My 2022 New Year resolution is to try and view everything from the bright side. Given the state of my two homelands, this is going to be a challenge.
The misnamed United States is anything but the united states. Both political parties are internally split, and externally in aggressive confrontation. The centuries-old and world’s longest surviving democracy for which so much blood has been spilled, ceased to exist in 2021 when the country, by all scientific measures, became an ‘anocracy’ and well on its way to becoming a Brazil, an India, a Nicaragua, a Hungary, and maybe even a Russia. Alarmingly this could be in my lifetime, and I am 82. Remember, historically every ‘empire’ failed by rotting from within.
South Africa after nearly 30 years of ANC rule has converted from a democracy to a kleptocracy under political leaders who are either corrupt, incompetent, or usually both. In my lifetime I have witnessed the country convert in 1948 from a pseudo-democracy under the United Party, to a dictatorship under the Nationalist Party, to a democracy in 1994 under the ANC, who tragically over nearly 3 decades have robbed their constituents, failed to deliver promises of improved lives to their people, and destroyed the infrastructure. It is only the private sector that is holding the country together. A true metaphor for the incompetence, misrule, and destruction of the national infrastructure by the ruling ANC is the fire that destroyed the historic House of Parliament (think US Congress buildings) on January 2, 2022. A smaller fire in March 2021 was followed by a “commission of enquiry” that has gone nowhere. Did anyone think of checking the fire alarm or water sprinkler systems? No, both were inoperative 9 months after the first fire and had not been serviced since 2017. Neither was there any security around the buildings which were also uninsured! So went all the parastatal organizations under incompetent ANC self-serving cronies, the SA Airways, Eskom the power company, SA Rail, SARS (think IRS), public education, water delivery, public health and on and on. Go figure.
With that miserable situation in the background, let me look on the bright side, starting with our first real road trip since the outbreak of Covid-19.
On December 27 we headed east for our annual family vacation in the mountains at 8 Bells on the road between Mossel Bay and Oudtshoorn. Traffic was horrendous as South Africa slowly returns to a “post-Covid” normal , but looking on the bright side, chugging along at 50k/h on a 120 k/h road I was able to enjoy the glorious scenery. Heavy rains of the past 2 years have filled the dams and rivers, and the mountains, valleys and farms were shades of brilliant green and blue. A frequent question I get is the distance between Cape Town and Knysna. It is 500 kms (about 300 miles), and takes 5-6 hours depending on traffic, and including pit stops.
I have described the historic family-oriented resort of 8 Bells in past newsletters (I recommend you open the hyperlinks I provide; they are worth the visit), but a few photos are worthwhile. I still think it is one of South Africa’s best kept secrets. An example also of the incredible bargains still to be found in South Africa was the delicious New Year’s Eve dinner of a spicy butternut soup, a generous main course of roast beef and roast chicken with vegetables and crisp roast potatoes, ended with a lemon meringue pie and coffee, all for the price of R175 ($11.00) per person.
We have never seen the area so green, and flowers were in profusion. So were the variety of butterflies and birds.
From 8 Bells we returned to a nostalgic week in Knysna, on the Garden Route and our old stamping ground. Words fail. South Africans since Covid and international travel restrictions have finally realized that they have their own Provence and Tuscany on their doorstep, less spoiled and a fraction of the price. The Garden Route was buzzing. We stayed at our favorite local hotel, the St. James, well-loved by the Europeans and Brits, but devoid of them this year because of Boris Johnson’s missteps of immediately shutting down travel to SA and starting a snowball of bans in return for the honesty of the highly competent South African scientists in identifying a new Covid strain. After the hard times of the great fire and then Covid lockdowns, local businesses are once again thriving with the increase in local tourists, and the restaurants are even better than we remembered. The following are a few glimpses.
A visit to Knysna would be incomplete without a few early morning walks on the miles of pristine beach between Buffalo Bay and Brenton-on-Sea, just a 15-minute drive from central Knysna. If we encounter more than 20 people, I joke to Moira that the beach is crowded. I was very pleased to see that the sand dunes ,which had been denuded of fynbos (indigenous flora) by the great fire, are once again covered with fynbos.
It was actually with heavy hearts that we left Knysna and the Garden Route for our return to Cape Town. Consolation was that traffic was light and that we have 2 return trips planned before May, with visits and stay-overs at unique destinations both ways en route and about which I promise to report in future letters.
So that’s it for this edition, minimal politics, and great suggestions for places to visit. I hope the photos have given you a few moments of pleasure, and maybe the incentive to travel again.
I hope 2022 turns out well for us all.
Cape Town and the Western Cape, January 16, 2022.