South Africa - Round The World Tour 2003 Day 34

Cape Town

Tuesday 15th April

So far, today has been by far the most stressful day of the whole trip – and it isn’t over yet. We started the day with an early rise as we had a lot of chores to complete, on this our very last day here in Cape Town, before departing early tomorrow morning on the overland tour through Namibia and Botswana. The two major problems that we needed to address were the failed laptop power supply and the conversion of the ready cash that we’ve been accumulating over the past few days into US dollars as payment for part of our tour expenses (some things ‘must’ be paid in US dollars). In addition to this, we had to pack, check out, package up and send all our purchases from the past few days back to Europe, eat, locate the place where our pre-departure briefing will be, find and check into new accommodation, visit the mall to surrender the rental cell phone and somehow figure out how we were going to return the car to the rental agency. Did I miss anything out? Oh yes, and have a good time enjoying our last day in Cape Town.

People have often asked me what will happen to my career after being out of the IT industry for a couple of years. “How will you explain the gap in your résumé?” they would ask. One of the things I would tell them is that a trip of this magnitude builds character and, for example, I could tell a prospective employer that I tackled challenges and overcome obstacles and dealt with crises under pressure and so on and so forth. Well, today was definitely one of those character building, stress laden days.

I didn’t get much sleep last night. The problem with the laptop power supply weighed heavily on my mind. Without it, we could not power the laptop batteries with all the consequences thereof. Both Sandy and I are really getting into photography and fill up both one-gigabyte memory cards almost every day. Without being able to unload the memory cards onto the laptop, the photography would grind to a halt after just a day or so – perhaps a few days if we stretched it out. With so much of Africa still ahead of us, it was simply not an option to not have the ability to continue on with the digital photography – not to mention my nightly journal entries that I find so relaxing.

We started to get active by about seven thirty and spent the next hour or so sorting out our things and packing them away into their respective backpacks. We gave away all the remaining foodstuffs that we had not eaten (cereals, eggs, bread, etc.) to the German couple that occupied the room across the hallway. We had met them at the top of Table Mountain yesterday, incidentally, and had given them a lift back home with us. We spent much of yesterday evening with them around the laptop and I offloaded their digital camera cards onto a CD also so that they could take more photos.

After tying up a few loose ends with the staff, we bid farewell to the Germans (by the way, there are lots of Germans and Dutch here in South Africa) and were on our way to the local Apple retail outlet. I had located this store last night during a brief visit to the local Internet Café and was particularly pleased that Cape Town had at least some form of Apple representation. Surely they would have a new power supply in stock?

When we arrived at the Apple store, they told us that they do not actually stock any parts of any kind and only order as necessary with a minimum of three weeks delivery time. My heart sank to the ground and it was as if the floor had opened up beneath my feet and swallowed me whole. They did their best to try to come up with some alternatives but the best that they could ultimately manage was the phone number of an alternative Apple reseller in the area. Luckily, this was not too far away so we called them and went there straight away. I was encouraged by the look of the place when we arrived as there were several technicians present and some were working on repairing some Apple computers. Surely they would have a spare power supply? Strike two! They also only order as needed and had no spare parts either. They did, however, have a power supply from another laptop that they were repairing and were at least able to confirm that it was not the laptop that was the problem but the power supply itself. One of the technicians looked over my power supply and pointed out a piece of frayed cable just where it enters into the unit itself. This was clearly the problem and it would require cracking open the permanently moulded shut casing of the thing and replacing, or at least repairing, the damaged cable. Assuming that the short had not damaged the power supply itself, this would fix the problem. The problem was that the young man that was fixing things already had a full day’s workload in front on him with several deadlines looming and there just wasn’t enough time for him to stop and deal with my problem. Unfortunately, none of my begging or bribes was enough of an incentive for the office manager and the best they could manage was for me to leave the laptop there so that I could at least get the batteries recharged with the promise of a best effort to get around to looking at it as soon as they could.

With the clock ticking ever louder in the back of my head, I was, by now, starting to get a little stressed with the thought that we had exhausted all our options and that we would miss out on getting a permanent record of our remaining time in Africa. At this point, the office manager said that we could try another company a half an hour by car from here that specialises in the warranty and repair of computer parts. After another pathetic look of desperation on my face, he picked up the phone and called the guy and explained our predicament. We were in luck, again, as the guy on the other end of the line agreed to see us to take a look at our problem. We wasted no time in rushing out of the door with a few rough directions and we were off again at high speed. The fifteen-minute drive took almost an hour thanks to a slight error in the directions we were given but at least we got to see both sides of the M5 motorway.

After getting reasonably close, we called in for further directions and were talked through the remaining ten minutes of the journey, right up to the front door. When we walked in and a slightly scruffy looking man with a scraggy beard and a bit of an attitude stood to greet us, I knew this was a real computer technician and that I was in good hands. We discussed the problem a bit and I showed him the frayed cable. He took out a knife and immediately stated to hack into the perfectly healthy looking connector at the other end of the cable (the bit that goes into the back of the computer itself). I was initially a little alarmed at this and queried him as to what he was doing. “It’s usually this connector that’s the problem” he said, and I was in heaven with angles flying around me, and a subtle whisper of melodic harp echoed in the distance. To come half way around the world with an expensive, fine-tuned piece of western engineering and then to come across someone who clearly was at home with the hardware and familiar with how to repair it, was such a comforting relief that I cannot fully express it in words. If it were not for the counter that stood between us, I may even have gotten down on the floor right there and then to kiss his feet. I felt like a wilting flower that just burst into flourishing blossom again. After a little bit of tinkering, her asked us to take a seat while he took the inanimate object into the workroom. He said he needed a ‘bigger hammer’ but this is just his South African way of telling me he needed more tools to tackle the job correctly. I paced up and down for what seemed like hours like a father in a waiting room awaiting the birth of a new baby. After about a half an hour, I could stand it no longer. I summonsed up enough courage to walk into the workroom to check on his progress. He looked up, we caught each other’s eye and he smiled coyly. At this point I knew I was saved. Something about the look in his eye told me that he understood my pain and his look was more than enough to convey his satisfaction at solving the problem. It transpired that he had not actually repaired my power supply, but that he had used some parts of it to repair an existing one that was already broken. Although I no longer have my original power supply, the net result was that I had a functional power supply and I was more than grateful of it. After a brief test to confirm everything was ship shape and Bristol fashion, he presented me with a bill for his labour, which came to R340 ($42). I more than happy to round it up to R400 and handed over the four bills gratefully.

With the first of two of the days major obstacles now overcome, we turned our attention to the next task at hand, which was to exchange a huge wad of Rand bills into US dollars. We ‘thought’ this was a simple matter of finding an exchange bureau or bank and executing the transaction. But this is Africa. Nothing is that simple. We knew from the wasted thirty minutes or so from queuing up yesterday to exchange the cash that we needed to have our passports with us. Accordingly, we thought we were one step ahead of the curve by remembering to take them with us to the exchange office at the mall. After waiting for twenty minutes or so for the previous customer to finish their business (I can’t understand why cashing traveller’s checks should take so long), we approached the window and explained what we wanted. The nice young man asked us if we had our passport and we handed them over. He then asked us where we had gotten the twelve thousand Rand in cash from and we told him that it was from various ATMs, although we were a little puzzled at the question to begin with. He then asked us if we had the receipts from the ATM to prove that this was how we came by the cash. By now I’m starting to get a little annoyed with the guy but since we had just this morning visited the ATM to withdraw some more cash, we had some of the receipts with us and duly handed them over. He looked at the receipts carefully for a while before handing them back and then told us that we could not change the money after all! Apparently, we must not only prove that we withdrew the cash from the ATM but the receipt from the ATM must also print the account number that is reflected on the card. Since the ATM machine did not do this (which would have been a security breach in any other country to begin with), we could not effectively prove that we got the cash from the ATM. As to why it is necessary to prove how you came by about $1000 in cash bills to begin with is beyond me. After another fifteen minutes of pleading with the guy (the people behind us must be wondering why these things take such a long time) he eventually told us to go to another office in the upper level of the mall to speak with his supervisor. Reluctantly, we left the office in search of this woman. At this point, we are not only very anxious about carrying such a large wad of cash around with us but we were also starting to get very worried about whether or not we would ever be able to get any US dollars at all. There were by now only a few office hours left in the day before we were required to hand over the dollars to the tour operator for our trip tomorrow morning.

We found the other office and spoke with the supervisor, explaining our plight and duly looking pathetic and desperate. After a few minutes of haggling, the woman finally agreed to exchange the cash in the amount that was reflected in the receipts that we had with us. Alas, this would not be enough for our needs. The only other option was to try one of the larger banks at the airport. Luckily, the supervisor was a helpful woman and called the bank at the airport there and then. She explained the situation to one of the bank clerks there and was told that we would be able to exchange the money through them at the airport without any problems. We wasted no time in rushing over there (a good forty minute drive that I managed in fifteen). Unbelievably, with the exception of the requirement of one passport, the clerk counted our cash and handed over the equivalent in US dollars without so much as a flinch. Phew! We had conquered our second major objective of the day and for the second time today, I felt like I was finally in control again.

With the major pressures now lifted, we drove leisurely back to town and found the place where we needed to be for our pre-departure briefing. The accommodation there was a little expensive for our needs but the Zebra Crossing backpackers place just a few feet farther was more to our liking so we checked there instead. I plugged in the laptop and started to charge the batteries and we both sat down for a few minutes of peace and relaxation. It was well deserved.

I called the rental car agency about returning the car. Fortunately, we are able to leave the car here tomorrow morning and they will pick it up for a R75 ($10) pick-up fee. Since we ended up renting the car for a period of more than 31 days, our daily rate was reduced from R207 to R200. The total bill for the car hire will be somewhere around R9,300 ($1,200 or about $35-$36/day) for the 34 days total.

We met up with the other members of our tour group at the pre-departure meeting earlier this evening. People often tell us that the most important thing with an organised tour, of the kind that we are embarking upon, is not so much the company that you book with or even with the places that you visit but it’s the group of people that you share the truck with that will make or break the trip for you. Luckily, our group is quite small (just thirteen out of a possible twenty two) and everyone seems to get on well with each other. There are five Germans (they really are everywhere), five English (including me), one Dutch woman (Sandy) an Australian woman and a Swedish man. With the exception of one British woman who was quite quiet and seemed to be enjoying herself a little less than the rest, it seems like a good group of people and we had no problems talking and joking with them during the evening. If I had to make a prediction here and now, I would say that we are all going to get on well and have a fantastic trip together. Time will tell.

We had dinner at the pre-departure backpackers place along with several other members of our group, this evening, and I managed to hook up my laptop to their network and squeeze another WorldTravel update and some more e-mails in. For some reason, I couldn’t upload any photos through iPhoto (although there was nothing wrong with the Internet connection itself) so I e-mails a few choice photos to everyone instead. I doubt there will be much opportunity to hook up to an Internet connection once on the road after tomorrow but we’ll see.