For years, I had wanted to travel to South Africa. Sure, London and Barcelona are lively, full of culture and history and tantalizing foods, but South Africa was always in the back of my mind while I traveled. Though I would like to say that my knowledge of the country came from textbooks, history class, and CNN, the truth is movies like A Dry White Season and Cry Freedom exposed the past of the country, where apartheid was a part of life (of course, coming from a country where segregation was common 65 years ago, I felt a connection); the movies also exposed me to the raw, natural beauty that the country offers, so distinct from my little world in the city. I made South African pen pals, read more about the history, became increasingly enchanted, and finally put enough money aside to complete a 1200 mile road trip with my friend Jan de Wet and my American friend Virginia. Our trip began in Cape Town, we we traveled up to the Northern Cape and back to where we started in the course of nine days.
To describe my trip in any significant detail would be beyond the scope of my blog. But the diversity of wildlife and ecosystems we encountered was astounding. In a single day around Cape Town, we encountered seals and dossies (badger-like rodents), penguins, ostriches, and geckos. Meanwhile, in Outdshoorn, we were dodging baboons crossing the road. To put things in perspective, Table Mountain in Cape Town has more biodiversity than all of the British Isles. The experiences I had—petting a cheetah, feeding an elephant, riding an ostrich—are sadly some I may never have again.
The vistas were, as you’d imagine, equally memorable: atop Table Mountain at night, we saw Cape Town twinkling below; above us in Clanwilliam, the stars shone brightly in some of the darkest skies in the world. Throughout the journey, we wound through mountains, some lush, others barren. Other times, we would find ourselves driving on mile upon mile (or kilometer upon kilometer) of dirt roads traversing the plain, with only sheep and windmills as our companions; in Williston, a village where the hand-crafted tombstones of long-dead settlers seem to outnumber the villagers, we were isolated in this oasis of the arid shrubland that enveloped us. At times, yes, we felt alone. But we also felt a profound connection to those long before us in such locations as the Sevilla Trail in Cederberg: seeing the rock art, or ochre paintings of cattle, hunters with bow and arrow (and big breasted women), created by Bushmen 8000 to 800 years ago was one of the most touching parts of the trip. Oh, and the hotels we stayed in—four stars for $70—I cannot complain (though I will say that my favorite stay was in a former shepherd’s home at the De Poort Country Lodge.)
As a side quest of my trip, I promised Dr. Nancy O’Connor, who teaches invertebrate anatomy at UMass Dartmouth, some new specimens for her class. As a student who only took vertebrate anatomy, I was a bit clueless about what I was collecting. Even so, I think I amassed a decent collection at Cape Aguilhas, the southernmost point of Africa and also where the Indian and Atlantic Oceans meet. If you can identify any of the species, let me know! Seashells all look about the same to me. I know there’s some type of urchin there. And, as Dr. O’Connor studies the invasive Asian shore crab, I made sure to bring her the exoskeleton of a crab.
More than anything else, this trip was just a time to share in adventure. We spent nearly every moment together, both inside the car and outside of it, and had to deal with a flat tire, smoking brakes, and a shattered window. We survived the trip and all of us, including Jan, made new friends and discovered new places.
This is the point where I blatantly advertise my love for Lenovo. In addition to my human companions, there were three major companions on my trip: My journal from Italy, my ThinkPad professional backpack, and my T420s. My journal accompanies me on every journey. I tend to jot the locations I explored for the day and major events to accompany any photographs we take. My ThinkPad backpack is durable and spacious and easily fits a change of clothes, my laptop, a few National Geographics, and souvenirs (and, yes, I used my backpack incessantly. Even on the Sevilla Rock Art Trail, my ThinkPad was strapped to my back in 90 degree weather). Now, as I’ve mentioned my T400 is my baby, but I bought the T420s specifically for this trip—at 5.7 pounds with the 9 cell battery, my T400 isn’t exactly the lightest travel companion and with its age, it’s not the speediest either. In contrast, at 4 pounds, an i5 processor, a much thinner profile, and a SSD drive, my T420s is as durable as my T400, able to survive scorching heat and dusty roads, but lighter, faster, and even better on battery life.
I used my laptop on the go to book hotel rooms, get directions, type in my diary, respond to Emails at the end of the day, and make some Skype calls; the traditional laptop, I find, is much more comfortable than navigating a cell phone or tablet in a hurry. Why did I buy a slightly older laptop (2011)?: I learned from my losing a Canon SLR in Spain last year that I prefer traveling with electronics that can be replaced without breaking the bank. Moreover, I had to be realistic about South Africa; though it is a country I love and would return to in a heartbeat, theft is common. For this reason, I often suggest choosing a modern, but refurbished laptop from the Lenovo Outlet or even the IBM Store as a backup PC. I have purchased a few laptops from eBay, and while prices are frequently lower, often times, so is their quality. I’ve received a T60 with screws missing and a fan that wouldn’t stop whirring, a T41 with a BIOS password (if you receive a ThinkPad with a BIOS password, just give up if the previous owner doesn’t remember the password), and multiple laptops advertised described as having “good” batteries that actually couldn’t hold a charge. Purchases from Lenovo and IBM are generally more trustworthy, and, on the upside, purchases from the Lenovo Outlet are backed by a 1 year warranty
Okay, now that I’m done promoting Lenovo, I would recommend buying a ticket to South Africa, whether a Lenovo product will be joining you or not. Drink some of the best wines. Experience some of the most beautiful scenery in world. Eat exotic meats. Make some new friends. Be inspired. And if you need any recommendations, contact me.
About Gregory Costa
Gregory Costa is a decent biologist, mediocre writer, terrible formatter, but true Lenovo enthusiast, who admires the use of their products in both the academic and industrial setting...when he's not busy delighting himself in science, nature, or his OkCupid profile.