (bottle, from store)....................$0.75 Bottle of very good wine.....................$5-10 (a little more for premium reds) Breakfast at local restaurant/cafe...........$3-5 (usually included w/room) Lunch at snack stand.........................$2-5 Lunch at local restaurant....................$4-8 Dinner at local restaurant (3-course)........$6-10 per person Dinner at upscale restaurant (3-course)......$10-15 per person Room in a nicer B&B (double w/bath)..........$35-45 Room in a 3-star hotel (double w/bath).......$40-65 Room in upscale/boutique hotel (dbl w/bath)..$60-120 and up Taxi ride around town........................don't know, we drove everywhere! Bus ticket, 200km-long trip..................likewise, don't know Internet useage, 1 hour......................$2.00-4.50 (varies widely by location) Museum entry fee (per person)................$1-6 Entry to Kruger National Park................$10 (car with 2 persons)
Back to S.Africa pg 6 On to Mauritius!
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