WULF UTIAN’S LETTER FROM CAPE TOWN
A COVID-DRIVEN TRIP BACK INTO THE PAST
Lockdown. Quarantine. Pandemic. N-95 Mask. Hand sanitizer. Social distancing. Virtual Passover Seders. Zoom. Terms like these that we could never have dreamed of in our worst nightmares have become the norm in this new frenzied world.
South Africa went into enforced lockdown far earlier in the cycle than countries like the United States or the United Kingdom, with just 402 cases and no deaths. Frozen into our apartment for 3 weeks since midnight March 26 has been a new experience for Moira and me, inveterate travelers that we are.
For us all this is a sobering experience. No physical access to family and friends, day after day trying to remain positive and keep meaningfully occupied, and each of us dealing with our own innate fears and anxieties. Moira and I have exercised together, listened to audiobooks, read, attempted to maintain a healthy and balanced diet, and communicated with family and friends on Skype, Zoom, Facetime, WhatsApp, and the like. Above all, we have spoken frankly to each other of our feelings and concerns.
I am sure that everyone has faced or is facing a personal dilemma. For Moira and me it was an offer on April 1 from the United States Embassy to be given two seats on a charter flight from Cape Town to Washington DC a few days later. Talk about something to really make you decide about what is most important! Our children and grandchildren are in South Africa. Although handling the crisis far better than the United States, SA has entered the pandemic with an already existing failing economy and stressed health system, and the Achilles heel of huge densely populated areas of extreme poverty. The US entered the pandemic with a full deck, the best economy in generations, and a health system to a large extent able to cope. So our Hobson’s choice was accepting the US offer of a charter flight or rejecting it, having no knowledge when any commercial flights would ever resume to get us back to the States. Our choice was a balance to stay close to family and good friends we have here but realize we have no medical safety parachute, or return to the States, quarantine, and one positive feature, access to better medical care. Fortunately, or unfortunately, the decision was put on hold when the flight fell through. As of this writing we still wait to hear from the US Embassy.
Certain things do strike you in terms of what you hear from family and friends. I am buoyed by the many good friends who have come up to expectations, but disappointed in others we would have considered to be really close friends who have disappeared, do not respond to emails, or send attachments to ‘amusing’ trivia on YouTube and the like, but never an email of warmth, friendship or empathy. Then there are those we have not heard from for years who have suddenly come back into our lives in real positive ways. Live and learn.
Yet the days do have moments of emptiness, too much time to think, consider the horrible possibilities of “what if..?” So rather than sit in a corner and worry, I decided to look back at some of our key places and experiences of our past many annual visits to South Africa, and share with you some of the illustrative photos that I took.
The following pictorial retrospective is not meant as a travelogue, as places you should consider visiting, and I do not explain anywhere in detail. Some of these photos are from places that I have described in past Letters from Knysna or Cape Town. Rather I offer them to you as photos to peruse, to think about, or simply to enjoy, and take your mind off matters more serious, if only just for a moment.
Over the years there is nothing we have enjoyed more in this country of such diversity than to pack an overnight bag, hit the road, take off into the sidetracks, explore the countryside, stay in small towns, and gossip with the locals.
Often the adventure starts with traversing a mountain pass into a valley ringed by mountains. The first photo shows such a pass, and the Mercedes B180 that was our travel horse for all the trips until recently.
Then we take off at a tangent along a dirt road with a signpost to an unpronounceable destination, and just waiting to see what we find at the end of the road.
Of course, not all roads lead to points we really want, but it is either persist or turn back, and we have rarely ever turned back.
Sometimes the best way to enjoy an area is on foot. Hiking remains my favorite outdoor pastime, often alone, or with Moira, or with my friends in my hiking club.
Other joys of exploration are the delightful, often whimsical, places we discover along the road. Many spring up out of nowhere, and one wonders how they stay in business. Take for example the next picture of a small guest house called, amusingly, Angies G Spot. But read the sign…
Humor is rampant along these dusty side roads. Seems like the people who own, run, and populate these places need a sense of humor, or just put up these signs to make certain you take the time to stop, and come in to chat. The following is a typical example. Tickled Pink was a roadside eating place and wine store.
Some of the small towns are true destinations and cater extremely well to tourists, their life blood. One of our favorite examples of a small town that is worthy of a few days stay is Prince Albert, noteworthy for good accommodation, excellent places to eat, a very friendly population, and fascinating excursions.
Another of our favorite small towns is Graaff-Reinet, in the middle of the Karoo, suffering severe drought unfortunately, but truly historic with its carefully conserved buildings and homes. It is surrounded by unique national parks, one being the Valley of Desolation.
Another interesting town is Cradock, not up to the standard of Graaff-Reinet. But a large number of houses in the center have been converted into accommodation and we had a lovely evening exploring and enjoying an excellent dinner in the main building.
So there you have a taste of our adventures, and I hope this has helped take your mind off other things. I am considering following up with future similar newsletters, as long as we are trapped in lockdown in Cape Town, looking at hiking trails, interesting places we have stayed at, or flowers, or coastal areas, or wildlife experiences, or even photos of some of the food delights we have enjoyed. Hopefully some of you might let me know what you think. In truth, assembling this newsletter has also made me feel extremely grateful and fortunate for the life I have enjoyed.
Stay well. Stay safe. Stay strong.
Cape Town, April 8, 2020