Tuesday, January 27, 2009

South Africa: A Background

(Originally posted on MySpace on Friday, January 12, 2007)

It's been two months now since Skip and I returned from the best vacation we've ever taken. A little background is called for here before I can talk about this trip. I originally got involved as a tour manager for bands because I wanted to be able to travel and knew I didn't make enough money to do so own my own. I'll cover the history on how I got involved in the music industry at another time, but becoming a road manager worked and eventually I was able to travel all over this country and almost all of Europe.

I love Europe and have been to every Western country there except for Portugal and Ireland, as well as Hungary, Lithuania and Russia. I've been able to bring Skip over there as well and he's been to a number of countries now. Despite our love of Europe we decided that it was time to take a vacation that was not European based. The problems with this is that we're far from wealthy and I have so many friends and acquaintances in Europe that I can usually arrange cheap accommodations, helping to make any vacation we take there well within our meager budget. I know few people outside Europe that I can call on. I used to know some Australians since I worked briefly with the Underground Lovers, but it's been years now and I would feel awkward approaching them for help. So the only person we really know well enough outside of Europe is Thin White Rope's old booking agent from Holland, Camille, who moved to Thailand several years ago after meeting and marrying a beautiful Thai woman. He now has a family and has built his own home while teaching tourists how to Scuba dive.

So, after briefly looking into the idea of a Japanese vacation so we could visit Disneyland and DisneySea, an idea that turned out to be way too expensive, we decided we would go to Thailand and visit Camille and his family and try to take side trips to Cambodia and maybe Vietnam. Looking into it, the price was right and it certainly would be a very different kind of trip to what we were used to. But it all fell apart when we tried to use our frequent flyer miles and were told that all FF flights to Thailand were booked already. This was seven months before we wanted to take the trip! Flights are one of the greatest expenses of any trip and if we couldn't use frequent flyer miles, we couldn't afford the trip.

So we were back to square one. We started looking at Europe again. Skip has never been to Spain, one of my favorite European countries and we thought about renting a car and traveling around so I could show Skip my favorite places and take in some places I'd wasn't able to get to earlier. But all of Europe is expensive and we just didn't have the enthusiasm for it that I wanted us to have for a vacation.

We had thousands of frequent flyer miles and I finally said that we should just go to the place that was farthest away from Los Angeles. We looked at a map and there it was. South Africa was about as far away as we could fly without going to Antarctica. And it was a place that we had always wanted to go to. About twelve years ago, a Thin White Rope fan wrote to me asking if we could put him up at our house for a few weeks if he came out here to visit. We had always put up touring bands at our place and told him that it would be no problem. So in December of 1994, Rui flew over from South Africa and ended up staying here for eight weeks before finally heading back home.

I had never really thought of South Africa and knew little about it except that it was the place where Apartheid was recently dismantled. Rui showed up with pictures, stories and a six-pack of South African wine and our fascination with the country began. The wine was amazing stuff and it started Skip and I on our road to becoming world-class wine snobs. And the pictures and stories that Rui told us painted the country as a beautifully amazing place. From that point, we decided it was a place we had to visit. But everything I kept hearing about the country was that it was still a dangerous place and not really a great place for tourists who didn't want to stay under the protection of a private safari camp or expensive hotel. Rui kept trying to talk us into visiting him in Johannesburg, but we kept resisting, taking vacations to Scotland and Paris instead.

But now it seemed the time was right. And the more I looked into it, it just kept feeling more and more like the place we should go. Unfortunately, Rui met a girlfriend and followed her to Finland, so he wasn't there to help us plan the trip. But once I started transforming the South African Rand into American dollars, I began to realize that the trip was going to be extremely cheap, especially compared to what the dollar was going for in Europe these days. I found we were able to stay at a nice, 5-star hotel for about the same price as a Motel 6 now costs us here. Car rental was next to nothing and food and drink was ridiculously cheap. (Keep in mind that we are also food snobs and don't eat fast food at all, preferring nice restaurants.) And after checking into it, we found that there were frequent flyer openings, and that was that. I booked the flights to coincide with Skip's 50th birthday and we were set to visit a new country on a new continent.

Over the next six months, the excitement built. We originally wanted to rent a car and drive around the country, spending a few days in each major city. But looking into Cape Town, there was so much to do that we finally decided to just stay there and take a few day trips outside to see the Cape of Good Hope and a few other close attractions. That turned out to be a good thing. We also decided to do some more extreme things than we're used to doing and I booked abseiling (repelling) down Table Mountain and swimming in a shark cage with Great white sharks. And I started compiling lists of restaurants we needed to go to.

Time flew by and suddenly November 6th was here and we found ourselves on the way to the airport to board a plane to begin the 36 hours trip it would take us to get to Cape Town.

And that's the background I wanted to cover. On Sunday I'll post a full rundown of the trip and hopefully also get a few pictures up as well. Hope to see you then.

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