Monday, 1 June 2015

May 10: A knife threat is a good sendoff

It was about 3 blocks from our apartment to where our safari left. This morning, fully laden with our stuff, we headed out at 7:30 AM to start our trip – and were accosted by two beggars halfway there. Beggars here start talking and don’t stop until you give them something or they conclude you won’t give them anything. We just kept walking, ignoring them as we do, and the one started his stream of consciousness rambling about... him money for food to eat and please could we help each of them and he didn’t want to pull a knife on me and take it and he would if we didn’t give him anything so for my sake I should just give him something before he pulled his knife and… then we were within 50’ of the Nomad Tour crew, and they turned around.

Coincidentally, that happened about 100 m from where we saw a street vendor robbed yesterday. We were walking up the street and 30’ in front of us, a lady screamed, a man ran, she cried thief, and other guys started running after the first guys. One of the few places I haven’t seen a lot of CCID Public Safety guys.

We are headed off on Nomad Adventure Tour's popular Cape Town to Victoria Falls Accommodated tour. They run this route up to twice a week, and I assume as a result are good at it. You can do a camping version or an accommodated version, where you stay in hotels along the way. I'm WAY past camping age, so we picked the accommodated version. We didn't book it through Nomad, but through Africa Overland, one of their reps.

We checked in at the conveniently located Nomad office without incident, got a very short tour briefing, and were on our way. Our truck, named Cash after Johnny Cash (all Nomad trucks are named after dead singers, like Whitney and Marvin)…

Meet Cash

…seats 24…

Lots of room, actually
…but there are only 14 of us to start this tour (people will come and go through the tour), so we have lots of space. There’s an identical tour traveling basically the same route as us in Whitney, but it’s a camping trip, not an accommodated trip, and they have their own truck with ~15 people on board. We won’t see them much.

Our troop is:

  • 2 newlyweds, one from Holland and one from Spain, who live in Brussels. We were on their honeymoon!!!; 
  • 2 older ladies from Holland, one an African art dealer;
  • 3 retired ladies from Florida/Massachusetts/New Hampshire (two friends and one acquaintance), one of whom has done this exact trip twice before;
  • a student from Paris;
  • 2 friends from Hong Kong;
  • an Italian lady living in Switzerland, and
  • a soon to retire gentleman from Belgium.

We expected Germans but have none (these trips are popular with Germans, and some have German translators). We have three “staff”; a truck driver and guide, a chef and a camp assistant, all of whom happen to be from Zimbabwe.

First stop was Table View, a REALLY big beach…

It goes on and on 
In both directions
…with killer views of Table Mountain.

It really does dominate the landscape
Second stop was to load the truck with food. Lots of food. So we were at a mall while the truck team shopped for groceries (and everyone else bought water).

Packing the truck
Then we set off, driving north for about 3 hrs.

Flat prairieness 
Crossing a mountain pass 
Extensive ag 
Pretty views to the north
We didn’t see much wildlife; a small herd of springbok on a golf course, a number of pink flamingos in marshes just north of Cape Town, and a bunch of the ever-present ostrich.

They're everywhere
We stopped to taste wine in the Cederburg district not at a winery but at a restaurant and flower farm.

The place 
The tasting 
A padlock. Sigh 
A beautiful space
The trees above the wine tasting room were filled with weaverbird nests. These nests are cool except for 1 small issue: the entrance holes are in the bottom. Apparently, the chicks are prone to falling out of the nests.

The first of many we would see
The trees were also full of sunbirds.

They eat nectar like hummingbirds 
Love the colours 
Stunning birds
This area is known for fruit more than wine; there are lemon and orange trees…

Wonder why the place is called Citrusdal?
…and the ground is covered in peach pits (they grow a lot of peaches nearby, and dry them. The farm gets the pits for free, and uses them to cover the sandy soil).

It's the pits
While we were wine tasting, the Nomad staff pulled together a simple if elegant lunch of sandwiches:

The way we ate for 21 days
From the winery, it was a very short drive down into the valley to Citrusdal…

The view from the wine stop 
Descending into the valley 
And the road winds down 
Looking south down the valley
…and our hotel for the night, the Citrusdal Country Lodge, the first of many beautiful places we were going to stay in.

The view from our patio
Before dinner, we had a meeting to review the entire trip plan, talk about stuff like malaria meds and border crossings, and get better acquainted with our fellow travellers. Then it was back to the wine tasting place for an awesome dinner of seared, slow cooked pork neck on sweet potato, with an apple fritter for dessert.

We are up at a quarter to stupid in the morning. It’s over 500 km to the Namibian border, which we will cross late in the afternoon, and we must be on the road by 7 AM.


Today's Africa Travel Tip: Power outages

South Africa is stuck in years of rolling power outages. Right now, they're short some 3,000 MW of power in the country, which a couple of major power plants. No small problem.

This is a good thing and a bad thing. It's good because the reason for electricity demand growth is an economy running on all cylinders. The place is busy and booming, unemployment fairly low. It's far from being a perfectly run country, but it's generally doing very well.

It's a bad thing because it's partially holdover from the apartheid era. The national electricity company, Eskom, was cash starved during that time, and couldn't invest in new generating infrastructure because the world cut off funding. Here, nearly 20 years later, it has caught up with them. Eskom has been through 3 CEOs in the last few years, as corruption and incompetence scandals and accusations have flourished.

South Africa has lots of coal resources, but practically no oil and gas. PetroSA has proposed an LNG import terminal in Mossel Bay, but there's otherwise no LNG import capability. South Africa is the king of coal to gas or liquids technology (I did an undergrad thesis on Sasol almost 40 years ago). PetroSA runs a state of the art gas-to-liquids facility in Mossel Bay. So adding new power generation requires expensive new coal fired plants, expensive imported diesel, or an LNG terminal, none of which they have the money for nor is a fast solution. They have brought on board a new, world scale solar farm in the Karoo (100 MW hrs at peak generating capacity, less than 0.3% of their needs). They have some wind farms, but 90% of their energy comes from nuclear or coal.

So for the next at least 3 years, South Africa will be short power, and what this means is rolling blackouts. The way they implement this is that Eskom has broken the entire country into blocks, each with its own schedule. There are 4 levels of blackouts; 1, 2, 3a and 3b. At Level 1, you might be off  hrs a day. At the worst, 3b, every block in the country is off for 2½ hrs, at least 3 and up to 4 times per day. Cape Town is great at publishing the schedules on line. The rest of the country? Not so much.

There's a joke running around here:

What did South Africa use before candles?

Bring flashlights. And lots of batteries.

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