Another flight, a new continent

We were awake early on Sunday morning and, after a quick breakfast at the hotel, we loaded up the rental car and headed or the airport. As was the case in Cape Town, there was a petrol station right next to the car rental return point so it was easy to fill up before handing the car over to Avis.

Our first two flights were with BA and I wasn’t enamoured of their seat allocation and check-in process. The flight to Hong Kong was operated by Cathay Pacific and everything about the experience was better than BA. I had been able to reserve seats online a month ago, at no extra charge, so I knew where we would be sitting. Online check-in opened 48 hours before flight time and was easy. As for the flight itself, Cathay’s Business Class is vastly superior to BA. We had flown on a 777 to Cape Town from London and the seats were arranged 2-4-2 across the plane. Cathay’s 777 seating arrangement was 1-2-1 giving a huge amount of extra room for storage and stretching out. The entertainment system was also better.

So it was that we arrived in Hong Kong early in the morning of Christmas Eve. There was a huge queue at Immigration so it took us a while to be processed and get out to baggage reclaim. After that, it was a straightforward journey into Hong Kong itself. We are staying in Wan Chai at the Dorsett Hotel so we took the Airport Express train to Hong Kong station and then a short taxi ride to the hotel.

We were here shortly after 9am, so we weren’t particularly surprised when they informed us that our room was not yet ready. I had read about the Wan Chai Architectural Heritage trail, which was a walk around some interesting buildings in the area so we figured that would kill a couple of hours.

Thus we spent some time wandering the streets, admiring various buildings from the “Streamline Moderne” style of Wan Chai’s old market…

IMG_0898 …through the traditional style of The Blue House…

IMG_0902…on to the “Guangzhou Verandah type” shophouse…

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and many more besides. Having walked quite a long way, we stopped for a coffee before heading back to the hotel in hope of getting into our room and, for the sake of everyone around us, getting the chance to shower. Luckily, a room was available for us.

The 6 hour time difference from South Africa was having an impact on us and we were feeling a little dozy but Ishbel made sure I didn’t crash completely. After relaxing a little, we went out wandering again to find a venue for an early dinner. We decided Chinese food should mark our arrival in Asia and settled on a place called Hay. Interestingly, it was right next to an enormous outdoor Christmas Tree, and it looked as if a large part of Hong Kong’s 20-something population had decided this was the place to take a selfie.

IMG_3017After dinner, we took a slow stroll back to the hotel. This is our first time here and we were fascinated by the bustling night markets and the crowds that thronged the streets. The Christmas theme is wholeheartedly embraced here, but there’s still a sense of business as usual around it all as well.

More by luck than judgement, we’ve picked an interesting place to spend our festive season

Farewell to South Africa

Saturday was our last full day in this amazing country. It was, as usual, hot. We decided to enjoy some greenery and drove over to Johannesburg Botanical Gardens. It covers a huge area, but the part we were in didn’t seem much like a botanical garden and was really more of a park. It is obviously very popular with Johannesburg’s dog lovers as we were one of the few groups walking in the park unaccompanied by a canine. One alien aspect of the dog-walking culture was that there was no attempt whatsoever at picking up dog poo. We’re so used to that being a requirement in UK parks that its absence is quite jarring to see. You also need to be careful where you step.

After our walk, we decided to take a drive down to see the FNB Stadium – formerly Soccer City and colloquially The Calabash – home of the Kaizer Chiefs and venue for the 2010 World Cup final. It’s a shame that they don’t offer tours but it is a great looking stadium.

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After that we headed back to the hotel before going back over to Nelson Mandela Square for dinner at The Butcher Shop and Grill. Since it was our last night, we celebrated with a bottle of The Chocolate Block.

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As we made our way home after dinner, we started to feel a few spots of rain, so quickened our pace. The storm clouds gathered as dusk fell so, of course, Ishbel needed a photo.

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That photo was taken from the hotel entrance. By the time we got up to our room on the 10th floor, the thunderstorm was in full swing.

And that’s it for South Africa. Sunday will be pretty much a dead day as we fly at 12:30pm and arrive in Hong Kong at 7:05am on Monday. At twelve and a half hours, this is the longest flight of the entire trip.

We will be taking some amazing memories of South Africa with us. The safaris; Robben Island; the Cape; the penguins; the wine; the scenery; the whales; the apartheid years; Soweto and Sipho. All of this and more. Ishbel and I spent years steadfastly boycotting SA goods when we shopped, and it took an active effort for us to re-start buying them after the introduction of majority rule. We were still a little ambivalent about the country when we booked this trip. This has been a learning experience for us. There is clearly still work to be done in managing South Africa’s vast wealth and helping those who still live in abject poverty, but the vibrancy of this young democracy is obvious and exciting. We wish them well and hope to be back.

From ‘Berg to ‘Burg

I failed to mention that we had a problem with our room on Thursday. As we were heading out for our game drive at the crack of dawn, the electronic lock on our room door failed and it wouldn’t lock. We didn’t want to miss our last game drive so we told reception what had happened and they reassured us they would take care of it while we were out on our drive.

When we got back to the hotel later that day, they had taken care of it by stationing a security guard outside our door. It certainly resolved the immediate problem by ensuring the security of the room while we were out, but wasn’t really a long-term fix. We contacted reception again and they immediately said they would move us. The day shift seemed a little more switched on than the overnight crew. They got us a vacant room just across the corridor from where we were, so we had a different aspect looking out over a pond.

So it was that, when Friday dawned – literally at daybreak – we were roused by a vast number of frogs who had taken possession of that pond. Frog love was in the air and they were loudly announcing it. Ishbel, of course, had to get a photo.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe were awake anyway, so we once again packed away all of our gear and headed down for our last breakfast in Pilanesberg. I think the waiting staff have been surprised all week at our capacity for tea consumption in the mornings but today we were kept topped up appropriately.

We got everything into the car – which is always a bit of a jigsaw puzzle with the instruments involved – and checked out before hitting the road to Johannesburg. Ishbel has been navigating throughout the trip so far. We decided not to pay extra for data in South Africa (it’s not included in Three mobile’s “Feel at Home” program) so we had included Avis’s mobile data option for the Johannesburg car rental. It has been cost efficient and has come in very handy for getting us around the place.

One interesting thing we got stuck behind on the road was this vehicle:

DSC_0129 2 We couldn’t help speculating that it originally just said “Horses in Transit” until people complained to them that it was cruel to move horses around in such a tiny horsebox, and that’s why “Miniature” is in a different font.

We had an easy journey into the Sandton district of Johannesburg. We are spending our last two nights in South Africa at the Radisson Blu here. After the range of places we’ve stayed, this is definitely higher end but, at the same time, it lacks the soul and authenticity of our other stays.

On the way to the hotel, we decided it was time to find another laundry so dropped off quite a large percentage of our clothes there. We had very little left to unpack. After completing our daily practise on the instruments, we walked up the road to Nelson Mandela Square which is a huge retail and entertainment centre. We keep forgetting how close it is to Christmas, but were reminded by the show that the mall had laid on in the open square.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASince we were in that area anyway, we decided to have an early dinner. Friday night is traditionally pizza night for us back home, so we had pizza at Septimo, an Italian restaurant overlooking the square.

After that we had a fairly early night. I think we’re getting ready for the switch to Hong Kong time.

The last safari – and some geek info

Thursday morning rolled around and we were back on the truck at 5:30am for our last safari in Pilanesberg. We had a sighting of a new animal very early on in this drive – a crocodile.

DSC_0360 2He was hard to spot at first but once you saw him, he was unmistakably not a floating log.

We encountered the black backed jackal again, this time in a family group.

DSC_0373Plus, of course, repeat sightings and photos of many of the animals we had seen previously. Then our guide got a message over the radio: a leopard had been sighted and he had just made a kill. We were going to drive straight over to his location, stopping for nothing. I mentioned previously that we had just about managed to glimpse a leopard but we would certainly appreciate being able to photograph one. And we did!

DSC_0501And if you ever wondered how effective the leopard’s spots are as camouflage on a rocky hillside, see how easy it is to make out his face in this one…

DSC_0517I was asked what kind of camera Ishbel was using for her wildlife photos, so thought I’d provide a full catalogue of the optical equipment in use over the last few days.

Camera Equipment (1)1. Nikon D5100 DSLR Camera Body

2. Tamron SP 150-600mm F/5 – 6.3 Di G2 Lens

3. Olympus Tough TG-5 Compact Camera (My leaving gift from work colleagues – Thanks, guys!)

4. Pentax 6.5×21 Papilio II Binoculars

5. Nikkon DX 18-135mm F/3.5 – 5.6G ED-IF AF-S Lens

6. An iPhone – just in case

7. Apple lightning SD card reader – this gets all the day’s photos onto the iPad for review and editing.

So, that was our last game drive of our stay at Kwa Maritane. We finished the day off with a lovely dinner and a nice bottle of Franschhoek red wine – Anthonij Rupert Optima. We have had a great stay here and would recommend it to anyone looking for a safari experience without breaking the bank.

We’re off back to Johannesburg in the morning for our last couple of days in South Africa before heading on to the next leg, flying to Hong Kong on Sunday.

An early start and a missed day

There was no blog post yesterday as a direct result of the unique nature of South African electrical outlets. We don’t have an adaptor that works directly in the three round pin sockets that they have here, but everywhere else we’ve been so far there have been adaptors that allowed the use of a European style 2-pin adaptor. Not here. My clever attempt at recharging the laptop using the shaver point in the bathroom fell foul of gravity as the combined weight of plug and adaptor fell straight out and into the bathroom sink. Reception has now supplied an adaptor so we’re back in action.

Having gone on the evening game drive on Monday, we were booked for the early version on Tuesday. This meant being up and ready for a 5:30am start. The first day had been exciting enough that we had no problem getting ourselves organised in anticipation of another day of wildlife wonder.

We were on the truck and on the way out towards the main drive when we stopped for a look at some roadkill. At some point during the night, someone had driven over a Mozambican Spitting Cobra, which our driver Sean was kind enough to pick up on a stick and teach us how to recognise if we encounter one in the future. We’re hopeful that situation doesn’t arise.

On to the drive and, once again, we had a full day of animal viewing. There was a lot of repeat viewings, which is only to be expected, but we saw giraffe in daylight for the first time. If you looked at the slideshow from the previous day, you’ll have noticed that the giraffe picture was taken after nightfall. This time, we saw various giraffe in daylight and learned how to distinguish males and females. Apart from the obvious.DSC_0482DSC_0602The male has thicker horns that splay outward and are bald on top. Females have thinner horns which point inwards and have hairs on top. Easy!

DSC_0529 We got some great shots of rhinos and spotted a pod of hippos in a waterhole.

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We also heard that there was a  leopard visible so we drove over to where it had been sighted (I had originally typed “spotted” there, then realised the awful pun). We got there just in time. Well, just in time to see a distant leopard shape ascend some rocks and move into deep cover. We have no photographic evidence, but we’re ticking it off in our catalogue of sightings.

We went straight to breakfast after getting back from the drive. The dining room overlooks a waterhole and we were treated to the sight of a couple of elephants having a drink, then stirring up the mud at the bottom of the pool and having a mudbath.

The day got progressively hotter and we were delighted to have chosen the early drive. Especially when the heavens opened about 10 minutes after the evening drive went out. While we were at dinner, we saw some of the people returning from that and they were absolutely drenched.

For Wednesday, we had initially been booked on the early drive again but when we checked in, we were advised to go on the evening drive so that we could participate in the Bush Braai that is a regular feature of Wednesday nights here. However, we were up at the same time as the early game drive was leaving so we decided to use the hide which is available here. It is at the end of a 180m long underground tunnel which leads to a waterhole where you can sit quietly and wait to see what arrives. Early morning is, theoretically, the best time to see animals there. We didn’t get much by way of mammals, but we were greeted by a large frog who had obviously hopped in to the hide overnight. We did see a number of birds that we hadn’t previously encountered, the strangest one being the Hamerkop.

DSC_0749 2We spent an hour and a half in the hide then decided to get cleaned up and have breakfast. The rest of the day was fairly relaxing until we headed out for the game drive and the braai.

The first new animal of the day today was the tsessebe; another type of antelope and one with which we had not been previously familiar.

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We also spotted for the first time a black backed jackal.

DSC_0161But it’s the time of plenty in southern Africa as the rains bring plentiful food. And plentiful food means babies.

DSC_0269DSC_0364These two elephants were with a larger herd. Shortly after they crossed our path, the rain started. We were caught in an almighty thunderstorm. Our driver had to stop the truck and help us lower all the tarpaulins around the side, so that was the end of wildlife viewing for the day.

Well, not quite. The rain abated as we were driving towards the exit, but the air was quite a lot cooler than it had been earlier in the evening. Cooler air means predators are more willing to expend energy in a hunt. As the rain stopped, a lion ran across the road in front of our truck and stopped just off to the side. It was pretty dark by this time, but we rolled up the tarpaulins again as quietly as we could and Ishbel managed this shot using her phone. IMG_0797 It’s a little grainy but worth including.

That was a nice end to the evening. Just a pity that the rain had completely washed out the braai, so dinner in the restaurant when we got back.

From the city to safari

Monday was yet another moving day as we packed up in Johannesburg to head for Pilanesberg National Park. Kruger National Park is probably the most famous safari destination for Johannesburg visitors and it’s certainly considerably bigger than Pilanesberg, but we chose the latter for three reasons. First, it was recommended by a former work colleague (thanks, G-Mac) who has been here a number of times. Second, it’s a much shorter drive from Johannesburg than Kruger. And third, it’s in a malaria-free zone. Well, there’s a fourth reason: it was much cheaper.

I had booked our safari package back in late October and, between the couple of Pilanesberg accommodation options that had been recommended to me, I chose Kwa Maritane Bush Lodge. Booking is direct through the Pilanesberg website, but you need to pay the full amount in advance. I had used the splendid Revolut option to pay via a bank transfer in ZAR. Four nights dinner bed and breakfast plus one game drive for both of us each day cost GBP 1,100. In the context of prices I had seen quoted for safaris, that seemed remarkably competitive. So competitive, in fact, that I was a little worried about what the standard of the place would be.

I needn’t have concerned myself. The Lodge is beautiful, set just inside the park. We arrived here around noon and our room wasn’t quite ready. No problem. We had left Johannesburg without breakfast, planning to stop somewhere nice on the road. Sadly, the road seemed mostly free from quaint stop-off points, punctuated instead by occasional strip malls where MacDonalds appeared to be the primary option for travellers. We went to the hotel restaurant and grabbed a light lunch and, just as we were finishing, a porter arrived to inform us our room was ready. We completed formalities at reception and moved in.

When I booked all those weeks ago, I had been asked to reserve when we wanted our game drives, so I had booked the afternoon slot for today. We were to congregate at 4:15 to be allocated our trucks and departure was scheduled for 4:30pm. The process was very efficient and we settled ourselves in our allocated truck at the appointed time and waited to discover what we would see on our first ever safari experience.

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My advance reading on the topic had cautioned against expectation being too high. These drives can sometimes be disappointing. On this trip we saw….

Warthogs, Kudu, Impala, Eland, Zebra, White Rhinoceros, Elephants, Hippopotamus, Lions, Giraffes, Blue Wildebeest, Hyena, and Springbok. We were definitely NOT disappointed.

Here is a slideshow of a small selection of the photos from the drive…

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We’ve managed to see three of the “Big Five” on our first day and we’re excited to find out what else we’ll see in our next three days here. Expect a lot more wildlife photography.

 

Another day in Melville

Here in Melville there’s a large area of public green space called the Melville Koppies.

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There are a couple of elevated points from which you can get a view across the whole of Johannesburg. Unfortunately, there are some security concerns with both the Western and Eastern Koppies which put us off going for a walk in them. Ishbel to the rescue! She did some online research and found that every second Sunday, there’s a guided walk in the Central Koppies – an area not generally open to the public.

The walk was scheduled for an 8:30am start and the meeting point was a 4 minute drive from us, so we arrived dead on time to join a group of around 20 people of all ages, from about 8 or 9 up to the leader, a gentleman comfortably in his 70s whose wife is the Chair of the committee that looks after the area. We split into two groups for the walk and spent an educational three hours walking round the Koppies and admiring the views of Johannesburg available from there.

IMG_2988 (1)We learned about the first known homo sapiens occupants of the Johannesburg area, the San bushmen, who are known to have been here about 90,000 years ago. The San lived in social groups and were subsistence hunter gatherers. The arrival of Bantu peoples in the region from about 1,500 years ago, with their advanced metalworking technologies and agriculture led to the San gradually being outcompeted and/or subsumed through inter-marriage into the Bantu culture, which was the dominant population until the arrival of the Dutch colonists in the 17th century and, with them, gunpowder and firearms.

Over the three hours of walking we covered less than three miles, but we were still fairly wiped out by the end thanks to the high temperatures. The first thing to do after we got back was to shower and change.

Monday was another moving day for us, so we started prepping some of our packing later in the day on Sunday then headed back up to 7th Street for an early dinner. Again, we took a somewhat indecisive stroll along the street, looking at the various menus that were available. We eventually decided on Hell’s Kitchen largely because as we walked past, they were playing our song. “How romantic,” you’re thinking. Our song is “Sheena is a Punk Rocker” by The Ramones. This is because when we were at Glasgow University, but before we started going out together, most women chose not to dance with me to this song as my friends and I would go nuts, pogoing all over the place. Ishbel, bless her, always indulged me and agreed to dance when asked. She was a keeper even then.

Anyway, Hell’s Kitchen was the dinner choice and we both had Skillet Fillet, which is a fillet stuffed with feta, basil and chili paste in a jalapeno sauce. Really tasty. Also, the music they played in here lived up to the promise of the Ramones track that drew us in. And, they’re delivering festive greetings…

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I had a couple of pints of their very tasty Devil’s Peak IPA with dinner and then we headed home. We got back to the apartment about 15 minutes before Johannesburg was, once again, drenched by a huge thunderstorm.

Hanging out in Melville

One of the reasons we selected this particular AirBnB was its location in Melville. I had read that this was the happening, Boho area of Johannesburg. Given that we had arrived in the city with little by way of concrete plans, it was surprising to realise that we had been so busy that we hadn’t yet spent much time locally. We decided to fix that on Saturday.

Earlier in the week, we ate in a little Italian restaurant, Cafe Picobella just a couple of blocks away in 4th Avenue at 5th Street but we had previously driven down 7th Street which is the hub of Melville’s restaurant and bar area. We decided that we would start the day with brunch there.

After the overnight storms, the day had dawned bright, clear and hot. We walked up to 7th Street and strolled up and down to see what grabbed our attention before settling on Bread and Roses where I enjoyed an omelette with smoked salmon and cream cheese and Ishbel went for the steak and eggs.

IMG_0698 2The restaurants attract a lot of people from all over Johannesburg, not just the locals. The influx of people inevitably attracts street vendors as well. Our eye was caught by these ladies selling baskets.

IMG_0693 2After brunch, we had a short wander but the temperature was already up in the 30s, so we headed back to relax at the apartment. We’re pretty much down to two meals a day at the moment, and that’s particularly true after such a large breakfast so we took some time to review our Soweto photos from the previous day, had some communications with friends and family back home, and played our instruments for a while.

In the early evening, we decided we would venture out again to find a dinner venue. Again we strolled up 7th Street but we were sold on Poppy’s by the sound of cool jazz music floating out of it. We managed to grab a pavement table that allowed us to hear the music and see the band.

IMG_2982 It turns out that these three cats had all played in Hugh Masakela‘s band. Masakela was known as the father of South African jazz and built a global reputation as a musician. When he was a young man playing jazz in South Africa, Louis Armstrong sent him one of his own trumpets as a gift. He died at the start of 2018, but Ishbel and I were lucky enough to have seen him play in Brighton a few years ago. He was wonderful. As you can imagine, stumbling across musicians of this quality in a neighborhood restaurant in Johannesburg was a rare and unexpected treat for us.

We enjoyed our meals accompanied by a couple of pints of Soweto Gold then, after the band had finished, made our way home at the end of our most laid-back day of the trip so far.

One Day in Soweto

We booked our first ever AirBnB Experience for Friday. It was called One Day in Soweto and was hosted by Sipho. If you recall, we had already met one Sipho in South Africa: our guide for our tour of Robben Island jail. This time, Sipho was younger.

We had arranged to meet at the Hector Pietersen museum and memorial. Sipho recognised us as soon as we parked the car and reassured us that someone would look after it until we got back. Another couple was joining us on the tour and they arrived dead on time for the noon start. Sipho started with an explanation of the circumstances of Hector Pietersen’s death, but then put the story into the context of the unchanged geography of the place where we were standing and walked us along to the point where Hector was actually shot, and where the first of an avenue of commemorative olive trees was planted by Nelson Mandela. We then walked down Vilakazi St, the street of two Nobel Prize winners. Nelson Mandela’s house is now a museum, but Desmond Tutu’s daughter still lives in the same house her father occupied.

IMG_2957 At the end of Vilakazi St we climbed a small hill at the back of the houses which gave us an extensive view over Orlando West, which is the part of Soweto we were in, and Orlando East, which was our next stop.

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We walked down and crossed the busy main road which divides the two Orlandos, named for Johannesburg’s mayor of 1925-6, Edwin Orlando Leake. As we crossed the main road, we spotted the commercial signwriters at work in the picture at the top of the page. There seems to be less graffiti in Soweto because blank concrete space is rented out for local businesses to paint advertising signs on. We then strolled uphill to our lunch spot: Nkukhu Box. Ishbel had chicken and pap with hot sauce, and I had a hot kota:

IMG_2963After lunch we continued our stroll. There are a lot of streetside vendors of both goods and services and we were particularly taken by this gentleman offering clothing repairs and alterations on the verge at a busy junction.

IMG_0656We tipped as we went for photos that we took. Sipho pointed out to us that, because of the areas we were visiting, locals were pleased to see tourists making the effort to visit. In fact, at one point, someone approached Sipho and asked if he could get his photo taken with Ishbel and me. He produced his mobile phone, handed it to Sipho, and put his arms around us. We all three grinned broadly and he went off happy with his snapshot of old white Sowetan tourists.

We continued our walk to the Orlando Stadium, home of the Orlando Pirates and the place where Nelson Mandela addressed the people of Soweto shortly after his release from captivity.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOrlando East is the home of the Orlando Pirates. Orlando West is the home of the Kaizer Chiefs – a football club long before they were a band.

From the stadium, it was time for a break from walking. For our next leg of the tour, we were taking a minibus taxi. These things are ubiquitous in South Africa and are used as a cost efficient way of getting from A to B. At least, they’re used by people who understand how the system works. There are a range of hand signals whereby you indicate where you want to go and the driver indicates where he is headed. You actually need to know in which direction your destination lies before you can even contemplate this. Luckily, Sipho knew that the relevant signal for us was pointing straight back over your shoulder, so we got the right minibus. This took us up to Bara, the area around the Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital, the third largest hospital in the world.

It is also home to a frenetic market and what is probably the largest minibus taxi rank in the world. The couple who were with us on the tour decided to have an interesting chat with one of the vendors: a doctor of traditional African medicine. Declining the opportunity to acquire a potion that will provide a man with all-night vigour, they eventually bought some herbs which can be burnt together with chicken blood to enable communication with one’s ancestors. He was a robust Norwegian chap, so I’m not sure how his Viking ancestors would react to being summoned in such a way.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFrom the market, we continued our stroll heading down towards the Soweto Towers, the decommissioned chimneys of the Orlando Power Station which now act as giant advertising banners as well as a bungee jumping hotspot.

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More importantly by this stage of the day, there is a bar at the base of the towers. We all welcomed a cold beer as we had walked a fair distance by this time and the day had been blisteringly hot. We could see some storm clouds in the distance but they didn’t trouble us as we relaxed over our drinks.

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After quenching our thirst, it was a walk back up to Bara to the rush hour frenzy of the minibus taxis going everywhere across the city – and beyond. There were minibuses, with luggage trailers, headed for Zimbabwe and Lesotho among other places. We managed to get on the second taxi to arrive and went back to the start point at the museum. Although advertised as a four and a half hour experience, we had been on the go for a full six hours. And we had loved every single minute of it.

Sipho has an insta account that you could check out if you want to see more of what he does. I’d recommend it, and I’d recommend his tour if you find yourself in this part of the world.

All that remained for us was the easy drive home. Except, remember those storm clouds I mentioned earlier? About halfway home, I heard a loud clunk on the roof of the car. Followed by several thousand more. We got caught driving in an outrageous summer hailstorm. We tried to follow the example of a number of other cars and pull onto the verge under the shelter of the trees. Except I somehow contrived to miss the trees entirely. I decided it was abating after a couple of minutes and got back on the road. It had turned out that the other couple on the tour were staying at an AirBnB just along the road from us so we had driven them back to their place before heading home and parking up for the night. The thunder and lightning continued throughout the entire night.

A delve into the dark past

On Thursday, we decided we would visit the Apartheid Museum, so we had a gentle start to the day before driving across Johannesburg to get there. Interestingly, the museum came into being as a result of the process for granting casino licenses. To be awarded a license, bidders had to demonstrate how they would improve tourism and the local economy, which is why the museum neighbours a casino.

The first sense you get of the impact of apartheid is at the ticket office, when you are handed these tickets…

IMG_0593…and you’re forced to use separate entrances to the building. As you pass through the opening exhibition, you are bombarded by an astonishing array of signs designed to keep the races apart. The sheer volume of signage required is actually a demonstration of just how artificial the segregation policy was.

When we got to the museum proper, the first thing we encountered was a temporary exhibition on the life of Nelson Mandela. This was very interesting and covered everything from his being named Rolihlahla at birth to being given the name Nelson by his teacher on his first day of school, through his growing political awareness and founding of the ANC youth wing, all the way up to his inauguration as president. As a Glaswegian, I have always regarded it as a matter of civic pride that we were one of the first places in the world to name a street in his honour.

nmpMandela was awarded the freedom of the city in 1981 and the following year Glasgow’s mayor launched a global petition for his release from prison which was ultimately signed by 2,500 city mayors worldwide. In 1986, St. George’s Place was renamed Nelson Mandela Place. Largely because it was the postal address of the South African High Commission in the city.

After the Mandela exhibition, we went to the main apartheid exhibition, which didn’t pull any punches. Although apartheid was officially implemented by the National Party government elected in 1948, the seeds of the policy had been sown much earlier through the housing policies that existed for, in particular, native africans who had migrated to the cities in search of, usually manual, employment in heavy industry. Segregation was strictly enforced through an ever expanding set of legislation which began with the pass laws. Everyone was classified according to what an assessor determined their race was, but appeals were possible…

IMG_0595The growth of the black political consciousness in response to these unjust laws and the absence of the vote, led to the creation of political movements, most famously the African National Congress. The ANC was promptly banned by the South African government and it became a crime to be a member.

Apart from an examination of the roots of apartheid, there were also various videos of newsreels from the various periods. The one I remember from my youth was the Soweto Uprising when schoolchildren began protesting at the government’s decision to start teaching many subjects in Afrikaans, regardless of what the teaching language had been previously. This had the effect of stunting the studies of many bright and capable students. Much as if the British government decided it would start delivering lessons in French. Police fired tear gas at the schoolkids and, when they did not disperse, started firing live rounds into the crowd. There’s an iconic photograph from that first day of protests that shows a young man carrying the body of a 13 year old boy, Hector Pietersen,  accompanied by his sister.

Hector_pietersonAs a schoolboy myself at the time, I couldn’t imagine the terror these kids were facing, And it continued for another 15 years.

The exhibition overall is extremely powerful and, I would think, a must-see if you are going to put South Africa in context. Particularly moving was the last video room, where they show actual footage of victims’ families confronting their relatives’ murderers. It’s both riveting and chilling. The museum says they expect a visit to take between one and a half and three hours. We spent four and a half hours there.