Thursday, April 29, 2010

The lack of good character

If there is one thing in life that I hate more than being falsely accused, then it is to be treated a certain why because of the misbehaviour of other people. Priviledges that are taken away because someone else didn't know how to behave. I am currently filling in a visa request to go to the UK. Despite the fact that the British authorities claimed that this move is to "better protect their borders", as well as saying that  "the introduction of a visa requirement is in no way a reflection of any deterioration in our continuing and strong relationship with South Africa", we all know why South Africa failed the Britain’s strict new Visa Waiver Test. They don't trust us anymore. And you can hardly blame them. Apparently you can order fake South African passports over the Internet. I will not go as far as mentioning who else is involved, but to get back to my point stated is because of these criminal minds and activities that I have to sit and fill in a visa application form that has taken me at least two hours to complete.
I am not very familiar with the reasons why some countries have to apply for visas while others don't, but my common sense tells me that it is a better way of identifying the prospective traveler from certain "suspicious countries" before he/she is allowed in the host country. The only way they can get this information is by asking a few very indepth questions. But how deep can you go? Look at some of the questions from this 20 page online questionaire and decide if you would trust anyone that answered any of these questions with a "No". 

- Do you have any criminal convictions in any country (including traffic offences)? As far as I remember, or as I was told, when you pay a traffic fine you admit guilt on the spot, meaning that you were convicted of a crime (disobeying traffic rules) and that you have "served your sentence" (paying a fine). If this is the case then I have plenty criminal convictions, as well as some outstanding cases. Do I answer "YES" in this case? And if I do that, will I be seen as a threat to the Britsh government and their people?  I am very reluctant to answer yes, what if I am refused a visa just because I drove too fast on the N1 freeway?
- In times of either peace or war have you, ever been involved in, or suspected of involvement in, war crimes, crimes against humanity or genocide? How many people who were involved will honestly stand up and say, "Yes, I have been, but can you please still give me a visa?" Get real, questions like this and the ones to follow just add to the irritation and frustration and no-one in his right (criminal) mind will admit to this if he/she wants to go to the UK for what ever reason.
- Have you ever been involved in, or supported, or encouraged terrorist activities in any country? Have you, ever been a member of, or given support to an organization that has been concerned in terrorism? Now I have to be very cautious before I speak my mind on this one. Firstly, again, would anyone say "Yes" and stand the change of not getting a visa? Secondly. What is the definition of "terrorist activities"? Is planting bombs and killing people under the cloak of "fighting for freedom" not classified as terrorism? If this is the case, then I am sorry to say that the majority of South Africans belonging to certain political parties are not allowed to enter the UK according to this questionnaire.
- Have you ever, by any means or medium, expressed views that justify or glorify terrorist violence or that may encourage others to terrorist acts or other serious criminal acts? If you sing a song that says "kill the whites" and it leads to more farm murders (which is a serious criminal acts despite what the SA government might say), does that mean you cannot go to the UK? Then sorry Julius, you will not be able to drink a warm beer with your fellow South Africans who managed to infiltrate the British Isles before we were classified as a threat to the British national security.

Now the last question really had me on the floor laughing. "Have you engaged in any other activities that might indicate that you may not be considered a person of good character?" WTF? Are they serious? "So in other words, if you are not a traffic offender, a war criminal, an ex-terrorist or a serious crime instigator, is there anything else about yourself that you would like to tell us before we issue you with a visa?" Yes, I sometimes watch porn when my wife is not around, or yes, I get drunk when the Lions cannot score enough to win at least one game in the Super 14. No wait, this one is probably the worst, I'm a seen as a racist because I am white and I don't support the Bafana Bafana....

 Now I beg of you my fellow South Africans, please behave like civilized human beings so that the rest of us don't get punished for your "lack of good character"!! I want to go to the UK for work and to visit a good friend of mine, I am NOT a criminal and I don't want to be treated like one. And most of all, I don't want to be tortured with questionnaires like this anymore....

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Your Country is...." "

This morning I was looking for a way to put an umlaut (the two dots above a letter) on the "u" so that I could spell "reünie" ("reunion" in Afrikaans) correctly in my Facebook comment (this was all done before work, I promise). I started my search with "How to" and before I could type the next word, Google as always popped up a few suggestions of searches that are frequently done by users. I had to laugh when I saw that contrary to what I believed comes natural to every human being, some people still don't know how to kiss, make love, have sex, get pregnant or gain weight. I was however relieved to see that some people do some sensible searching as to write a CV or a business plan. And then there was the age old question of how to lose weight fast. As far as I know that one does not really have an answer....

Anyway, after seeing that I decided to do a search on South Africa. I have to admit I was expecting results from both sides of the spectrum...and I was not disappointed. South Africans range from complete optimists to complete pessimists. Everyone has his or her own opinion on what's going on in this country, so you can imagine to find positive and negative searches. I am not going to go into detail about the results, it would just be another opinion and open up another debate, but I am glad to see that some people do at least think that South Africa is a developing as well as a developed country. I am also glad to see that people think we are ready for the World Cup. I am more worried if the "World Cup" is ready for us.

After my search on South Africa, I was wondering what people think about other countries, so my next one was the UK. From the results it seems there are no positive things to say about the UK. Personally I was not really surprized. Even Australia did not make the cut as the nicest country. Some interesting results came up there. It seems the only place where people are happy is in France. So check out your country, you might be surpized what you see....

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Free Ride

Welcome to South Africa. Minibus taxi's are cheap, everywhere to be found and probably the unsafest way to get around. Normal metered taxis are very expensive and the average South African cannot afford it. So, if you need to get there fast, free and with less danger than in a minibus taxi, then this is the way to go....

Monday, April 19, 2010

Tent...check, meat....check,*t!

Before the arrival of our son, my wife and I used to be frequent campers. With a kombi that was kitted out with everything that was needed for a quick getaway, a quick decision to hit the road and go spend the night somewhere underneath the stars was never a difficult one to make. All we needed was to stop for meat and something to drink along the way and before you could say "matches" we would be sitting next to a fire smelling the meat on the braai. Pitching a tent was never a requirement and packing up the next day was always a pleasure.

After my son's arrival the frequency of camping decreased considerably. I was very tempted to put an ad in the paper saying "Kombi with bed to swop for family sedan with child seat", but I was scared it would raise some eyebrows or scare possible childless campers from considering it so fortunately I never posted that ad and today I still have my kombi. My son is three years old now, so camping seems to be the next logical step in teaching him about adventure and nature while having fun at the same time. Besides, he is potty trained already so changing a nappy inside the kombi at night will not be a bit of an unpleasant disturbance anymore. The only problem now is that the bed that was comfortable for two people is all of a sudden not big enough for three, especially not if the third person prefers to sleep perpendicular to the other two. So we bought a tent....

Last Friday it seemed like a perfect evening for camping. My wife and I ussually don't camp for more than two nights in a row. We prefer to keep our camping very basic, so we don't go and set up a whole laager with satelite TV and electric stoves and tumble dryers like many campers do nowadays. We have the basics, eat the basics, enjoy the simplicity of it all and when we get tired of eating out of paper plates we go home. One or two days living like that is enough for us to revive the spirit and become one with nature again. Unfortunately on Friday afternoon when I wanted to go get the "meat and something to drink", I realized that I will have to get more than that if we wanted to spend a decent night with a three-year-old out in the field somewhere. My gas bottles were empty, my gas light was not working, the pots and pans were rusted, most of the ready-to-camp utilities in my kombi were removed to make space for wetsuits and kite surfing gear, and getting all of this together within an hour or so would be a bit optimistic. Friday night's camping was quickly replaced with Friday night's picnic on the beach, but I was not going to give up on the camping idea so easily. From all my traveling I have learned that the only way to make sure that you have all the basics with you like a passport and toothbrush, a checklist is the best way to go. So I decided this weekend to do the same for camping...a camping checklist.

From past experiences and by running the camping event through my head, I managed to create a simple list with bare necessities. Most of this stuff used to be kept permanently in my kombi, but seeing that I have taken most of it out, it would be perfect to have this list closeby for our next trip to Yzerfontein or wherever the mood takes us. I will obviously put some stuff back in the kombi, but riding around with filled gasbottles in the sun when it is not really necessary is not a good idea, so I will keep the stuff that is save in the cupboard of the kombi and the rest somewhere in the garage where it is easily accessible. Now like any precedural document, and in my case a camping list, it has to be tested to be approved. The only way I am going to find out if I have everything on the list that I need, is to go camp. I will obvioulsy update the list as I realize what else is missing, but in the mean time I am checking my gas bottles and getting everything sorted for our next camp.  Watch this space for my next story on our first camp with a brand new camping checklist and a hyperactive three-year-old.....

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Ghost Ship

Muesli and yoghurt wasn't going to do the trick for me this morning. I knew where I could get something more fullfilling to eat for breakfast so I headed for Carlucci's. Just opposite Carlucci's was the Sely 1 lying still in the early morning mist, looking like a lost ghost ship. Apart from the fact that the crew of the Sely had left the ship months ago, the eerie look around it made me feel a bit uncomfortable this morning. I sat down with a newspaper at Carlucci's waiting for my bacon and eggs. For years I stopped reading the newspaper, because it was just too upsetting and the facts just too inaccurate. The same with the news on television. Someone told me the other day that keeping your head in the sand like an ostrich does not change the reality of the real world. I am just protecting myself from sensationalism. After the recent political turmoil in this beautiful country of ours, I watched the news religiously for the past couple of days to see what was going on. I promised not to make my blog a political blog, but rather to advertise this  beautiful country that I live in. This morning however I was reading the newspaper out of curiosity to see what the latest was on the Eugene Tereblance's sex accusations. I could not help to see what else was going on and I started feeling very chagrined by what was happening in South Africa. I thought maybe it was a good time to get this off my chest for a change and then hopefully tomorrow have the motivation to look for the good again.

With the recent brutal killing of the AWB's white supremacist leader Eugene Tereblance and the refusal of the ANC's Youth League president to stop singing songs with words like "kill the whites" the media is obviously having a feast with all the action. So you cannot really believe everything you hear at first. All this happening weeks before the Soccer World Cup makes it more sensational. In a time like this, we should really try not to sing instigative songs, so I don't agree with the way the ANC was handling Julius Malema and they way they disrespected the court ruling that prevented the singing of this song in public. But on the other hand I also cannot associate myself with war talks coming from the AWB after their leader's senseless murder. I believe every country has people with different opinions, but what worries me is how violent people in South Africa become when they disagree. Wherever I travel in the world, people always talk about the "friendly South African people". Yes, that is true, I also think South Africans are very friendly, but be careful when your have a different opinion from your neighbour, or especially someone from a different race. You might end up with a bullet in your skull or a knife in your back. Recent outburts on TV by an AWB spokesperson and Julius Malema just proofs this.

The past couple of days I was having some sort of conversation with a AWB supporter on Facebook. I have never really spoken to any AWB supporters about their believes, so she was telling me what the AWB wants in the new South Africa and I was willing to listen to her opinion. I thought it might be a good opportunity to hear what she had to say seeing that I never really took much interest in the AWB before. The funny thing though is that despite the fact that I did not play devil's advocate with her, and the fact that I am also a white Afrikaner exposed to exactly the same sh*t as what she is, she managed to insult me a couple of times before actually getting to the point. She automatically assumed that I was against her because my opinion was not exactly the same as hers so she started calling me selfish, uninformed, siding with antichirsts, etc. She was trying to convince me of her viewpoint, but instead of convincing me, she made me realize that I wouldn't want to live in the same "Volkstaat" having her as my neigbour. And we are supposed to be "brother and sister in the same predicament".

Another thing that worries me in this beautiful country is the callous nature of some people. And I have to admit, it includes all races. The brutal killings. People's lives are not worth a cent anymore. People are brutally murdered for a cell phone or a pack of sigarettes. Eugene Tereblanche's head was bashed in for R300 that was not paid to his murderer in time. That is not even 40USD. A friend of mine was lying in pain next to the road after a motorbike accident while people were stealing the parts from his motorcycle. A few weeks ago a woman was raped by a passerby near George when she was in a motor accident. I can make a list longer than my monthly shopping list of brutallity among our people, but the more I list the angrier I get. It saddens me. What is happening to us?

So yes, I don't feel good this morning. This country has so much potential. The country is beautiful. But where are we heading? I still have no intentions of packing my bags and running away. But somehow this has to end. Somehow someone needs to stand up and say enough is enough. It is a handful of people that makes life in this country miserable for the rest of us. Is this handful getting smaller or bigger? At the moment it looks like it is spiraling out of control. Can we always believe the media? Whether we believe everything we read in the newspapers or not, one thing stays the brutal murder is one too many.

But despite all this happening around us I still enjoyed a wonderful breakfast this morning overlooking a beautiful ocean. The sun was starting to break through the mist and the ghost ship was looking much less ill-omened than an hour before. All I and the rest of the law abiding citizens of this country can really hope for is that the sun will break through for the rest of South Africa too. The sooner it happens, the better for all of us.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Wetsuit Depression

The fact that the temperature for tomorrow in Cape Town is predicted at 31 deg C does not means that winter is not creeping up slowly but surely. The sun is already getting lazier in the mornings and much more eager to go back to bed than in December and January. One can also feel the bite in the air, despite the relatively still warm temperatures. So, winter is on its way and there is nothing one can do about it. Some people might like the idea of cuddling up under blankets watching a DVD and drinking hot chocolate, but for kitesurfers this is not a good prospect. The end of summer means the end of the kitesurfing season.

Summertime in Cape Town is associated with constant southeasterlies, and this is what kitesurfers need in Cape Town. Winter is associated with rain and miserable weather. Many kitesurfers pack away their gear while the more fortunate kiters relocate to other destinations to prolong their kitesurfing season. So, when you still get an opportunity to catch a southeastern in April, then you head for the beach immediately.

I haven't been in the water for a while now. A few weeks ago I suffered from a stomach bug. After that I went on my West African trip. On my return I spend some time in Mossel Bay over Easter weekend and the last couple of days I tried to get rid of what felt like a combination of a cold and sinusitis. Today was a windless day, one of those glorious early winter days in Cape Town. At 4.38pm I received an sms from a friends saying that he is going down to the beach to have a look. I initially missed the sms, but minutes later I was standing next to him on the beach....and the wind was perfect for a nice laid-back session. A laid-back session that might be the last one for this summer. One that I desperately needed to help me get over this withdrawel blues I've been suffering from over the last couple of days.

While I was pumping up my kite, I could feel that 6 weeks of doing nothing took its toll. For the first time I had to stop half way to catch my breath. This was not going to stop me from getting into that water though, so I carried on pumping. I have to admit, apart from the loss of exercise I was a bit short breathed because of my recent illness. I left everything on the beach, all kitted up and headed back to the car to get my wet suit. All I had to do was to put on my wetsuit and then it was off into the water. When I got back to my car I got undressed. Usually after leaving a wetsuit dry for a while it shrinks a bit, so pullling up the zip does get a bit harder to do. OK, putting on weight does have the same effect, but I was sure that it was a shrunken wetsuit that prevented me from zipping up. Asking someone else to help with your wetsuit is a definite NO-NO! I tried all positions and stances to no effect. Doing this is tricky enough on a good day. Being out of breath already with a shrunken suit was impossible, but I was not going to give up. Then it happened. I pulled extra hard on the zip chord and felt the zip coming up, but it happened at the speed of white light. Suddenly I was standing with the zip chord in my hand with my back still open. I actually ripped off the zipper mechanism from the suit. The wetsuit is old with a few holes at the seams and on the knees, but still good enough to protect me against the cold water. Without a zip however it is useless. There was no way I was going to go into that water with a unzipped wetsuit. The disappointment was immense. Probably my last opportunity to get some kiting done before the southeastern closes its doors for winter...and there I am standing with the zip cord in my hand and my back exposed to the elements.

Needless to say I had to go down to the beach and reluctantly rig down my kite. I remained on the beach for a while watching the guys having fun in the water. I assisted a few guys with the launching of their kites and decided to go home instead. I felt sorry for myself and staying there was not helping much. But I will not fall into a deep depression now. I will have to fix this wetsuit dilemma or get a new one. Besides, when I started kitesurfing I promised myself a new wetsuit when I perfected my first upwind. I've passed that with flying colours many months ago, but never bought the suit. Maybe this was a good time to do that.....and maybe a good time to get fit and shake that few extra kilo's again.

Thursday, April 8, 2010


"They are indestructible!"  That is what the salesman told me when I chose my last suitcase for traveling Africa. I didn't believe him, but the suitcase was "for free". It happened like this. I was traveling and during my trip my previous hard case suitcase was damaged. South African Airways was very kind to replace my suitcase after the people at Frasers confirmed that it was damaged beyond repair. It actually looked like it was punctured by the forks of a 3-ton forklift. Frasers did not have the same model in stock and offered me something else in the same price range. When I worked out that I bought the previous one for much cheaper in Nairobi three years before, I gladly accepted my new "indestructable" replacement. This one was definitely a better make and looked much more indestructable than the previous one. A Samsonite hard case.

My indestructable suitcase, just as I expected when I got it two years ago, was not as indestructable as the saleman claimed. I have lost so many suitcases before, and I know exactly why. I saw with my own eyes how suitcases and bags were thrown out of a plane at some airport in Africa. When they don't have the proper conveyer belt to remove the suitcases from the plane, nothing stops them from throwing it onto the ground. And don't think a sticker saying "fragile" means much at this point. So, yet again my suitcase has gone in for repairs, broken handle. Unfortunately this time I didn't stop at the luggage services of SAA when I returned, seeing that the suitcase was not damage on SAA, so I have to pay myself. This damage happened on the private charter on my way from Angola to Congo, and they definitely don't replace suitcases.

While I was standing at Cellini, the shop where I took this one for a quote to repair, I looked at other suitcases and makes. I am still looking for that indestructable suitcase that can survive Africa. There are so many different types, makes and colours, but none of them looks sturdy enough. One would think that by now that an indestructable suitcase would be freely available. When I discussed my current suitcase with another salesman, he mentioned to me that it is probably one of the best suitcases on the market today...indestructable. I looked at him as if he was insulting me. Here I was standing with a broken version of this "indestructable suitcase" and he still wants to tell me you cannot break it? Well, at least you can replace the parts when they break he told me. I have to agree, not many suitcases have parts available for replacement. Whenever I wait for my suitcase to appear on the carousel, I always look at other suitcases, to the make and the damages they have suffered already. I have to admit, mine usually comes out much more intact than many other designs and makes. And you won't believe it, there are even people traveling with pink suitcases in Africa?

So, this is my requirements for a African-proof suitcase. First of all it needs to be able to handle rough handling. The majority of the airlines in Africa does not repair or replace suitcases like SAA does. And the facilities at airports to load and unload baggage is not as kind on your suitcases as you would like it to be. Secondly it has to be able to lock in such a way that you locks cannot be tampered with. Travel with a unlockable suitcase and be for sure that things will disappear. Make sure there are no side pockets and fancy stuff on the sides, eventually it will be ripped off. After seeing a program on TV where a woman was locked up because someone stashed drugs in her bags, I also make sure that I don't have side pockets that cannot be locked. I also prefer not to put too much contact details on my bags. It can be used for identity theft rather than to locate the rightful owner. The fact that my company's name is on the bag already had me in situations where I had to fend off over-eagerly baggage handlers that claimed they work the same company as I do. So not even that is advised. Like I have discovered just recently, it would be good if the parts could be replaced. Handles, locks, wheels, zips are all things that could brake off...and eventually they do. Unfortunalety the suitcase I have described above is usually very heavy. The suitcase can weight anything up to 7 kilograms, and when you are only allowed to take 20 kilograms on board, it means that a third of your weight is already taken up just by the suitcase itself. But it is worth leaving some items behind when you at least know that the rest of the items will arrive on the other side in one piece. (If you want to go over the top, install a satelite tracking device because nothing prevents your indestructable suitcase from disapearing somewhere along the way.) And for pink suitcases, they only stay pink until your first trip. After that you'd wish you bought a darker shade of black.

Heard a funny wise crack the other day. If they can make the black box with indestructable material, why can't they make the whole aircraft with the same material? I just wonder, can't they at least make suitcases with the same indestructable material...?

Friday, April 2, 2010

Road of Seven Passes

I am fortunate to spend my long Easter Weekend with my family in the Garden Route. Eversince I bought my bike I've been wanting to stay here for a couple of days to ride some of the gravel roads. One week will not be enough. Today I did a round trip of 270 kilometres and it took me 5 hours. And all I did was one of the popular gravel roads between George and Knysna. There are plenty, and the one more beautiful than the other. I ended up at Knysna, which is probably one of the prettiest towns around here. You can spend a whole year in this area and not have enough time to see and do everything. No wonder this is one of the most popular holiday destinations in South Africa.

I left this morning at 8am. My plan was to go to George and then from there to take the old road that linked George and Knysna before the highway was built. This road is also known as the Road of Seven Passes. It really snakes through the foothills of the Outeniqua Mountains and goes up and down through the valleys. The first section from George to Wilderness is tarred, but still a beautiful road going through some indigenous forests. You really have to be careful in the turns; they are so sharp if you go a little bit too fast then you stand the chance of overshooting your turn. The only other traffic I met this morning where a couple of mountain bikers and another biker on a GS 650. I stopped at the first bridge to take some pictures. It is so sad to see how people vandalize beautiful spots like these. Why do people always have to write their names on walls saing that they were there? Anyway, it is still a beautiful spot with the old bridge that was built in 1904.

The second bridge goes over the Silver River. It was here that another biker passed me. At the end of this tarred section I realized that my tank was nearly empty. So I left the road and went down to Wilderness to fill up. I took another gravel road back and started the first gravel section of the road I was supposed to be on. I didn't really count all the passes, but having crossed two bridges at the bottom of the two valleys already I assumed that I had done two of the seven already. My next stop was The Big Tree. I have heard about all the big trees in this area, but never really took the time to go check them out. So today I thought I might as well go and see what the tree looks like. I turned off and about 600 meters down a smaller gravel road, I took the little footpath that led me to the Big Tree. I have to say I was a bit diappointed when I saw in. In the middle of the forest it wasn't really impressive, but I think in my backyard at home it might've impressed a couple of friends. I guess the fact that it was over 800 years old was more impressive than its size, it is a wonder that a tree could last that long in a country where people still chop down everything for firewood. It has a circumference of 12 meters. If I compare that with the trees in my garden then it is quite a big tree. I have to say that the walk in the forest was quite relaxing and impressed me much more than the tree.

Further down the road I passed passes lik ethe Homtini Pass, Hoogekraal Pass and eventually the Phantom Pass that took me down to Knysna. I am sure I did two others to make it sevenl, but their names weren't indicated like some of the others. The gravel road was quite in a good conditions, but the Phantom Pass tested my newly acquired gravel riding skills to the maximum. I have to admit that I was quite chuffed with myself after a morning's ride on gravel with enough turns to make a person go sea sick. On the Phantom Pass I was also very fortunate to see a Knysna Loerie, a very shy bird which is often heard but not often seen. I stopped to take a picture but it didn't allow me to take any pictures. 

Knysna is a beautiful town, but I didn't stay long. The idea was to ride, not sit around having tea. So after a chocolate milkshake I got on my bike again and came home on the N2. The N2 was a bit boring after the morning's ride via Karatara, so I went back and did the section from Wilderness back to George on the old road again. From George I took another gravel back road that took me all the way to Reebok. In my backside I could feel that I just did another 5 hour ride in two days, but it was worth it.