COLUMN: TRAVELS

by Sonja Kroop

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As seen in the Repercussions Issue
In the 1988 film Clean and Sober, Michael Keaton—a real estate agent with a substance abuse problem—checks himself into a drug clinic after losing his job. Towards the end of the film, Keaton, now sober, delivers a speech to a crowded auditorium full of recovering addicts, “It’s 30 days later,” he says, giving a reflexive, wincing smile, “I’ve been to a funeral, I’ve been to about nine million job interviews, I’m 52 thousand dollars in debt, and I’ve got this chip... I’ve got this chip, and I’ve got this startling belief that I’m an alcoholic and a drug addict. God knows what we’ve got going next month, but if it’s anything like this last one… jesus christ.”

In the original “twelves steps” as published by Alcoholics Anonymous, the first step is to “admit powerlessness over alcohol—that your life has become unmanageable.” The succeeding steps are variations on the theme of giving yourself over to a higher power, admitting helplessness, making amends, and proselytizing your newfound convictions. It was with the steps in mind that, when traveling to South Africa, I gave myself over to the Kingdom in the Sky.

Step 12: Having had an awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message home

Spinning through my miracle-laden trip to South Africa I had some thoughts akin to the twelfth step. I mean that being in South Africa spawned an awakening; a desire to continue with what was happening, and an impulse to have others understand and be a part of this fantasticness. And now the other 11.

Step 1: We admitted that our lives had become unmanageable

This kicks in as I see, from thousands of feet above, the abstractly familiar and distinct shape that is a portion of the continent of Africa. My guide—the forever-amiable Erick Van Zyl, greets me. South African Tourism has thankfully put me in the hands of one of the most entertaining storytellers I’ve ever had the pleasure of travelling with. A man with a geniusly nuanced delivery when he speaks of anything—including the interpersonal dramas of a turtle at the Cape Town aquarium.

Step 2: Came to believe that something greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity

I find myself within an international assemblage of journalists en route to South Africa’s coastal vineyards for a few days of remarkable wine, food, and landscapes. We check into the impossibly pleasant La Petite Dauphine—this is a series of cottages scattered throughout the spacious property surrounded by the dramatic Franschhoek mountains. The interiors have winsome decor, ample books and, importantly, an outstanding restaurant located on the grounds. The restaurant is a must visit whether you stay on the grounds or elsewhere. I would also recommend a visit to Foliage restaurant with chef Chris Eramus. Do be sure to spend a moment in South Africa’s coastal wine country and try the world recognized Chenin Blanc and Pinotage while chatting with the winemakers. Natively grown olives, chilies, coffee (try Terbodore Coffee Roasters), chocolate, and trout are other culinary masterpieces you can check out while in the Franschhoek valley.

Step 3: Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the whim of fate and public transit

Currently on the top of my list of favorite cities is Cape Town. It’s a perfect collision of fascinating culture and unprecedented geographical beauty that is an intrinsic part of the way the city was constructed. Cape Town, however, also possesses the shifty grit that a proper urban environment requires. The quality of food, wine, and hospitality will meet anyone’s expectations for an urban adventure.

Step 4: Made a searching and fearless inventory 

The street style in Cape Town particularly caught my attention—personal and noteworthy clothing choices are in prime effect. The overriding style is not the result of high-end fashion and it is not particularly trendy, but is a next level kind of style. There seems to be a general consensus among Capetonians that you should simply never put bland clothing on yourself.

Step 5: Admitted to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our shortcomings

This fashion approach I refer to is such a pivotal and seemingly basic idea that it baffles me how it is that many demographics elsewhere in the world really do not hold this dear at all. In Cape Town, clothes seem to be an opportunity to do something interesting and particular every day. A mix of bold color, unexpected combinations, and a clever use of pattern make for some truly magnificent outfits. They are worn in such a way that the wearer is able to share a bit of their personality and sense of humor with you even if you are merely a passerby.

A friend of mine explained that the enthusiasm for self-expression via clothes has partly to do with the fact that everyone spends their formative years in a school uniform. In addition, I think it’s a very confident way of using style as a form of pride that is immune to economic class.

Step 6: Were entirely ready to remove these defects of character

Of course, you want to go to the places filled with a diverse mix of locals—check out Mzoli’s Place to see what I mean regarding fashion, food, and music. Have some big league meat while enjoying the scene and some Kwaito beats. You’ll get a full mix of Township culture and Cape Town locals from all over.

Step 7: Humbly addressed our shortcomings

Kwaito, as mentioned above, is a form of slowed down House music meets hip hop. Looped percussion beats underlie rhymed lyrics in a slang hybrid of English, Zulu, Sesotho, and Tsotsitaal. It won’t take much to seek this out in Cape Town or Johannesburg, and in the meantime please do yourself a solid by YouTubing some Kwaito music videos. It’s not just the music—the choreography and costumes are unprecedentedly great.

Step 8: Made a list of all persons we had harmed

Spinning—South Africa’s fantastic, harebrained motorsport—emerged in gangster glory within the townships as a brilliant way to mourn the dead at funerals. While in South Africa, take to the vacant lots and go to a spinning event to watch natty individuals whirlwind a vehicle—likely a 320i. Enough said.

Step 9: Made direct amends to such people wherever possible

Without a doubt the food in South Africa is tip-top but we can probably agree that much of what makes a meal distinct and memorable is the environment in which we eat it. With this in mind, South Africa Tourism arranged for us to eat with locals in their home. We had the pleasure of being hosted by a family in the township of Langa, who cooked us dinner before we were entertained by a local percussion band.

Step 10: Continued to take personal inventory

Cape Town is ideal for walking. Woodstock, Long Street, Observatory, Kloof Nek, Camps Bay, and the Townships are all places you should wander through to find shops and bars. I found a bar called Neighbourhood with an epic library that’s just off Long Street and another interesting night spot called Waiting Room. Both of these bars had an elegant mixed crowd, inspired decor, and wisely chosen music.

Step 11: Sought to improve our knowledge 

South Africa does actually have a lot in store for everyone and I can’t possibly explain how astonishing the wilderness up north is and how it really steps us into the zone of the twelfth. With South Africa Tourism we stayed at the Thornybush Game Lodge which is exactly where you should go for a luxurious yet very legit safari experience. The rooms and the restaurant are impeccable. You can’t leave your cabin at night without an armed chaperon as you could potentially be eaten by an animal. My favorite guide at Thornybush was Charles who took me on a wilderness walk where he taught me some of his skills regarding how to eat decadently while living in the wilderness with no manmade weapons. He had learned all these skills from his Mom and Grandma while growing up nearby. This kind of eating involves strategies such as using a poisonous tree branch to kill a gathering of fish with little bother. Charles takes people out into the bush for weeks with no weapons at all and says they eat like kings the entire time.

The majority of the time at Thornybush you have guided, yet surprisingly intimate, encounters with the local wildlife. You ride around in radical, off-road vehicles that could be likened to the military equivalent of a stretch Escalade. This involves both a driver and a tracker. The tracker rides on an exterior seat mounted to the front of the vehicle and is a large part of why you end up being able to see everything much less anything. The tracker keeps a lookout for animal droppings and other clues in addition to having an exceptionally trained eye for spotting animals at tremendous distances. He navigates the driver towards the wildlife. This safari experience was super successful in that all the big five wildlife were abundant and certainly not shy. The knowledge improvements were alarmingly felt.

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