There is something weird about Africa. Fathered by pompous colonial fatheads and mothered by tribal mystery and superstition,  it is slightly cuckoo, this troubled child of malfunctioning parents. Poverty, corruption and crime stand side-by-side with the more redeeming qualities of open-hearted generosity, breathtaking natural abundance and a pioneering spirit.

When you live in South Africa you get used to the idea that some of your friends and family are going to move to other countries. Sometimes for good, sometimes for just a little while. I’m not complaining, after all, I went off roaming for 16 years, lived on three other continents, had three children and then returned. This is the magnetic pull of this crazy, sad, exuberant, rich, continent.

A friend recently return with his Canadian wife and young adult children. They were on a month long trip to revisit old haunts and discover new ones. They based themselves in Jo’burg and then adventured out on preplanned trips. Resident South Africans worry about drivers from politer, more law abiding countries. Potholes as deep as the Big Hole in Kimberley; minibus taxi drivers, for whom the rules of the road are merely amusing suggestions and drivers who consider the posted speed limit and solid white lines as inconvenient decorations, are just a few of the challenges on our roads.  Sometimes they are totally unpredictable: a couple of years ago, my sister and her family narrowly avoided hitting/being hit by a flying double bed on a busy motorway. The driver of the truck, confident in the bed’s inability to run away, had not tied it down. He had, however, not counted on speed and air turning it into a briefly flying , belly flopping, escape artist.

Armed with a gazillion maps and a borrowed cellphone, our friends kept track of where they were and sent text message announcing safe arrivals so us skeptical locals could all breathe deeply and be grateful for the lack of flying beds. Their adventures took them to the Kruger National Park where, on their second day, they managed to see the Big Five before lunch time – a feat few locals ever achieve. A meander back through the Lowveld took them to a silk farm shop (yes, we have silk farms) and Pilgrim’s Rest, an old gold mining town.

Their second meander took them down to Knysna. It is a long drive and they stopped in Colesburg on the way down and sent this text message : “Colesburg is shut down. They have rolled up the sidewalks and shut off the falls.” Which is a perfect description of a  Sunday afternoon in One-horse-town, South Africa. In Knysna they went crazy over local wood. Their son carried a piece of iron wood in his pocket for the rest of the trip as he was completely amazed that it is so dense it does not float.

From there they trundled off to Cape Town where they stayed in Fish Hoek and astounded the locals by buying second class tickets on the Metrorail train to travel into the city centre. Apparently, their guide book had suggested this is the best and least expensive way to get around, but all the locals on the train were somewhat perturbed that tourists would risk travelling 2nd class and kept telling them they should be in the first class section of the train.

Wherever they went they sampled the local food as their daughter is studying the culinary arts. Bobotie, biryani and waterblommetjies (edible Aponogeton distachyos flowers) were explored. Home made hummus and boerewors were sampled and cook books were bought.

The trip back up was broken in a place they deemed to be almost exactly halfway between Jo’burg and Cape Town. Britstown is even more in the middle of nowhere than Colesburg , if that is even possible. The alternate route took them via Kimberley, at which point they had just about had enough of dodging potholes and decided that seeing the Big Hole would be one hole too many.

This was their thank you card with a difference after using a fair portion of their baggage allowance  lugging over Canadian maple syrup and including our family in their extensive forays into the eccentricities of our cuisine. I also know that they prefer maps over gps devices, and I agree. Maps are cool!

Exploring South Africa – an eccentric map
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