Like I said before, I consider Africa as the most important and exciting part of my journey. Maybe because it is so different from other continents I visited so far. At least I have this feeling after having heard stories of people and having read some information myself. Whether it is true or not, I’ll have to find out from the very first days of my stay here.
Before actual beginning of my journey through Africa, I had to go through a period of waiting for my motorcycle. As much as I was reluctant to leave Brazil before my bike, unfortunately I had to go for it. Well, that’s fine, having some time for acclimatization and adaptation to new realities is not such a bad idea. The only thing I could not anticipate is that this waiting period would last so long. But I will write another article about that.
The first pleasant surprise given to me by Africa was great warm weather. I arrived in South Africa in the last half of August, which means that winter is about to end, and spring to come. In this part of the world everything is vice versa, but winter, in fact, is not similar to the Ukrainian. not even a little bit. For such a heat lover, like me, this is just the right thing. Nevertheless, a few times I had to wrap up in a blanket, not only at night but during the day too:)
The whole first week I had to deal with jet leg due to change of a time zone. South Africa is five hours ahead of Brazil, therefore during a week, I was awake for at least half of the night, and half-asleep during the day. But adaptation was not just due to change of time zones : ) Let me explain ..
One day I decided to calculate how long I stayed in Latin America, and to my surprise, it turned out to be no less than a year and a half. I mean, the whole stretch from Mexico through Central America and South America – starting from Colombia along the west coast to Ushuaia, and then up to Brazil. Within this time, any habit, even the strangest one, can be formed. One of them was connected with the language. When traveling, my main language I use is English. Even when you are in a non-English speaking country, knowing English facilitates the task of communication tremendously. Anywhere you can find at least somebody understanding or speaking English. But this relates mainly to big cities or tourist destinations. The further you are from them, the more difficult it would be to find English-speaking locals. And this is the time when you start to use body language, along with desperately trying to recall your minimum knowledge of the local language. Something similar happened to me in Latin America. Fortunately, I realized that I was going to a Spanish-speaking environment, and therefore started to prepare accordingly. I took Spanish courses in Ukraine and in Mexico, studied the language by self-instruction manuals, tried to practice Spanish with locals.
More and more often I started to use my basic Spanish which I managed to learn, and in Brazil – even more basic Portuguese. For me it became so habitual at some point that when I arrived in South Africa, where one of the official languages is English, and where to meet somebody who doesn’t speak English, is difficult enough, I experienced some culture shock at first. There is no need to strain your brain any more to find proper words and correct grammar constructions, but with all that I always felt like using some Spanish or Portuguese phrases. Sometimes they even slipped into my speech 🙂
Another habit which I identified and had to eradicate little by little was the habit to hug and kiss:) In Latin America people, even being strangers to each other, when they meet or say good-bye they hug and kiss one another’s cheeks, both women and men. At first it seemed a bit strange for me, but because being in a different environment I try to follow local customs as much as possible, I did the same and with time got used to it. I even liked it. There was a feeling of some closeness, even though superficial, to a person. On a solo trip you just need it sometimes. Upon arrival in Africa, I noticed that everything here is a bit different – a nod and a smile, or handshake at best. Hugs and kisses are only for relatives and close friends. At the beginning I almost automatically had an urge to welcome people with hugs and almost had to stop myself half-way:) Anyway I think that I am getting a new habit by now, but I definitely miss Latin America.
Another difference which immediately caught my eye is left-hand driving on the roads. Well, this is not the first time for me – Asia and Australia were previously successfully covered, but that was more than two years ago. So I have to get used to it again. At first, it’s not very easy because you are subconsciously being drawn on the wrong lane, and in order not to make a mistake you should be constantly focused and concentrated on the road. As far as I remember, I did not have much trouble with this before, so let’s hope that this time it would be the same – a day or two on the bike will be enough to adapt.
Now a bit more about traffic in general and attitude towards motorcyclists. Because I already have something to compare with, I like to draw parallels with what I saw or experienced before. I don’t have much personal experience of riding on African roads yet, my bike is still not with me, but some observations give me the right to make first conclusions. Although locals claim that the traffic is insane and roads are full of idiots, it did not strike my eye. But of course, we are talking only about the stretch between Johannesburg and Pretoria and the surrounding. The only exception are taxi drivers (here taxi is called local public transport in the form of mini-vans). Others’ behavior on the roads are quite respectful and predictable. But with taxis – in any of their forms and in any country – you should keep your eyes open, it is a separate category of road users.
What surprised me most is respect to motorcyclists. Traffic inside of these two cities and between them is busy enough. The distance between Johannesburg and Pretoria is just 70 km, therefore many people go back and forth almost every day, for work or other things. Of course, like all normal motorcyclists, local riders don’t like to be stuck in traffic jams and try to split the lanes. And most of cars move aside and let them pass. This observation made me happy. It is even more surprising taking into account that there are not so many motorcycles on the roads compared to some countries in Latin America. By the way, it turned out that splitting the lanes is permitted by law.
Another pleasant surprise I was very impressed with is the quality of roads. But I repeat that I speak at the moment only about South Africa, and only about the stretch of Johannesburg, Pretoria and their surrounding.
Speaking more about just a few motorcycles on the roads, I noticed that locals welcome motorcycles passing by with great enthusiasm, especially if it is a group of motorcyclists. Often people demonstrate their delight very obviously and loudly.
You immediately start to feel like a celebrity and have some nice feeling inside of you that you brought so many positive emotions to people around. Although sometimes it’s better to be unnoticed:)
Also local people treat tourists from other countries with lots of love and admiration. Based on that I come to a conclusion that a tourist on a motorcycle will get double portion of good attitude and friendliness : ) I really like to know that!:) Another fact which pleased me a lot is that local people love to pose for photographs, especially children. This is very important for me because I like taking photos of people. And when they do not mind and even enjoy it, that makes the mission much easier.
With regard to this, it is quite logical and timely to raise the issue of safety. Well, first of all, the level of safety in small towns and big cities is very different in many countries, and South Africa is no exception. Johannesburg is considered to be one of the most dangerous cities in the world, but the same thing I heard about Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and many others. By the way I think that I will write a separate article about how to survive in dangerous cities. Anyway, I do not argue that this city can be dangerous, and, of course, it’s better not to wander around the city and get lost, as many tourists like to do, including me. Better to know exactly where you are going, where it is better not to find yourself walking, and in general better if you are accompanied by a local friend, who knows better the surroundings. By the way, public transport in Johannesburg and Pretoria leaves much to be desired, to get from point A to point B by walking is often impossible, so a car is a basic necessity and the best and safest way to move around the city.
But these precautions would be needed mainly in the city, especially in Johannesburg. More and more people choose to live and run business outside of both cities, but in the province of Gauteng. Gauteng is the smallest but most densely populated and economically developed province in South Africa, which covers both Johannesburg and Pretoria, as well as their surroundings. Therefore often when asking somebody where he or she lives or works, you will hear a wider reply – in Gauteng.
South Africa is a special country, first of all, perhaps, because of its history. This country obtained its democracy only about 20 years ago, after fall of the apartheid regime. Twenty years is a lot for human life, but for the state, probably not so much. Therefore echoes, memories and bitterness of the past are still there, but I want to believe that this country, despite certain difficulties (and who does not have them?) is on the right track.
I will not go deep into the history and politics. Just I want to say that I have not noticed any hostility between the races, and yet in informal situations – at parties, gatherings, bike events, etc. – you will notice the vast majority of one of the races living in the country. As I was explained, first of all, this is due to culture differences, and second, due to some still existing sense of caution. I can say that I attended events where I was the only white, and I did not feel any discomfort or hostility, only friendliness, willingness to help, and maybe just a slight curiosity : )
Some statistics regarding the population of South Africa. Population exceeds 49 million people, a bit more than in Ukraine 🙂 The majority, about 80%, are blacks, belonging to different ethnic groups; 10% – whites, mostly descendants of Dutch, French, British and German settlers; about 8% – “colored”, mixed race, and the remaining 2% – Indians, descendants of Indian laborers and traders.
A great and very pleasant surprise for me was to know about the role women have in the society. Women are highly respected, they can often be seen on senior positions, their opinions are taken into account, many of them are strong and powerful personalities. During this trip I like to meet and talk to different female groups and try to help them to believe in themselves and in their power. I think here I have something to learn and enough role models to follow their example.
South Africa is the most economically developed country in Africa, it does not belong to the third world countries. And despite some existing difficulties in this country, you feel quite comfortable here, you can find and buy everything you need, you can get any service, etc. One can even find some things which I had to look for before with much difficulty. For example, I could not find inflatable globes, which I use at the meetings with children, anywhere else after the United States. In South Africa, there was no problem to find these globes, now I know exactly the place where I can get them for future 🙂
So some naïve assumptions that wild lions and rhinos roam around the streets of African cities are absolutely groundless, at least in South Africa:) But African animals is a separate topic, which makes Africa so special and attractive. And personally I was very looking forward to the first encounter with them. Of course, you will not find them wandering in the city center, except usual cats and dogs. But in some nature reserves being part of the city you can find zebras, rhinos, giraffes and even lions.
I remember how happy I was when I first saw zebras grazing in the distance when I walked in the nature reserve Klapperkop, which is located less than 10 km from Pretoria city center. For the first time in my life I saw zebras, not in zoos, but in their natural habitat. My delight had no limits. And just a few hundred meters away I literally bumped into the whole family of zebras walking along the side of the road. At arm’s length! In another nature reserve in Pretoria Ritvlie rhinos approached very close to a car I was in, curiously walked around, looked inside, looked straight into my eyes and went their own way. It happened early in the morning, and all day long I was under deep impression. Very unusual for me and even surreal to turn my head to the right and see the bustling highway, and then to turn my head to the left and watch a young giraffe peacefully drinking water from the pond. One thing I know for sure, after Africa I will not be interested in any zoos.
I like African landscape and scenery. Local people are looking forward to the rainy season, after which everything will be in blossom and become green. Unfortunately, every year rainy season starts later and later which causes big problems, and despite the fact that I don’t like to ride much in the rainy season, I sincerely wish to local people that rains start as soon as possible. In any case, I really enjoy African landscapes, even without the lushness of the trees. They remind me sometimes of Australia which I really miss. By the way it turned out that many species of plants were brought here from Australia.
I heard from many people who visited Africa before that African sunsets are special and are not similar to any other ones in the world. When I arrived in Africa, I was convinced. Every time you watch the sunset, you are standing unable to move, there’s a feeling that somebody is painting a piece of art of incredible beauty. And this miracle lasts only a few minutes, after which this painting is still in your mind and memory for a while, and forever in the photos you managed to take.
One of the first places I visited in South Africa was the Cradle of Humankind, a wonderful place just 50 kilometers away from Johannesburg, in Gauteng Province. It’s a shame for me to acknowledge that I did not know about this place before, but here, in the caves, the first fossils of humankind have been found. And it means that humankind is originated in Africa. For me it is very symbolic to start getting to know Africa with this place.
I cannot wait when I finally get my bike and can continue exploring African continent on my wheels. But a little bit more patience … Everything happens at the right time and at the right pace … Definitely this period of waiting was not wasted time. I’ve seen a lot of interesting places, met amazing people, managed to finalize many important things and just to relax and restore energy before the most important and exciting part of my journey.