We declined the tours offered by Gate1 [to Soweto and the Apartheid Museum] and went off on our own, taking the Hop On / Hop Off bus that we have enjoyed in many a town across Europe. These buses offer tour commentary in many languages, while it ferries you from tourist place to tourist place. Our plan was to take the bus to the zoo, then take the full circle tour when we were tired.
But then we missed the zoo stop, and so went on around the Green Route through the upscale, tree-rich neighborhood of Rosebank and thence to Constitution Hill, seat of government offices. And back to the zoo.
We love zoos. Stuart, our guide, was disdainful of our plan for this day, but we did not want to wallow in Soweto. Why, when we followed all that on the news.
We went on the Cat Walk, past some cramped Victorian era zoo enclosures [now offices—how fitting!]. You can only imagine my thrill when I saw the African Wild Cat, the progenitor species of all domestic cats. About 1 ½ size of the domestic, with long legs and tawny coat, he stalked his enclosure like…like…a domestic cat. We also saw a serval [only 1] and a caracal. Later in the day, we made our way to huge cats—lion, cheetah, and a Siberian Tiger [about 1 ½ times the size of any other tiger I’ve ever seen—and this one was a female! She apparently loved being watched, as she came over to strut in front of any window where she could see admirers. At the cheetah enclosure, Ron got 14 hugs from each of a 2nd grade class, all in a line.
Wild cat Tiger, tiger burning bright
We saw everything from a tiny Fenec fox to jackals to hyenas. In the antelope category, we added Sable to our list from the parks. And Bactrian camel, a new species for me, and a very long way from the Silk Road.
The crocodiles were the most amazing, simply the size of them. They just look meaner to me than alligators [and both are man-killers!]
Shovel-tailed sloth Boy-legged antelope
The zoo is enormous and begged us to stay, but we were feeble of foot. So we boarded the bus, changed over to the Red Line and went for a long ride. We passed the exclusive British boys’ school, suitably perched on a hill overlooking vast playing fields. We viewed the Nelson Mandela Foundation, where the cult is going strong. We were flipped off by a fat black chick in the park. We were impressed with the crowded jitney vans that took folks to work or shop. The Mining District streets are punctuated by old equipment painted brightly as “art”; clever and it gave us machinery types a chance to look it over.
Gold Reef City theme park and gambling casino are at the very south of the city; there they still do the Gumboot Dance, which I first saw in Washington DC in 1966. [“Wait-a-minum!” also featured H.M. musical instruments, like a digeridoo. H.M., said a footnote, means Homemade. There are actually uTube videos from this show!!]. The dance involves lots of stomping, clapping and jumping about, sort of like “Stomp.” Other than that, the park looks a lot like Knott’s Berry Farm in CA, with the old mining town theme.
Too feeble to go into the park, we bussed on past. And regretfully also passed by the Origins Center, with Saan paintings. We were wise enough to know that the walk over to the museum and back to the bus was simply beyond us. That’s truly the only disappointment about the trip, to come so far and never seen the ancient rock art of the Saan [aka Bushmen] of the Kalahari Desert. [Ron says this is TMI, so you've been warned----I saw a film about them in college. They have the true Paleolithic diet. The men stick a poison arrow into a large giraffe; follow him for 4 days while he dies; eat the raw liver and tongue; cut as much meat as they can carry back some days to home; where everyone eats themselves into a stupor, and, with bellies distended; they sleep it off. The women have spent them time digging roots and grubs to survive. Their skin is enormously wrinkled so it can accommodate the boom-and-bust living.]
That evening, we joined the whole group for a Farewell Dinner, featuring a palate cleanser made of cucumber and citrus. And an “amuse bouche,” a “mouth amusement” of a chicken-based, butternut squash soup, with a hint of curry. And loads of other yummy stuff. I listened throughout the meal of the astounding adventures of a Vietnamese lady who saved herself after the fall of Saigon. I had told her during the trip that I was ashamed of how our government left Viet Nam, but she would hear none of it. She remains enormously grateful to our troops.
In summary, my thoughts about South Africa:
- It is a young country, like Virginia, with the same history of colonization, exploitation by the Europeans of the natives and land and uneasy race relations among the races.
- Cape Town is a delight to visit, very urban, very Indian, but with a looming water crisis, like CA.
- Jo’berg is struggling to find itself and define itself. It has a young population, with money to be made; a wise person never goes out at night. There is a a mixture of every race and culture in the world, drawn by the gold mines. It couple boil over at any minute.
- Rural people seem happy and content, following tradition, yet change is coming, as more wealth comes into the country, with agribusiness and tourism.
- The National Parks are worth more than gold. There is a resource that money cannot buy and people around the world pay millions to see. South Africa seems to be on top of the poaching problem and the parks are well patrolled and maintained.
- It is a L-O-N-G trip to get there, but it is truly like nowhere I have ever gone before. I would go again, but spend more time in the Parks and less time on the road, though the round the country tour is a must for the first visit! And probably take a sleeping pill for the first leg of the flight.