Sep 1, 2010

Galavanting around the Garden route

Storms River South Africa-62
Beautiful coastal landscape, a region of vineyards renowned the world over, high end homes, strip malls, navigating as helpless pedestrians in a car culture... our trip along the Southern California African coast was fascinating and energizing.

Cape Town South Africa-513I remember learning about South Africa politics as a child.  This proud bastion of legal racism drove my late great uncle Pat crazy with frustration.  He explained the concept of Apartheid in words simple enough that I could grasp it, but never in such a way that I have ever been able to understand it.  The task of making those laws itself proves their insanity.  When creating inhuman laws for humans, the details keep compounding complexity well past the point of absurdity.  They could make a law that said blacks and whites had different legal rights ... but what about mixed-races?  Or people that weren't 'native' but also weren't exactly aryan?  Before long high courts had to develop long list of criteria, as absurd as 'if the hair is curly enough to support a pencil then they are black.'  But when that petty distinction can have a massive impact on everything about how a person lives, one has to wonder if the high court had to weigh on on whether hair straighteners were a legitimate way to 'change races.'  At some point, I've got to believe, that even the people creating the laws realized how ridiculous it had gotten.

Hermanus South Africa-24
At the time I couldn't understand why Pat thought a man thrown in prison a generation ago would still be able to change things.  But in the final years of his life Pat got to live in a world where that man, Mandela, was released and helped rebuild South African law from the ground up.  Unfortunately, there is more to ending discrimination than law and that was a reality that kept screaming out to Erin and I while we travelled along the legendary 'Garden Route.'  The major cities along the coast are immaculate, well guarded, and look like a beautiful cross between Europe, California and an army base.  Without exception people were kind, friendly and engaging but the constant reminders of economic segregation hung in the air.  Cities the hummed with activity during the day shut down at night, when the last bus to the townships took the workers back to the townships and others barricaded themselves in each night.

Buffelsbaai South Africa-1The Garden route is aptly named as it had some of the most spectacular fauna I've seen anywhere in the world.  South Africa has barely 1% of the worlds landmass, but nearly 10% of the worlds plant species.  In some parts of the Colorado Rocky Mountains you can hike all day and see only one or two species of trees.  In South Africa, its almost impossible to open your eyes without seeing a dozen.  The topography itself is magical, we sat on top of a cliff and watched surfers and a couple whales play in the bay for over an hour.  We camped on empty beaches that looked like an artists rendering of 'the ideal beach.'  We saw dozens of different types of birds on long hikes out of the back door of our 18th century Dutch farmhouse.

Storms River South Africa-85
It was a remarkable and worthwhile trek through half a dozen destinations, but halfway up the coast both Erin and I were craving something a little more 'cultural.'  We'd heard legends about a formerly independent nation hidden inside of South Africa that only South Africa recognized.  It sounded like a fascinating place.  It was far poorer than it's "neighboring," country but also without the painful history of Apartheid.  But that is a story for another blog post....

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