South Africa: From in the Books to on the Ground

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Last Updated on June 20, 2020 by Audrey Scott

This is a slice of backstory regarding our current visit to South Africa. It’s about a man named Tutu, a book entitled Invictus and a musician called Rodriguez. It's about South Africa and about our relationship to places before we've ever visited them. Finally, it’s about our journey from Cape Town to South Africa’s Northern Cape.

Table Mountain wa view of Lion's Head
Abseiling down Table Mountain with a view of Lion's Head, Cape Town

In 2000, just after Audrey and I married, her stepfather gave to me for Christmas a copy of Archbishop Desmond Tutu's then newly published book No Future Without Forgiveness. (It was her stepfather’s Christmas tradition to give everyone in the family a book, the same book, a book that touched him deeply the previous year.)

In it, Archbishop Tutu tells the story of South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission, a mechanism that sought closure and healing for the victims of apartheid while rejecting the temptation of reprisal and the endless cycle of violence it can set off. No Future without Forgiveness was the sort of book whose story was framed in a broader lesson. It reminds you of the human condition – all the struggles and hopes, the triumphs and cycles. It tells the story of the recent evolution of South Africa, of conscious choices to do something different this time – all wrapped in the broader appeal to each of us and our better angels.

As we unwrapped our books that Christmas morning, Audrey's stepfather reflected on reading the book, remarking on what was inside it and the era it chronicled. He cried.

After reading the book myself, I understood why.

Years later, another book relevant to South Africa called Playing the Enemy found its way to us by the same Christmastime path. (If you haven't read the book, you may be more familiar with the film adaptation, Invictus). The story is a brilliant and accessible one regarding how Nelson Mandela enabled reconciliation of a nation through sport. In 1995, one year after South Africa’s first democratic elections, it was scheduled to host the Rugby World Cup.

What comes next is a story that’s almost too good to be true. Mandela used the context of the event and South Africa’s appearance in the final (no spoilers…read the book) to continue to pull the country together.

It's a book that will leave you sailing and choking up, in turns. (Even if you’ve seen the film, read the book. The film can't hold a candle to it.)

Finally, only three days before our flight and in light of our pending departure to South Africa, a friend suggested we watch the documentary film Searching for Sugar Man, suggesting somewhat obliquely to draw us in, “…it gives some interesting background about South Africa.”

Indeed it did, rather indirectly and through a better-late-than-never story of redemption.

The film tells a story about an American musician named Sixto Rodriguez who, while drifting into musical obscurity in the United States in the 1970s, had unknowingly become one of the most popular musicians to a generation of South African protesters. Poetic, working class, down-to-earth, and ethereal, his lyrics and style were sometimes compared to that of Bob Dylan. While Rodriguez' message didn’t quite make it in the U.S., it clearly resonated with South African youth who thought their country and its government could do better.

Rodriguez’ story demonstrates that we are all much more connected than perhaps we’ll ever know.

These stories helped us develop a relationship with South Africa before we’d ever even stepped foot in the country. They planted the seed of interest and fascination to begin to know the beauty on the surface as well as that which lies underneath, the stuff that exists between the folds of pages, between frames, between all the top line tourist destinations.

And now we’re finally here in South Africa to check it out, to catch a little glimpse, to grab a little taste through the lens of travel.

Our Itinerary: Cape Town to the Northern Cape

At this point you might be thinking, “Please Dan, get on with it. What are you doing in South Africa and where are you going?”

We are currently guests of South Africa Tourism on the #MeetSouthAfrica campaign whereby a group of international travel bloggers were invited to experience different provinces in South Africa. We chose a slightly unusual itinerary that begins in Cape Town and ends in the Northern Cape, a place we were told offers a great deal in the natural beauty department yet doesn’t garner much tourist attention. Sounded great to us.

Cape Point South Africa
Looking out over Cape Point.

From Cape Town (more on this city later!) we follow a route that takes us through the Western Cape, stopping to learn about San (Bushmen) languages and culture at !Kwattu San Culture Centre, take an afternoon game drive at Buffelsfontein Game Park, cruise down the Berg River at dusk to enjoy a few of the 200+ species of birds lurking in the area and sleep behind the dunes at Draaihoek Lodge.

Buffelsfontein Western Cape
Sundown on the reserve, Buffelsfontein, Western Cape, South Africa

Then comes the Northern Cape, South Africa’s largest province with its smallest population (1 million). A land of vastness, we ride out to the border with Namibia, canoe down the Orange River (South Africa’s longest river at over 2000+ km), ogle at the gorges and waterfalls of Augrabies National Park and catch the edge of the “green Kalahari” on horseback.

Augrabies Falls
Augrabies Falls in the Northern Cape

After the Northern Cape we are in Durban for INDABA, Africa’s biggest travel conference. At INDABA 2013, we’ll share experiences from this trip as well as other experiences from around the world that fall under the general category of responsible travel. Our session will tie together how organizations can employ storytelling and engage bloggers to effectively market responsible tourism. If you are interested in tuning in, you can do so at 3:15 PM South Africa time (9:15 AM EST) on Friday, May 10 with this Google Hangout.

On our return to Berlin, we requested an extra day in Johannesburg to get a wee taste of this giant city we have heard so much about over the years. If you have suggestions for either Durban or Johannesburg, we’d love to hear them!

We understand this visit doesn’t offer nearly enough time to do South Africa justice. We’ll engage, perhaps we’ll have only scratched the surface. We’ll consider this a down payment journey on understanding a country, which to this point lived for us in someone else’s stories.

Nama kids Northern Cape
Nama kids in the Northern Cape.
Disclosure: This campaign is brought to you by the South Africa Tourism Board and is supported and managed by iambassador. As always, the opinions expressed here are entirely our own.
About Daniel Noll
Travel and life evangelist. Writer, speaker, storyteller and consultant. Connecting people to experiences that will change their lives. Originally from the U.S. Daniel has lived abroad since 2001 and most recently has been on the road since 2006. When he's not writing for the blog you can keep up with his adventures on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. And you can learn more about him on the About Page and on LinkedIn.

17 thoughts on “South Africa: From in the Books to on the Ground”

  1. Ooh, sounds like you have a great itinerary – very much off the beaten track! I can’t wait to read all about it. It’s always extremely interesting to see how others exerience my home county. Have fun and be safe 🙂

  2. How Wonderful! South Africa is a country I long to visit to see/hear/feel with my own being. I was in college when apartheid unraveled; we created a Theatre piece with a black/white cast performing reversed roles about Understanding; it has stayed with me forever. Thank you for sharing your experience and for re-igniting a passion in my heart to make traveling to SA a reality. How fortunate for you to be invited by the South Africa Tourism and to present at INDABA; of course I know you worked HARD to make that happen. If you ever wish to collaborate with an honest-to-goodness Storyteller on your travels, do keep me in mind; though you are both becoming Wonderful Storytellers in your own right. <3 😉 I will think of you when I am in Kenya next month volunteering and performing. HUGS from my heart to yours!

  3. South Africa is a country which has always seemed hugely interesting to me. I think that it is a fantastic idea to read about a place before visiting it so I will definitely be ont the lookout for these books.

  4. I love South Africa. It is simply a magical country. The itinerary seems awesome. I really can’t wait to read your next posts on the trip!

  5. @Sunee: That was the idea, get to some off-the-beaten-path destinations. After having been, Northern Cape definitely qualifies. Remarkable landscape!

    @Stean: Combined effort. Some of the Cape Town locations were suggested by a friend. Cape Town and the peninsula were arranged by Escape to the Cape and the Northern Cape was arranged by Tata Ma Tata.

    @Lindsay: Thank you! Really glad to hear that you enjoyed our INDABA #MeetSouthAfrica presentation. Thanks for the nomination.

    @Kristin: Remarkable, particularly to think back to what it was like watching apartheid come to an end, and to see how everyone processed it. Hugs to you!

    @Jenny: These are only a few, but they are among our favorites about South Africa.

    @TM: Stay tuned!

  6. @Francoise: Thank you so much for your very kind comment. We’re sorry we didn’t have a chance to meet. Next time, which we hope won’t be too far off. Our visit to South Africa was an eye-opener; all we needed was more time to explore — not only the landscape, but more importantly the culture.

    Did you have a chance to join the Google Hangout of our South Africa / responsible tourism / #MeetSouthAfrica presentation at INDABA?

  7. I loved following your travels and insights on Twitter while you were here and am sorry I didn’t get to meet you and the other bloggers. Thanks for your wonderful words and reflections on our wonderful country – we can’t wait to meet all your followers and have the privilege of showing them around.

    Please come back soon!

  8. Oh I so love South Africa! It’s very diverse, rich and really wonderful sights. Thanks for the share.

  9. This is a really great post about South Africa and I think it does it justice. I got married in Cape Town and I will never forget that day. It was magic and one of the most fulfilling days of my life. But enough of that, I just wanted to let you know what a good job you did with this article.
    I know it’s not nearly as informative and well done as yours but I like writing about the places I love just as much as I love reading about them. I look forward to more content like this!
    Greetings from Athens!

  10. @Endri: Particularly because of the historical backdrop, there’s a depth of experience in South Africa. More stories are coming. Thanks for your note!

  11. Wow wonderful pictures. So beautiful views I would love to see this place. It was a wonderful experience. South Africa is beautiful country.

    Beautiful Post.

  12. We remember from our 1 month stay in Cape Town just some statistics like 1/3 of the South African population has HIV and 50% of women have been raped. There was not many old people around thanks to those figures.

  13. @Päivi & Santeri: I can’t confirm or deny those statistics. Regardless, South Africa has had its challenges. However, we were fortunate to meet quite a few older people along our journey, both in Capetown and elsewhere. We were glad to talk with them as they provided a little bit of perspective on how far the country has come…and how far they believe it has to go.

  14. This would be so amazing to travel and see South Africa. It would be interesting to go and see something from a different perspective other than what there is in America!


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