I have had many reservations about posting this piece. Usually, I write and post immediately (because I’m likely to forget or lose interest) and I had so many doubts with this one, I actually left it alone for a week or so, in order to be sure I really wanted to put it out there. I’ve steered clear of anything negative on this site and I may have been giving you an unrealistic impression of our experiences, when we decided to try the whole “full-time blogger” thing. Please don’t think that this will be a post of gripes and venting. I hold myself completely responsible for why our adventure didn’t work out.
For one thing, I am definitely not built for the lifestyle of schmoozing and pitching ideas and that has made our opportunities limited to the generous people within the South African travel network that wanted to help, and to whom I am endlessly grateful.
Hindsight: South African Road Trip Realities
There are a few turning point moments that stand out for me from our 3 month trip back in 2016. The good… I have raved about here in my posts about how beautiful our country is. The bad, well…should we talk about the 3 points on the trip when I just couldn’t handle things anymore? When I was so scared, I couldn’t hold back the tears of frustration as I sat in another unfamiliar environment not really knowing what was going to happen next?
Should we talk about that other time when I stood with my arms full of groceries in a cafe in Clarens, and neither of the old (enough to know better) but fair skinned, till operators wanted to serve me? They sent me from one till to the next because they were “too busy”. It felt racial to me, but maybe I was being paranoid. (And, if it wasn’t the only option for us to buy some much needed groceries before we started our trip from Clarens to Empangeni, I would have dropped everything on the ground and walked out).
The thing is, South Africa is beautiful and diverse and rich, both in landscape and cultural but we have a long way to go if we want to make sure that our own people can enjoy it.
Have you tried booking a weekend away anywhere in the Western Cape? It can easily set you back R5000 just for accommodation. If you’re lucky, this will include breakfast. Let’s not even get started with how much food and entertainment will cost you. And we wonder why more people don’t get to enjoy the life changing benefits that are offered by travel.
When you drive through seven of the nine regions in South Africa, you realize how massive the economic gap is, between the haves and have nots. And I’m not even talking about say Constantia vs Mitchell’s Plain. If you live in Cape Town, there are job opportunities and a transport network to get you from point A to point B. Please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not discounting the difference between the 2 suburbs. You just get a different perspective when you drive through small towns and then see the more rural areas with even less access to resources.
Driving through South Africa you see vast plains of just open land. A few are clearly defined as farm land but there are more that are just empty. Maybe they were once home to farming or mining towns, but when there is no indication of any disused infrastructure, whatsoever, you can’t help but wonder if they weren’t just open plains since the dawn of time.
Then you get into a city and suddenly things are familiar again. There are traffic lights and speeding motorist, shopping malls and recreational hot spots. All of a sudden it doesn’t matter whether you are in Cape Town, Port Elizabeth, Durban or Johannesburg, you’re in a city again and nothing has changed.
So, you avoid the cities and try to focus on small towns. Except when you walk into a tourism office, the staff don’t seem to know how to help you. These offices with desks and computers and paid employees need you to ask the “right questions” so that they can give you the answers you are looking for. But what if you don’t know the right questions. What if you want to know where you should go in the area and what there is to do? Should the response be to just offer you a handful of pamphlets (that you could have picked up anywhere)? Or should they see a family of 4 with school aged kids and say, “Hi, welcome to #########! Are you new to the area or are you visiting for a few days? Do you know about ##############. Your kids would love it!”
How I wish this was the response when we arrived in the tourism offices of Knysna, Montagu and Nelspruit. The only way we found amazing things to do in Knysna and Montagu was because of TravelBugRose in Knysna and our friendly and welcoming accommodation hostess in Montagu. Nelspruit, ja…this was a lost cause.
You see, when you decide to explore your country or set out on a road trip, you can basically take 1 of 2 options. Either, you are going to drive through the country, with the ultimate intention of reaching a specific end point, like Cairo, for example or, you can decide that you want to visit as many small towns as you can and really get to see the country for what it is. When we started our trip, we thought we could do both. And it is more complicated than we bargained for.
When I think about the moments where I crashed and burned, psychologically speaking, a lot of the stress may have been due to me driving for 8 hours each day, every day. I didn’t have the option of someone taking over the responsibility. Personally, I didn’t feel like I saw all that much of our country to be perfectly honest. You can hardly get lost in the wonder of how beautiful your surroundings are when you need to keep your eyes on the road.
It took the longest time for me to feel safe enough to stop along the side of the road. What if someone was hiding in the bushes? What if the kids didn’t see the maniac going who-the-hell-knows kilometers per hour, while we stopped to take pictures. Also, how much time can we afford stop if we want to get the kids into their base for the night and still have time to cook and feed them before they could go to bed. (Our intention was to stop every 200kms but there are stretches when there is pretty much nothing for almost 800kms so, it is what it is).
This was the biggest let down for me. In theory we saw a lot. From my perspective it was setting up a home for us every 3 days or so. It starts to lose a sense of wonder pretty quickly and it doesn’t take long before all you see is the sameness of every day, no matter where you are at the time.
Family travel is rarely Instagram perfect. More often than not it is raw and ugly and tired. The best time to take those Pinterest perfect pictures are within that hour after sunrise and the hour before sunset. No one wants to have their kids awake until way after that hour after sunrise and that hour before sunset is also known as suicide hour to many families which means you are caught between a rock and a hard place. No pretty stock photo images for you. Unless you have lots of time and energy to beg, bribe or (I’m trying to find another word that starts with the letter B but all that comes to mind is beat or bury, so I’m just not going to finish this sentence).
So, where to from here? Well, what South Africa needs more of is travel ambassadors who have an interest in building communities and are in touch with social media. We had brilliant experiences in the Garden Route, Plettenberg Bay, Port Elizabeth and Empangeni. Don’t stick your tourism people into offices filled with pamphlets. They need to be out and about promoting the city and having conversations with strangers.
Make the South African ID document worth something. “If you present you ID you only pay xx”. Many first world countries have latched onto the idea of building tourism among their own people. Imagine if every person could answer an international visitor who stopped them on the street and could suggest places they could visit because they had experienced it for themselves.
Fluit fluit, my storie is uit.