Time to explore

Trip Start May 25, 2005
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of South Africa  ,
Saturday, May 28, 2005

At last, the weekend, and time by myself to explore. I didn't quite know where to start but I just wanted to get out of the hostel and on to the streets. I took a bit of advice on the local transport (don't use the buses or trains, minibus taxi's are sometimes OK, regular taxi's are less of a risk) and struck out on foot.

Having received a warning about crime from everyone I have met so far I decided to take only a little cash with me and a photocopy of the map. No camera, no phone, nothing to attract attention.

My first stop was the Art Museum, which only took about fifteen minutes to get to. It is surrounded by a large grassy area, filled with kids and guys playing football or just sitting around, catching the sun. I noticed there weren't any females in sight. The museum was quite confusing. It traditionally housed only the old collections of Dutch art, donated by the Afrikaans settlers, each depicting old European scenes surrounded with a gold wooden frame. Now there is more of a mixture; an exhibition by school kids on 'water', a visual media presentation that I couldn't understand and a metal sculpture of a boat 20 feet high next to the closed cafe area.

There was however a fascinating exhibition on Ndebele art which mixed the traditional colourful angular village art with black and white photographs taken of the villagers. It was sponsored by Packard Bell, who had a large display trying to flog printers. The photographs were fantastic and the beadwork of the Ndebele women was immaculate. It just seemed a shame that on a Saturday I was one of only four people in the entire building.

As I left, a women was trying to re-pave the small mosaic features on the nearby pavement. She was surrounded by kids who were playing with the glue. If I had felt more at ease I would've stopped to say hello, but I just waved as the small boys called out 'Hello Madam'.

Further on I made it to the local 'Spar'. People were begging outside. White men were driving up and parking to go to the liquor store - there was a large rugby game on apparently.

I was utterly amazed by the range of fruit available. It is so much cheaper and bigger than the stuff at home in the UK. I had to stop myself from grabbing every fruit I could see, but they all smelt so fresh and juicy. They were baking at the other side of the store. Pies and pasties are a big thing here - it was just like stepping into a UK high street sandwich shop, except there was such an obvious divide between those who could afford 75 pence for a lunchtime snack, and those browsing the low cost bread - me included.

I bought some eggs, porridge, salad and fruit and went to pay. Looking at my basket compared to others, even the lettuce seemed extravagant. The South African money is beautiful - all the notes have picture of animals, and the coins have plants and birds. The coins in my change were all so small and had the equivalent values of half-a-pence in UK terms, but I soon realised that I am now on another playing field and will have to make a determined effort to conserve every cent.

One interesting thing is that you have to pay for plastic bags - a whopping 30 cents each (2p) or buy a green cloth bag for 5R (45p) to bring back every time. I went for the later, pleased to see that despite everything, the environment may actually figure in to daily life more than at home. I have to admit, I also thought that using one of these bags may also make me look less of a tourist, less of a target!

I got back to the hostel just as the sun was starting to set. It goes dark almost immediately and the temperature drops by at least ten degrees. I made myself some scrambled eggs and curled up on the couch, chatting to a couple who have driven from the UK. They certinaly had some amazing stories to tell and I found it very liberating to realise everyone has a choice to make - whether to explore the world or allow the fear of the unknown impinge on your dreams and desires.
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