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South Africa- revisting the land of my birth

berliej

10+ Posts
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SOUTH AFRICA – revisting the land of my birth

We started off our 18 day vacation in South Africa in Johannesburg or Egoli (City of Gold as the locals call it) staying with my aunt (mom's sister) and her daughter and husband. It was lovely to be with them again.

So first a bit about Johannesburg which has such a bad reputation world wide. Johannesburg is probably the most ambitious, energetic and aggressive city of Southern Africa. Johannesburg is part of the Gauteng Province, including also Pretoria and Soweto. The locals often call this place the “Gangster’s Paradise” thanks to the letters GP on all the vehicle number plates. It actually stands for Gauteng Province, but either because gangster’s paradise is more easily pronounced by foreigners or because the locals find scaring foreigners hilarious, you will be told you are in gangster’s paradise. Jozi or Jo'burg (more nicknames – although when I was growing up in South Africa we used to also call it Joeys), despite the houses being surrounded by electronic fences and razor wire, and all the stories you hear from people who inevitably know of people who have been hijacked in their cars or had a house invasion, the only threat we really felt was on the roads.

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The roads are possibly the only thing you should fear – I thought Israeli drivers were bad but the Jo'burg drivers are hazardous!!!! Here are some tips I read somewhere and agree with them totally:

1. Never use turning signals, it gives away your next move.
2. The faster you drive through a red light, the smaller your chance of being hit.
3. Under no circumstances should you leave a safe distance between you and the car in front or the space will be filled by two Golfs, a BMW and an Uno. (We actually had a couple of experiences of this and then the car that pushed in went straight through the red light!)
4. Never come to a complete stop, no one expects it and it will only result in a rear ending.

It is hard for a tourist to get around because Johannesburg's current public transport system, based on crime-ridden trains, ramshackle minibuses and buses that shamble along a few times a day whenever they feel like it, is strictly for those who cannot afford private transport. The white mini bus taxis are the predominant mode of transport used mainly by the local black population however they are apparently often not roadworthy and their drivers often don't have a taxi license or even a driver's license! Uber seems to be used quite extensively these days.

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However there are good things in Jo'burg as well, it is one of the greenest cities I have seen (I am using the old term green and not today's term meaning ecology). It has so many trees and lush vegetation. It is also a shopaholic's paradise at the moment because of the exchange rate. We found the public areas such as shopping centers spotless and many other top cities in the world would do well to take an example from this! Also great food, good restaurants. We didn't do any real site seeing as most of our time was spent catching up with family and friends.

We arrived in Joburg on a Wednesday morning and on Friday went with the family to the Pilanesberg Game Reserve which is about 2+ hours north of Joburg, in the Bojanala Region of the North West Province, adjacent to Sun City. Set in the crater of a long extinct volcano, the Park ranks among the largest of the parks in South Africa (it is in fact the fourth largest park) and covers an area of 55 000 hectare. We went to Pilanesberg for two reasons, because it is much closer to Joburg than the Kruger Park and also because it is a malaria free area, so no need to take malaria pills.

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It has the Big Five (lion, black rhino, Cape Buffalo, African elephant and leopard) animals which is a term that was coined by big-game hunters and refers to the five most difficult animals in Africa to hunt on foot. The term is still used in most tourist and wildlife guides that discuss African wildlife safaris.

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We stayed there for 2 nights….doing the "traditional" game reserve routine – getting up at sunrise and after a quick cup of coffee going for a "game drive", driving around looking for game till about 9 a.m then heading back to the camp for breakfast. After breakfast and relaxing for the rest of the day about 3.30 p.m you head out again on another game drive. The reason for doing game drives at these times this is that this is when the game comes out to eat and drink and the rest of the day stay in the shade of trees. Because of the large amount of rain the area has had recently the grass was very tall so difficult to see any big cats.

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We did however see lots of rhino, and quite a few elephants, hippos, besides the usual animals such as a variety of buck, zebra, wildebeest, jackal etc. It was so good to smell Africa again… it has a special smell a kind of woody, earthy smell mixed with diesel fumes sometimes, difficult to describe – this description which I cannot take credit for, is as close as it comes –
"In the winter it smells like a campfire. You can always see a plume of smoke rising in the distance from a veld fire. In the spring it smells like flowers. There is a tree with little yellow puffballs on it, and the smell is so sweet it perfumes the air all around it.

In the summer it smells like rain. The good sort of "wet dog" smell. The thunderstorms wash away the dirt in the air - the sweat and smog and hard work of the day- and we are left breathing in fresh clean air. In the cool of the morning after a thunderstorm... that is my favourite South Africa smell.

One can always always smell the diesel fumes and black exhaust smoke from cars that are in desperate need of servicing. I call it the "Third World Traffic" smell, the smell of dirty pale blue buses and beat up taxis.

I would be chastised severely if I failed to mention the smell of the braai - there is nothing like walking out of a shop or walking through your neighbourhood and having the smell of boerewors (spicy sausage) waft past your nose.It's funny how smells affect us, remind us of a long-ago memory, cause us to feel nostalgic.”

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After our week in Joburg and area we flew to Durban which is in the KwaZulu Natal province and where I grew up and lived till I emigrated to Israel at the age of 20. My niece and her partner met us at the airport. They live on a farm in the Natal Midlands a fertile cradle of land (about an hour's drive inland from Durban on the coast) between the coast and the craggy Drakensberg Mountains. The Natal Midlands is a myriad of waterfalls, lakes, dams, Zulu cultural villages, game reserves and historical battle sites. The Natal Midlands have some of the most historic battle sites in South Africa. It was here that the Boer met the British and the Zulu Impis met both! The landscape is gentle, very picturesque and soft wavy hills, very green dominated by pastures and pine and eucalyptus forests. It is a very popular tourist spot offering excellent hotels, guest houses, country lodges, restaurants and tea-gardens. The Midlands Meander route which runs mainly between Howick and Nottingham Road is a delightful shopping and browsing side-trip, including numerous antique shops, art galleries and arts and crafts studios.

The farm has quite a lot of wildlife… monkeys in the eucalyptus forest, a variety of buck, about 84 varieties of birds, otters in the river and to my disgust snakes! I was warned that they had found a large night adder in one of the kitchen cupboards about 2 weeks before we arrived. Knowing my loathing for snakes they had debated whether to tell me or not, but in the end decided they had better, so whenever I went to open any of the kitchen cupboards I would open them very gingerly calling out "snake, snake, snake" to warm any reptile than might be lurking in there that I was coming… I figured forewarned is forearmed kind of thing!

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They must have heard me because I never encountered one either in the house or outside. The setting of the farm is absolutely magical – and sitting on their verandah overlooking the fields especially at sunrise with a mug of coffee or at sunset with a relaxing drink is pure heaven. The silence and tranquility is good for the soul. In future whenever I will feel stressed out I will bring to mind that view and that feeling of utter peace.

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While we were on the farm I met up with some friends I hadn't seen for many years. Two school friends with whom I was at primary school …one of them I had no contact with since we were about 11 and the other from the age of 16, who I reconnected with thanks to the internet a couple of years ago. It was also good catching up with other close friends I last saw in 1983 although we have always been in touch via mail and email. We enjoyed a short break to a guesthouse in the majestic Drakensberg Mountains, .. about 2 hours drive from the farm in the Champagne Valley.

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The Drakensberg mountain range is situated along the southeast coast of South Africa. These spectacular mountains extend from northeast to southwest for around 1,125 km, the Drakensberg is part of the Great Escarpment and the main watershed of South Africa. The local Zulu name for Drakensberg is Quathlamba or ‘The Barrier of Spears’, an accurate description for the Drakensberg that rise over 3000 meters in height.

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Bushmen were the earliest inhabitants of this region. They lived in harmony with their environment asking nothing more than what was needed for their survival. The arrival of white settlers changed the scenario and violent clashes with them led the tribes to extinct from their own habitat.

We had a wonderful few days relaxing and enjoying the amazing scenery in the area, especially that in the Royal National Park. It was the first time I had been back to this area of South Africa since about 1966 and there were so many places I remembered, so many familiar things, things I had actually forgotten about but obviously all these memories had been stored in that amazing computer called the brain… saved in a folder called "childhood, memories growing up in South Africa." Just seeing a word or hearing the name of a place often brought these memories back flooding in, so it was also a week of nostalgia, eating foods I hadn't eaten since I was a teenager, showing Sam many of the places and scenery I loved so much. He now understands why I feel far more at home in Queensland in Australia than in his home town of Melbourne and my love of flowers and countryside more than cities.

I was glad that I had planned our trip to South Africa starting off in Joburg and ending in Natal because it left me with some sense of the South Africa I know so well, the South Africa I grew up in and the South Africa that will always remain in my heart no matter where I live. There have been so many changes since I lived there, some for the good, some distressing. The New South Africa since apartheid was abolished is still having its teething problems even after all this time, some of which are turning into really bad rotten teeth thanks to bad government!

Who knows what the future holds for South Africa, with its problems of AIDS, poverty and corruption in government. I hope that it won't go the same way of almost all the other countries on the African continent, that it will learn from the mistakes of those other countries and build South Africa into the true Rainbow Nation it aspires to be – but I have my fears. It is such a beautiful special country with such potential. Please listen to this beautiful song…. It is the national anthem and the spirit of South Africa

View: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NBKjWRjwMkY
 
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SMJ

100+ Posts
Contest 2019 Winner!
That was just a lovely report! Thank you.
I lived in Johannesburg 1977-78 (when I was young!) and worked as a nurse at a private clinic.
This brought back lovely and not so lovely memories.
I'd love to back and visit.
 

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