Thursday, March 24, 2011

Driving, Living, and Internet Connection in South Africa

Angela writes:
We have arrived. Arrived on the third continent of our journey, “The Dark Continent” of Africa. The transition from living in Latin America to living in Black-Africa has begun.  Apparently we will have another transition once we reach the north of Africa, Muslim-Africa, but we’ll let you know about that once we get there. 

When driving the roads in South Africa, you drive on the left hand side of the road.  My first experience doing this was on our way from the airport to Daryll’s parent’s house.  Our bikes had just been released from customs and we were operating on 30 hours without sleep, so I just had to hope we’d get there without incident as my attention span was dangerously short.  When I was riding the roads, it felt like I was looking into a mirror.  All the merging onto the highway was to the right, the slow lanes were on the left, and the dominant lane position for riding a motorcycle changed to the right side of the lane.  When making a right turn at an intersection, I would often come nose-to-nose with another vehicle also making a right turn in the opposite direction.  The unconscious internal messages to my brain needed some serious updating and my mantra has become “stay left, look right”.  I actually had to think about whether or not my motorcycle would operation the same – would the clutch and break be reversed?  Like I said, I was pretty tired. Now after 3 or 4 rides I have actually become quite accustomed to the changes however, it still requires extra concentration on my part.

For the last 6 months we have been living, breathing, and dreaming in Spanish so it came as no surprise upon arriving at the Johannesburg airport that Daryll would respond to people with si’s and gracias’es, a habit which we have quickly un-learned in the last week.  After spending 6 weeks in friendly, open and relaxed Argentina, we were quite accustomed to having lengthy conversations with people at gas stations inquiring about our trip.  Upon arrival in South Africa the vibe about conversing with “Mr. Stranger” comes with great warnings fraught with suspicion and concern for safety.  While driving in a car around the city, the doors are always locked.  I do however hope and suspect this paranoia will lessen after we leave the city. We are currently in Johannesburg, a large international city where carjacking, and shooting trespassers are common neighbourhood lore.  We’ve heard stories of how the extremely poor of this city have stolen live electrical wires right out of the ground using pickup trucks, also known as “bakkies”, to pull the wires out and we’ve had first hand accounts from residents of nearby condos who had to go without power for a week until the wires could be replaced. We’ve heard stories of how people have stolen the SIM cards out of the traffic lights, also known as “the robots”, to use in their own phones to make free international phone calls.  Every outing we have had there have been at least 3 or 4 major traffic intersections that have become 20-lane, four-way stops. 

In Latin America we became used to reliable and frequent sources of unlimited internet connections.  Within a day of arriving in Johannesburg we exhausted the monthly plan that Daryll’s parents had for internet as they commonly only do a small amount of emailing or Skyping.   Telkom South Africa has a monopoly on internet services here and without much competition, charges users by the amount of data uploaded, downloaded, or viewed.  Since we were “greedily” trying to download GPS maps and upload photos with this service provider,  we ended up having to upgrade our internet package for the month. This comes to a very important point about updates to our blog dear readers.  Across this African leg of our journey we will have even more limited amount of internet service available to us.  This means updates to our blog may come every couple of weeks and unfortunately we will have to be very selective on the photos we upload. We are currently in Johannesburg, South Africa, arguable the most advanced city in Africa and we still are experiencing data limits on our internet service.  I’ve read once we reach a country like Ethiopia, internet might be available only in the capital city and it might take an hour to open a 2 line email!  Our blog updates will be limited in the next 6 months – sorry!

Staying here in Johannesburg with Daryll’s parents has been wonderful.  After 6 months on the road it is so great to be with family.  Daryll’s Mom and Dad are bending over backwards to ensure we have everything we need to prepare us for our next 6 months and are making us very comfortable in the process.  The food has been fantastic and Daryll’s Mom tries to feed us 4 or 5 times a day with treats and fresh fruit that I can rarely say no to.  We’ve had dinner parties, birthday parties (we’ve become seriously smitten with our “new” nephew who just turned 2) and gatherings with some new motorcycle friends where we’ve received help with the bikes and great route planning advice.  We’ve done mountains of laundry (sleeping bags, riding gear, helmet pads etc), cleaned out the tent, and completed maintenance on the motorcycles. For Daryll’s cousin I’ve promised an update on how our dog Echo is doing at my Mom’s in Ontario.  My Mom says:
Echo has certainly become part of the dog pack.
She has made herself comfortable and likes to run with Max (one of her other dogs).
She loves to play and she gets down on her two front paws a lot to show us she's
ready to rumble but she’s such a “big horse” she’ll knock you down and keep going!!!
No problem with her appetite. She has many food bowls to choose from and likes to
make sure all taste the same.She is slumming it right now - laying on the floor by my feet, usually it’s the
Thank you Mommy for taking such good care of our girl! And thank you to Daryll’s family for taking such wonderful care of us!
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  1. greg writes... too bad about the internet on your next leg of the journey as I really enjoy the updates but will of course wait patiently for them now. Worse case scenario we get to see the pics with you guys whenever we next meet! Enjoy Africa , ride safe and be safe. Greg and Jill

  2. Thank you for agreeing to patience :) We will definitely share whatever you miss in person with guys! Ride safe too!