A yellow-brownish scarf, elegantly wrapped around her head, protects Ola’s forehead from the African sun, which is easy to lowball due to the holey carpet of clouds. By now we are dancing to different music along the yellow hard shoulder stripe of the so called Highway N2. An indicator for hitch hiking not working as well as expected on this beautiful Monday morning.
We sit together at the edge of the road, leaning against our backpacks. Behind us, there is some colored people waving with money bills towards the partly highly modern, partly highly damaged cars, that are coming their way.
Tails Namibia. Heads George.
The golden 20 Cent coin (which is worth about 0,02 Dollars) spins around in the warming sunlight and lands safely in my my right palm. A slick move onto my left forearm. Tattooed, black tree silhouettes and my right hand encase the answer to a decision, that has extensive consequences. Do we stick to our plan and hitch through George to Durban, all the way along the South-African coastline or do we turn back and hitch straight to Namibia.
I glance into Ola’s crystal blue eyes. Must be her Russian heritage. I am convinced of a coin-flip being an adequate way to make important decisions. Not in a way of ‘Destiny will guide our way‘ but rather ‘you realize, what side of the coin you were actually cheering for’.
“Namibia“, I ask in Ola’s direction. “Namibia“, she answers in mine.
We decided against our coin destiny. “The fact I met you guys this morning must be destiny” is what Gretah will say a few hours later, right after explaining how her shower works, preparing a great dinner and showing us our beds.
While searching for the airport exit I catch sight of multible empty water bottles hanging down from the ceilings. “Only use 50 liters per day”. Before I came to Cape Town, I was aware of the local water crisis. How serious it actually is, I only realized when I met our couchsurfing host Jon. “When it’s yellow, let it mellow” is a slogan, you’ll find at most toilets. Try to flush your toilet as few as possible. Jon cleans his dishes with only 1 liter of water. Every sink is connected to a little bucket, collecting the used water. This water, together with the dirty washing machine one, is used to flush his toilet. But just in case it’s not yellow. I’ll only shower once during my 4 days stay in Cape Town. And by shower I mean pouring some bucket water over my upper body. Jon is a 38 years old university teacher from England and is currently writing math books for African students. He said some of them are using computer for the first time in their lives.
To give you an idea. The average water usage per Person in Germany is 127 liters a day.
Jon says, if people don’t change their water usage habits, Cape Town will fully run out of water within the next 5 months.
A 2 hours lasting, steep 1000 meters ascent makes sure, that I still feel my legs hurting, even 4 days later. A breathtaking view, on might know from Cape Town pictures. A relentless wind, on might not know from Cape Town pictures.
“Attention please – The cable car station closes now due to heavy wind” bursts out of their speakers, followed by a noisy alarm, that sounds more like a siren. Chinese tourist groups run towards the cable car station in a hilariously panic way. Meanwhile Ola and I are relaxing on one of the huge rocks at the edge of Table Mount and feel amused. After a fairly long descent we walk past 3 tourists, that are just about to enter their rental car. “Excuse me guys, could you give as a lift to the city center by any chance?”
Our first hitch hike in Africa.
Black and white
In South Africa 2 skin colors do clash. Wealthy white people and the black lower class. Obviously there’s exceptions but in general, this distribution works just fine. Black women pushing baby buggies around the upper class areas. Obviously white babies. The streets empty in an eye blink as soon as the sun goes down. The result of omnipresent security warnings. A weird feeling. Less problematic is the clash of white and black when it comes to penguins, that settled down in the South of Cape Town. Beautiful animals, that know how to whip up enthusiasm by walking around like they are drunk.
The hard shoulder
When Ola and I started hitch hiking out of Cape town, we quickly realized that we weren’t the only hitch hikers in South Africa. At least we are only white ones. There is heaps black people gathering around every major intersection, waving with money towards cars. The reason for that might be the drastic unemployment rate of 77% and the lack of cheap public transport. Or let’s rather say the lack of transportation at all. Picking up hitch hikers is supposed to be very dangerous. No wonder we’re having a hard time. On this very first hitch hiking day, we get 2 lifts that take us 150 km in total. Both keep on telling us how dangerous standing on the road in South Africa actually is. A country, in which corruption, robbery and murder apparently are part of it’s daily life.
An ubiquitous danger, that let me question hitch hiking in South Africa.
During the last few days, I witnessed plenty of situations that left me baffled. While we were sitting in the train towards ‘Penguins‘, 5 young children entered our carriage, naked from the waist up. Plastic bottles filled with gravel were attached to their ankles. Rattles. I interpreted their dance performance as some African Traditional thing and watched them getting kicked out of the train by a few police men as soon as we stopped at the next station.
The train walls are paved with little stickers. Abortion in 30 minutes. Penis enlargement. Abortion without pain. Whats app numbers.
In our next train we spot 2 huge warning signs. Cigarettes are prohibited – I am used to that – and Guns are prohibited – alright, that makes me feel safe. In generell, there is plenty of interesting warning signs all around South Africa.
While waiting for another local train, we witness a bizarre scenario. A group of colored guys, most likely drunk. One of them lays on the floor, screaming hysterically. 3 others are chasing each other on the actual rails while throwing with big stones at each other. Only an old local man next to us makes us feel a slightly comfy, since he keeps on laughing. Otherwise we might have left the train station rather fast. In western countries, a situation like this would let policemen appear within minutes. Over here nobody seems to give a damn.
On the public train station toilet I meet a guy, handing over toilet paper. “I give toilet paper, you give me condoms”. He provides exactly 10 pieces. High risk. I guess you must pay if you want it the less risky way. At the same train station, an elderly homeless woman approaches me and asks for a lighter. She is carrying a bald baby doll and lights up a cigarette stub that she just found in the nearby bin. She walks away and blows the smoke in her fake baby’s face while whispering something in its ear.
The most funny, that is to say most weird, meeting were the ‘Potato dudes’. While hitch hiking, we met 2 Rastafaris, carrying water to their village. They were wearing no clothes except potato bags. We lovingly named her tribe ‘Potato tribe‘. When walking by we greeted each other, they looked at our backpacks in a confused way and offered us weed. Obviously. Afterwards they started to hitch hike as well.
Fat Henrys is the name of a pizza place, we ended up in on Sunday evening, while searching for some wifi. The restaurant is owned by a lovely family, a family that also became our family fora while. Caledon is the name of the city we got stuck in on our first hitch hiking day. We made 150 km. Disappointing. Christine, the blond leader of the family, offers us a ride to the next 24 hour petrol station and talks to their staff. They know each other. The petrol station guys agree on letting us camp in their playground for a night. Everyone is aware of the danger, that comes with camping in unprotected areas.
Fat Henrys is also the place where we meet Gretha on the morning after. We start hitch hiking as soon as we finish our coffees and decide to flip a coin 4 hours later. That’s the moment when we headed back to our favorite pizza place in South Africa. Then, everything just happens on a sudden. Gretha, which I contacted on Facebook, offers to drive 80 kilometers just to pick us up and bring us to her home. After an hour at her place we accept her offer to extend our stay. Our new plan is to hitch towards Cape Town and Namibia on Wednesday.
Later that evening a friend of Gretha joins us and asks: “Guys, if you wanna stay her until Wednesday I could give you a lift to Cape Town – gotta go there because of work”
Luck? Probably. Destiny? Well..
But still, even though we decided to leave South Africa, it’s still a long way. It’s approximately 800 kilometers that separate me and Ola from the Namibian border.
If we regret our decision? Seriously, how could you ever regret a decision, made by a flipped coin, right?