I write this from the back of a backpacker’s bus heading from Hermanus, a sleepy coastal village east of Cape Town, towards Mossel Bay, which sits at the western end of The Garden Route. This picturesque stretch of coast, with its long wide beaches, rivers, lagoons and quaint villages is backpacker heaven.
We share our carriage with 20 Europeans, mostly in their twenties, and the African driver. The documentary maker has parted ways with us this morning, so we are really on our own now. Our fellow travellers are curious about Sam and what we are doing. Actually everybody has been interested. We stand out like the proverbial canine genitalia. An old fart and his quirky kid.click tab to read further
Felix, sitting next to Sam, is a 28 year old sports and language teacher from Hamburg. He is volunteering as a teacher in Port Elizabeth for 2 months, starting next week. There are lots of expat volunteers and NGO workers on the South African backpacker circuit. He has a conversation with Sam about whether he looks like Professor Lupin out of Harry Potter (I don’t think so, but there you are), and whether stomping on the ground hard scares away lions, and finishes with a failed attempt at teaching Sam how to count to ten in German. Maybe next time.
In the roadside cafe where we stopped for morning tea, Sian from South Africa, Jo from England and Kirk from Holland have a 15 minute chat with Sam in a red vinyl booth while they have their coffees and snacks. The relative merits of Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings and Narnia are hotly debated. Sam agrees to disagree, and postulates whether Kim Jong Un is more evil than Voldemort or Sauron. That is why everyone is interested.
Actually, it has been a very white African experience so far. We have met a few dark-skinned Africans, but mostly white and mostly tourists. While things are improving, there is still a stark black and white divide here in post-Apartheid South Africa, with the borders of the townships well defined by the sudden shift from rendered brick and high walled gardens to corrugated iron, dirt and rubbish. Black South Africans still dominate service industries, with whites mostly owning businesses and holding professional roles. What is not evident, however, at least in this part of the country, is animosity or hostility. There is an ease between black and white that I did not expect given the history. It is a remarkable achievement for a remarkable country.