Saturday, October 8, 2022

South Africa is truly a treat, but are the benefits worth the travel time?

Outside the lighthouse at Cape
of Good Hope, South Africa.
Why would someone in the northern hemisphere want to take a vacation in South Africa? Flying from Rome to Cape Town takes 14 hours, even though both cities are in the same time zone, and it would take much longer if one first had to make it to Rome. In our case, we took the slow and cheaper regionale train from Pisa to Rome, then flew to Ethiopia before transferring planes and arriving in Cape Town. Add in that we first had to walk down the hill from Montecarlo and take a train to Pisa, and finally that we had to drive from the Cape Town airport to Simon’s Town, and we were in transit for about 30 hours.

Simon's Town viewed from a hiking trail.
This was all worth it primarily because we were able to spend a week with Dan and Sandra and (most of) their family. The destination makes more sense for them because they are already stationed in Africa (Ethiopia but in transition to Nigeria). For us, it was feasible because we were already in Italy, and despite the hardships of travel, we have no regrets because of the time spent with family.

These penguins were in the aquarium, but
we also saw some on the beach and even
crossing the street in Simon's Town.
But beyond all that, what are our impressions of South Africa? For sure, it is the most modern and comfortable African nation of the many we have experienced. The roads are wide and smooth. English is the primary language, at least in the urban centers we visited, and we found everyone to be friendly and welcoming. We were entertained on several occasions by street singers and dancers. It was also refreshing to see so many different ethnic groups mixing comfortably together now—the polar opposite of a situation that South Africa was infamous for in the not-so-distant past.

“I was pleased by how beautiful, peaceful, calm and uncrowded it is,” Dan said. “Pollution is not a major problem, and the dollar is doing well, so that also helps.”

“If it wasn't so far away, it would be a nice place to live,” Lucy said. “It has a really complicated history which is so recent that you’re not really sure you want to be part of that. You feel like some of the comforts you enjoy are not really okay considering the cost to some of the populations here.”

Admirals Waterfall near
Simon's Town.
We stayed all week in a three-bedroom Airbnb about a five-minute walk from False Bay in the Indian Ocean. We were only a half hour drive from the Cape of Good Hope and dozens of beaches on both the Atlantic and Indian oceans. We saw penguins, guinea fowl and lots of baboons. We visited a beautiful aquarium in Cape Town, a lighthouse at the end of the cape and took scenic hikes to waterfalls and small mountains. We saw new constellations and the man in the moon upside down. And we relaxed, talked, played games and shared meals together—the best part, in my opinion.

I also filled the washbasin and let the water settle for a few minutes and then pulled the plug. The water formed a counter-clockwise whirlpool, as I had read that it would in the southern hemisphere. However, this hemispheric gravitational force is very weak, because the first time I tried it I didn’t let the water settle enough, and the whirlpool went clockwise because the water was still moving slightly in that direction after I turned off the faucet.

One of the several groups that entertained us
during our walks around the streets of
Cape Town and Simon's Town.
It is quite unlikely that Lucy and I will ever come here again, but that’s only because of the distance. It might be nice to come here in January, when it’s cold and rainy in Washington but summer in South Africa. Nice, but not nearly nice enough to justify the estimated two days of travel time. Bye, bye, South Africa.

A beautiful peninsula on the rugged Atlantic side just south of Cape Town.


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