Journey to South Africa, part I

So, me and my friend Jaime decided to take a reporting trip to South Africa. As we planned it, the need arised for good rugged backpacks to last us through the journey and beyond. After browsing the web for information, we stumbled on the Rangermade website, where a page was dedicated to how to choose the best tactical backpack, which was exactly what we needed. After all preparations were made and our tickets purchased, off we went.

From the air, Pretoria and Johannesburg seem residential cities, American style, completely flat and square, with magnificent houses with swimming pools and surrounded by vegetation. But grey spots of illegal camps are also visible, with shabby shacks that resemble cemeteries from the plane. These are cities full of contrasts, where wealth and poverty go hand in hand.

We landed at noon time at the Jan Smuts airport of Johannesburg and it took us longer than is desirable to cross the customs. We changed money at
Master Currency (two per cent of commission) and finally, get into a Nissan Almera in National-Alamo, that was previously booked over the internet. Since we’ve landed and until we drove on the road in the car there were three long hours.

At the Alamo counter we asked about the motorway exit and a Cuban from Miami offered to guide us to the N-12; we follow him and we’re heading to our main objective of the trip: the Kruger Park. We expect nearly five hours of road ahead, to the town of Sabie, our stay for the night.

An alternative to car travel would have been to fly from Jo┬┤burg to Nelspruit or Hoedspruit, on the outskirts of the Kruger Park, however, the flight schedules require to wait until morning to embark.

Driving in South Africa is nothing complicated: there’s barely traffic, the roads are large and well marked.

Halfway through the journey, we stop to stretch our legs in Milly’s Trout Stall, the stores of the biggest supplier of produce in the country, especially fresh, smoked and frozen trout. Trout can be fished in the small adjoining lake and then they will cook it for you at the restaurant. These stores sell typical Delicatessen: honey, nuts, cheeses, pickles, pastries, etc. We bought a few chunks of dry mango and banana strips, to entertain our stomachs during the trip. In 2011, there was a fire in their restaurant that destroyed this shopping complex completely.

I imagined South Africa with little civilization and much wild vegetation and I found just the opposite: the forests of this area of Mpumalanga have been reforested, so on both sides of the road there’s only an endless green mass of pines and eucalyptus trees, all of the same height and with the same distance between them. Too civilized for the eyes of adventurous tourists. It seemed that we were in Canada rather than Africa.

By sunset, we arrived at the village of Sabie. Most of the houses are made of stone, English-style, and the lawns are impeccable.

At the first guest house we visit is full, but fortunately, the woman who welcomes us makes a phone call and then directs us to the Azalea bed & breakfast on Cycad Street, just a hundred yards from her place. Here, we take the only available room left. Apparently, it’s a long weekend and nearby accommodations are all filled.