Northwestern South Africa is sparsely populated. Long straight roads pass though spectacular scenery, dry plains surrounded by mountain ranges! Arriving in Cape Town is equally impressive, with the bright blue Atlantic Ocean to the west and Table Mountain on the edge of the city, so impressive and dominant.
Arriving in Cape Town felt surreal. Having spent months away from the trappings of western culture, where my dishevelled appearance felt normal, I found myself in a shopping mall in Cape Town. Earlier in the day I broke my iPhone, so I went into the first shopping mall I came across, unbeknown to me at the time, the biggest and most modern in the city! Walking around a market in a small Tanzanian Village was comfortable, I sort of fitted in. However, as I walked around the shopping mall I was, for the first time in Africa, conscious of my appearance! I looked like I had just been riding a motorbike the length of Africa, without washing! In so many places I had stopped, people would tell me how they really liked my dirty riding boots, or something else about my dirty biker appearance. As I walked around the mall, I felt everyone was looking at me, not admiring my boots, but thinking why such a dishevelled man was in the clean, shiny mall. I can’t remember if I’ve ever felt so self-conscious, not that I cared, I quite like being different!
The following day I arrived at my ‘One Cool Ride’ destination, Cape Agulhas, the most southerly place in Africa. North Cape to South Cape, I did it! I was ecstatic…
As if completing my overland adventure wasn’t enough, the same day I saw whales!
I returned to Cape Town, riding through yet more amazing scenery, bright blue sea, mountains and vineyards… SouthWestern South Africa is really beautiful.
I booked a flight home, arranged shipping for my bike and explored Cape Town and the surrounding areas for a few days. Oh, England lost the rugby World Cup final to South Africa whilst I was there. If there was ever a place I really didn’t want to be… Cape Town is one of many amazing cities in the world, that enjoys great weather, beautiful beaches, stunning mountains and the most modern lifestyle. As I travelled the coastal road, it felt like the Côte d’Azur. I liked Cape Town a lot. It’s a working city, where you can enjoy seafood and crisp white wine at a chic restaurant, and next to you is a working dockyard, where fishing boats are preparing to head out to sea. Oh, did I mention Table Mountain, which dominates everything in a seriously impressive way.
However, Cape Town has another side to it, which couldn’t be further away from the lavish Côte d’Azur! As I headed out of the city, leaving the shiny glass buildings behind me, the beautiful modern houses and apartments ended, and tin huts replaced them. Was this one of the townships I had read about over the years? It looked the same as the slums and shanty towns I have seen in many countries of the world. The tin houses were not on the other side of Table Mountain, not hidden by farmland, they butted right up to the other buildings in Cape Town.
I felt uncomfortable. Within a few miles of the crisp white linen tablecloths, of the swanky restaurants in the docks, was a reminder of the shanty towns I had visited in Delhi and Mumbai. Cape Town isn’t unique, South Africa isn’t unique. I hope I’m not the only one who feels uncomfortable with this reality.
Over the following days I started to notice job roles, which were largely (many times exclusively) defined by race. I also reflected on the many conversations I had with white South Africans regarding their negativity to current politics and the affirmative action (positive discrimination) that the government is pursuing.
South Africa is a beautiful country. However, whilst I have been amongst much poverty in the world, I can’t remember it being defined by race to the extent it does here.