After five unforgettable days in Lesotho, we had to leave and go back to South Africa. Even leaving this country is an unforgettable experience as you have to cross the famous Sani Pass through the mountains of Drakensberg. Sani Pass isn’t such a difficult mountain pass but the scenery is really beautiful and it can be the best ending or the worst beginning for a trip in Lesotho. This depends on whether you climb down to South Africa or up from South Africa. Crossing Sani Pass was the basic reason I took the decision to travel to Lesotho. Many South Africans told me stories about how beautiful it is and made me want to see it, but the final decision was taken when I heard the phrase: “You’ll never manage to cross Sani Pass on a Vespa with two persons on it and all the luggage you carry!”.
From the previous night, we had started picking up our stuff and putting them back on the Vespa. When we approached Sani Pass, we saw that all the stories about the beauty of that place were true but we also realized that the rest of the country was even more beautiful. Crossing Sani Pass and ignoring the rest of Lesotho is like finding a fountain with crystal clear water while thirsty and choose to drink just a sip of it! Going down through Sani Pass is not as difficult as they say but climbing up is another story. The slope is steep and the altitude is at 2,876m so, someone who wants to climb up should consider that the…fuel consumption is going to be high (we went down with the engine off!) but you will easily make it to the top. We found all these stories about how difficult it is a bit exaggerated and we definitely managed to cross it with no problems at all. The deepest “river” we had to cross was 1cm deep and there were no huge rocks blocking our way! Please, don’t listen to anyone trying to scare you (not even me!). Always follow your heart!
So, going down peacefully with the engine off and with no problems at all, we entered South Africa again. At the borders, we had an unpleasant surprise: we were thinking that the stamps on our passports with the new date of entrance in South Africa, would allow us to be in the country for 90 more days. The police officer (there is only a police station there, no immigration office) politely informed us that the extension of a tourist visa is not their responsibility and that we had to go to a home affairs office in one of the big cities of South Africa. We tried a lot to convince him to help us, but it was impossible.
We were now in South Africa, at a reasonably low altitude and after we spent a night in Howick, we arrived in Durban the next day. I remember that the scenery on our way to Durban was interesting but what was more “interesting” and I don’t think I’ll forget it, was the fog. For many kilometers, we had to drive in thick fog and we couldn’t exceed the speed of 40km/h. We already knew where we would stay the 2 nights we would spend in Durban: at Johann’s place. Johann lives in Durban and I had first met him in Lome, Togo. We were staying in the same campsite. That time I was traveling with Steven (the German guy on the XT) and Johann was traveling back to Durban from England on his Aprilia Caponord with Charlie (an English guy on a KTM 990 ADV) and Francis – yes, I’m talking about that Francis you all know – on a GS 800 (Later, I also traveled with Francis).
Durban was a really pleasant surprise for us, and contrary to what people say, we found it beautiful (people usually compare it to Cape Town and that’s why they say that it’s not beautiful). But we hadn’t visited Cape Town yet and additionally to this, we compared it to some cities in Greece that they don’t look that nice. We were a bit envious, to tell you the truth, because in terms of cleanness and tidiness, Durban is much better than the majority of big cities in Greece. We tried some Indian dishes (“bunny chow”) and we concluded that if we could find some ouzo, frappe coffee, souvlaki, bougatsa or any other typical Greek flavors, we could stay in Durban for a long time! Our plan had now changed as you may have realized: We had spent only 5 days in Lesotho (we regret that we didn’t stay there more…) and the Vespa had proven that it could make it with both of us and our luggage on it. So we decided to make the whole tour of South Africa. That means that we would continue to Cape Town, stay there for some days and then back to Johannesburg from the shorter way, as Alexandra had to travel back to Greece in some days. The Vespa didn’t have any problem with some more kilometers, so we decided to do it!
We easily covered the distance from Durban to Cape Town, though it was a bit boring and too wet – it was constantly raining for 2 days. The South African landscape in that area resembles more to Europe and not to what we have in mind about African landscapes. I know that it is not right to compare South Africa to north, west or central African countries, but from the moment I crossed the borders of D.R.C. and went to Zambia, I feel that Africa has ended. Everything here is too predictable, too tidy and too beautiful (ideal for the Western standards). I know that many people disagree with me on this but that’s the way I feel and I want to be honest with you. However, the highway was not too “European”, it was more “Greek-European” – with too much traffic, too many trucks and a single lane for each of the two opposite directions. And there were tolls we had to pay for that “highway”!
From Durban we followed the N2, passed from East London and from Port Elisabeth (unfortunately, we didn’t have enough time to visit these cities) and we went to the southernmost place of Africa, Cape Agulhas. What we now know about traveling at the most touristic areas of South Africa is that the prices change a lot during the high season. So, we have an advice for you: if you are about to travel during the high season you should take into account that in some places the prices will be double than the normal, check it out first! We spent one night in a campsite the first day of the “high season”. The normal price for a spot to pitch our tent was at 200ZAR (14 euros), but during holidays it was 87.5% higher than the normal one! (of course we know how to negotiate, so we managed to get a reduction and we stayed there at the normal price…)
In Struisbaai, a small town next to Cape Agulhas, we came across an unbelievable surprise! Usually, I prefer to stay in campsites and not in hostels, but this time when I saw the sign for “Cape Agulhas Backpackers” I stopped and went in to ask for the price. The unbelievable coincidence is that 2 years ago, Nikos and Georgia (the pinproject) from Greece had stayed for some months in that hostel! When they visited Cape Agulhas, all their stuff and their passports were stolen and they had to stay there for some time. We stayed in the same hostel. In Cape Agulhas we also met the most unsociable motorcyclists! Generally, around Cape Town no one greets no one on a motorcycle, contrary to what usually happens in the most places on planet Earth! The day we visited the southernmost tip of Africa to take some pictures, we came across a group of motorcyclists on BMWs and Harleys and even if we tried to talk to them or just greet them, they turned their backs on us pretending they didn’t see us! Maybe because they saw that we were on a humble, rusty vespa and not on a shiny new BMW, or because they saw that we were Greeks or maybe because they were a group of snob rich pensioners who can’t understand much of being a real motorcyclist…Well, we’ll never know!
From the southernmost tip of Africa, we headed to Cape Town which is not far from there. In Cape Town, I finally met Christopher in person. Christopher is a vespa lover also and he had been traveling on his vespa for a long time. I had the intention to host him in Thessaloniki in 2013 when he was traveling from Cape Town to Dublin (8 months, 32,000kms), through East Africa on his LML 150 with some of his friends, but his plans changed and he didn’t come to Greece. You can find more information about Christopher on his facebook page and on the book he is about to publish. His unbelievable adventure unfortunately cost him his eyesight due to some severe health problems he had in Tanzania. When we finally made it to Cape Town, he hosted us in his house for the nine days we stayed there. Chris, his fiancee Tamlyn and his parents Ivan and Lynette, were the best hosts we could ever imagine! They are all open-minded people, very hospitable and it was a real pleasure meeting and talking with them. The nine days we spent in Cape Town we tried to visit as many places as we could in the city, we spent some time eating local food (you should definitely try “potjie”) and having “braai” (the word for barbeque in Afrikaans) and we visited some places around Cape Town.
We also made a 1-day ride to the Cape of Good Hope. A 120kms tour around Cape Town through Chapman’s Peak drive – a beautiful route next to the ocean. We didn’t exactly visit the Cape of Good Hope because you have to pay about 9 euros per person to go there and, as it is not a monument which needs maintenance but just a geographical spot, we found it absurd to pay any money to visit it. We also went to Simon’s Town to see the penguins – which were absent at the moment – and to Kalk Bay to feed the seals and ourselves also! We ate at Kalkys restaurant its famous fish ‘n’ chips and we found out that the owner of the place is Greek!
Another thing that we definitely wouldn’t miss was a tour at the wineries in the region of Stellenbosch. The wines of Cape Town are famous, so we grabbed the chance for some wine tasting. We had my friend Steven and the couchsurfer who hosted him with us and we visited 3 wineries where we paid 30ZAR each (2 euros) to taste 5-6 different wines and also eat some really delicious cheese (produced in nearby local farms). We saw many things, walked a lot in the city, ate many delicacies and concluded to what we initially thought about Cape Town: it’s a beautiful city, clean, tidy, green…a city to live in. However, it doesn’t look like a typical African city, it’s more of a European one. As I have said before, South Africa is not a typical African country either.
The nine days in Cape Town passed really fast and the time had come to go back to Johannesburg. Unfortunately, it was impossible to stay more and visit other places we would like to see for 2 reasons: 1. Alexandra couldn’t extend her stay in South Africa and 2. I had to see what I could do with my visa…I forgot to mention the answer the officer at Home Affairs in Durban gave me about my visa: there is no way to extend a 90-days tourist visa! The only thing someone can do is to return to his country and then enter again South Africa. It was the first time I had to deal with such a problem. Even in the “underdeveloped” African countries there was always a way for a visitor to stay some more time. I tried to explain my case but the answer was still negative. Even if I would travel to any of the neighboring countries and then try to enter again South Africa, it would be impossible to get a new visa. The legislation had changed 3 months ago because of the government’s attempts to control immigration from other African countries. Clever idea! You can also build one more fence on your borders to keep them safe! And then, you can ban tourism! Very clever! I also heard that Katarina, the Slovenian girl on a bicycle I had met some months ago didn’t make it to South Africa. In every embassy she went to acquire a visa for South Africa, she was told that the only way to enter the country is to go back to her country, buy a visa from the embassy there and come again! Completely absurd!
So, that’s how my visit in South Africa ended: under pressure! I have written on the blog, in the post “Best and Worst in Africa” that South Africa is my least favorite African country. I would like to be able to spend some more time there and possibly change my point of view, but the South African State isn’t that hospitable. You can also see the reasons I didn’t enjoy much my stay in the country in the first video about South Africa. People are not open-minded (there are always exceptions, of course) and they are too conservative due to religion. The relations between white and black South Africans are tense and the positive comments I heard about Apartheid (from white South Africans), as well as the racist behavior from both sides, made me think that it is a society in crisis. The crime rates are also very high, which makes people feel unsafe and in many cities the majority of the houses are hidden behind concrete fences with electric wires and 24h security surveillance! Especially in Johannesburg, people carry panic buttons with them and they usually avoid to walk in the city! In the remote areas, in farms or holiday houses, people carry guns to protect themselves.
I don’t know…maybe the way I saw things in South Africa is not the right one and everything is better than I think. Maybe I had in mind the ultimate adventure I lived crossing the “hostile” and “underdeveloped” countries of Africa, which proved to be so hospitable and humane, and we the “developed” ones have to reconsider our new western values and approach simplicity again. I know it’s more complicated than this, but I’m sure we can make an example of these people who are so different from us. Somewhere on our way to pursue what the Western lifestyle commands, we lost our contact with each other and with our natural environment.
These countries had a huge impact on me. I know that I’m not the same person anymore and I’m sure that wherever I’ll go next, whatever I’ll see next, I will compare it to Africa. And by saying “Africa”, I mean all those people and those places that we “Westerners”, think they have absolutely nothing, but in reality, they may have everything! This was the Africa I will never forget…