Early this morning I was up . . . filled with excitement to be sailing into Cape Town. I was up on the bridge at 7 am when the pilot was scheduled to come on board to do the sail in commentary to spectacular Cape Town. Happily I was joined by Lynne, our Princess HR representative who actually lives in Cape Town. Cape Town is an exciting city and the sail in was spectacular. The pilot kept us waiting 40 minutes . . . so I guess Africa is a little like Panama [NOT the Canal though!] While we were waiting we were treated to a spectacular clear day with Table Mountain clearly visible and hundreds of seals splashing around the bow of PACIFIC PRINCESS.
For many cruise travelers their contact with Africa has primarily been North Africa and the areas around the Mediterranean. One of the things that attracted me to this particular world cruise itinerary was the opportunity to circumnavigate the African continent.
When you think of the entire continent of Africa, you think of a vast wildness, of turmoil, of a vast collection of tribes and cultures and languages, and of ways of living that to us seem strange and different. To an outsider politically Africa seems a collection of countries who change names and governments more often than we redecorate.
And for many of us, if not most of us, from Europe and the Americas, as well as Asia and the Middle East . . . have a personal connection with Africa through, unfortunately, the slave trade. Our ancestors were in most cases either people who were enslaved or people who enslaved others. And that’s a painful reality that we confront not only when we visit Africa, but when we turn on the TV news. Africa is a continent that was continuously raped by slavery and exploited by European powers and there are many who argue that the political confusion and at times horrible events we sometimes witness in Africa today are a direct result of that history of exploitation.
Africa is different! The people are different, the culture and ways of living are different. There are different parts of Africa, different cultures, tribes and languages. You have big, bustling modern cities . . . and places where lions and elephants still roam wild. It’s an incredible place! And at times, coming from our cultures, there are areas where it may seem primitive and, dare I say it, with trash in the streets. [As we make our way around the world, the thing that always seems to blow the minds of Europeans and North Americans is the trash!] Africa is different: different from the way we live and the way we do things. And it’s that differentness that is the reason WHY we take a world cruise. As travelers, and not tourists, we want to experience what is DIFFERENT!
One of the great challenges Africa faces today is how to deal with the AIDS epidemic. The other day in Durban our guide pointed out that one out of every three people in Natal was HIV positive. Those of us who went out to the Xhosa village [more on this later] were greeted by darling children many of whom were orphans whose parents died of the AIDS epidemic that is sweeping Africa.
What amazes me about Africa?
First, how different it is . . . not just from what I’m used to . . . but how different Africa is within itself! All of these cultures, tribes, languages . . . tiny rural villages and gigantic cities . . . educated and uneducated . . . a whole spectrum of colors . . . and, except for frozen tundra and ice floes, almost every kind of landscape you can think of and it’s all here. And on a cruise like this, I feel like a little tiny fish, just nibbling at the edges of this vast continent!
Second, I guess it is the challenge of it all. Here is this mixed pot of people working to be able to live together, work together and achieve a life together that is peaceful, positive, and uplifting for everyone. Not just a “rainbow nation” as Bishop Tutu called South Africa, but a rainbow continent . . . and as we know, a continent with tremendous economic potential in the world but . . . how does an entire continent struggle with an HIV plague?
Third, I’m amazed at all the European cultures that have at times forcibly interjected themselves into Africa, mostly during the “struggle for Africa” in the 19th century, and how and in many ways, both positively and negatively, they are still influencing the history of Africa. In Africa you find little bits of Holland, Britain, Portugal and Germany still evident in Africa in the 21st century – amazing!
On a personal level, it blows my mind to ride across an open plain and see animals I’ve only seen in zoos, living and thriving in the wild. I’m impressed with the warmth and bubbling enthusiasm of the people. I think if you can travel and connect somehow with just one or two people, it’s worth more than all the fantastic monuments, churches, palaces and yet another museum.