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Sunday, February 14, 2010

Things I Did Yesterday 14/02/10

Day eleven of our South Africa trip! Internet access has been patchy as we've been travelling, so forgive my sporadic updates. Well, patchy internet access and a lack of time to politely do this blog. But I'll try to be better from now on. As usual with these kinds of holidays, I have great plans to get this book read, or do that writing, and as usual I've barely touched it. Still have over half our time left, but I already feel like the end is closing in! Anyway, yesterday I:

- Woke up in Paternoster, a small beach town on the West Coast. We had been a little way down the coast at Yzerfontaine the night before for Jen & Daniel's wedding, which was a lovely do. Alex's mum had booked us the following night in a fantastic B&B right on the beach at Paternoster, with instructions to go to the Noisy Oyster restaurant and to pick up some crayfish on the way home. Well, we didn't have any luck with the Noisy Oyster, as it was booked out (but had a beach-front dinner instead involving the biggest prawns I've had in my life), so our big mission was to get crayfish.

- Had breakfast at a tiny little cafe that did an extremely tasty farmer's sausage omelet, then struck out for the Post Office to get a permit for the crayfish. Most people just buy the crayfish without one, but the fines if you get caught are huge, not to mention that they can confiscate your vehicle. It's all a dodgy enough exercise anyway, with guys wandering around the small town with shopping bags of crayfish, most of which seemed long dead. We wanted live ones and were recommended by the B&B proprietor to get them direct from the small fishing boats as they came in to shore. We had scored ourselves a lidded bucket for the job and everything.

- Was informed at the post office that Paternoster no longer issues licenses, and we would need to go about 20 minutes down the road to Vredenburg to get one. Racing against early Saturday closing times, we got to Vredenburg, got the application form, and stumbled at the first hurdle. Alex no longer has a valid South African ID book, and you needed an ID number to apply. Not South African? No crayfish for you. Oh well, we tried anyhow.

- Decided, given the lack of crayfish for an evening bbq (braai, I should say), we would instead take a relaxed route back home, stopping for dinner somewhere along the way. We drove inland and soon hit the wine-growing regions. South Africa, I'm not sure that I've mentioned before, is a beautiful country. Rolling, dry farmlands backed by dramatic mountain ranges, or sometimes just stretching out into massive plains, gave way to green, lush winelands, dotted with boutique towns full of wine shops and restaurants. We stopped for lunch at one of the earliest of these, Riebeek-Kasteel.

- Had a steak roll for lunch, then went shopping for a little wine. Tasted a few Riebeek wines, settling on the Shiraz Reserve and the Pinotage Rose, as well as their award-winning port. All sounds very swank but it actually came it at less than half the price we would pay for same in the UK. Had a little wander, then hit the road again.

- Decided to make for Stellenbosch, another wine town, but also a big student town with popular boarding schools (one of which Alex attended) and a university. We had originally thought to do Stellenbosch as an overnight trip, touring around the vineyards and getting sozzled, but decided to just check out the town on our way home, effectively giving us two more days in Cape Town (which we were looking a little thin on).

- Hit Stellenbosch, which is like some weird picturesque little mid-America town, all leafy boulevards and a thriving, cute-as-a-button town centre. Not to mention bustling bars, which we toured a couple of. The student population is immediately apparent: you would think you had stumbled into a small town Logan's Run scenario. All in all the vibe is wonderfully pleasant, but eerily unreal. Everyone was watching the Super 14 games in the bars. I forget that rugby is so huge here. I barely see any evidence of the S14 in the UK, but it's everywhere here.

- Went to Mug & Bean, a coffee chain that does bottomless coffees and gave me a glorious 10 free minutes of wifi. Enough to book tickets for the Robben Island tour on Tuesday and to check my emails for the first time in days. Trust me, with the cost of roaming data network charges in this country, I can wait.

- Went to Spur for dinner. The hell with all those interesting small restaurants: we wanted ribs! Alex goes on about Spur all the time. It's a very cheesy, American-styled steakhouse, renowned also for burgers and ribs and so on. We had it on our list of things to do, so took advantage of cheap ribs night to save a little money after our ridiculous splash-out the night before. What can I say? It was very tasty and didn't skimp on the portions; much better than the slightly anemic version that London has at the O2 centre.

- Headed for home, including a ridiculously thorough service station visit. Petrol, water, window cleaning water, oil, tires. It's been a number of years since I've been anywhere that hasn't gone over to self-service at the pumps. But SA is a very labour-intensive place. Wherever you go there is someone with a job you wouldn't normally see around: from parking attendants (official and unofficial) who watch your cars and wave you in and out of your car parks for tips, through to the road gangs, who operate in groups of 10 on jobs that would employ 2 in the UK. Of course the secret is that they get paid peanuts. There is a minimum wage here, but it's the equivalent of about 60p/hour in a country where a beer at a downtown bar will set you back around £1.50. It doesn't take a genius to see SA has big problems, but the solutions are going to be tough on everyone and slow to implement with any real lasting effect. A legacy of poor education for the black and coloured (a demographic here, by the way) communities as well as imbalances of wealth and privilege are not easily surmounted. But at the same time the problems are not as simple as one, I must admit, kind of assumes from the outside. Politically it's a complicated place. Corruption is widespread (though being cracked down on), and the divisions in society extend far beyond simple black and white. Tribal differences, traditional vs democratically elected leaders, anti-immigration sentiment, the state of the squatter camps: all these things and more are political hot potatoes represented by parties who often are more interested in furthering their own careers than solving any real problems. It's a pretty screwy place, and that's without even looking at the crime and security issues, but it's also a wonderful one. Without even considering the natural beauty, the mish-mash of culture, the colour and vibrancy of the place is infectious. Shit, and I haven't even seen any lions yet.

- Got in, had a couple of drinks while I sucked up internet access like a hoover (Alex and I sat on the balcony, me on my phone, she on her DS, not talking at all), then hit the sack. Was woken around 12.30am by someone screaming about how they were going to kill the pigs if someone called them, had my usual paranoid imaginings that someone was breaking in (not helped by blustery winds), then eventually drifted back to sleep.

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