This post is an excerpt from the forthcoming book, "150 Times Around the World," by Dr Jac Fitzenz. Its a culmination of his life's travels around the world and a compelling window into his vast journeys. Take a seat and come along for the experience of a lifetime as you join Dr Jac on his travels. Click here if you'd like to be notified when "150 Times Around the World" is available for purchase.
The flight from San Francisco to South Africa through Frankfurt takes 24-hours. It’s about as far as you can fly from SF and still be on planet earth. Most international flights from Europe land either in Cape Town, Pretoria or Johannesburg. Jan lived in Cape Town, so I flew directly to Cape Town International about 20 kilometers east of the city center.
When I arrived, he booked me into the Mount Nelson Hotel, a five-star treasure from the past. It had opened in 1899 and was the first hotel in Cape Town to offer hot and cold running water. Of course, it serves High Tea.
The hotel sits on the east side of town in the shadow of Table Mountain. It was painted pink in 1918 as a symbol of peace. It has always been the place for the rich and famous. Winston Churchill and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle have enjoyed its amenities.
Once settled, Jan took me on a short tour of the city. The highlight as in “high” was the cable car ride to the top of Table Mountain. The mountain is 3,500 feet high, 30 miles long and 2 miles wide. At that time, the creaking cable car was a wooden box large enough to carry about twenty people. I sat down on the bench and focused on the side of the mountain. The car swayed a bit, which didn’t help. The cable has a huge slack such that as we approached the mountain the car began to rise vertically up the side toward the station you can see in the picture at the top.
When we landed, I gazed upon a very irregular plain covered with low foliage. I learned there are about 2,000 species of plants on the mountain. We wandered around the top for about an hour enjoying the view out over the south Atlantic. There were no clouds in the sky anywhere. There was only a slight breeze. It was all flat gray ocean and empty blue sky reaching to infinity.
When we had enough we returned to the cable car station. There the drill was to make up a group of about twenty riders and take them out onto the cement platform to board. The platform had a slit through which the car would come up. That meant we could look down all the way to the base of the mountain. I don’t know how far that was, but it was way too far for someone who is acrophobic. After we boarded, I sat down and stared at the floor trying to ignore the sway until we were near the end of the ride. You can have my seat on the next trip.
The Plan. Jan set up an itinerary that covered five cities: Cape Town, Johannesburg, Pretoria, Durban and Port Elizabeth. After a couple days of getting acclimated and planning, I ran the first seminar in Cape Town. The topic was How to Measure Human Resources Management. This is the introduction to metrics and coincidently the title of my first book that had been published in 1985 and attracted Jan’s attention.
The delegates were a very positive group. They readily got into the various group tasks I assigned them. I believe part of it was the natural atmosphere and culture of Cape Town. This did not prove to be the case in every city I worked.
Cape Town is the most liberal city in the RSA. This was particularly true during Apartheid. The closer we came to Johannesburg and especially Pretoria, the capital of RSA, the stricter was the rule. Cape Town is a port city. Thirty miles east is the wine country of Stellenbosch; another resemblance to San Francisco’s Napa Valley. On the weekend Jan and his girlfriend drove me to Stellenbosch. We toured a couple vineyards, tasted wines of course, and had a delicious lunch. I ordered prawns with a little pasta. The prawns were the size of large crayfish. I’ve never seen anything like them, before or since.
As liberal as the Cape might be, I couldn’t ignore the hundreds of buses that transported the black population from the townships into and out of the city every day. The townships are black settlements that at the time were mostly shacks. In some cases there were small houses and tenement type apartment buildings. Overall, they were slums that you wouldn’t want to live in. I was told some people had a four hour ride to and from work each way—every day. Think about adding eight hours to your work day.
On a personal basis I watched Jan and his white friends converse easily with black vendors and shop keepers. But in the background always were the Apartheid regulations. Whites and colored, including Indians, seldom socialized. Apartheid, a Dutch word meaning separation, was a very comprehensive set of laws that separated the races as much as possible. This was in effect from 1948 through the release from prison of Nelson Mandela in 1990 and his election as president in 1994. I don’t know the state of the townships today.
Blue Train. When I finished the program in Cape Town, Jan managed to book me on the Blue Train. This is a luxury train every bit as extravagant as the Orient Express in Europe. It carries only about sixty passengers. It’s a one-day journey from Cape Town through Johannesburg to Pretoria. The train leaves Cape Town at 8:30 a.m. and arrives in the Pretoria Station at approximately noon the next day. The trip is nearly 1,000 miles. It doesn’t speed through the countryside, so I had a chance to stand on the outside platform and see the terrain through which we traveled. East out of Cape Town after a couple hours is the Great Karoo. This is a high desert. It’s difficult to state its size accurately due to its shape. At its narrowest point it’s fifty miles wide. Overall it is about 500 miles long.
The train boasts butler service, two lounge cars (smoking and non-smoking), an observation car, and carriages with gold-tinted picture windows, in soundproofed, fully carpeted compartments, each featuring its own en-suite bathroom (many of which are equipped with a full-sized bathtub).