South Africa: On a Crazy Road Trip, Mother Nature, and Hope
MAQTOOB On The Move Series: South Africa
It was dark. And silent. Eerily silent. This time, the spectacular view of Cape Town literally saved our lives as the city lights were strong enough to reach us at the top of the mountain. We didn't talk to each other. Focused on every step we took, each of us was reciting our own prayers in our foolish heads. One wrong step and everything would come to a sad end.
What was supposed to be a fun Sunday visit to one the world's biggest wonders turned out to be a challenging test of our courage. When returning from the peak of the famous Table Mountain, we badly miscalculated the time needed to walk back down. It was our first time and we had got to the top by a cable car, which is why we didn't have the slightest idea how steep and precariously rocky the journey back would be. Our thoughtlessness led us into a situation where we depended solely on Mother Nature to offer its protective hand.
In the end, it took us more than two hours to descend the mountain, surrounded by calm blackness disrupted only by the light provided by one of our iPhones. When we finally touched firm ground, we were greeted by an official signpost saying that in case we were mugged, we were to offer no resistance.
Then the real fear came. Fear of people. Luckily enough we were able to find Internet signal, call an Uber driver and get home safely half an hour later.
Being busy digital nomads, we don't usually get into such situations these days. We've both traveled the world extensively, but this time our tour has education, not exploration, as its main goal. However, unexpected adventures, such as the one Table Mountain prepared for us, help us remain humble and wise when we move to new lands.
South Africa was the fifth stop on our startup expedition, following Lebanon, Morocco, Iran, and Kenya. Here, local entrepreneurs, especially black ones, receive a lot of well-deserved government attention, as a means to break racial barriers, among others. Startup communities concentrate around Johannesburg and Cape Town. Therefore, MAQTOOB scheduled two events in each of them respectively.
Our first workshop was a part of the Startup Weekend that was organized by a Dutch organization YES! Mamelodi + . Their goal is to support future business leaders in a township set up by the then apartheid government on the outskirts of Pretoria. Our second event happened in a completely different environment – a hip urban neighborhood on the east side of Johannesburg.
When people want to get from Johannesburg to Cape Town, they usually take a plane. We opted for a road trip of 3054.9 km in total. We didn't want to leave South Africa as we did Kenya, that is without seeing much of anything except the capital. Our first night on the road caught us in Botswana, which – to our big surprise – we found to be a well developed and rather safe country, compared to its neighbor. The second day we continued to a tiny state called Lesotho, which is completely surrounded by South Africa and temperature-wise quite a bit cooler due to its altitude. Here we stayed at an Airbnb host’s (yes, you can find them truly anywhere!) for two nights.
Although all these three countries are largely involved in diamond mining and trade, major proportion of their populations live in extreme poverty. As much as their main cities look nice and modern, they suffer from the highest rates of HIV positive people in the world. Rape and domestic violence are unfortunately also quite common.
As we continued down via Port Elisabeth, getting closer to our destination, we once randomly stopped by the shore only to discover a red British double-decker, which had been converted into a fish & chips joint. Even though the weather was bleak, we couldn't resist but sit outside for a while, watch the ocean and enjoy not only a great dinner but also a private guitar performance by the fabulous owner.
All of the three thousand kilometers are captured on our GoPro so feel free to check this 18-minute time-lapse video.
In Cape Town, we were asked by Thinkroom & Microsoft to arrange a training session for their talented pool of interns. We were also requested that we create some videos for Microsoft's educational platform, which we unfortunately had to decline due to our scheduled departure to Brazil.
Our last workshop was a real treat. A few courageous enthusiasts organized a Startup Weekend right in the midst of Khayelitsha township. We witnessed scores of talented aspiring entrepreneurs pitching their business ideas, learning, and innovatively prototyping over the span of only three days. In my opinion, we couldn't have finished our stay in more motivating atmosphere.
All in all, we will always remember South Africa as a country that provokes emotions. Breathtaking scenery contrasts with dire condition of sprawling townships. Well-developed infrastructure of urban areas contrasts with their poor security situation.
We experienced inspiring ambition surrounding the new generation of change makers. We experienced the tragic loss of South Africa in the Rugby World Cup. We experienced how it feels to be always on alert when walking in the streets.
South Africa is boiling and as always its ranks of determined entrepreneurs hold up the torches of hope.