- In Part 2 of his story, Mzee Shompole comes face to face with racism, visits South Africa’s iconic coast and finally embarks on the adventurous journey back home.
In this second and final part of Peter Shompole’s road trip from Kenya to South Africa and back, the 83-year-old recounts his encounters with racism, seeing the ‘meeting’ of ocean waters, getting to the
Tropic of Capricorn and facing the risk of flash floods.
When we planned the road-trip to Cape Town, we knew my daughter, Samante, would host us in Kimberley and Cape Town.
But between Kiserian and Kimberley we had no advance booking for accommodation. Our plan was to cover 1,000 kilometres a day, and sleep wherever nightfall found us. Adventure!
Every morning, we mapped a route and noted the big towns. Sometimes, my grandchildren called ahead to book rooms for that night but, too often, in Tanzania and Zambia, the phones were unanswered.
A TASTE OF RACISM
After the 18-hour delay at Martin’s Drift, the Botswana-South Africa border point, only two lodges were available close by. One was fully booked and the second one, we were told, did not admit blacks, especially at night.
We had to drive 100 kilometres to Lephalale. My grandchildren made some calls and secured a booking, only to get there and find the same barrier.
At the gate, in full view of the security cameras, and suddenly there was no vacancy, no entry for us.
Fortunately, we were welcomed at Palm Park Hotel not too far off, but now we were triggered to discuss the history of apartheid for a long time the next day.
South Africans impressed me with their road courtesy. Drivers yield instinctively.
They indicate to communicate their intentions and to greet fellow drivers. Once you overtake successfully, you indicate twice to say, “thank you”, then glance in your rear-view mirror to see the driver you overtook acknowledging you with two flashes of their indicator.
They speak differently, very commanding — “When you see the robot, you must turn left, go around the ring, and straight ahead”.
This means: when you see the traffic lights, go left, then go straight after the roundabout. My son, Daktari, mastered the signals and terms and on Christmas Eve, we covered 730 kilometres with ease.
We saw lots of birds, ostriches, and other wildlife, and arrived in Kimberley at 1am.
Our family reunion was happy and noisy! More than half my family was scattered between Kenya and America, but I was very happy to meet the new addition, Jaelynn Naisula.
Some of my grandchildren had not seen each other, or their uncles and aunts for years, so this was an important reunion.
ONSET OF THE REAL ADVENTURE
We resumed our sightseeing as soon as Christmas festivities were over, this time, in two car loads.
My son-in-law, Edwin, and my son, Sosio, took turns driving the second car.
First on the agenda was The Big Hole in Kimberley. It is literally that — a huge crater, dug by hand. It used to be a hill, but consistent mining between 1871 and 1914 turned it into a crater, half-filled with algae-green water. I toured the diamond vault in a rented wheelchair.
I was surprised by the poor cell-phone network in South Africa and the prevalence of call-boxes. I made a game out of spotting them along the 965km journey from Kimberly to Cape Town.
It’s been so many years since I saw a call-box in Kenya! I also searched for familiar things like boda bodas, kiosks and hawkers. There were none.
The size of white-owned farms shocked me — huge, like the distance from Kisumu to Nairobi, secured all along by an electric perimeter fence, all wildlife locked in.
The Cape region is beautiful wine country. Natasha felt homesick. This landscape reminded her of Napa Valley which is close to her base in northern California.
South Africans are very clever at tourism. Unlike us Kenyans, they have maximised everything they have — God-given natural phenomena like mountains, caves and oceans, and the brutal man-made suffering of apartheid history.
Even when you are not actively looking for something that you need to pay entry fees for, there are wonders to behold.
At one of the small towns, the centre of a two-way road is not marked in the traditional yellow colour, they use wine-coloured paint. One look at it and you want to stop and have a long glass of red wine!
Other wonders are the mountain passes where the road cuts through rock, leaving the roof of the mountain intact.
They are maintained through road tolls. It feels like driving through a cave, though many caves elsewhere are open for guided tours.
IN FAMILIAR COMPANY
Robben Island and the Table Mountains need advance booking.
As I sat in the car waiting for my family to get entry tickets for the cable cars, I was approached by Kenyans from all over our country — Nanyuki, Nakuru, Embu, Nairobi and elsewhere. “Habari?”; “Supaay?”, “Andu a gwitu!” we saluted each other in many languages. None had taken a road trip; they flew from Nairobi.
Many Kenyans there work in the corporate sector. Others run their businesses — curios, restaurants, car hire, and guided safaris. I was so proud of them.
We saw a bus bearing the name Ng’ang’a, across the windshield and we made it a point to find nyama choma at one of the Kenyan-owned restaurants.
We found Kenyan tourists there who had found rooms at Air BnBs leased out by the corporate Kenyans who were back home for Christmas.
The queues at Table Mountains were very long, even though the price is quite high — equivalent of Sh9,000 per person.
We gave up and went in search of the Cape of Good Hope, the place made famous by Bartholomew Dias, a Portuguese explorer who found big storms there in the 15th century, as he tried to navigate a route to India.
The Cape of Good Hope is not the southernmost point of the African continent. That distinction belongs to Cape Agulhas. We went to both Capes.
Cape Agulhas is the official geographic divide between the Atlantic and Indian oceans, but it is Cape Point that is marketed as “the place where two oceans meet”. And what a dramatic meeting it is!
I was completely spellbound. Splash, go the waters, as the cold, white ones from the Atlantic are pushed back further by the warm, deep blue Indian Ocean, leaving pebbles and fish on the rocky beach.
This was the highlight of my 23-day adventure! I was doubly happy when I saw a Catholic Church at Cape Agulhas.
We encountered very friendly people in most places.