Off to Knysna!

This morning I said goodbye to African Dawn and headed towards Cape Town. I took my “off-days” this week and decided to travel a bit of the garden route on the way to Cape Town however. I can’t believe how fast my time at African Dawn went—it literally seems like just yesterday that I was learning the routes and being introduced to all of the animals yet it’s already time to head on to the next destination… that ultimately being Cape Town! Not going to lie however, I am definitely looking forward to a nice, warm bed to sleep in… oh how wonderful that will be!

Fortunately I have a traveling buddy—Anne, another volunteer at African Dawn, from Germany… she also had a Baz Bus ticket so it worked out great that we could travel to Cape Town together… it definitely made the four-hour journey today from Jeffrey’s Bay to Knysna go much quicker! After a few pit stops along the way to pick up other passengers, we made it safely to Knysna, found a place to stay, and headed off to explore the town. We decided to spend two nights here in Knysna as the city is actually surprisingly large and there is a lot to do! Ironically their biggest festival of the year begins tomorrow… they oyster festival. They have lots of live music, carnival rides, entertainment, and of course oysters along with lots of other food—so we’re definitely going to check that out and see what the festival is all about.

We walked around Knysna for just a bit this afternoon and had a chance to quickly visit the waterfront before our tour of the heads of Knysna. Every day the backpackers provides a free tour of the heads—the port area where ships enter the harbor that offers an absolutely stunning view of the city. Somehow they overbooked the tour and so fourteen of us crammed into a van that comfortable fits eight and headed up to see the views. The trip up the Eastern head was sketchy itself as we nearly crashed multiple times (the driver wasn’t the best at driving…) and the van stalled multiple times. I was pretty certain we were doomed as we started rolling backwards slowly down the hill, however, somehow we made it to the top safe and sound. The views were gorgeous with the ocean and waves crashing into the other head. Basically two mountains surround the harbor creating a stunning view but also the most dangerous port in the world. Boats enter at their completely own risk as insurance will not even cover boats entering or leaving the harbor area. Due to the way the mountains are situated, it creates extremely strong waves and currents that cause lots and lots of shipwrecks—the most recent being just three weeks ago with two fatalities. More than 120 tons of water move through the heads every six hours—wow! There are gorgeous houses—most of which are vacation homes (alright, let’s be real… they’re practically mansions)—that sit on the mountainside offering spectacular views of the ocean and harbor… so gorgeous! We were even able to see the sunset over the harbor—once again a practically indescribably beautiful sight. We got to talking with the tour guide about townships and he asked who all had visited—because practically none of us had, he offered to take us to the local township here in Knysna for free—usually a 40 or 50 dollar excursion… so we all headed to the local township.

Here in South Africa, segregation is still a prevalent issue—the blacks want to live with the blacks and the whites want to live with the whites so the cities are very much divided (into basically the rich and the poor). The township we visited was very rundown—most of the homes had electricity but none had running water. Fortunately the government provided free, clean water to prevent the spread of disease, but one would have to travel a good half of a mile or so to get the fresh water for their home. Twenty thousand people live in this particular township that was divided into two portions—the informal and formal sections. The informal section consisted of temporary wooden shacks. The people who lived here were waiting for the government to build them a concrete, stable home in the formal section—however, many of the families would wait up to twelve or so years for a home. In the formal section, the houses were of better quality but built extremely close together. Because the houses are so close together, we’re literally talking just feet from one another, there is a huge risk if a fire breaks out. Just a few years ago, more than fifty families lost their home due to a fire and the families were left with nothing. Life here is pretty difficult. Of the graduating high school class from last year, only eleven of the students went onto college. Only 2% of the people in the township have access to a private car and 27% (or more than one-in-four) have HIV/AIDS… wow. The men still purchase their wives from their families usually paying in cows. A man can purchase a “decent” wife for either three or four cows while an extraordinary (pretty and intelligent) wife can cost up to twenty cows. As the township is becoming quite crowded, it is starting to become more popular to pay with money rather than cows… however one cow is equivalent to 3,000 Rands or just about $500. Because it is unlikely that a man would have this kind of money, he is able to put down a deposit for his wife then “pay-her-off” over the course of a few years. As you can see the ways between the blacks in the township and the whites in the city (which would be more similar to an American lifestyle) are vastly different—but this is what each race prefers… granted there are always exceptions but this is what most would prefer! The most surprising part of it all is that this township exists about a kilometer away from the city’s town center. So literally you can drive through shacks with outhouses and two minutes later be in the middle of town with street lights and tall buildings… it’s crazy how two completely different worlds can exist so closely together,

It was interesting seeing the township and how two different groups of people can live such different lives so close to one another. Although the poverty here in the townships is nowhere near the poverty I saw in Zambia or Zimbabwe, it is always eye-opening and makes you appreciate all that you have so much more.

I’m excited to see what else Knysna has to offer—this city is absolutely gorgeous and there is so much left to see and do… and oysters are certainly on the list! Like I said, I’m also beyond excited for a nice, warm bed tonight 🙂 !

~Susan

At the heads or the entrance to the port of Knysna.

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