Don’t worry, South Africa, eventually you’ll get over the World Cup, like one gets over a short-lived but intense holiday love affair. We walked off the plane in Johannesburg into a giant airport full of FIFA signage, billboards screaming “WELCOME FANS!”, the national flags of every participating team…and no people, the World Cup having ended about two weeks before. There was something a bit sad about it, like someone waiting for party guests or a date that doesn’t turn up. I almost expected a tumbleweed to blow across the immigration hall.
Once it was confirmed that we hadn’t picked up yellow fever in Tanzania (ah, so all those vaccinations WERE worth my life savings!), we found Bob from Bob’s Bunkhouse waiting to drive us to the hostel we had booked. Bob’s is a great place to stay in Jo’burg- cheap, safe and cozy, as it’s basically of extension of Bob and his wife Joan’s house. We got settled, met Sebastiano from Milan (who would become a staple of our three weeks in South Africa) and passed out for a nap following our early start in Dar. We spent the afternoon doing supermarket-y, Internet-y sort of errands and in the evening I hit up the pub with Dan and Joe from Israel, in town for business.
Lovely guys and we had a great chat, but one topic of conversation stands out in particular: Dan rode a horse across Mongolia. By himself. For two months. Did you catch that? A HORSE. Mongolia. Now, on this journey I have heard some amazing travel stories that are worthy of the ‘Ooohs’ and ‘Aaaahs’ and ‘Wows!’ they elicit from listeners, but this one left me speechless. The trains and planes and buses I’ve been on suddenly seemed so ordinary, so 21st century! Oh yikes, I thought, should I be on a horse?!
Probably not, I thought the next morning as I got ready for a day trip to the Apartheid museum and the township of Soweto. For starters, my equestrian experience doesn’t extend much further than Michael Jackson in Egypt, so probably best we put that idea to bed. So back to Jo’burg… Bob had booked us a day tour with a great guide by the name of Jabu- an extremely jovial local guy who was keen to give us lots of history on the city and surrounding area. He drove us to the Apartheid Museum first which was, in a word, intense. It’s SUCH recent history, it’s difficult to grasp. I would later meet a South African girl, aged 23 or so, who clearly remembers the day her school was integrated to allow black students. Unreal.
After the museum, Jabu took us to the township of Soweto (short for ‘Southwestern Township’) where we saw the Mandela family house, Winnie Mandela’s house and the Hector Pieterson Museum, built in remembrance of the events of June 16, 1976. Without writing a whole history lesson, the basics are that on that day, a peaceful student protest against the use of Afrikaans as the official teaching language went horribly wrong, resulting in the death of innocent 13-year-old Hector. It was again very intense and extremely interesting- I felt very educated by the end of the day!
Before heading back to the hostel, Jabu took us to the slum/shanty town area of Soweto where a local guide took us into the home of a resident- literally a corrugated metal structure with no electricity or water, housing 20 family members or something. It was a good eye-opener, especially given how recently apartheid existed in the country, as I mentioned.
The evening was uneventful as we ate supermarket supper, watched telly and packed up for our first trip on the Baz Bus, which is where the fun REALLY begins…