Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Africa 1997

Recently unearthed in my friends e-mail group archives. In 2001, my buddy Paul asked about my 1997 trip to Africa.

My response.

South Africa, beautiful, dangerous. Could there be a place with more guns per square mile than the US? Try twice as many. In loverly South Africa.

I don't think I've ever been as scared as I was in Johannesburg; I didn't really see anything dangerous, but everyone I met and talked at any great length with had a story of someone they knew staring down the wrong end of an assault rifle from their car.

A girl named Sonja I met in Botswana, who was born in South Africa, said she would never go back. She lost her brother in
a South African car jacking (kind of like the American version of a car jacking, except it concludes with a bullet through the brain about 98% of the time.) Another man I met in Cape Town lost his wife to a gang of thugs who mercilessly raped her and then killed her with machetes (he didn't go into this detail, he just said he lost her, I found out from our driver afterwards
the gruesome details, BTW, S.Africa also has one of the highest rape rates in the world), and they took her purse which contained eleven dollars.

Every half decent house in Joberg, (every white owned house) is surrounded buy massive walls and barbed wire. Joberg also has about 125 homicides every month, one of the highest rates in the world (second only to Bogota, Columbia). Cops are routinely part of those statistics, they get about as much respect as teachers do in the US. (Sorry Jay!)

But would I go again? Absolutely. You have to go to Kruger National Park, the oldest and one of the largest game reserves in Africa. It's truly awesome. The adjoining game lodges are cool but can be very expensive, and a bit like a big fancy zoo (they stock their properties with animals people want to see, Leopards, Rhino, etc.; it was good for our filming purposes, but
it didn't really give that rush of being in a truly wild place.)

I would also plead with you to go to Botswana's Okavango Delta; it's a truly wild Africa out there (plus an added benefit of Botswana being one of the only actual democracies in Africa, 50 years of peaceful sovereignty is a rare thing in that part of the world.) Here the private reserves are the way to go, you won't see other vehicles or people, besides the few people in your
group. It was a place that really changed my whole view of the world.

As I said, South Africa is absolutely beautiful. But it is also dark and frightening. It's a third world country with a gun loving white infrastructure where the chickens really are coming home to roost. Black on black crime has always been high, especially since the end of apartheid. But now, with the inept ruling government in place, the tide has really started
to turn against whites as well. This is what happens if you get a large group of people together who have never run a government. The maximum penalty for murder has changed from a mandatory death sentence to a maximum of 9 years in prison. The sentence is the same if the person you kill is a cop.

Just as when you travel anywhere, be really aware of your surroundings. I was sitting at a sidewalk cafe with my boss and two of our guides. One of the guides had her purse stolen literally from under her seat without any of us noticing; it has lots of cash and a cell phone in it. It was pretty surprising, considering she had wrapped the strap around the chair leg when
she sat down. Also, the driving is really dangerous; we saw 3 fatal accidents on our trip (one involved a bunch of kids that had been in the back of a pickup, their bodies were strewn all over the road.)

If you want to read a really cool book about deadly locales, I would highly recommend the travel book by Robert Young Pelton called "The World's Most Dangerous Places" it details all the juicy nasty bits about all the countries
you may or may not want to avoid. Most of these places are in Africa.

Travel safe!

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