In some ways, I guess it's a little early to summarize our visit. It is possible that, in the next 3 days, we'll discover a bunch of things we don't like. Maybe, but I don't think so. At this point, I know George and I are going to see Star Wars in 4D tomorrow, and we're all going to Robben Island Sunday afternoon to see where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned. We also want to take the cable car to the top of Table Mountain, and Molly would love to go back to the beach (300 m away)
South Africa has not been exactly what I expected - a place where we'd have to take the bad with the good. So far, there hasn't really been any bad. I guess I could complain that the T-bone steak I had last night (overlooking the ocean) wasn't the best I've ever had. Maybe for $11 it should have been better. (My most recent first-world problem.)
In terms of personal safety and feeling comfortable, South Africa has been a very pleasant surprise. Obviously, we know there is much violent crime in this country. However, what becomes clear when you're here is that it's not racially based, but wealth based. People get robbed because they have money and valuable stuff, not because they're black or white. In that way, the threat feels different than it did in Israel, where it was based on ethnicity or religion. Having said that, to me it feels much like the United States did in the 70's or 80's. You simply have to be careful.
In some ways, I wish I'd visited here 25 years ago when apartheid was still in force, because then I would have a better sense of how much things have changed. We can see that things are far from perfect. We've seen shanty towns on the edge of the cities, some with shacks without running water and kids playing in filthy places, while others are simple 500 square foot houses. We've seen white people driving expensive cars and living in beautiful homes overlooking the ocean, and black people driving old pick-up trucks and living in shanties in the townships. But we've also seen lots of working class and middle class black Africans going about their work, eating in restaurants, and swimming side-by-side with their white and Indian neighbours. Lots of mixed race families too.
In some of the best ways, South Africa reminds me of California. A place with an unbelievable variety of beautiful landscapes and natural resources. Mountains, oceans, deserts, vineyards, farms, wildlife, parks, cities, towns, canyons and hundreds of miles of sparkling white beaches. If these folks ever get their politics and social inequity issues sorted out, they will be an awesome force to be reckoned with. I really hope they do. If I could, I'd bet on it.
If you'd asked me a month ago whether I thought I would ever visit South Africa again, I probably would have said "no". Now, I know I want to come back. I want to visit all these places again (staying longer), and I want to see more. For Canadian snowbirds who go to Florida for 3 or 4 months, they should come here for a winter. The lower cost of living would quickly offset the higher flight costs. It's mid summer in the southern hemisphere, and on the coast, that means 25 and sunny everyday. What could be better? Oh ya, and if you like, you can go see some elephants or pet some cheetahs...