South African Sojourn: First Impressions
Sandeep Sahajpal wasn’t too keen about the country before this trip. He was warned about the crime scene and discouraged from taking the road trip he had planned in South Africa. Curious as he is, he went ahead for a holiday and came back utterly impressed! The wanderer who inspired us to start ‘For the Love of Travel’ series, Sandeep goes beyond the picturesque landscapes in talking about why he finds the country fascinating. This is the first article in the four part series where he writes about his South African travel experience on the blog.
As a traveller to almost 40 countries, I have several beautiful memories of wonderful journeys I have taken. I come back with anecdotes, tales and stories from each trip. It is for the first time, however, that I felt compelled to write about the last holiday I took – to South Africa.
I toyed with several ideas on how to briefly define South Africa, and finally settled for the title: ‘Diversity Defined’. It is a surprising definition from an Indian, right? Why, India has always been given the distinction of being an epitome of a diverse country. However, if you take the Himalayan region out of the equation, South Africa has everything to offer, rather much more, within the landmass one third of India! That means an ease of doing much more diverse things in relatively much-much lesser time, with a lot more convenience.
To be honest, I wasn’t too thrilled about South Africa before I embarked on the journey, mainly for two reasons: anything in African continent gives a general feeling of being backward and underdeveloped. Secondly, South Africa’s entry into BRIC as an afterthought, making it BRICS countries, always gives a feeling that it would be but just a poor cousin of India. I was surprised on both the counts, and by quite a margin, I must admit.
Realities – No Tall Claims
I decided to take a trip to South Africa primarily with the objective of studying their ‘Gas to Liquid’ technology (a unique technology used by one of the majors Sasol) and their utilisation of solar and alternate energy as they are one of the largest recipients of sun rays through the year, just like India. The country’s knowledge and awareness is visible at the airport itself, and then along the highways, from the displays on holdings as well as implementation.
The second aspect that caught my attention is the relative non-existence of bottled water. Coming from India, I was not expecting that this country would proclaim that their tap waters are potable, though I read it on their official websites. But upon reaching there, I witnessed that they have done wonders with their water management very effectively. South Africans have to be complimented for keeping their sea fronts and lakes immaculately clean, even when majority of the country is poverty stricken.
It’s Safer Than It is Made Out To Be
Is South Africa safe? That’s a common query when you tell people about your travel plan to the country. ‘Be very careful’, ‘crime rate is very high’, ‘oh, you are driving in South Africa, that’s not a good idea’ – we had been amply warned by people. But then, I have heard those negative comments each time I go out of the country, ever since I made my maiden journey to the US back in 1989! I guess, we Indians know only one way to express our expertise about any country, and that is by scaring the others about what kind of dangers are lurking out there! However, right from my maiden trip to US trip till today, I like mingling with the locals and enjoying the feel of the soil of the place I travel to. And I did the same in South Africa.
Yes, you have to be cautious but the danger is not as much as is expressed by people here. The best part is that locals talk about safety aspects openly, unlike us who are in a denial mode perpetually. You still hear stories of the notorious murderess Daisy de Melker who was accused of three murders but was only convicted and hanged for one, i.e. of her son, about a century back. By talking about crime and safety, and after seeing the security measures, you tend to be cautious anyway, but it does not take away any part of the fun. I personally found the locals very willing to help, fun loving, and open to talk to. The guides were very knowledgeable as well.
Low Population: A Real Benefit
South Africa retains, more or less, the same proportion to India as far as its GDP on a PPP basis is concerned. Though with a mere 55 million population, as much as we have in NCR and Mumbai, the scenario looks very different in towns as well as on the roads. India ranks, quite surprisingly, 33rd in population by density with 368/sq km, whereas South Africa ranks 169th with only 41/sq km. Even the supposedly busiest places look relatively empty. That, perhaps, helps them to administer the country more effectively.
Discipline: A Second Nature
Dust is conspicuous by its absence all around. Even busy marketplaces look clean. One cannot credit just the climatic conditions for that. In fact, there are regions where they do get dust storms as well, to the extent that an odd one-storied house has to be ‘excavated’! A strong civic sense and awareness to not litter result in keeping the place dirt and dust free. For a country with almost same or lower per capita income than India, it speaks volumes about discipline amongst the general public.
The discipline is also quite visible on the road manners as well. Even at the smallest of the junctions, people come to a complete halt before stepping on the gas again, even at places where possibility of another vehicle crossing is less than 0.1%. Not only that, lane driving is an absolute yes; People observe speed limits and follow overtaking rules like a religion. Of course, a very vigilant police system ensures implementation of law.
Such discipline makes self-driving lot of fun. You can witness a slew of people – local and foreigners – queuing up at various vendors at the airports and city counters to hire vehicles. The beautiful highways make for an added bonus. Take for instance, the Garden Route, which starts at Cape Town and goes all the way up to Kruger and ends at Johannesburg. The name of the passage is not without a reason; it is like driving through a garden, quite literally!
My trip was for eleven days, and by the end of the visit, I wished that it was longer. Cape Town, according to me, is one of the best places to stay for long duration for holidays, or for even for settling down!
[Info: You Indian driving license in English is valid in South Africa.]
Come back here to know more about this amazing country which has to offer gold mines, marine experiences, wild life, vineyards, waterfronts, and much more. Write to us if you have any questions about holidaying in South Africa.