A Travellerspoint blog

Day 18: Touring J'burg

this is why I came here

sunny

This morning our guide met us in the lobby and drove us around Johannesburg (J'burg), giving us a thumbnail sketch of the history of the city, which is the largest in the country. Although landlocked, it became important because of the gold deposits found. Today it seems very vibrant and I guess it is experiencing some kind of renaissance with more cultural events and younger home owners. Our first actual stop is Chancellor House, the building where Mandela and Oliver Tambo practiced law until the anti-apartheid struggle began to take all their time.

We were then taken to the Apartheid Museum where we spent two hours. That was not nearly enough time. Thankfully (guide) Darrell is so well versed in its contents (plus, he lived during that era) that he was able to walk us through the highlights, telling the story along the way. The story starts when you enter a courtyard and then encounter two gates that lead you into the actual building. The side-by-side gates are labeled "White" and "Non-White". Darrell has all of our tickets and he hands them out. The tickets are labeled either "White" or "Non-White" and thus we are also each labeled and we each then enter the museum through our appropriate gate. This impactful little exercise sets the stage. I was relieved (and admittedly honored) to have been labeled "Non-White". I know this is guilt and I completely acknowledge that if this was 40 years ago, and I had been given a choice, I would not have been brave.

The museum is a journey that you take from the beginning of race classification ("black", "white", "colored") - through identifying, documenting, segregating - into extreme inequality and oppression - onto disclosing the horrendous deprivation suffered by the impoverished native Africans and brought on by the White government - then through the struggle and upheaval. Of course throughout is the story of Mandela and his mentors and followers who orchestrated the movement that finally led to the era of hope that they are experiencing now. It was exhausting - draining, I finally gave up fighting back my emotions, as did a couple others, and as did Darrell. I have never experienced anything like this. This is the reason I came to South Africa, not for the animals. [Several of my co-travelers expressed amazement when, during game-drives, I told them that I am enjoying the safari part but that's not why I'm here. "Then, why? Why are you here?" For the culture. To satisfy some longing I've had since I was thirteen. To get it out of me. I failed. It's still in me.]

After that experience, one wants to collapse, but that is not in the itinerary. We are driven to Soweto, the area where the non-whites (mostly blacks) were allowed to live during apartheid. Back then it was many square miles of abysmal, filthy, cardboard, no utilities, shanty town. There is actually still a bit of that left, but for the most part Soweto is a poor and mid-class black suburb of J'burg. There are areas of it that are undergoing a bit of gentrification, a slow transformation with better housing and new restaurants and clubs. A few blocks from one of those areas is where Darrell took us for lunch. "Alina's" is a neighborhood event venue on the site of a typical 500 sq ft Soweto home. The family lives there and have covered over the driveway to make a dining area and they cook in their little home. It's very popular but you can't just drop in - you have to make arrangements. I was amazed and delighted by Darrell's choice for our lunch. It was wonderful, perhaps the best food I've had on the trip. All typical African vegetables and starches, with chicken and lamb dishes. Oh - and a local beer.

Still in Soweto, Darrell takes us to the Hector Pieterson Museum, which honors a young boy who was killed during the 1976 Soweto Uprising. After about 45 minutes there, it's time to go to the airport to catch our overnight flight from J'burg to Dubai and begin the journey home.

Posted by Follow Carol 15:42 Archived in South Africa Comments (0)

Day 17: Travel Day to Johannesburg

back to civilization

sunny

Several of the ladies went on a game drive and/or a scat walk this morning (yep, it's what you think it is) while the rest of us stayed behind to luxuriate in some unscheduled time to ourselves. I was able to repack the bling duffel in an organized manner and then relax in the common area, checking emails and blogging. I had to catch up because yesterday the lodge' s WiFi was very erratic, waffling between slow to none.

Speaking of blogs, mine in particular, don't even bother telling me of spelling errors you encounter. 1) the spellcheck function on this blog site is bizarre and I sometimes miss the errors it makes out of the perfect prose I create. 2) after I publish I can't edit without throwing things out of date order, so I'm not changing anything after the fact. 3) who do you think you are? Write your own damn blog. There. That felt great.

The rest of the day was spent in transport mode. First we were driven 1 1/2 hours back to that tiny airport that looks like someone's house. From there we flew to Johannesburg where we were met by our guide for the next 24 hours. For the rest of the day however, we were on our own.

Our huge opulent hotel is located is located in the middle of a huge opulent mall in an expensive section of J'burg called Sandton - considered the most expensive neighborhood in S. Africa (or so Darrell, our guide says). After checking in (a surprisingly long, manual, endeavor) I went off to investigate the buying power of the US dollar. It was purely for research, honest. The result of the study is that I didn't buy anything. Instead, I went in search of my friends who were probably doing something more responsible with their money, like drinking. I found them (of course I did, we've spent weeks together now, I am beginning to know their habits.)

I won't even talk about dinner. I was dead tired and in no mood for the poor service we were given at the restaurant. The food was pretty good, but it took forever to get out of there. When we finally did, we all went straight to bed . Tomorrow we fly to Dubai where the temperature will be 105 and humid. We are starting the process of returning home.

Posted by Follow Carol 19:53 Archived in South Africa Comments (0)

Day 16: Second Day in Motswari

The Big Five

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The day begins in the usual way, with the town crier coming by at 5:45 to wake us for 6:00 coffee. Way aheadaya dude. I was pouring myself coffee by 5:40.

One of the guides, an obsessive, managerial fellow, heard a lion in the distance at 2:00AM and immediately set off to find it. He didn't, but what he did do is determine that two lions had made a kill, and a hyena had stolen it. Damn hyenas again. So the place was abuzz with rumors of lions and hyenas in the hood, and finding them became goal #1 this morning.

We were not successful, even after a couple of hours hunting. We did see a few new birds (yawn) and some antelope, of which there are many varieties. We saw Kudu, Nyala, Waterbuck, and Steenbuck this morning. Beyond that, not even a zebra was sighted. ("Zebra" rhymes with "Debra" here) Mid-drive we stopped and had coffee. The barista made me a mocha out of instant coffee and instant cocoa. Whatever works. There was not a cloud in the sky and it was beginning to get warm. It would become hot later.

Failing to find the neighborhood lion/hyena combatants, the guide drove us to an old termite mound that is currently occupied by an established clan of hyenas. (I love animal group names, like a tower of giraffes, or a business of mongooses, or a dazzle of zebras) Obviously, this hyena condo was the guide's ace in the hole (pun intended) - when all else fails, take the tourists to the hyena exhibit. It worked. We were all amazed to be able to watch them in their own habitat, from no more than 20 feet away. We saw that one of them was hurt, a large gash on her back. Maybe a lion did it?

On the road again when the guide receives a call (the guides have constant radio contact with each other) and he makes a sharp about face, then drives up a narrow path where we encounter another vehicle leaving the area. There is a pride of lions established on a wide spot in the road, on some private land, and the owner has given us permission to view them. There were five of them and we were able to get within 20 feet and just watch. How can that be? Same reason as before, the lions have seen the non-jeeps many times and they have never been threatened or hurt by them. However, humans had better remain seated with all appendages well within the vehicle, otherwise the lion might detect a predator.

Once home, the routine of mid-day begins. A big brunch is followed by siesta time and then a big lunch is served. At 3:30 the evening game drive begins. The goal this evening is to find the rhinos that I missed the first evening (while sick). The guide tells us that a couple of trackers are looking for them. We set off to see what we can see and mostly it's birds and antelopes. When the guide is notified of a herd of Cape Buffalo nearby, we drive to the purported location and there they are - not as big a herd as we saw on the Chobe, but fun to watch nonetheless. We take off and drive some more (birds & antelopes, birds & antelopes) and then another call comes in. The rhinos have been spotted!

It's getting near Sun Downer time but we need to postpone the cocktail hour in order to have a bit of daylight left to view rhinos. Several miles later, in a clearing deep in the bush, are five of them grazing. There was just enough light for just enough time to get pictures - and then they wandered off. With that, I have seen The Big Five: Leopard, Lion, Cape Buffalo, Elephant, Rhinoceros!!!!!!!

After dinner this evening we were entertained by some of the staff who sang and danced to honor another one of our group who is celebrating a birthday. Of course, the honoree was called up to dance a few steps, and then I was. Maybe they could tell that I wished it was MY birthday. Or maybe it was that little glistening in my eye because I love those voices so much. I know right now that Amazon.com is gonna get some more business from me as soon as I get home.

Posted by Follow Carol 22:24 Archived in South Africa Comments (0)

Day 15: Waking up in Motswari

back to my old self and lovin' life

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I woke up healthy and chipper this morning after an uninterrupted full night's sleep. At 5:45 staff members walk from door to door waking everyone for 6:00 coffee and muffins in preparation for the 6:30 game drive. Hello? 15 minutes to get down to coffee? Do you know who I am? Well, I compromised and set my alarm for 5:30 in order to brush my teeth and dampen and blow dry my disheveled hair and then fly out the door.

Have I discussed mosquito netting? In every safari lodge they cover the bed with mosquito netting that hangs down from the ceiling. Very cliche-ish and sexy, but have you ever had to get up in the middle of the night and have to fight against Charlette' s web? There's an opening in the net somewhere but good luck finding it in the fog of half-sleep. Of course it comes down to a choice between bugs and not bugs so you deal with it. But maybe they could come up with another solution. Oh I know! How about screens in the windows?

Our game drive this morning was very fun. In this camp we have a guide and a "spotter" on each non-jeep. The spotter sits in a chair that is welded to the grill of the vehicle. He sits up high and looks for tracks and/or the best way in/out of the bush. Between our guide and spotter, they figured out that a leopard had made a kill, but a hyena had gotten it so the leopard will probably be up in a tree looking for her next meal. They determined this from paw prints and drag marks. (or they made it up, what would I know?) We drove around looking up and down and then the spotter pointed, and there she was, a beautiful cat up in a tree. She posed for a while, allowing us to take lots of pictures and ooh and ahh. Then she jumped down and disappeared.

It was after that that we stopped in the middle of nowhere and had a coffee break. A table was set up, complete with table cloth. Thermoses of hot water and instant coffee and tea bags were pulled out of a padded box, along with a container of butter cookies. It's kind of crazy, but it's fun. Then when we got back to the Lodge, a big brunch was served. I swear, they feed us six times a day.

The evening game drive today was a good one too. The weather was perfect - just a bit too warm and just a bit too humid, all dissolves into ideal once the non-jeep starts moving. We spent a lot of time watching elephants, giraffes, and a couple of Cape Buffalo males. They tell us that two males are more dangerous than a herd of females. No way.

I love the game drives! At some point they always include beverages and snacks. This evening we had g&t's overlooking a wide bend in a dry riverbed as the sun sets over a ridge of trees in the distance. This is referred to as a "Sundowner" (not to be confused with a "Nooner" which is a completely different concept entirely.) We six are delighted and celebrating but I notice that the guide and spotter have wandered off - I thought to answer the call of nature - but they suddenly both returned urgently whispering "back to the Land Rover, get in the Land Rover" and herded us back to the non-jeep. Of course our response was, "OK, but can we take our drinks with us?". I guess they both heard the sound of something approaching, went off to investigate, and saw those two Cape Buffalo approaching. We all piled into the vehicle, leaving the table and snacks behind (yes we had our drinks in hand) and waited for them to pass through. Needless to say this story got embellished over cocktails later - "they charged at us!! We just barely escaped!!"

One of the best experiences is 4 wheeling in the African grassland! I believe I get a bigger kick out of it than anyone else in the vehicle (except the driver, who I envy) OMG. over boulders, bushes, small trees - through sand, mud, rivers - up 45° embankment!!! What a kick! I just wish I could drive.

Dinner tonight was another gourmet feast served under the stars - filet mignon and various side dishes. A beautiful end to a great day.

Posted by Follow Carol 23:53 Archived in South Africa Comments (0)

Day 14: On Safari Again

Motswari Lodge

sunny

It took most of the day to get here. We flew from Cape Town to a dinky little airport near our final destination, which is Motswari Lodge. The airport looks like a couple of narrow landing strips with a big house at one end. Indeed when you walk into the "terminal", the waiting area looks like someone's living room. We were met by a driver who transported us to the Lodge, about 1hr20min away. Although I was feeling better (than dead) I was still pretty rough around the edges - very little sleep and no food for a while (afraid to eat). When we finally got here we were just in time for lunch so we convened in one of the several dining rooms.

This lodge is bigger than the other two we visited, with 15 rooms, three dining areas, and a "gallery" (a sitting room). There are 60 staff members so there are always at least two staff to every guest. That's probably about the same ratio as in most lodges but it's really obvious here. Anyway, I picked at a few of the various salads offered, ignored the meat, and drank a lot of Sprite. After lunch is the evening game drive - I sadly chose to skip it. I missed a lot, but it was the right thing to do. Being bounced around on the back of a non-jeep for three hours would have been a mistake. Instead, I sat quietly in a common room, blogged, emailed, read, and drank more Sprite. (you know I was not feeling well, if I hadn't yet graduated to wine). As I sat, vervet monkeys entertained me by sneaking up on the patio and sitting on the tables and chairs. They saw me there but didn't seem to care. After a bit I went to the room and napped until my roomie returned from the game drive. In my absence, they saw a lot - including white rhinos, one of which is quite pregnant and due any minute. We're hoping the big event happens while we're here.

Dinner was held in another outdoor room which is defined by a wall made of thin bamboo poles. Were it not for that wall, I am sure that the monkeys would be a problem. They are very naughty and bold (good traits in a human, tho) and have become enured to tourists. I cannot believe the food here. There are always two meats, several salads and sides, a starter, a couple of desserts, cheese board. . . . .jeez. . . .it never stops. And you know it was all prepared here in the middle of nowhere. If that's not enough, we dine by candlelight at beautifully decorated tables. Amazing. I was very careful and nibbled on very little. But I did have some wine so things are improving.

I'm not sure if I have discussed the protocol for moving from the dining area to your room at night. To me it is rather a pain in the ass, but I guess you can't be too careful. ("Careful" however, has never been one of my strong traits.) There are no fences around this compound, so anything from a monkey to an elephant could meet you on your way to your room. Therefore, you have to have an escort. Therefore, you have to interrupt some staff member to walk with you. I am not entirely sure how much more effective 2:1 is than 1:1 when it comes to elephants and humans, but OK, I'll be good. As such, I did not linger over the chocolate and port course, instead I was escorted to my room and crashed.

Posted by Follow Carol 03:40 Archived in South Africa Comments (1)

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