And now the end is near and so…..

we will be going off on the next leg of our journey.

We have been in South Africa now for 20 weeks now and sadly, tomorrow night we will be leaving. We are going back to the UK for 3 days to catch up with friends and family before flying to Washington to commence our 6 month road trip around the United States and Canada. Our intention is to head North East and go to Philadelphia, then New York, Boston, Vermont/Maine and then cross into Canada and go to Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto before crossing back into the US at Niagara Falls. We will then be going anti-clockwise around the States before getting back to Baltimore on 4th November. Most of the journey will be around the perimeter states but we will be heading inland on certain occasions to places such as Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon etc so hopefully, exciting times ahead.

Before we leave, I thought I’d just give a quick summary of the pros and cons of our time in South Africa – and luckily the pro’s far outweigh the cons!

Pros

1, The weather! In the 20 weeks we have been here, I can only remember it raining 3 times (only slight showers) and one of those is today! Even then, the temperature has still been in the mid 20’s and overall the temperature has averaged between 25 to 35 the whole time.

2. The scenery. We have traveled quite a lot around the Stellenbosch area, and a few times further afield, and I still can’t get over how picturesque everywhere is. For those who have read my previous ramblings, you will have seen quite a number of photos and probably 90% of those will have a mountain in them somewhere!!

3. The people. I have been to South Africa a number of times on holiday, and obviously this trip, and nearly all the people I have met have been friendly and welcoming. After reading about the economic and political issues over the years, I was always a bit wary of coming here – but I am glad to say I have never had a problem anywhere (though I have to be honest and say, as in every country, there are a lot of places that you wouldn’t go to.)

4. The cost of living. Although Stellenbosch is one of the more affluent towns and also very popular with tourists, I am always amazed at how cheap everything is compared to what I was used to in the UK, though it is more expensive than other towns. Obviously an added bonus is the current exchange rate (18.2 Rand to the £) which has risen dramatically over the 7 years I have been coming here (was 11 Rand to the £ then) but even so, it is very cheap here.

5. The way of life. In the UK, the pace is very hectic especially as I worked in London and hated the travelling to and from work. Here, travelling is much more relaxed (though locals still complain about the rush hour but compared to the infamous M25, it’s like a quick trip down to your local store time wise). Here everybody takes their time about everything which they call “Africa time” and Elsa told me not to get frustrated at having to wait for service etc (more about this in the Cons). However, as we are never generally in any particular rush, it hasn’t bothered me too much. Even if I was in the UK, if the weather was as it is here, I wouldn’t stress too much about having to wait a little longer. And generally, the slightly longer timescale is compensated by the quality of the food etc. As you will have seen from the previous photos, the locations and quality of the restaurants are far above most in the UK – though I would say that the very high end restaurants in London are better than the high end restaurants here but as I am not into fine dining, that doesn’t affect me. Also, here people (mainly whites) are a lot more health conscious, though that is more doing exercise rather than small, healthy portion eating which isn’t really possible in the restaurants!!

The Cons

1. The economy. No matter how you look at it, for the vast majority of people in South Africa, life is very hard. On nearly every street, you see the poor pushing shopping trolleys in which they collect plastic, cans, cardboard, bottles and wood. This, they then take to recycling depots and sell it for a few Rand. Also around every sizable town, you will find townships in which the majority of people live in very small wooden and corrugated iron sheds. Although this seems to have improved slightly around Stellenbosch i.e. the government seem to have built more breeze block housing, it is still quite a shock to see how some people have to live.

2. Security. In the more affluent areas, every house has high walls around it and in the majority of cases, electric fencing above that. The houses also all have alarms which are connected to local armed security companies. These companies also patrol the area in order to keep “undesirables” away. Although I have heard of break ins from people here, so far they appear to be pretty minor thefts – though I would guess that is because of all the security!!

3. Car guards. Apparently due to a lot of thefts from, and of, cars a number of years ago, it is now common practice for every major street (and shopping mall) to have car guards. These are generally people who have a section of street to look after and keep an eye on your car to stop it getting broken into. In return, when you leave, you give them a few Rand. I have got used to it more now but originally, I got a shock every time I went to drive away and all of a sudden there was a man knocking on my window looking for his money!! I suppose it is no different to kids doing it in London or other major towns – though then if you didn’t give them money it would be them wrecking your car!

4. Africa time. As I said in the pro section, having to wait for things is just a way of life. However, there is a difference between people taking their time and people who deliberately go out of their way to ignore you in case they have to do some work, which is quite often the case here. Even in the better restaurants, it is common to have to literally wave at people to get them to take an order which I find unacceptable. And then they expect a tip when they’re not even doing what they are paid to do.

5. No beer at wine farms!!! A lot of the nicer restaurants are located on wine farms and they have the best views etc. However, from a commercial point of view, I cannot believe that they only sell wine. I agree that it in their interest to sell as much of their own wine as possible – but I am sure I am not alone in not liking wine and so they should have other options available. There are probably millions of tourists per year who visit the wine region and I’m sure they do not all drink wine and if they are like me, then they will not go to the restaurant – which obviously costs the restaurants a lot of money. And in reality, they would probably make as much money (if not more) per glass of beer as opposed to wine. However, I was told that it goes against the marketing of the brand – which in my opinion, is just yet another pretentious wine thing.

Anyway in summary. as I said, the pro’s far ouweigh the cons and we have had a great time here and hopefully it will be the same when we come back in November.

It would be remiss of me to change the habits of a blogtime so here are some pictures of a couple of places we have been to recently – and yes, there are some mountains!!

A Food & Wine Tasting Fair in Cape Town (next to the World Cup Stadium)

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Lunch at 96 Winery Road and at Ben’s in the Strand

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World Triathlon Championship in Cape Town (won by Brit Alastair Brownlee)  but this was the Junior Event in which our nephew, Willem, was doing the swimming leg for his school – but the swimming part was cancelled when a 70 year old (a Brit again) died doing the swim in another age group!! 

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Met an ex-colleague and went to Durbanville Hills wine farm for a wine tasting (them not me) and then lunch

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And finally, here is an example of the cheap cost of living here – 2 double brandy and cokes for 38 Rand = £2.10

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