Robben Island is situated just off the coast of Cape Town and was used to isolate political prisoners during the Apartheid era of South Africa. Today ex prisoners guide visitors to this historical site and it’s a moving experience to listen to the personal accounts of people imprisoned because they fought for racial equality. Our guide shared that he was imprisoned as a member of uMkhonto we Sizwe (MK), the paramilitary wing of the ANC co-founded by Nelson Mandela. mMhonto we Sizwe means “Spear of the nation” (in Xhosa) and was formed in response to the Sharpville massacre when police opened fire on and killed protesters demonstrating against pass laws in 1960. The MK campaign of sabotage against the Apartheid government included a number of bombings and as I sat listening to our guide, I remembered the terror I felt as a child at the time of the bombings and the story he was relating. I sat there thinking how remarkable it was to meet this man and hear his experience of a “moment in time” of shared South African history…
We spent about a month in South Africa, not long enough to adequately share with Paul some of my history and introduce him to family and friends. We started our journey in Cape Town (CT), where I had lived for 13 years – first as a student at UCT, then as a young adult during important life events like getting married and the birth of my daughters. My time in CT is also memorable for the years of political activism against Apartheid and the joy of Nelson Mandela’s release from prison and his election as South Africa’s first democratically elected President following the end of Apartheid. Taking Paul on a whirlwind tour of my home country was a wonderful experience but not one without its internal turmoil, because of the painful reasons I had ultimately decided to leave. It was important to me that I showcase both the magnificent natural beauty and the complex political history, so our time was a fusion of experiencing both.
Cape Town is undoubtedly one of the world’s most magnificent cities and we had an incredible time experiencing the Stellenbosch vineyards, Table Mountain, the magnificent Cape Peninsula and great white shark cage diving in Gansbaai. My daughter Sarah’s godparents, Rick and Sally, hosted us spectacularly at their beautiful home and B&B in Constantia. The setting couldn’t have been more perfect, with a view of the mountain and being back spending time with precious friends.
In KwaZula Natal our focus was spending time with my dad, seeing a few close friends and experiencing the African bush. Being out in the bush, seeing wildlife up close has always been a deeply spiritual experience for me and I loved sharing this gift of nature with Paul. Dear friends Margie and Trevor who founded Phinda Private Game Reserve invited us to share time there at their magnificent home. We also had a few days at Ndaka Lodge near Ladysmith with my dad to experience a slightly different environment and expand the range of wildlife Paul was able to see. We were fortunate to secure time with historian Anthony Coleman and spent a remarkable day with him on the battlefields of Isandlawana and Rorke’s Drift. With his British background, Paul was delighted at visiting these historical places and we learned a great deal about leadership from both the Zulu and British perspectives.
Our time in South Africa was too short to see everyone dear to me and for Paul it was a confusion of people and places, as we partied, visited and toured non-stop for 4 weeks. It’s insane that I have to admit that I resorted to creating a spreadsheet to try and manage all that we wanted to do and everyone we tried to see! We didn’t succeed in it all and left exhausted and overwhelmed. We both missed being on our bikes and agreed that we were eating way too much biltong whilst driving around in a hired car!
We were overwhelmed at how many people wanted to see us, spend time with us and hear our story. We were inundated with invitations, too many to accept and were left awed at realising what a profound impact our journey has had on others. Whilst we have been bumbling around the Americas, we’ve been unaware of the ripple effect we’ve had on the thoughts and lives of other people, who have been following our journey. We’ve simply been getting on with the day-to-day challenges of travel and whilst we’ve been immensely grateful we’ve not stopped to contemplate just what a remarkable journey we’ve had. Having people share their thoughts and realisations about their life choices and fears was very moving indeed.
Dear friends and ex neighbours, Andrew and Leanne hosted us at their beautiful home in KZN and it was a welcome reprieve from trying to do too much and just resting for a few days. We were absolutely exhausted and hence not surprised when in the last week I became ill with what I suspected was flu. (What I didn’t realise until we arrived in Madrid was that I was suffering from tick bite fever.)
Taking Paul to experience South Africa my emotions were a mixture of hope and anxiety. I wanted him to know me better as a result of understanding more about where I come from, what I have experienced and why I ultimately chose the paths I did. I wanted him to love the country I love and have a positive experience, yet I was also aware of the risks and the painful reasons I had chosen to migrate. Everyone who met Paul asked him: “What do you think of South Africa?” and I certainly was no exception… He described how he saw all the magnificent beauty, the beautiful people, the incredible potential… but what astounded him most was how (literally) everyone he met had shared some account of experiencing violent crime. South Africa is an immensely beautiful yet complex country and I have in all honesty not come to terms with all that that means yet. How did I feel, going back? I loved every minute – and I saw with renewed wonder the things that I had not previously realised. I realised just how ‘small’ South Africa is (having traveled through countries like Australia and the USA), how beautifully clean and how courteous the drivers are. Friends laughed when I shared my observations about the courteous drivers, however when you’ve ‘survived Peru’ on a motorcycle you certainly have a renewed perspective! I saw the many positive changes, the friendliness of strangers, yet was also saddened at reminders of the long way ahead as during our time there 2 people we visited or stayed with were affected by violent, senseless crime.
When Paul and I started our journey around the world, we wanted to answer the question: “Is the world mainly full of bad people with a few good or is the world mainly full of good people with a few bad?” I’ve felt a fraud for being willing to risk traveling to so many ‘dangerous places’ in answer of this question, given that I had chosen to leave South Africa, after having experienced violent crime. What we have discovered on our journey is a renewed faith in humanity, an affirmation that it is alive and well, world wide. We have been astounded at the resounding “yes!” in conclusion – Yes! The world is mainly full of good, generous, selfless, well meaning people… and in South Africa, this was no exception.