Safety for a tourist in South Africa

Somebody from USA is coming to visit South Africa this year and had some security-related questions for me. For your interest, here are my responses:

My tourist-related questions . . . I don’t want you to do any research or any other work, but just to give me your impressions or best guess on the questions below. What you already know will be ten times what I know! I have never been to S Africa, from which my husband left in 1959 out of high school, and has scarcely been back since. We have read the guide books and know what sights to see, so we don’t have that type of question. Many of our questions relate, though, to crime (which the newspapers here may sensationalize) and some to costs (which look very steep after recent dollar declines). Anyway, could you perhaps just reply to this message with some off-the-cuff answers to the questions below? A couple of other background matters. We are talking about touring in a rental car, and the questions relate as much to Gauteng, Kruger, and KZNatal as the Cape. Also, take as a given that we won’t go to really "bad areas" anytime, or most downtowns at night – just as in the U.S." By the way, crime in the U.S. must also be something to think about for visitors from abroad, and my questions imply that I’m ignorant, and they don’t imply anything critical. We will be visiting SAfrica because we know it to be a wonderful place.

1. Is an airport-to-hotel shuttle service by day with one’s baggage safe, e.g., Joburg Airport to Sandton?

yes – most hotels offer a good shuttle service

2. Same with airport-rank taxi?

yes – probably a lot more expensive

3. Are there any special precautions involved in buying petrol with cash at a suburban filling station? (E.g., stay in the car, avoid stations with people sitting around . . .?) (And does one pay the attendant or in the office?)

At all petrol stations, an attendent (in uniform) will come to the drivers door. You can ask him/her to put in however much petrol you require, and pay them cash or on a ‘petrol card’. Normal credit cards are not accepted. They will usually offer to check the oil/water, and to wash the windscreen. Usually you would offer a small tip after the transaction is complete. Cost of petrol is about R3.50 per litre.

4. I am assuming that motorway driving is safe . . . what about other main roads, does one plan an itinerary to avoid anything in particular? What about really rural roads, e.g., as one might find between Kruger NP and Durban (west of Swaziland) . . . any concerns?

All major roads are safe, however NEVER stop on the side of a moterway, and make sure that you always have plenty of petrol. The main risk on large roads is hijacking (very rare), so be careful. Regarding the conditions of the roads, they are all fine, you can easily go from Joberg to Kruger to Durban and all over on very good roads. Some of the roads are toll roads, so be sure to have enough cash. Its best to have a good AA map if you are going to go off the beaten track.

5. Is it smart/essential to carry a cellphone in a car?

Always a good idea – just in case of a breakdown. The police are very good about waiting with you while you organise a tow truck/change the tyre etc. You can rent cell phones from most airports. We use GSM, so I don’t think that all USA cell phones work here.

6. When one parks the car, anything in particular to avoid (other than visible belongings)? For on-street urban parking, would one tip a "street-person" to keep an eye on the car?

At some places (eg shopping centre parking lots), they have uniformed guards (social upliftmint, job creation etc…), usually give a small tip when you leave. Most off-stread parking is payment at the meter. The meters do not accept cash – only preloaded cards which you can buy from some shops. However there are often parking attendents present that will swipe their card at the meter in exchange for an equivilent fee.

7. When stopping overnight at a hotel/motel, is the car safe (assuming no locked-compound situation), or do I try hard to find a place to stay that has that type of protection? Maybe assume our current plans would be to find a City Lodge, and comment and go from there.

Most hotels have secure parking (esp in Joberg). City Lodge, Holiday inn should be fine. Just don’t leave your valuables in the car.

8. Are rental cars special targets (in some countries, they carry special stickers or license plates which identify them as such, is this true in SA)?

No special identification at all. (except for the really cheap agencies that have advertising all over the car). AVIS, Budget etc are all fine.

9. Tolls on motorways . . . I have heard everything from "few if any" to "expensive". Just to get an idea, how about "Joburg to Cape Town" and "Cape Town to PE" . . . estimate or even guess is fine?

No toll roads in Cape Town – estimate Joberg to Durban +-R300. As far as I know most toll roads do have free longer equivilent routes.

10. Will use cash machines to get cash out of my U.S. bank with a card. Where does one find these machines (safely!)?All over the place (shopping centres, banks, petrol stations etc).

We have more cash machines per capita than any other country (or so I am told). The usual precautions apply. Most machines accept VISA, Mastercard, AMEX etc…

written by Craig

Wooden Dodo’s

Dodo1 Dodo2 This is a small Dodo puzzle that I made with my new scroll saw. From start to finish, it took about 45 minutes to make. I am actually quite impressed with how it worked out. For those of you who don’t know, the Dodo (Portuguese for stupid) is a small, flightless bird from the island of Mauritius, just east of Madagascar. It was made extinct by man a few hundred years ago.

When I was last in Mauritius, I went to the museum at Port Louis and saw a stuffed Dodo, as well as a few skeletons. Unfortunately I do not have any photos if it, since you are not allowed to take photos inside the museum.

One of my favourite authors, Jasper Fforde has writted a series of books about literary detectives, who are responsible for ensuring the correctness of novels, and that the characters and grammer etc behave correctly. In these books, Dodo’s are not extinct, and you can buy (or make from a home-cloning kit) them as pets. Our here, Thursday Next, has a pet Dodo called Pickwick.

More info on the Dodo and Mauritius can be found here.

More info on the Jasper Fforde books can be found here.

Christmas and Grasshoppers

Grasshopper_1 Its almost Christmas time, and I have finished making a wodden grasshopper for Megan, my niece. It was made without any plans, and somewhat to my suprise, it actually works! When you move it forward, the legs move up and down, in a similar action to a steam train. If you want any more info (dimentions etc), give me a shout, and I’ll see what I can do.