Already in the First Days I Asked Questions

A reflection on travel, lockdown and questioning the narrative, by Peter Hopkins (name changed)

“Ngiyabonga kakhulu ndoda, usale kahle.” I thanked the salesman at the popular mobile network shop in Johannesburg airport after he had just loaded a new SIM into my phone. I knew he was very likely Sotho and I only speak a scrap of Zulu, but it still felt good speaking to an African in something like his home tongue after being out of Africa for more than six months. Before things went crazy I used to go twice a year.

Meanwhile, my phone went wild! I didn’t normally get this many notifications overnight.
I grabbed my one and only bag and shouldered my way through the people behind me to where I could stand and address the strange happenings on my device.

My heart sunk as I thumbed through my screen, “This can’t be true!”
My head started swimming, and then it felt like the whole airport was spinning around me like a wobbling saucer. Just about all my upcoming stays had been cancelled at my holiday-let near Durban. All my overseas guests that is. Thousands of pounds of much-needed income, gone. Overnight, while I sipped Vin Rouge on the plane.

Jake walked up to me as his phone was also going wild, “Have you seen this? The South African president has said he’s putting the country into a state of emergency!”
I looked at Jake, “What the hell?”
Up until that point there had been a lot of the typical follow-the-next big-thing hype on the news, but I didn’t really think there would ever be a situation that warranted such extreme action. I thumbed to the calendar section of my listing and saw that it was now virtually empty, we were about to have our busiest year ever, and possibly make a profit.
I looked around as if expecting help, for someone to come and reverse the vanished bookings I had worked so hard to get.

We left the airport building and met as arranged with the lad hiring us the fully equipped 4×4’s. I was leading the trip into Botswana where an old friend Jake and two lads from Wales were joining us. Jake and I had visited this remote part of Botswana two years ago and felt it deserved more time. The last trip we only did four nights in this park and this trip we had set out to do eight.

We work our way over the days to track down black maned lions, starting with only footprints which you have to hunt for on the sand roads. Looking for where they may have crossed and slowly work out where they might end up. You start piecing the information together after also checking where there is water. It’s amazing how long a lion can go without water! Last time it took all four days to track them down, and finally we were treated with the most delightful reward for our hard work in the Kalahari Desert by finding the whole pride including the grandpa lion who was accepted by the younger leader.

The first day was spent shopping for food and refreshments and also travelling up towards Botswana. We made our way past my old military base just outside Potchefstroom which I hadn’t seen for 30 years! I was a conscript back then. Our family had moved to South Africa when I was 3 years old, and I have been living back in the UK on and off not long after the army.

We set up camp on the side of a nearby lake, the lady at reception proudly informed us she had placed us near the only other English-speaking people in the park.
The whole time we set up our tents our neighbours sat in their vehicle on their phones. They seemed not to be aware of us, so I walked up to the window and said hi. She nearly jumped out her skin, and he looked terrified.
We exchanged some small but strangely restrained pleasantries before he asked where we were going.
“Botswana.” I said, “Entering at McCarthy’s Rest.”
“You’ll never get in – all closed! Only one border open by Gaborone, and you’ll never get out again!”
I thought he was being a bit of a kill joy. I decided I’d leave this chap to his misery and go make a cracking fire to get some boerewors on the go.

Sure enough, Mr. Kill Joy (as he became known over the next few days) was correct. We made it up to this side of the border and had a cracking evening under the stars with all the promise of excitement ahead that goes with tracking lions in the desert. The next day we could not get through into Botswana, gates locked and no-one home. I considered going overland to the East along the Molopo River to check out the other border posts when a cunning plan occurred to me: We could enter through the Kgalagadi Transfontier Park. There you can enter and travel through to Namibia or Botswana without a passport provided you leave the same way you came in. That would suit us perfectly! We could go through into Botswana that way and come back out the South African park gates again.

So we set off West, it took us two days drive to get to the park entrance, largely due to the fact that we got stuck in the bar at Van Zylsrus. The Kgalagadi Transfontier Park is very popular, and we were lucky to get two nights inside, but that’s all we needed.

You’re probably thinking ‘good on you! Your plan is working.’  Well, as with most things, they’re never that simple, there were border posts in the park, and they were all locked up.
However, we ended up having the best three days, there was no reception and no covid panic being streamed to us. We made do with each other’s company and the sights, we got to see lion and cheetah and a lot of other animals, it was superb.

After we exited the park, we all dug our phones out and all hell broke loose. Airports were now closing to. Our wives were worried that we were not taking current events seriously.
This was getting crazier. Why? Why was UK also shutting down? What evidence was there that this virus was a killer? Already then I was asking questions.

Bottom line is the fun was over, we had to get out of the country, fast. My wife had suggested to me that I consider the fact that this could take three to six months to blow over. She works in the medical field and I don’t, so we started working our way back to Johannesburg.

Three days later, after hanging out in Johannesburg, we got on the last flight out.
The roads, well in all my years I had never seen such quiet roads around London. The whole way back to Wales too.

The UK had gone mad! We all know that now, right? We clapped every Thursday for the NHS and made up games with the kids where we acted out as restaurant owners, and they dressed up, and we gave them menus; and movies at the cinema where we arranged our couches, so we were in rows with numbered seats. We sanitised everything we touched, we took our clothes off in front of the washing machine after being out at the shops and ran upstairs to shower.

But the questioning never stopped. I wanted answers, I wanted to see people die in the street first, I needed more convincing.

I argued with anyone who would listen that we are not in an emergency situation that warrants all these measures. Meanwhile, the world’s governments are all sucking up the same hype!

I have since watched and reviewed every conspiracy out there, these too got the same tough questioning I had for the governments. There are some crazy ones out there too. The US government is suggesting we get our minds to accept a little alien or two. The nano and 5G stuff is plain tedious. So much speculation and guessing going on.

There are extremists on both sides of the jab, it seems like there was a large group of people who have been patiently waiting for a pandemic as exciting as this one. Where they can watch local small business owners being brought to their knees, where you are forced into conformity with lockdowns and get to wear protective gear like masks while waiting in front of the TV for months for a vaccine. And then, without a moment of thought, rush out to get it… when your turn comes of course. Now you reap the rewards, you’re part of a special club where you get to do things others can’t because they don’t have a diners card like you do. A special form of ID with your name on it suggesting you’re a good person!

The truth is that we were lied to from the beginning and are still being fed lies, only in the beginning we all trusted, now we are being divided. Let the extremists have their fun, the rest of us must hold our governments to account, because it seems they are just as crazy as the extremists!

We are going into a world where governments are likely to never be trusted again and likely never being given that much authority over people again. Where people who work in news channels can all go and sit on park benches or flip burgers, their time is done. As for big corporations, well I’m treating them like Chinese products now. They can take a hike! Loyalty – you all collectively destroyed it!
Wealth? People with excess wealth, you are to be reigned in, hard. Wealth needs as much control as gun licencing! Stock markets, shut them down.

Values must now shift back to how it was in the old days, family friends and trade.
So what type of world is that? I guess we’re going to find out because we cannot now go back to how we were living.

Try and run a world where small business doesn’t matter, where a striving middle-class doesn’t matter, and you’ll see a world not even the richest sons of dogs who started all this will want to live in. Unless their favourite restaurants are high street chains. And us? People are going to reject their new world. Vaccinated people will reject it, because most of them got vaccinated just to travel and visit family or have a sanity-restoring holiday, others because they believed they were doing the right thing. They trusted you! It’s not long before your silly pass fad dies out, before they grow tired of sitting at a table full of similar minded people.
Just because they are vaccinated, doesn’t mean they are stupid! Doesn’t mean you own them!
Or does it?