So I was complaining earlier about having trouble with getting my work visa processed. To no one’s surprise, it didn’t happen before my regular visa expired, and it came time to leave the country or face a daily fine and a nasty little black mark against my passport. A last-minute messy travel planning session ensued and involved brief consideration of options as diverse as flying to Ethiopia or taking a local flight to a southern Angolan town and taking a bush taxi to the Namibian border from there. In the end the only available option was flying to Johannesburg, South Africa. We booked the day before we flew, and spent 4 welcome days in the developed world.
Top ten highlights of the trip:
1. Apartheid Museum
Fairly recently opened, the museum traces the history of South Africa’s settlement and frames the dark chapter of apartheid effectively. Visitors are handed passes randomly – depending on which pass you receive you are forced to enter the museum through the door for whites only or blacks only. Groups are thus forced to experiece the first part of the museum separately, only meeting outside for the walk up to the second (and much more substantial) part of the museum.
The "pillars" of the South African Constitution:
2. Wildlife in Pilanesburg National Park
About a two-hour drive from Johannesburg, this national park is full of wild animals. The lions remained elusive, but the elephants put on a nice show. Zebras, hippos, and giraffes were also in abundance. It was the rhinos that caught my attention mostly though – it was was the first time I’d seen them in the wild. They don’t do much, but they’re so improbable it’s hard to stop watching them. Especially the baby ones…
3. Jacaranda blooming season
These trees are stunning in bloom, and we visited in peak season. I was hoping to visit Pretoria, which apparently is covered in the bright purple blossoms in October, but had to settle for the street we were staying on.
4. Thai food
I just so happened to pick a lodge located in an area of great restaurants, and one of them was Thai. There is no Thai food in Angola. Thai food is my favorite cuisine of all time. I ate there twice (and would eaten there more often if I didn’t capitulate Burch’s pleas for a more diverse dining experience during our visit…wuss).
5. Roller coasters
Unexpectedly, there was an amusement park next to the Apartheid Museum. It did seem like an odd combination at first thought, but on second thought roller coasters are fun. We got to the park just in time to ride the “Anaconda” twice. The second time was in the middle of thunderstorm and they shut the park down afterwards. Friggin’ lightning…
6. Top of Africa
I love views – and this is the best one in Joburg. It also takes you downtown, which is a bit shady. Atop the tower is a large observation area offering unobstructed views in all directions. The remnants of the thunderstorms passing through the area made for a nice backdrop, and I was lucky enough to snap a photo of lightning. I’m pretty sure I couldn’t do that again if I tried.
7. Hot water showers
It’s the little things sometimes. We sort of a have hot water at the apartment Luanda, but it only works by heating water as it passes the showerhead. You can only use it for 10 minutes at a time without shorting the fuse and even when it’s working it’s sort of random. But I digress…hot showers rock.
8. Working internet
Even though we had to pay separately, the internet actually worked in South Africa. The Angolan pasttime of hitting “page reload” five times before reading your email was not missed.
9. Favorable exchange rates
We happened to visit during one of the more active of global financial meltdown weeks, and the dollar kept strengthening to the rand by the minute. We arrived at 9-to-1 and left at close to 11-to-1. In other words, everything was cheap. As an American tourist abroad, this was a relatively new feeling…
Pronounced Bay-aht, this was the name of the friendly Afrikaaner that ran the lodge where we stayed. He was more than willing to discuss just about anything and reminded me what good customer service was all about. I never did work up the courage to ask him about his name…