South African Shoot

From Cape Town, South Africa….. Big mistake driving a pickup (they call it a “bucky” here) into a big city, at night, on the opposite side of the road than I’m used to. And, a standard. If that wasn’t bad enough.. it was Friday night when I arrived on the Easter holiday weekend, ie. No rooms! I tried 7 different hostels until one told me if I waited until midnight, they had one booking left that hadn’t shown up. They made me wait until 1AM.. but I got a room.

Now the fun part… lugging ALL my gear up 5 flights of stairs with many of them broken. This place is an old Victorian building that would have been condemned in the U.S. years ago. But here, it’s a “backpacker lodge”. Great! The whole place smells of mildew, busted architecture, waiting in line for the shower, and LOUD!!!!.

On Saturday, I was beginning to wonder what I ever saw in shoe-string traveling at all. But now that reality has set in.. and the dream of Oceana is nearly faded.. I’m starting to get used to Cape Town. It’s definitely a dangerous place in parts. If you’re in a 5-star you have nothing to worry about.. but on Long Street where I am.. it’s non-stop partying.. noise.. beggars… junkies… thieves.. theives… theives… and a few muggers. ;-)

I was about to blow this town and couldn’t figure out how folks can call this one of the most beautiful cities on Earth. THEN, I took a drive in the bucky around Chapman’s Peak toward Simonstown and Cape Point. WOW!!! I don’t think I’ve ever had a more beautiful drive in my entire life.. and in 16 different countries to date. Absolutely jaw-dropping.

Had some problems with the bucky’s shifting though. Sometimes it just won’t go into any of the first 3 gears. Quite shocking to realize this after you’ve turned up a 70deg incline with traffic behind you. And South African drivers aren’t the most patient bunch either. I basically just parked the bucky and was not going to drive until I left.. just to make sure I could get it back to Oceana. Then, I tried one more time and figured out that if I pump the clutch 4-5 times I can usually get her in gear when she’s not cooperating. So, I got wheels again. ;-)

I’ve been making sure I get to the hostel by nightfall. That’s when most of the roaming theives seem to hit the streets. Last night this guy showed me a fresh stab wound in the back of his leg because they wanted his last 2 rands. I couldn’t believe it! I’d just walked down that same street with my laptop half hour before that. Guess I got lucky this time. ;-)

Then this morning I see this little boy asleep in the park. I’d not given in to his demands for money, but seeming him there asleep in the park made me feel sorry for him. So, I tried to wake him up to give him a few rands. I couldn’t wake him up and worried that he might be dead… I shook him pretty hard and he sort of woke up enough for me to hand him some money.. then he kinda passed out again. Another black man told me not to give him money.. that he’d felt sorry for him too and brought him some sandwiches… but he wouldn’t take them. Only wanted money to buy more benzine glue. He told me not to give these kids money because they’ll just buy more glue with it.

Guess that’s why he seemed like a very sound sleeper.

I’m sitting on a deck patio one story up… found an unsecure wireless network so I’m making the most of it. ;-) This rasta guy just sat across from me and is smoking some VERY strong smelling weed. I wonder if that’s illegal here? All the rasta dudes seem to light up freely on the street AND in the cafes.. or, they step just outside the door.. hit it a few times.. then come back in. Alot more police around tonight. Wonder what’s going on. Maybe just beefing up for the weekend.

It’s been tough sleeping here… there’s a reggae bar below my window that blasts music all night long.. and, a falafel stand that blares the same ol’ Arabic tape over and over again. NOT a good mix with reggae. ;-) At first it was kinda cool, but now it’s just annoying. I really need to move on from Cape Town, but there’s just a couple more things I’d like to check out before I leave.

Just about a half hour ago (It’s about 9:45PM at the moment) I was walking down the street to get a pepper steak pie. They’re pretty cheap and very tasty. Kind of a pot pie without the tin bowl. Anyway, I couldn’t even eat it on the street without all the street freaks coming up and wanting it. One guy just kept moving in closer like he was going to snatch it from me and run. Then this woman came up wanting money. Started to feel like they were working together.. one to distract me while the other did a snatch and run. I’ve seen that same gig too many times so I just darted back into the pie shop to wait it out.. and finish my delicious pie in peace.

It’s a great city with spectacular views.. just not so swell if you’re staying in the part of town I am… ie. the “party” street with a park nearby where the junkies like to sleep during the day. If you’re in several other parts of the city in the bigger hotels, I’m sure it’s perfectly safe.

“Funny” thing happened on the way back from Cape Point today. Well, it wasn’t so funny at the time… as a matter of fact, it was more than a bit terrifying and I nearly soiled myself!

Someone had told me Cape Point was nothing special and just a view of the ocean no different than others. Boy were they wrong! It was one of the most dramatic vistas I’ve seen to date.

After an exhausting afternoon of climbing all the stairs and pathways around the Point, I relaxed for a bit in the park restaurant and had a couple glasses of wine. Got a few nice snaps of other tourists relaxing.. finished my wine and began the drive back to Cape Town. I’d seen baboons along the roadside just walking along like any other local resident, and really wanted a nice shot of a baboon. But, everytime I saw one there was never anywhere to pull over. There were signs all around Cape Point warning that baboons were dangerous, etc. But, I’d not seen one in the park.

One the way out of the park there was a van stopped on the road and I noticed two baboons just lounging roadside. I waited my turn and pulled up to get MY shot. Only everytime I tried to get a shot, another rude tourist would pull up right beside me to take a snap themselves and always blocking the shot. I had my window down to shoot from the bucky since I didn’t know if these fellas were really all that dangerous.

After the third rude tourist pulled up, I decided to get out and walk over to one of the baboons to get a closer shot and prevent any other tourist from blocking me. I snapped off a few while he/she (couldn’t tell the gender) just sat there, picking his/her rear… looking around.. and seemingly not even noticing I was there.

THEN, it got up and started to walk across the road. I followed it in my camera’s viewfinder… until I realized it was heading straight for the bucky. Surely it would just pass on into the bush. But no, it jumped right into the bucky!!! I panicked and ran over to the bucky where the baboon was rifling through papers and grabbed my camera bag. Oh no!!! My recently changed airline ticket and passport were in there along with most of my camera gear. Still, I don’t know why I didn’t just put the camera down and deal directly with the present threat, but I just kept snapping away. After the flash went off the baboon looked stunned for a moment and I reached into the cab to try and knock it away from my camera bag with my camera. Big mistake! When the beast hiss and opened it’s mouth wide.. Jeezus-age-Christ! I had no idea their teeth were that long. It lunged at me with the camera bag in it’s paw and I fell back into the side mirror to try to get out of it’s reach and gleaming fangs. My back still hurts from hitting that side mirror, but no worries… it snapped right back on later and wasn’t broken. ;-)

There was a van of tourists behind me all screaming and rolling up their windows. Gee thanks for the help people!

There was one guy passing in another bucky who jumped out and tried to help me wrangle my back away from the baboon. It almost made it… was halfway out of the window with my bag in it’s paw when I snapped another shot. The flash stunned it again, and it dropped the bag and jumped up on the roof.

Still shaking.. I jumped back into the bucky and rolled up the window. About 30secs down the road as I realized what had just happened… and that this dumbass was still taking photos… I couldn’t help but laugh hysterically outloud.

My last day in Cape Town was just picture perfect, and one of those completely pleasant days you get to experience every once in a blue moon… one of those days where everything just goes right and it makes all the usual travel hassles seem worthwhile.

Today started with a delightful walk through the Company’s Gardens, and because there was a film crew shooting there… evidently the police had cleared out all the junkies and glue sniffers… so I was able to walk completely undisturbed. ;-) As a matter of fact, I don’t think I was approached for money for the entire day from start to finish.

I saw piles of pigeons laying is the grass… each with one wing up in the air… and at first thought it looked peculiar… as if they were all dead. Then, after watching them a few minutes, I noticed they were all just chilling out on the soft wet grass in the sun. When the lawn sprinkler passed by, they’d ALL lift one wing up in the air in order to get a nice cool blast of water under their wings. It was really funny to watch.

Off for a walk to explore the half a dozen square blocks around Long Street that I hadn’t covered yet for a few more happy snaps. Then, it was off for a nice drive to the Clifton beach area… onto the spectacular Chapman’s Peak drive and around Hout’s Bay…. and then on toward Cape Point for a stop around the Muizenberg beach area where they have these little colorful changing rooms lined up along the beach like toy boxes. I can’t remember seeing any other white folks in that area of the beach, so I wondered if I’d again wandered into an area I might not be so welcome (something you still unfortunately need to be aware of here in the post-Apartheid S. Africa. Or, so I’ve been told).

A little boy came running up to me and asked if I’d take his picture. I did so but he just stood there squinting and shivering form the cold ocean. I suggested he flex his muscles or something like he-man, so he did his best impression while shivering and gritting his teeth. I wish I’d shot a few more of him with those colorful changing rooms, but I got a couple snaps off before his little sister wanted her picture taken as well. She too was shivering from the cold water, and I got a couple nice closeup snaps of her as well. Only after closer inspection of her nostil area that was caked with sand and.. well, I’ll just spare you the details. ;-)

Continued along a great stone pathway that wrapped along the beach toward where I had the bakkie (bucky) parked and just enjoyed all the crisp colors reflecting off the late afternoon surf and boulders along the coast, and watched the fishermen along the way.

At that point I thought, “wow! what a splendid day… just wish I’d been able to fit in the Kistenbosch Botanical gardens as well.” So, I made my way back toward Cape Town and on a whim, took the turn off for the Kirstenbosch Gardens. I still had an hour before they closed and was told I didn’t have to leave right as closing. I was just trying to squeeze in one last tourist attraction before I left, but really wasn’t all that excited about wondering around some gardens for an hour or so. But, man! am I glad I did. Probably THE most magnificient gardens I’ve ever visited at the foot of Table Mountain. All indigenous plants with abstract sculptures, South African ginea fowl, peacocks, etc. It was a truly magical time of day to be strolling through the gardens as well.

Well all good days must come to an end so I made my way toward the exit and parking lot. I took a fortunate wrong turn and ended up at this great restaurant called The Silver Tree and decided that maybe I’d just relax for a bit and top off the day with a nice glass of South African wine. I was the only one there since it was the inbetween time when all the tourists have left the park, and the diner crowd hasn’t started arriving yet. So, I had the whole place to myself in peace. Ordered a starter to go with the wine that were only calamari rings… but likely the best calamari rings and buttered bread I think I’ve ever had!

From Cape Town I’d planned to make a loop around the Stellenbosch winelands with a stop off in Outdshoorn on my way back up to the heavenly Oceana Wildlife Reserve for a pit-stop shot in the arm of luxury before I head on a bit up the coast and inland toward Hogsback.

I forgot to mention all the different “nicknames” I was called by the street folks looking for small change or wanting to sell me drugs, etc. I’d hear everything from “Hey Jim!” “Master!” “Chief!” “Boss” “Hey Joe!”. I get most of these… but where does the “Hey Jim!” come from? Either I look like someone named “Jim” in Cape Town, or it’s a common street nickname for tourists.

As I mentioned before… the day after I left Cape Town for Stellenbosch in the winelands didn’t go quite as smoothly as my “One Pleasant Day.” Not really that bad, but just annoying. Just little things like the gas station attendant forgot to check the pump and several liters went out all over the ground. When I questioned whether I’d have to pay for all that wasted gas… it turned into a big todo with the station manager, etc. They said it wasn’t their fault, and that it wasn’t MY fault.. but only the fault of a broken gas pump. I asked, “Well is the pump gonna pay for all that wasted gas?”… but I don’t think they saw the humor in it. At the end, I knew if I didn’t pay for it, the poor gas station attendant would have to, so I just paid and was finally on my way again.

From the station it wasn’t long before I was cruising through the winelands surrounding the town of Stellenbosch. Wonderful light and some very lovely wine estates. But, I figured I should sort out my accommodations first, so I headed straight into the town to find another backpacker lodge. I had high hopes that after Cape Town, this would be a pretty easy task.

I was wrong. Stellenbosch is a nice enough place for an afternoon, but not really much to see there. More of a place to spend the afternoon doing wine tastings and then moving on. If I had it to do over again, I probably would have just done it in a day trip from Cape Town instead. The problem was I didn’t know the street names are printing on the curbs and not on posts. And, most of the curbs are non-exhistent in lui of little gutters that run along the roads. So, I even though I had a map… every sign I saw that looked like a street sign were actually just signs pointing to different vineyards. And, there must be hundreds of them in this area.

After about 2hrs or aimless driving, I finally found a room. None of the streets were labled where you’d expect. I’d actually been there an hour prior but no one would answer the bell. Later, the man and his girlfriend running the place told me they’d over done their drinking the night before at a wedding and were still “out of sorts.” They asked how long I’d stay and I said probably a couple nights.

Finally, the ordeal of looking for a room was over and I could relax. Or, so I thought. Turns out the woman running the place has very loud little children that were running and screaming throughout the place… so back out on the street I went exploring. ;-)

Got to chill for a couple hours until I overheard some violent lung-popping screaming coming from the kitchen across from my room. Not the kiddies this time, but it sounded like the woman owner and her boyfriend were having a fairly wicked fight. Guess they hadn’t seen me come back in (I was the only guest there) so, when they saw I was there, it got a little uncomfortable. The Afrikaans accents were so thick, and the screaming at such a fever pitch that I couldn’t make out what they were fighting about. Eventually, they calmed down and I slipped back out into the night to take a little walk, grab a pepper-steak meat pie.. and then turn in for the night.

The next morning I couldn’t decide if I really wanted to stay another night or not. I was then informed that they’d booked the whole place to some big group and that I would need to vacate the room. Great! Decision made for me. ;-)

I asked the fellow that had been screaming the evening before if he could give me directions to Outdshoorn. He told me it was really easy.. told me where to go and what road sign to look out for. So, after I’d stopped off at 3 or 4 different vineyards for tastings, I could just keep going towards the N1 highway.

The vineyards were all fairly nice, but I’m not much of a wine “taster”. More a wine “drinker.” When the fellow would ask me what the wine smelled like, I’d say.. “Gee wiz, smells pretty much like wine to me.” He’d say, “Don’t you smell a little berry, moldy cheese, and a hint of old tire?”. “Crikies! Old Tire!? And I’m supposed to want to put that in my mouth?” He got a big laugh out of it and most of the afternoon went like that. After the first tasting, I stopped drinking the wine and shifted to actually just tasting it since I still had a good 4-5hr drive to get to Outdshoorn. Or so I thought.

Turns out, the road sign the fellow told me to look out for doesn’t exhist. And after nearly 4hrs I still hadn’t seen it. (his directions were pretty loose). But, I did watch the sun go down over some fairly impressive mountains all lined with vineyards at their feet. I was completely lost in what appeared to be the middle of nowhere. However, the scenery was so beautiful, I didn’t even care.

After it’d got dark, I pulled over for some gas and asked the attendant where this road sign for the R62 turn-off was. He didn’t know but asked around for me. Another fellow came up and asked where I was going. He directed me down the highway another 200kms and said the turn-off I was looking for was just before some town called Baywards West? Or something like that. but, after that it was just another 50kms.

I thanked him and he went back to his truck. A couple minutes later, he came back and asked, “Let me ask you something… if you came from Stellenbosch, why did you go THIS way?” I told him the directions I was given. He said, “Oh, well going this way just took you an extra 250kms or so out of your way.” Great!

Finally made it to the turn-off and was glad I only had 50kms to go. That is, until I saw the sign that read “Outdshoorn 178kms”. Bummer.

I was really out in the boonies at this point, and it was pitch black with no other traffic. Eventually, I went through some pass that was lined with sharp stone curves and very high winds. Pretty creepy as well. I knew that I was likely missing some specular scenery, but that was the furthest thing from my mind. I just wanted to find a place to sleep.

Eventually, I passed through a little town called De Rust… rang several hotel bells but no one would come to the door. Seemed almost like a ghost town, but there were cars parked here and there so I knew someone at least lived there. They just wouldn’t answer the door bell after dark I suppose. And it was already after 11pm.

Pushed on to Oudtshoorn and started again. I asked some police if they could tell me where Church street was, and they offered to just take me there. I told them it wasn’t necessary, but they insisted. After 3 different lodges wouldn’t answer knocks on the door, or door bells… it was now after midnight. The black cops told me there was another place they knew of, but they didn’t know how clean it was. I said, “at this point I’m not going to be picky!”

A few minutes later we pulled into what looked like a half-way house with a big sign painted on the bricks above the door “BIG BIRD ACCOMMODATIONS”. There was a tall skinny black man standing at the door with a trucker’s cap that had a Mercedes logo on it, and he was just standing there admiring his old Mercedes parked at the door with the words “Pappa Cool” painted on the windshield.

I thanked the police for helping me.. and they just lingered a bit like they were waiting for something… like a tip! Do even the South African cops here ask for tips?!

Took a look at the room and it was actually not so bad. Pappa Cool turned out to be quite a character and wanted to talk into the wee hours of the morning. He kept telling me I HAD to go to the Cango Caves and that if I didn’t.. I hadn’t seen the Klein Karoo. I think the area is known as the “little Karoo”. Not sure where the big Karoo is, but with how Pappa Cool went on about these caves, I had to see them.

I suppose they were ok, but the tour guide was and group of families I was with were pretty cheesey with the little group jokes. Sorta like that tour guide of the Alamo in Texas during that scene in Pee Wee’s Big Adventure where he’s looking for his bike. Equally as funny.

After that, I’d been told I must drive the Swarthart Pass. But I didn’t have enough time to knock that out, and the ostrich farms, and the Wildlife Ranch. So, I figured I’d just drive a half hour or so of it (all dirt roads)… take a snap or two and call it done. And am I glad I did. Such spectacular views!

A little ways in and up the first mountain pass I pulled over to grab a snap and enjoy the vista. I forgot I’d bought a bottle of wine at one of the tastings, but didn’t have a cork screw. Just moments later, a car with some South Africans pulled up and asked what car trouble I was having. I told them no trouble at all but asked, “would any of you happen to have a cork screw?”. They all laughed and someone actually did have one. The road is fairly harrowing going along straight drop cliffs, so I just “tasted” again. Didn’t seem like a good idea to actually drink it this time. ;-) Wise choice! The road got even more harrowing, but the views were just stunning. I wish I’d had my dual-sport motorcyle on this pass, because it was amazing. Especially when you got to the bottom of the canyon with a small river running through it and banked by huge red mountains on all sides.

Wasn’t going to make it in time for the Ostrich farms or wildlife ranch.. but I spent sunset on the side of the road with a bunch of Ostriches to get some snaps. That’s all I really wanted anyway. Not really the “tour” kinda guy, so roadside with the Ostriches suited me just fine.

What odd birds they are too! I’d had some Ostrich sausage at breakfast that was quite tasty, and they look so cute from a distance… just bobbing along like they do. But, up close they look like some demented alien species that kinda gave me the willies looking at them through the viewfinder at full-frame. It was still pretty funny to watch their heads all pop up and down in the camera frame. Then, all of a sudden ALL their heads popped up at the same time and they all bolted in one direction. I looked around to see if there was some predator, or car, or anything that might have spooked them. But, I didn’t see anything at all. It couldn’t have been me since I’d already been standing there for nearly an hour. Then, they all stopped running at once as they slowly all walked back over to the fence where I was standing and started grazing again. Like I said, very peculiar animals.. but they make a dandy sausage that’s for sure.

Back to the Big Bird and another very long conversation with Pappa Cool. I could smell that he’d been drinking, and since I was getting burned out on wine anyway… I gave him the I’d bought in Stellenbosch. It was decent enough, but after awhile they all start tasting the same. He was quite pleased with the gesture and was excited to know if I’d made it to the Cango caves he’d raved about the night before. I told him they were nice and that I took a few photos etc. I didn’t mention the tour was so cheesy with all these little kids screaming and running wild. But the more he asked about the Caves it became pretty clear he’d never even been to them. I asked, and it was confirmed. He said he’d been meaning to visit them but never got around to it. Huh?! Sure sounded like he’d been there by the way he went on and on about them. You’d think he’d been born inside the caves with the level of enthusiasm he had for them.

Drove to Grahmstown yesterday to see what it was about and after passing by a giant Pineapple in the middle of a pineapple crop.. I made it just in time for that last sliver of golden South African sunset. I looked frantically for something to shoot and spotted these to chaps just chillin’ on the patio of and old fish and chips place. I asked them if I could take their photos and they said they didn’t mind. They didn’t look very happy, so when I finished I was expecting them to ask me for money. But, they didn’t. They just politely thanked me for taking photos of them. So, since they looked like they could use a few rand.. I asked them if it was ok if I gave them each a few rand? (like I didn’t know what the answer would be) ;-). You should have seen their faces light up. Such big smiles! It was a pleasure to give money in this way and know that it wasn’t likely going to buy benzine glue.

Cheers,

Skip Hunt

Austin, Texas

South African Shoot

Skip Hunt

Austin, United States

  • Artist
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Artist's Description

Travel journal while on a South African photo shoot.

Artwork Comments

  • Dayonda
  • Kathie Nichols
  • Skip Hunt
  • heznel
  • Gary Kelly
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