My last day in Africa 

13/11/17: It’s my last full day in Cape Town today and unfortunately that means it’s my last full day in Africa. It also means that it’s my birthday tomorrow and I’m going to be thirty-fricken-five years old!! Thirty-five! Jeez! Anyway, it’s just a number, just a number, just a rather big number… 

So for my last day of my early(-ish) thirties, I’ve hired a car and I’m planning a six hour round trip to Clanwilliam, north of Cape Town. I vaguely recall a drunken conversation with last night’s taxi driver who said that under no account was I to drive back to Cape Town after 5.30pm as that’s when all the baddies come out and I’d get carjacked. I’d stop at the traffic lights and they’d smash in my windows and boom – carjacked. Or they’d bump into my car and boom – carjacked. So insistent was he that I return to Cape Town before the evil hour of 5.30pm that this morning I’m at the car pickup place as soon as the shutters roll up. I nervously navigate out of Cape Town’s city centre and it’s only an hour later that I realise that I don’t know whether the light on the dashboard means that the doors are locked or not. Oh dear. 

The highway outside Cape Town is mostly straight and straightforward, with the exception of baboons randomly crossing in massive packs; about 40 miles of roadworks; and a street vendor who from his ingeniously placed stall at a ten-minute traffic light stop tries to convince me through sign language that there’s something wrong with the front of my car and I should get out and look – no chance, buddy! (I spend the next half hour worrying that there’s an animal or child stuck to the front grate). Mostly, the roadworks cause the worst stress due to the multiple mystery road signs, and the people in hi-vis jackets who wave from the roadside with orange, red or red with a black cross flags at the passing cars. I have no idea what these different coloured flags mean but when I slow down at the first one, the woman just looks through me and then doesn’t run after me screaming when I slowly pull away so I guess I can just ignore them. 

After three hours with no incident, I reach my destination. The Sevilla art trail is a magical 5km walk that has nine sites of rock art left by the San people who originally lived in the caves here. The area is a national heritage site and the paintings are estimated to be 7000 – 8000 years old. The caves stretch across a land that time has forgotten – large rocks balance perilously against each other, multicolored 10-foot boulders and jagged cliffs with broken castle-like battlements leer ominously overhead. It’s hot and dusty and the odd fly buzzes annoyingly around my ear. 

I can see the odd dassie (large guinea-pig looking creature about the size of a jack russell) out of the corner of my eye, as it darts out my way. There are spiky thorn bushes on the sandy ground and it’s all very reminiscent of The Flintstones. It’s easy to imagine the people who lived here and left these marvellous paintings. Some are faded, some require lots of imagination but all are completely evocative of another time. The brighter images are astounding – my favourites are the very clear images of hunters with their bows primed and ready to go. I’m giddy with excitement and glad that there’s no one around to witness my joyful dancing – for at least ten minutes, I play Shakira’s “This is Africa” on my phone and dance about like a lunatic having a seizure. A quick noise interrupts me and I look up to see a herd of eland warily watching me while munching their way through the undergrowth about 100 metres away. I need to head anyway if I’m to avoid the dreaded carjacking so after two hours, I leave the eland in peace and head back to Cape Town. 

I think about Cape Town as I drive back. It’s a confusing place. It has an amazing art scene and I’ve been to the theatre twice for under a fiver but I’ve never been anywhere with as many beggars on the street. The city gardens are beautiful and have an impressive array of exotic flowers and trees but nannies and their young wards picnic a metre away from homeless people sleeping stretched out on the grass beside them. Beggars limp barefoot past us tourists as we spend relative fortunes on mass-produced souvenirs. 

During my visit, I’ve been surprised at how quiet (and western) the city is – it’s not that busy and any noise seems to get absorbed by the buildings or drifts off into the sky, with the exception of the noise from the traffic. Cars beep twice quickly to say thanks to other drivers if they let them out. Mini bus taxis, ubiquitous across Africa, aren’t quite as wild as Kenya’s matatus which have ear-shattering  music, disco lighting and multiple TVs crammed into their overpacked seats. Here, however, the front seat passenger perches on an upturned drinks’ crate and leans out the front window yelling the bus’s destination. There’s sometimes a small sign in the window too but yelling is more fun. 

The traffic starts to pick up and shakes me out of my reverie. When I see Cape Town in the distance, I realise that it actually reminds me of Glasgow. Although not without faults, it’s trying to shake off its previous bad reputation and wants to do better. Its energy is palpable. I hope it gets to where it wants to be. 

I‘ve loved my trip to Africa. It’s been incredible and although I’m really disappointed to be leaving, and despite moving into the next age-bucket on race entry forms, I feel refreshed and revitalised. I feel happier that I’ve felt in years. Without wanting to sound too hippy dippy, this trip has allowed me to truly breathe for the first time in a long time. I feel like I know myself better. Unexpectedly, I rather like myself too. And whether this peace lasts an hour or forever more, it’s done me the world of good. 

Conversely, however, I’m also smoking and drinking way too much and eating like a pig. I’ve put on a stone and a half in seven weeks! While my soul may be cleansed, my body is most certainly not. Luckily, I’ll be on my way to Nepal in the next couple of days where I intend, in the most stereotypical of manners, to detox my body with four months of clean living and good behaviour. Watch this space…

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