By January it felt like I’d been living in a monochromatic tunnel for months. The fall in the Netherlands this year had been wet, cold, grey and seemed to stretch on and on and on like an old grey Silly Putty egg in the hands of a bored child. I’d built so many fires in the sitting room fireplace that by December I had to order second behemoth crate of firewood, then I burned through half of that as well. I craved warmth. And more than warmth, I craved sunlight and clear blue skies. So, when I discovered that we had two weeks of unused holidays, I decided to become a sun-seeker.
I chose South Africa. It may seem an odd destination to my North American friends when I could take similar length flights to Thailand, Bali, The Maldives or the Seychelles. But Cape Town is in the same time zone as Amsterdam and that is supposed to make that 11 hour flight easier.
And it would be warm there. Not just a mitigated winter, that milder but-not-hot weather you might find around the Med. It’s summer in South Africa now and I realized that with all my travelling these past 15 years, I had never yet ventured south of the equator.
And there was literature. South Africa is the land of Nadine Gordimer, André Brink and JM Coetzee. When I first read Coetzee’s novel, Disgrace I was Moved (capital ‘M’ moved) – by the story and the construction. It was a novel that seemed to me to have been written as a good poem should be written. Lean. Spare. No superfluous words or images. It was a letter-bomb of a novel; Once opened the story exploded into your consciousness, marking you for life. This was back in 2002 when we lived in Glimmen, NL. Obsessively, I collected and read other Coetzee novels and decided this man should receive the Nobel Prize. When I discovered that only PhDs could nominate for the Nobel in Literature I set about enrolling myself in graduate school. This is a true story. When Coetzee won the Nobel in 2003, my raison d’être was gone but I continued with the graduate studies applications anyway (by this time the study had become enough on its own).
But there was another reason that made South Africa far more interesting to me than any other sun destination. Curiosity. As an undergrad, years ago, I’d been assigned a sociology paper to examine how Apartheid had affected sport in South Africa. Before I could do that I had to research Apartheid and its laws. It ended up being the worst paper I’ve written in my entire university career because the more I read about those inhumane laws (I’d obtained an actual copy of them) and how the country operated I couldn’t think or write about anything else. Sport was insignificant in comparison. Since the repeal of the Apartheid laws in 1991 I was curious to see the changes for myself.
Albert John Lutuli, Desmond Mpilo Tutu, FW de Klerk, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela
But I had to be quick. We had only a small window of travel time. We needed new passports (ours would expire before the six month travel window) and we needed to be back for work commitments. I swan-dived into planning mode.
A short visit to Trip Advisor convinced me that I needed help. This was the great unknown and I didn’t have time to research and plan, book hotels, flights and find a quality (safe and reliable) safari guide. And so, for the first time in a decade I called a professional travel agent. It was a cold call – I found them on the internet. The company was African Luxury and they were amazing! A few phone calls, a half a dozen emails refining the itinerary and hey presto… a zero-effort, top-drawer, couldn’t-have-done-it-better-myself trip was ready.
Renate – travel agent extraordinaire – planned a spectacular three-part holiday.
Three nights in Cape Town
Three nights in Franschoek (wine country)
Three nights at a game lodge in Addo Elephant Park.
Over the next few days I’ll start to post pictures and travel blogs and reflections on what I witnessed there. I hope you stay tuned.