Travel Journal

The Garden Route

(Tuesday 28 April 2009) by Dopps Family
Garden Route East (Wilderness, Knyssna surroundings, Storms River Village):
For the past four days we’ve been travelling the primary Garden Route along the N2 but the weather has turned. The warm sun has been replaced by cool rain but so far we’ve lucked out and the rain has only been at night or while we’ve been driving. We spent the afternoon of the 21st trying to get money from the ATM at different banks without any luck. After a countless menu options, multiple transfers and 3 different “specialists” over the phone with Bank of America we discovered that our bank put a temporary block on our account due to “suspicious activity”. After verifying my identity and explaining we were traveling the world until mid July the fraud specialist removed the block. We had the same problem with our Capital One credit card the first week in Cape Town, it started being declined because they suspended it due to suspicious activity. I had to file a “out of country notification” with them over the phone (which is only good for 60 days) and list all the locations we’ll be at. I got the card since they advertise “No Hassle Rewards” but there always seems to be some hassle with any bank.
So, with cash in hand, we’ve been spending less. Ironic, but we’ve been spending about
R100 less on average per night for pretty nice accommodations. However, when you see how most the rest of South Africans live you realize how good we have it. In Knyssna we took a turn up one of the main streets to head into the hills and drove right into the middle of a huge and active township. It’s hard to describe unless you see it yourself. What struck me the most is that amongst the garbage-strewn shacks with pigs, goats and cattle roaming freely, the people congregated on the streets, sidewalks and street corners were alive. There was loud music, smiles and conversations that made me think of a party atmosphere even though it was early afternoon. Maybe it was the fact that this day, Wednesday the 22nd of April, was election day and there was an aurora of hope in the air. But when we drove back into the town center and I stayed in the car while Carola shopped for groceries, I observed the people in the parking lot and on the sidewalks. There was no music, no congregation of people with smiles appearing or acting in a joyous and festive manner, there was just white people going about their busy lives.
The other day, as I was in the bank trying to get authorization for my debit card to work, Carola was having a conversation with a black woman who was working the street as a car parking attendant. (They make a living “protecting” your car and helping your pull into and out of traffic – but they don’t work for the city or any public or private company – just for tips of 2 or more rand per car). She was 76 and working for food to feed her family. Her sons, who don’t really work, consider her job shameful. But when you need to eat, any job is better than stealing or starving. She washes her clothes and bathes once per week and rarely eats any meat, maybe once per week. She cooks up a meal with rice, some vegetables, potatoes, and meat usually on Sunday. The rest of the week the family eats bread and drinks sugar water or sometimes tea. We gave her R30, which means she could buy some meat today.
Yesterday, we went to Monkey Land and the Birds of Eden. The park fees where over R550 for our family (about $60). Money the old lady could really use. As you are near the restaurant the squirrel monkeys come right up to your table and would take your food and stuff if not for Lawrence who stands there and squirts them with a water bottle which is his job, but tips are much appreciated. As we sat there eating our food it dawned on me that he and the others working there see us spending a week’s plus pay to see monkeys and eating good food when they probably haven’t had anything to eat all day. We offered Lawrence one of the bananas and bread we were eating and the eagerness and way he accepted it with both hands was a very humbling feeling. We offered the same also to the woman who worked there sitting behind us as well which she too accepted very eagerly. Rather than eat them, they took the food inside and came back out. My guess was they would save it to take back to their families after work. Lawrence said he had a 5 month old son at home so the R20 tip and 1 banana won’t help much. You feel like you should give more and that instead of giving the R550 to the park agents we should be giving it to the people directly instead. But is that the answer? I don’t know. All I know is that you see the blacks walking the streets down from the hills and city surroundings each morning to work for the white business owners and wealthy private home owners and walk back up the hills in the evening back to their homes in a foreign country. Perhaps we haven’t actually visited South Africa yet. Maybe all we’ve been visiting is an extension of Western Europe, UK, and America bordering the real South Africa that is hidden in the hills of the townships and shantees…

Saturday, April 25th. Today we packed up our bags to make our way to Addo where we’ll stay for 4 nights and do a safari in Addo Elephant Park. But before we checked out we went for a walk down our dirt road into the township nearby. Since this was a small community we felt relatively safe walking here but still left our backpacks and wallets at the house. It’s very apparent the division between economic classes; on one side of the street are fenced and gated houses with signs reading “Armed Security Response” and “Beware of Dog” and on the other side are the cider-block government houses with garbage strewn along the road-side. But what was ironic were the “fences” of wood branches with wire encircling many of these houses on the township side of the road. Not sure who is afraid of whom… However, as we walked further into the township though, there were no more fences – so even within the townships there are differences in the standard of living. On the way we encountered Debeer, a 62-year-old black man on his way to the store. In his version of broken English he explained he wanted money for food for his tummy. Rather than pay him outright we asked if he could take us to his home in exchange for some money. He accepted and we followed him further into the town to his house and family of 7 children. We were warmly welcomed by the family and Debeer offered us each an apple to eat – a strange and humbling feeling when they are the ones to feel blessed by our visit to their home. We spent a couple hours talking to them about their lives, their ambitions for future travel to other countries and how 12 people would sleep in a house no bigger than the living room I’m sitting in while I write this journal. They had no shower or bath in the house but bathed in a tub they fill with water. They had a small kitchen, running water and a TV and stereo (but the 2 younger boys also wished they had PlayStation). Their house, like most of the others, where built by the government in the late 90s and early 2000s during the Mandela era when the ANC was productive and serviced the black African people. However, the foundation of their house is lower than the surrounding ground level and during heavy rains the water floods inside. The father explained to me that this was not good and that the foundation should be at least a foot higher like the house next door that was being rebuilt with a much higher foundation. I saw some scraps of plastic or rubber liner lying amongst the junk and wood scraps and explained to Mava, the older brother, that if they were to dig a trench around two sides of the house 1-2 feet deep sloping with the natural grade, lined it with this plastic and filled it with rock and gravel that this would create a drainage system to keep the water out of the house. Mava considered this and said he would explain it to his father so they could try it. I wished we had some more time in this village so I could have helped them dig and build the drainage but at least now they have a design that won’t cost any money to build.
We also took many pictures of their house, the family and Oly, the baby who is only 2 months old. Unfortunately we only had about R150 in our pockets and would have given them more if we hadn’t left our wallets back at the house. We initially gave the money to the father, but the daughters explained he would most likely buy drinks for some of the money and the older daughter made sure she held onto most of the money. During our visit I spotted him taking a few swigs from a bottle with some other friends outside his house. Drinking among the boys and men is a real problem here and it doesn’t help that beer, wine and alcohol are cheap. You can buy a cheap bottle of wine for R15-20 (or just a couple dollars) – but when good jobs are hard to find and money is scarce, you’d think there would be more common sense to spend what money they do have more wisely. But I guess I have to give the father some credit when we saw him rolling his tobacco in newspaper for smoking!

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