Johannesburg, Gateway to the Rainbow Nation

Trip Start Aug 25, 2009
Trip End Sep 07, 2009

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Flag of South Africa  , Gauteng,
Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Before I go to South Africa, I always dreamt about it, the people, the animals and "the" African experience just fascinates me. And here I am, on a 11hrs flight to Johannesburg. I reached Johannesburg early in the morning, around 6am, and found out that it's too early to pick up my rental car as they are still on the road somewhere out there. I would recommend you all to rent a car cause it's cheap and public transport is not that good. So I spent the next 2 hour shopping for power adapter (SA uses 3-round power pin, buying an adapter at airport will cost you R60++), searching for a proper coffee and internet. SA is unlike Malaysia, where you get free internet in most coffee place, over there most places have paid internet that will offset you on an average Rm2 per minute. My first lesson on SA was by the parking attendant who ask me to give him my shoes as a souvenir…. What?? Anyway, I find it quite easy to drive in SA, right hand drive and easy to understand road sign, for example, there will be arrows on the sign indicating how many lane is going this way. While I'm getting nowhere with my map, my GPS suddenly sprung to life then I realize that I need to drive around for a while before the GPS collects enough signal to show me the way. My first destination, Soweto, in short for South Western Township where  this place has been the center stage for the struggle against apartheid government. I stayed in this backpacker called Lebo's Soweto Backpacker in Orlando West, great and clean place except the fact it's not in my GPS map. On arrival, I quickly signed up for the bicycle tour whereby they will bring you to places that you won't dare to go alone. They'll explain the history of Soweto and riding bicycle on a nice breezy spring afternoon… GREAT! You'll also get to visit 200++ sq feet house (at least it's a house, some of the homes there are still covered with scrap). Imagine a place where by a few thousand share 2 water tab and 3 toilet. You can smell the toilet from very far. I also visited the shabeen (shabby little hut act as bar) and tried the "beer" made of corn and maze. What amaze is that the people there are very friendly, kids will run to you and shake your hand. In a lot of countries, kids will come to you asking for money only but the kids there are totally different, even though they are poor, they have dignity and always look at the bright side. I also learned a meaningful lesson from a French guy in my tour group who brought a Polaroid camera to take pictures and give it to them. It really bring the smile out of people whereby some of them can't afford to be a picture taken and there's this total stranger taking free picture for them. The kids there sure enjoy a ride on their teacher car, looking at the big bright smile on their face. I also visited the street where 2 Nobel laureate live, namely Nelson Mandela and Bishop Desmond Tutu. To my surprise, SA police drive latest BMW to work… hmm… crooks will commit crime just to be driven to police station on a beemer. My dinner at Lebo was typical SA food, homemade bread, friend cabbage and stew beef.

Day 2, took a 2 hours drive to Pilanesburg Game Reserve, somewhere near Sun City (where Sunway Pyramid copied the idea from). It's the 4th largest park, 55000 acres right in a long extinct volcano crater, almost oval shape, is good for a busy traveler who can only afford a day trip. It's quite easy to animals there and I saw zebras, buffalos, blue wilderbeast, hypos, giraffes, rhinos, impalas, monkeys, wild boar and some unknown animals. Lunch there at the café located in the middle of the park was great cause it's located just next to a waterhole so you can enjoy lunch while looking at animals quenching thirst. The sandwiches was great. If you don't want to rush back to Joburg, you can spend a night at the nearby Sun City. I spent the night in 1322 Backpacker in Pretoria. I would recommend you to stay in Pretoria instead of Joburg due to security. The owner Tim at 1322 is very friendly and I get to know a French guy Mark who works at a private game lodge in Kruger so he offered me a lot of tips. I also attended the weekly 'braai' (BBQ), it's a must cause that's the SA tradition to have a braai. Tim was very chatty and I spent hours at the bar talking to him. He was also kind enough to buy us beer, hooray, salute to Tim! He is definitely the friendliest owner I've ever spoken to, same goes to Sammy (the resident fat cat). All the houses there all equipped with electric fence and every hostel hire their own security guard. You're should not park your car outside at night as most likely you won't see it the next day. They will ask you to park inside, leave the keys to them and they'll reverse your car if necessary.

Day 3 started with a visit to the Pretoria Zoo, biggest in SA. I get to see all kind of animals that I haven't seen before, not even in NatGeo or Discovery. It's at the edge of CBD, easy to go and has lots of parking. The difference with KL Zoo is that it's well managed, well funded and animals enjoy much bigger space (in KL, animals seems like cramp/confined in small area… that's why they look depressed) One recommendation is to park at proper car park, cause there're a lot car jacking, 1min security guard (people who claim to watch over your car but the moment you give them money, they disappear within 1 minute) and other people who wants to "own" you (rob your belongings). Had lunch in Nando's, of course, this is the birthplace of Nando's. They have more variety there but chicken seems to be smaller (malnutricient??) After that I spent some time in Church Square and Union Buildings. Watch out on your belongings when you go Church Square.

Day 4… woke up at 5am to drive to pickup Sarah at the airport, traffic was super terrible, got stuck in the highway, 45mins journey become 2 hours. Early morning and after work is the worst time to be on the road. Road etiquette, use double signal (emergency signal) to say thank you when overtaking. I was in a rush that I even left my money in my room (which I've already checked out). Luckily Tim found it and kept it for me, I'm so grateful that the owner is honest enough to return it. The destination of the morning is Lion Park situated between Pretoria and Joburg, about 45mins drive. In Lion Park, you'll get to touch the little lion cubs in the lion "kindergarden". They even have the white lion cubs (white lion can't survive in the wild cause their colour don't blend in well with the environment hence exposing them, making it difficult to hunt). The lion cubs like to bite, the trick is to tap on the forehead to stop them from biting you. The proper way to hold them is to hold the stomach. You can also drive around the park to see lion prides and other animals. The other star attraction is the giraffe whereby you can get close up, buy some food (R10) and feed them. They will lick it off you and their tounge fells like rubber with glue. Our lunch was at a Portuguese restaurant nearby Lesedi cause it's quite hard to find food around that area and it took them damn long to serve the food. We went to Lesedi Cultural Village whereby you can have a culture tour and see all the Zulu buildings. Didn't spend much time there, just snap some photos (without joining the tour… haha) and run. Initially we thought of buying SA Hard Rock t-shirt but came empty handed cause they closed down years ago (none in SA now). Our dinner was at Carnivore, a famous restaurant serving game meat, freshly BBQed, like crocodile, chicken, antelope, zebra, impala, giraffe, ostrich and etc. Not all game meat are tasty, some hard like rock, some have strong smell and even though it's "all you can eat" but you can't eat much cause you'll easily feel full. All the meat goes well with beer… hehe. The staffs there are very friendly and keep on wanting to take picture with us. After dinner we head back to sleep in order to gear up for tomorrow's long drive to Kruger.

Must Go/Do*
1. Soweto / Kliptown for raw African experience
2. Lion Park for hugging lion club
3. Pilanesburg Game Reserve & Sun City
4. Carnivoire Restaurant for game dining
5. Pretoria Zoo

*** See my overall 101 on South Africa on the main page of this blog. ***

~ By Philip

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