We just arrived back at our Bed and Breakfast (Colette’s B and B in Cape Town – great place) after our first day DRIVING (on the left side of the road) in South Africa! We’re glad to be “home” safely, and I have so many observations and anecdotes to record that I thought I’d try to put together a little pre-race blog to keep you updated. So by subject:
Electricity: Apparently, there are a few different kinds of outlets in South Africa. Some electrical outlets have three large round prongs and some have two slightly slimmer round prongs. The electricity comes through at 220 volts. As you know, in the US, we use 110 volts. Since I hoped to use my new little baby netbook computer to check email and to blog on this trip, we had to buy an adapter, which we did before we left. This $30 thingamajig does, in fact, work in translating the voltage strength, but it only has two prongs. Here at Colette’s, we need three. The adaptor we bought also only has two flat prongs for the US appliances (instead of the two flat plus one round one that my computer has). To make a long, boring story too long and boring than it needs to be, I’m writing this to you on a computer which has THREE different adapters plugged together to make it work (a two to three pronged US adaptor/ a US to South African adaptor/ and a two to three pronged South African adaptor). Here’s the lesson for you who would travel to Cape Town: Don’t trust that cute 17-year-old girl with the nose ring at Radio Shack to explain what you’ll need to make your appliances work on a continent she may or may not be able to place on a world map.
Language: Although English is almost universally spoken among the residents of Cape Town, we’ve still encountered numerous glitches and confusions. For example, we were “collected” at the airport by a lovely man with whom we arranged a ride to our Bed and Breakfast (even though we could scarcely collect ourselves and our luggage, so tired were we from 26 hours of travel – 22 of those in the air). Once we “hired” (rented) our car and paid the “excess” (deposit) in case of an accident, we had to get directions to our first destination. After about the third time we were told to turn left or right at the “robot,” I finally asked that question that I’d waited to ask until there was no alternative but to directly reveal my ignorance: “What is a robot?”
Mind you, I had images of a robotic traffic cop tooting a canned whistle and motioning for traffic to move forward or to wait its turn – like in the Jetson’s. I wasn’t far off. A robot is a traffic light! Mystery solved.
By the way, a “geezer” is a tiny hot water heater under the kitchen sink. A “funicular” is an elevator. And one answers a thank you with , “Pleasure,” rather than, “You’re welcome.” Fortunately, one still “drinks” wine, which brings me to my next subject.
Wine: There’s good wine here (hi Dennis and Benita). We’ve tried a few – a chenin blanc, a merlot and a shiraz from local wineries. I’ll have more to tell you after we tour some “wine farms,” but suffice it to say at this point that an excellent bottle of wine can be purchased for 20 to 30 Rand. (There are about 10 Rand to a dollar. Do the math. I’m not kidding.)
Cape Point and Cape of Good Hope: Beautiful, majestic, awe-inspiring. WOW! We took a little run (about 3 kilometers) from one cape to the other today. The Atlantic and Indian Oceans both feed into the waters around these points. Bill and I savored the sea air and the warmth (34 degrees Celsius) and we wished all of you could be with us.
Most importantly – Apartheid: Yesterday we took a boat trip out to Robben Island, the island prison where Nelson Mandela and many other non-white political prisoners were held captive during the years of the “Old Government.” Bill and I were humbled by the tour of the grounds and the prison cells. The first part of the tour was given by a young black South African woman who spoke, unflinching, to an almost entirely white bus full of tourists about the way the white minority systematically oppressed and repressed the black majority for decade after decade. While whites dominated all sectors of society with economic or political power, dissenters (both black and white) persisted in their resistance with propaganda creatively smuggled out of prisons and into the streets.
The man who gave us the tour of the prison cells was a former political prisoner housed at the very prison he now gives tours at. Can you imagine spending every day working at the place where, for seven years, you slept on the cement floor and peed in a bucket? Our guide said that he wanted to foster forgiveness. What does it even mean to forgive your government after families have been torn apart and dignity has been smashed to little pieces over and over? Maybe it means more than I am capable of understanding. I, of course, recalled America’s oppressions (past and recent [think Proposition 8 in California]), I also thought of our recent election of our first black president and tonight, as I write this, I’m challenged, once again, to wonder what words like “reconcile,” “forgiveness,” and “equality” mean. I don’t know. But for sure my questions are richer than they were before yesterday. If you get to Cape Town, get out to Robben Island. It’s not a pretty story, but it’s required reading.
That’s all for the moment. We’re off to Langebaan where the marathon takes place on Saturday. Until next time….