This is South Africa

Last updated 11:16 16/10/2012

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.

HijackingI'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.

Equal3. The history. Nowhere is South Africa's horrid history of racism and oppression  more evident than at Cape Town's District Six museum. Commemorating the forced resettlement of 60,000 residents from this thriving central community to faraway townships, the museum is just one example of the way the apartheid regime attempted to strip the country's black and coloured populations of their humanity.  

4. The animals. I already dedicated a whole post to them, but South Africa's animals are so beautiful they deserve another mention. As well as going on Safari, we checked out the African penguin colony at Betty's Bay, watched Southern Right whales play off the coast at Hermanus, and spotted hardy ostriches brave the stinging sand at the Cape of Good Hope.

Ostrich

Ostrich crossing

Penguin5. The people. Whether it was being invited to a pool party by our Table Mountain guide, the smiling service at every café we ate at or the family-like welcome we received from a friend's parents, the people in this country (at least the ones I've met), are generous, lovely, and can't help you out enough.

6. The exchange rate. To begin with you think 56 rand for a meal out is a bit steep. And then you remember to divide by eight - and bam! You've got a feed for about a third of what you'd pay at home. How good is that? The same goes for clothes and accessories too.

7. The souvenirs. I'm not sure how we'll get them back into the country but we couldn't pass by the wooden masks carved into zebras and cheetahs, the stone rhino bookends and springbok skin products. And how can you refuse the lovely stallholders with the classic line, "here's something different for you - something unique?"

8. The division between rich and poor. It's disturbing to watch people park their BMW convertibles while ragged parking attendants hoping to score a couple of rand enthusiastically help out. It's also difficult to reconcile the giant fenced-off mansions with the cramped shantytowns crammed with haphazard tin shacks.  

9. The meat. From biltong (salted, dried meat) to boerewors (tasty sausages) to droëwors (spicy dried sausages), South Africans know good meat. In New Zealand you have jars of lollies at your corner dairy counter; in South Africa those jars are filled with biltong. I didn't embrace the meat craze as much as Ted and our other male friends, but it's nice in moderation. 

10. The beaches. If it was 10 degrees warmer you couldn't tear me away from the stretching golden sand and turquoise water of the Cape beaches. Oh hang on, the Atlantic's icy and great white sharks cruise the coastline. Good to look at though!

Have you been to Africa? Where do you recommend I go next time? And once again - which places in the world call to you to move to? 

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Beach

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