part 1 | part 2 | part 3 | part 4
DAY 11 - Saturday 4-14-18 - Soweto Tour
After an early breakfast depart on a half day tour of Soweto. Experience a fascinating glimpse of the bustling neighborhood life of Soweto, the most metropolitan township in the country, setting trends in politics, fashion, music, dance, and language. Drive by the former residence of Bishop Desmond Tutu and visit Nelson Mandela's former home, before proceeding to the Hector Pieterson Memorial and Museum, dedicated to one of the first casualties of the Soweto uprising of 1976. Continue to the Apartheid Museum, where you will journey through the racial segregation experienced by millions of South Africans. This evening enjoy a Farewell Dinner with your Tour Manager and fellow travelers.
the best part of breakfast was a chicken & peppers dish that seemed decidedly un-breakfast-like, & there was also beef liver, lots of fresh fruit, the vanilla-pear yogurt i had on safari, & south africa's version of lox - same stuff, but just called salmon. we were off at 8:45am to soweto.
we all said sah-BOH-nah to charles, our driver, for the last time - that's "hello" in his native zulu. south africa has eleven official languages - one each for the nine tribes plus afrikaans & english. nearly everyone i encountered in south africa & swaziland spoke english. (i knew i'd listened to too much tour-guiding when the book i was reading started sounding like ahmet's accent.)
we passed a small amusement park & a gold mine, then picked up our local guide & ahmet's friend, andani. he was awesome. we passed the third largest hospital in the world - the chris hani baragwanath hospital, three miles in circumference, & andani taught us some interesting local facts, like how hailing a taxi is done differently depending on where you're going - for example, holding up your first finger only means "i'm going to joburg", & the cab will stop if they're going that way. andani pointed out the power plant, calling it soweto's "twin towers", & said that it powers joburg - "they enjoy the power, & soweto enjoys the smoke". soweto got electricity in 1982. there's a bridge between the towers which is used for bungee jumping! andani added that if you're over sixty, you can jump for free.
there are three classes in soweto, & they're judged by where you live. tin shacks denote the poor; people who live in two bedroom houses with a den & living room are middle class. the houses have asbestos ceilings, but no one gets sick because they paint every year, & that contains the asbestos dust. some of the people living in tin shacks have televisions almost as large as the shacks, & drive new mercedes-benz. i heard a familiar word then, as andani told us that ubuntu means humanity.
we stopped at the freedom charter monument, which memorializes the ten tenets of their constitution. they were very well written, but andani explained that implementation is the problem. there were live chickens on the side of the road for sale - they eat all colors of chicken except black. the black ones are used to cleanse bad luck - you kill one in a river, & the bad luck flows away.
we drove down vilakazi street, where two nobel prize winners lived, & saw nelson mandela's house. vilakazi means "lazy person", but andani assured us it didn't apply. he tried to teach us to say "the power is ours!" as the well-known call-back to his yelling "power!", but our rendition was sort of pitiful. andani laughed at us a bit, shook his head, & said, "you don't sound like a revolution."
the next stop was the first of two not-nice-but-important museums, the hector pieterson museum, where police opened fire on a peaceful student demonstration. we weren't allowed to take photos in the museum, but i was particularly struck by a board that read, "what have we done? our crime is our blackness." it was rough, but needs to be remembered.
on the drive to the apartheid museum - ahmet had told us many times that it means "apart/hate" - i did a double-take on some graffiti that looked like my name, & unintentionally took a thinker pic of a billboard & a well-timed truck. at the museum, we were [fortunately randomly] divided into "whites" & "non-whites", & made to enter separately. (a lady on the trip with her husband, both of whom are black, started roaring laughter because she got a "white" ticket & he didn't. he was laughing too, & i have Absolutely Nothing Else To Say About That.) the "non-whites" were instructed only to speak when spoken to, & not to make eye contact when speaking. shortly after, sophie seemed upset, so i asked if she was alright - she showed me her "non-white" ticket & said she was obeying the rules. i felt aghast & told her that i'll start lots of conversations with her so she could speak freely, & that made her smile. we learned the japanese were "honorary whites", due to the car & electronics trade going on, but the chinese were classified as "black".
andani was still with us, & we stood by a replica of an extremely old human skull - he explained that the oldest human life was found in africa, which means all human life came from africa, & he added, "welcome home". that part was genuinely nice. inside the museum, he noted that an american being asked how tall they were at ten years old would hold their hand parallel to the ground to indicate height, but africans believe the spine grows upward, & so they'll hold their fingers & thumb together at the tips & pointed down, sort of like if you were pulling a tissue from a box, to represent the spine. africans will also make the flat-hand gesture, but only for animals that have a horizontal spine.
we had two hours at the museum, but ahmet reassured us that most people will be done in an hour to an hour & a half - it's a difficult museum. i wandered through the nelson mandela traveling exhibit & then through the permanent exhibition, reading here & there, but it was indeed a lot to take, especially right after hector's museum. the museum was very cleverly designed, taking you from one exhibit to the next with not much open room, so it felt sort of prison-like. i finally passed the monitor showing the parliament address where mandela was released & the ANC, PAC, & SACP were unbanned... i ended up having to go back & watch it a couple of times, just to let some positivity sink in. i finished in about an hour & a quarter, & gratefully had a bit of lunch & read a novel at the museum restaurant. again, a difficult visit, but like the holocaust museum, it must be remembered.
ahmet took us around to see a nice view of joburg on the way back to the hotel, & we passed mandela's other house, the one where he died. back at melrose arch, the area with our hotel, i walked over to paul, an oddly-named patisserie, & bought the last slice of their bilberry tart (nice, not very sweet; i liked it, but it was no zumbo), then relaxed a while before the farewell dinner.
our final dinner was at pigalle, & a delightful multi-course affair. they fed us an amuse-bouche of a roasted butternut squash & cumin soup (which i could eat every day), then bread & salad, & a lime sorbet palate cleanser. for my main, i ordered the kudu loin with mushrooms, spinach, & mash - ahmet was sitting next to me & just knew i'd go game again. my dessert was a wonderful lemon tart with a mixed berry compote, though the crème brûlée was more noteworthy for being served in dishes about ten inches long by an inch wide (i've never had to accuse a crème brûlée of overcompensating before, buuut... XD). after the meal, we walked the two minutes back to the hotel & said our goodbyes. i made plans with sophie & emily to meet up the next morning for breakfast & to try to find somewhere nearby to get massages before my ~29 hours of travel home & their four ridiculous layovers back to texas & arizona, respectively.
stopping at the front desk, busisiwe (boos-uh-SEY-way), a gorgeous woman with a shaved head, made me the last guest allowed a late departure, & so i was safe to stay in my room until my shuttle at 3pm. we talked about piercings & tattoos for a bit, & i ended up showing her my hawk cutting. she & the other front desk woman, whose name i didn't catch, were fucking cool, & i told them to look me up if they ever wanted to visit seattle.
i think the worst part about travel is when the trip is over, but there's still more than a day to go before i get hooooome.
DAY 12 - Sunday 4-15-18 - Depart South Africa
Transfer to the airport for your departure flight.
i had several hours to blow before my airport transfer. i had a light breakfast with sophie & emily, hung out while they packed up, & said our goodbyes. (we couldn't find a massage place nearby that i trusted with my fucked up back, but i think they went.) i wandered slowly back to pigalle to lunch on the langoustines & local rock lobster (from mozambique) that i love & can't get at home. (they also plied me with another tiny cup of their curry squash soup, mmmm.) it finally started pouring rain as i was preparing to walk the three blocks back to the hotel, so i cruised the shops until it lightened up long enough to walk with a plastic bag on my head.
my shuttle to the airport almost left without me, though i showed up for it ten minutes early - the guy had four on the manifest instead of five, but the two couples i'd been traveling with noticed the weirdo wasn't with them. another high five for being highly identifiable. security was easy at johannesburg airport, & i was plenty early, so i spent some time being interviewed about my trip by one of those guys who works for local tourism. there was another security check at the gate, like i had in panama on my galápagos trip. i got to ride in my first double-decker plane to my layover in paris, & i somehow got placed in a "preferred seat". plus the french staff called me mademoiselle & sophie had thought i was 27, so that was all quite nice. the food was also surprisingly decent - a fresh chickpea salad, chicken & veggies, granadilla yogurt, & - i presume for reasons of drought - turkish water. the ten hour flight didn't exactly fly by (har), but at least i was seated next to respectful people, & i gave the charming french dude on my left some restaurant tips for his upcoming seattle trip.
the charles de gaulle airport put me through another security check for some unknown reason - usually they don't do that when you're only laying over - but at least it was fast. i was in paris about five minutes before being faced with plant tits (that figures). i bought some food, then hung around outside the massage booth for a half hour until they opened. i was given a MUCH better chair massage than i'd expected, & ended up buying the neck massager they had on offer - i'd been shopping them on amazon, but didn't want to buy without trying it since my back is so fucked... oh, this one's nice. :D on to the completely ridiculous & super inefficient boarding process for my second ten-hour flight home. they were overbooked by four seats & eventually were offering the same flight the next day, a free hotel, AND a voucher for 600 monies (they didn't say if it was dollars or euros), & i was pretty tempted... but i was also VERY READY to be home, & one tired night in paris wouldn't be enough fun to be worthwhile.
the flight back was fine, the light rail home showed up less than a minute after i got to the platform, & my jet lag math worked so well (as usual) that i was able to move my facial appointment to that afternoon. after a six-hour shower & then that facial, i almost felt normal [for me, at least] again.
so, long-time readers may notice i didn't get tattooed in south africa or swaziland. i decided when planning this trip that getting the tattoo addition done in the country proper was no longer worthwhile - i'd originally started that to have lots of unique tattoo experiences, but every good shop uses something very close to an american style setup, so that wasn't very new. add to it the sometimes extreme hassle of getting to a shop, then sitting around waiting for my artist, wasting the time that i could be doing other cool stuff in the country - it's too much effort for little reward beyond bragging rights, & i can already claim i've been tattooed all over the world. i decided i'd only have further tattoos done abroad if i happened to have the time & found a shop during my wanderings that could accommodate me. & it was good timing on that decision, too - while we did pass one [extremely sketchy-looking] tattoo shop in south africa, there was nothing close to acceptable in swaziland, & it absolutely would not have been safe to venture out looking for more in either country. i had a local seattle artist ink both country names the day after i got home. (he took a bit too much liberty, & forgot the dot on swaziland's "i", so i'll have to add that later... but whatever, this project was never about perfection in ink.)
& the final piece to write about is the hippo planter i gifted. the one i bought had two places for plants & two hippos, & said hippos had a bit more space than the other planters on offer. i didn't want to lie to customs, so i left the plants in the hotel (with a note & some rands to please take good care of them for me). i was trying to figure out what similar local plant to replace them with, but eventually realized it'd be a pain to use live - the planter would probably live on a desk or shelf, so sunlight may be difficult & watering them would be messy (the planter has drainage holes), & also they'd need to be pruned or replaced in time... not feasible. i had a day between getting home & seeing the recipient, so i pulled out some crafting wire & foam & paint & glue & made a set of trees i thought would suffice. i attached them with hot glue (because it would conform to the roughly carved stone while still being easy to remove if he did prefer real plants) & put unused vivarium substrate over top. i thought they came out okay! not only did he love the hippos, but he also noted that his wedding cake topper had similar trees decorated with small stones, so it triggered happy nostalgia for him, too. i consider this a gifting success. ^_^
new animals eaten:
new fruits eaten:
thanks for reading.