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.
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.
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.
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.
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.