It's a dead what?

Trip Start May 25, 2005
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of South Africa  ,
Sunday, May 29, 2005

Inspired by my roaming yesterday, I decided that today I would venture further and visit the Botanical Gardens. Every other Sunday throughout the winter free concerts are staged and today was a jazz quintet.

Travelling is impossible without a vehicle in Pretoria, and I don't have one. My only option was to walk to the main arterial road and hail a minibus taxi. These are typically white small mini-buses which can seat about fourteen, but tend to have more like forty passengers. Costing R6 anywhere they are a good deal, so long as you don't crash or get mugged.

It pretty much goes without saying that white people are wealthy enough to drive everywhere in Pretoria, so after chatting to a white female resident I decided her advice was probably reasonable and that I should be OK.

The drivers are erratic to say the least, and I was worried that they wouldn't want to stop and let me on. How silly, they just want passengers, even if they have no idea where the destination you want actually is. The lady next to me had a small baby who was amazed by my hair and skin. It just sat google-eyed and I suppose I probably made some of the other passengers a bit weary too, but with a few smiles everyone exhaled and I passed forward my fare to the driver.

It soon became clear I was not going to get to the gardens in this taxi. Roads in Pretoria have a habit of being one-way and splitting to go around the reverse of buildings. Looking at my map I knew we had gone too far, and I bailed out opposite a new KFC. If nothing else I thought there would be taxi's going back the other way. As if by magic a couple of police officers strolled out of the KFC, loaded with burgers and milkshakes (no comment) and so, within 48 hours of arriving I was in the back of the Police van, being escorted to the gates of the gardens.

The Botanical gardens were lovely and the plants are so huge. I was a couple of hours early for the band and decided to follow the 'succulents' route around the site. The sun was burning and the plants looked so alien it made me realise how far I had travelled. Just as I was about to seek shade I saw a small brown blob on the path ahead. I stopped, waited for it to see me and scuttle off. But it didn't.

As I walked closer I figured it would move, but I soon realised it was in trouble. It was a small (30cm) brown furry mammal called a Dhassie. It was foaming at the mouth, lying on one side and fitting every few minutes. I hesitated, not knowing what to do, but it was frying in the sun and I had no option but to pick it up and take it....somewhere. By now I was a long way into the park and away from where the focus of the day's activities were set. I saw a building in the distance and decided to take a chance that someone would be in.

As I approached, a security guard got up and look horrified at the creature in my hands. He immediately thought I had injured the Dhassie, but after some explanation, called for help. It took a while for a member of staff to arrive, and I don't think there was much hope for the thing. However, looking back on whether I should have interfered, the creature was so vulnerable and who knows, may have been poisoned.

Anyway, the band was great and large umbrella canopies had been set out on the large lawn to shade us from the sun. I was grateful for the sarnies and water I had packed but my simple picnic looked pretty inferior to the luscious spreads laid out close by. It seems like a family affair and the gardens were full.

Afterwards, I nearly rued my stupidity on relying on minibus-taxis. It took an age for one to come along, all the time rich white families were driving by in Mercedes and SUV's. A car park attendant helped me keep and eye out - I think he was amused to see me using this kind of transport.

It's generally a difficult thing, knowing where and when to push the boundaries. In reality I don't think using a minibus-taxi is a brave or stupid move, just unusual, especially for a lone white female. I would think twice before venturing out here at night, or using this kind of transport other than during the day. But, it's these things that are the root of travelling, finding out about a new culture, finding out how and when to fit in. Am I banking too much on the power of a smile
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