When I talk to my friends about our travels and holiday plans, exotic and fantastic adventures are described: Doing couchsurfing in Iran, surfing volcanos in Nicaragua, hitchhiking in Colombia, climbing the Himalaya in Nepal. We, as western Europeans, enjoy many freedoms, such as very powerful passport, a wealthy living standard and relative independence; no border, no price, no obligations can really stop us. I spend a great time of my life traveling, discovering the world and learning important lessons, which no school can teach me - But nowadays, I see this lifestyle a bit more critical: We have to realize, which footprints we leave, which impacts we have with our travels, and especially, that the world is not existing for our pleasure and entertainment.
But going back to South Africa: I saved up the months before, to fulfill one of my biggest dreams, to improve my surfing skills in one of the best beaches, Jeffreys Bay, situated at the Eastern Cape of South Africa. My hotel was right next to the beach, surrounded by high fences and protected by security guards - Which was very necessary, regarding the constant burglaries and crimes. A taxi took me from the airport straight to my hotel, so not be risk anything.This hotel here is like a bubble, a small island of peace in the middle of unrest and danger.
South Africa is a country of contrast, of immense beauty and frightening statistics, the gap between rich and poor is widening constantly. But even though the gap is wide, they live side by side: Here the Townships, there the rich bungalow neighborhoods. Apartheid is still prevalent: Black people are serving while white people dine. It doesn't seem normal to treat servants like another human being, I receive respectful looks for doing so. This whole situation seems very strange to me, I personally don't like being served, even the illusion of being superior to someone makes me feel uncomfortable. And I am convinced, this is the natural reaction to such an absurd scenario!
And it is very absurd indeed: Restaurants, shops, hotels, everything exclusively build for rich tourists but with no sustainably and independent industry besides tourism, people live in poverty and face a daily struggle to survive. Most inhabitants here are convinced, that it was better in the old days - Despite the openly discriminating system of Apartheid. But at least it was a better organized system, not that hypocritical and corrupted. What saddened me the most, was that most of the black and poor inhabitants are actually excluded from surfing, even though they have the most beautiful beaches right there. Big parts of the seaside is privatized, directly connected to expensive hotels and not accessible for ordinary people.
Once a year one of the biggest surf events is held here: The J-Bay Open. Professional surfers from all over the world compete and train their skills, but is there any possibility for locals to take part in it? Does surfing as a professional sport mean a small possibility to escape poverty, like sport scholarships do in the US? Not really, the costs for a year of qualifications of the World Surf League exceed 50.000 Dollars, an enormous sum. There is this story about Jadson André, a Brazilian pro surfer, who collected trash in order to finance the luxury of surfing and had to walk ten kilometers to reach the nearest beach.
With this story, I don't want to discourage anybody from traveling far places and to enjoy what they have. But still, it is very important to consider the local situation and the impact we have on these regions. It doesn't have to be a negative impact, if we shared our stories and perspective with other it might lead to a real cultural exchange. But especially traveling to countries, which are discriminatory or don't implement human rights, we have to be careful and reflective to not be oil in the machine, which oppresses human beings.
A very interesting book, „Empire in Waves: A political history of Surfing“ ( Review here: http://www.universitypressscholarship.com/view/10.1525/california/9780520279100.001.0001/upso-9780520279100 )
Reimagining Surf City: Surfing an the making of the post-Apartheid beach in South Africa (http://scholar.sun.ac.za/handle/10019.1/20661)