Described as a ‘world in one country’, South Africa is a highly favoured tourist destination. There are few places in the world where you get beaches, mountains, wild life, great food and wine, spectacular scenery all thrown in one. And the prices are good even though the South Africans themselves complain that they’re rising all the time.
But there are some serious issues, some of them easily solved. Here are a few that I noticed on my Christmas 2016 trip.
- Getting through Oliver Tambo International Airport – it took 3 hours for a passenger like me with hand luggage only to get through passport control and pick up a car at Avis/Budget. For those of us with electronic passports, well, there just aren’t any facilities. Every person is screened, photographed, finger-printed by a truly glum, unfriendly controller. Car rental with all your information online, was reduced to filling in pen and ink forms manually all over again and while the staff were friendly and chatty, all of us would have preferred them just to get on with their jobs.
- Toll roads – please make sure you have South African money if you’re coming from abroad. I was really caught between a rock and a hard place when I got to the first toll road where the toll sensor supplied by Avis/Budget didn’t work and no foreign credit cards were accepted. I had not had a chance to get SA money and was planning on drawing some at the first gas station where you can usually find ATM’s. A kind driver in the truck behind me, paid for my toll and I followed him to the next money withdrawal machine. An angel, to say the least since the chance he took could have cost him!
- Service – Waitrons as they are called, lack training. When it takes you 30 minutes to get an order of 3 uncomplicated drinks, you know there’s something wrong. Gin and tonic has to be the most common of traditional mixes but for some reason, it took 3 waitrons to make sure that they understood what we wanted. Then it arrived with no ice and no slice of lemon. It’s as if they make their own lives complicated too. As you walk by, pick up the plates, notice the new patrons, take their orders, remember what they said…. There’s no sense of what the term ‘good service’ means. Smiling is not enough.
- Wifi – If you’re staying with family, it seems that most homes don’t have it and if they do, it’s capped and runs out very quickly. Even the Airbnb cottage I rented in Clarens for no less than €75/night, had no wifi at all. Airtime and data ‘bundles’ are separated and you have to make sure you have both if you’d like to use your iPhone the way it should be. Why so complicated? Why can’t it just be an all-in-one package? Getting wifi is also not guaranteed even if you’ve set up your system to work. It’s slow and unreliable.
- ATM’s – talk about complicated, there seems to be a different ATM for every bank in SA. You’re spoilt for choice but how unnecessary and what a waste of money to set up all those different stations.
- Toilets – these have to be the most awful I have come across bar China. At rest stops the sewage system has problems coping with the number of people passing through and blocked toilets are common. Even though the staff work hard to keep it clean, there’s little they can do when the infrastructure breaks down.
- Potholes – toll roads are fine, you should jolly well hope so! But veer off on a road less travelled and you’re at risk of breaking the entire car chassis and believe me, you wouldn’t want to do that on a lonely thoroughfare.
- Driving behaviour – Overtaking on the left in a country where you drive on the left, happens more frequently than you would like it to. Breaking speed limits is common place while indicators are considered useless little protruding sticks with no real function. You need hair on your teeth to drive in South Africa. In DecemberJanuary 2016 alone, there were close on 2000 deaths caused by traffic accidents related to incompetent and drunk driving.
- Crime – figures for ‘contact crimes’ which include murder have risen and every house, building and farm is behind a security fence or is armed with plenty of dogs. Security at car parks and at beaches is good and you don’t feel threatened. However, make sure you check not only the driver’s door when you use your remote control. A phenomenon called lock jamming is growing which means that when you think your car is safe and sound, the other doors are remotely controlled to be open.
If this sounds like a rant, it’s not meant to be. I still think that SA is one of the most desirable countries on earth to visit and when you compare quality and price, it puts a smile on your face every time. But lock your doors and keep your windows up i.e. get an air conditioned hire car and look around you when you get out and in. Don’t get too drunk and keep your wits about you. Stay in built-up areas especially at night time. Keep your belongings close and just use common sense.