Saturday, February 06, 2010

Follow Up: A South African Living In The Winterlands


Let me add to the earlier article, but a more balanced perspective.

When people hear Canada, they usually respond with "the weather". True, Canada is cold. We have to endure -40C at times, but this is the exception. Usually you will get around -20C for some parts of the winter; depending on where you live.

But, truth be told, enduring a winter in Canada is a lot easier than a cold winter in Pretoria. The homes are exceptionally well insulated, and are kept at an even temperature. This, naturally, means you have a higher energy bill. You can expect to pay around $500 for heating and electricity in the winter, but this drops to $200, or so, during the summer. 

So what is it like outdoors?

It is painfully cold, if you aren't prepared. The trick isn't to wear thick, Michelin Man type outfits, but rather to layer. You can easily handle up to -15C, with a T-Shirt, a fleece and a good insulated jacket. Gloves are always a necessity, if you spend a large amount of time outside; as is a beanie.

If the temperature is lower, then you will need something to cover your face, and thermal underwear. The cold burns your legs otherwise.

Strangely, you get used to the cold. Today, for example, it is sunny, with blue skies, and yet it is -14C. You always check the temperature before going outdoors, and you always check the forecast. Unlike the UK, we get a lot of sunny days, even though it is cold.

Snow is a hassle. Yes, it means you can snow board and ski, but it requires maintenance. You have to shovel your own sidewalk and driveway, or pay somebody to do it. If you don't have a garage, which many people don't (very little vehicle theft or break-ins), and you happen to get a snow fall (which they call a dump), it means shovelling, brushing and chiselling your car out of the mess. I keep an emergency shovel in my boot (trunk) for in case. Also, from -15C onwards, you definitely need to plug your car in. Cars are equipped with block heaters, to keep the oil warm, to facilitate starting. If you don't do this, you won't be able to start the car. If you spend this much time outside, you will need snow boots. The snow penetrates lesser shoes, and freezes your feet. So you carry your nice shoes to work, or leave them there.

I managed to endure one winter, with shovelling, plugging in and cleaning the car (we had to park outside). After that I bought a Penthouse, where we have heated parking, and hire folk to shovel our sidewalks. I don't bother with snow boots now, because I take the elevator to the parkade, get into a heated car and drive away. You need to think through how you live your life, when choosing your accommodation. The downside is when you park outside for a long time; you have to return to a cold car. But, ah, there is a thing called a command start. You remotely start your car, so when you get to it, it is already warm. It will also automatically start when the temperature gets really low.

I braai throughout the winter. I have a gas braai, which fires up instantly. You place your meat on the grid, and pull the lid down. If it is windy, which means fucking cold, you just go out every few minutes to check on the meat. Strangely, if the temperature is anything around -5C, it is actually very pleasant. The up side of the cold, is that you simply place your beers outside, to cool them down. You don't have to worry about fridge space.

What is driving like?

It is surprisingly normal. The snow ploughs usually clear the main and secondary roads only; and yes, he will mess up the entrance to your driveway. He will also bury your car, if you are parked in the street. Suburban roads can get badly snowed in, which is a hassle. But usually the roads are clear. When we have a particularly bad spell of snow, it is treacherous, and you should be off the road. usually once or twice a year, the roads are gridlocked. But nothing like William Nicol Drive at 5pm everyday. The roads can be very slippery, so they are treated with salt and gravel. Of course everybody slows down enormously. It is not unusual to travel at 50km/h or less. Black taxis wouldn't last 5 minutes. The trick is to not make any sudden movements, and to slow down well in advance; and of course snow tyres. The robots always work, as does the power. We have not had to endure any blackouts or gridlocked intersections.

The wonders of winter

Winter is breathtakingly beautiful; nothing like a dry highveld winter. The evenings get darker, sooner. There are so many lights, lighting up trees and houses. Of course it is a hassle to walk in the snow, but this is only directly after a snow fall. This gets cleared away very quickly. But watching the snow fall is beautiful, and it seems to quieten everything down.

The downside

You run a great risk of slipping and falling. The older you get, the greater the risk. The winters last too long; sometimes as long as 5 months. If you are an outdoors person, but don't enjoy the cold, it can be terribly depressing.

But on the whole, life is surprisingly normal.

10 Opinion(s):

FishEagle said...

Yeah, but I can't walk around in my bikini!!

VI said...

Ah, but one of the favourite past times is hot tubbing. Imagine an outdoor hot tub, at -20C, with a glass of Chardonnay and perhaps a bikini, or not.

Exzanian said...

As a snow starved Saffer, here in UK, I must say I just can't get enough of it. It has a peaceful and calming effect when it comes down, as it is completely silent. At the same time you get excited. The winter is especially wonderful over Christmas time. I cannot imagine having another Christmas in ZA. Blazing sun with temperature of 30 degrees celsius in the shade? Having a braai and salad with K4 budgies buzzing around your head?....It's crazy, Southerners should just abandon the effort. It is after all, a Northern hemisphere celebration of the winter solstice.

Dmitri said...

Great article. Makes me even more determined to get the hell out of here. One thing you mentioned. Braai with a lid on??? ag no boet - how now???

Seriously - a great read. How difficult is it to get into Canada now after the past few months of all this political bullshit with SA?

Anonymous said...

Even though it is snowy and cold, at least he doesn't have to be in constant fear about being killed by kaffirs.

VI said...

@Dmitri. It is relatively easy to get into Canada. Almost any qualification will do. The problem is the length of time it takes.

As for the lid, it was that or no braai. The lid keeps the heat in. At -15C or less, it is difficult to keep the heat up, even on full blast.

Snowy Smith said...

CANADA has some of the most awesome Mountain Landscapes in the World.
This together with the snow makes it a Mountain Landscape Photographers paradise.
Absolutely beautiful.
We only get snow in the Drakensberg +-6 times a year.
It normally lasts +-2 days.
That’s when the Berg is absolutely awesome.
Take lots of extra batteries for your camera and keep them warm in your inside pocket.
Drakensberg, take Clothing and equipment for 4 seasons in one day.
Have fun.

Luc said...

This is a quite an accurate account.

But I miss being able to have a decent garden with flowers 12 months of the year.

In Quebec where I live, snow on the ground during 4 months of year, 6 months growing season. Now, this also means less maintenance to keep the garden tidy (and no garden boys around here).

Recently big blue sky, lots of sunshine, beautiful white snow on the hills around.

I live in the country, middle of the woods, a few acres. Very nice. No visible minorities. Closest police station 10 km. Never a break in.

This being said, when I was in SA in the 70s (went to school there, started to work just after), RSA was a very nice country, Soweto was far away, I felt safe.

What a pity RSA could not stay a white country, even an Afrikaner country (and I'm not an Afrikaner), big mistake to have made RSA fully bilingual. I fear now English will eliminate Afrikaans in all public places.

Anonymous said...

ugh trust me, i've lived in Canada all my life and you don't want to come here. Way too cold and expensive and boring. South Africa is much more exciting.

VI said...

@Anon 2:59. Well I didn't get into that. But yes, it is helluva expensive, painfully boring and excrutiatingly pious.