Roil Around the World
You learn a lot on the road. And not just about dates and art and what that old ruin used to be.
No, you also learn things like how to ride any public transport system on the planet. Did the world's authorities have a big meeting one day to discuss how to make it easier for their global citizens to get around? It's doubtful, judging from how many different plugs there are and why no one can agree on which is the right side of the road to drive.
But how do you explain why every metro is basically the same? You get your ticket and put it into the machine that opens the magic gate. Then you look at your handy metro map (the universal language is lines and colours, so you can understand it in any country), figure out how to get to your station and off you go.
I remain amazed at how easy it was to use the subway in each place we visited, and how much each underground resembled its friends in other cities.
That's more than I can say for the aforementioned plugs and roads. If you're going on holiday and need to borrow an adapter, I'm your woman. While they were discussing public transport, it would've been great if the world's minds could've agreed upon one plug design and one voltage.
It's been funny watching the different ways tourists take photos. With the accessibility of decent, relatively cheap cameras, everyone seems to be an amateur photographer these days (judging from my Facebook feed at least.)
First there are those who look at the world through the lens of their camera, iPad, smartphone, whatever. They take so many shots, I'm not sure they get a chance to look at their subject with the naked eye.
These people bug me when they wander through art galleries click, click, clicking. I presume all they're after is to prove they've seen a Van Gogh or a Picasso in the flesh. Problem is they haven't, because they don't look at them! Every time I see these types I want to shake them and yell, "just buy the print, and save yourself the time." I've managed to restrain my inner psycho so far, which is lucky, as I became one of the happy snappers on safari.
Next are the posers. They're the ones who think they look like this:
Why is toileting so rarely discussed in travel guides, on intrepid TV shows or in books? It's strange, because what goes in must come out, and those media can't talk enough about food and drink.
Even Enid Blyton, queen of the kidnapping tale, never tells us how her characters relieve themselves when they're locked in attics (it happens at least once every book - you'd think she'd have worked it out). And whenever I hear stories about people who've braved 20-hour bus rides in third world countries, the first thing I think is, "how did you go to the loo?"
Am I unusual in needing to know where the nearest toilet is at all times? I've mentioned before that I have a small bladder and when I have to go, I have to go! Which is why I get panicky on long journeys on public transport without scheduled toilet breaks. Call me anal (it would be appropriate) but I like my privacy. Some toilet paper and a relatively clean facility wouldn't go astray either.
That's often too much to ask. If there's one thing I've learnt about travelling, it's to carry toilet paper and hand sanitiser at all times. The number of public toilets that don't provide either is astonishing. France and Italy are the worst European offenders. Their public latrines are so bad that no matter how dirty, they're luxurious if they have a seat and a bit of paper.
That's if there are any common bathrooms at all. There's a reason Paris smells of urine: there are no public toilets, so everyone goes in public. I quickly learned not to lean against walls or sit near bushes in that city. Especially after I saw a man peeing in the shrubs next to me on the grass near the Louvre. That was just after I'd seen a rat the size of a small cat scamper across my path.
If I lived in every place that took my fancy since we've been on the road, I'd be flitting round the world for years (hmm, that's not such a bad idea). Do you get the urge to shack up in every town you visit too? The places at the top of my list used to be New Orleans, New York, London, Berlin, the south of France and the Greek Islands. But they've all been eclipsed by beautiful South Africa.
I'm sad we don't have long here as I'm itching to explore the rest of the continent as well. South Africa is a country of contradictions: along with beautiful scenery there's a tortured history, and ongoing social issues, but I think the mixture of pluses and "to work ons" make it all the more intriguing. Here's why:
1. Safety. Despite the security fences, the road signs that say "hijacking hotspot" and the stories of hold-ups and robberies, South Africa feels safer than I imagined. It could be a false sense of security, but as in Mexico City, if you're sensible, it seems far less dangerous than it's built up to be.
2. The scenery. First splash some blazing colour around the place - red dirt and yellow tussock in the north, multicoloured plants and blue ocean in the south. Then add the wind-buffeted sea views on the Western Cape, and the sun-beaten ochre plains at Pilanesberg National Park, and you've got some of the most beautiful and varied scenery in the world.
I’m not very good at getting out of my comfort zone. When I’m tricked into it, though, it’s an awesome feeling.
That’s what happened to me today when Ted and I climbed Cape Town’s Table Mountain – that giant flat-topped hill that overlooks South Africa’s southernmost city.
I wanted to trek up, rather than take the cable car, because I like a good mountainous challenge. But I thought Lonely Planet’s warnings about the necessity of a guide (thank goodness we listened), were precautionary and aimed at those who don't do much tramping.
Blog terms and conditions
You're welcome to post in the comments section of our blogs. Please keep comments under 400 words. When submitting a comment, you agree to be bound by our terms and conditions.