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How about a braai?

About an hour after we left Durban‘s King Shaka Airport, we were at O.R. Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg. Though only a short distance away, it felt like a different world.

As we exited, we noticed Stefan looking anxiously towards the arrivals gate then at his cell phone, as if trying to decide whether to make a call. We shouted his name and he turned and smiled widely. It was wonderful to see his familiar face.

Despite the fun we’d had in Victoria Falls, on safari at Hwange National Park, in Cape Town and Durban, Johannesburg felt as if we were returning home.

As soon as exchanged hugs and settled into the jeep, we – Sandra, Judith and I – began chattering all at once, like giddy teenagers tripping over each others’ words eagerly trying to get the stories of our adventures out to Stefan as quickly as we could.

Stefan had some news of his own. While we were gone, Shepherds Court, the guest house he owns and where we had stayed when we arrived in Johannesburg, had seen a flurry of new arrivals and was fully booked so he decided to put us up for our last night in Joburg at his pool house. He dropped us off then left to do some shopping.

We settled in and made our way to the kitchen of the main house and opened a bottle of Tall Horse, a local wine we had fallen in love with. The door bell rang unexpectedly. It was Thope. She had several bottles of wine with her and told us that Stefan planned to have a braai – a kind of a barbecue – for us before we left. A braai? We were excited!

In our two weeks in Southern Africa, we had not been to a braai. We hadn’t thought about it — it wasn’t even on our must-do list.

Finally, Stefan returned and more friends arrived. The men went about setting up and cooking ribs, pork, beef and boerewors (sausage) while we women remained inside drinking and chatting.

Once everything was ready, we moved outside to the covered porch area where the huge braaier was located and the party began.

We had eaten so much beef in Southern Africa, we’d joked among ourselves that we’d  have to take a vacation from meat when we returned to the States. But what’s a braai without meat? The beef was surprisingly tender and flavorful and hours later, almost all of it had been washed down with several bottles of South African wine.

After the braai

And several bottles of wine

Just before dawn

If we didn’t have plans to go to Soweto later that morning, we would probably still be there, chatting and laughing. We had a fabulous time. It was about 3 a.m. when we finally stumbled into bed on our last night in South Africa.

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Cape Town on Foot, Pt I

Waterfront

Image via Wikipedia

Originally, we had set aside the second day for  Table Mountain but our guide, Ian Reinders, insisted we go that first day following our visit to Robben Island. His reasoning was simple: the weather was good and if we waited, it might change and we wouldn’t get to see the mountain. Since we had only 5 days in Cape Town, we didn’t want to take any chances so we agreed.

When we woke that morning, we were both happy and relieved that we had been flexible and listened to Ian. Clouds covered the city and a light rain fell intermittently.

Even on a cloudy day, it’s hard to escape the almost sterile beauty of Cape Town. Some places look so new, so clean, they feel as if they were just built.

After a late breakfast, we decided to head out and explore the city on our own. Tony, a friend in Cape Town, had sent us a list of places to see and eat and our friend, Lorraine Klaasen had recommended Mzoli’s Place, so food was covered.

We wanted to visit the Slave Lodge, a museum, and go to the Green Market Square, a shopping area we had heard good things about. Everything, it seemed was on or near Long Street – the heart of the city – so we asked directions and headed out on foot.

Cape Town walkway

The streets around the V&A were almost empty, as if everyone had left town. I wondered where they could be, where the residential areas were and how far away the townships – and the action — would be.

Don’t get me wrong: we saw people – at the V&A Waterfront, at Table Mountain and Robben Island, and on the streets. But even during the week, I never saw anything that rivaled the hustle and bustle of Johannesburg.

News of the day

Nevertheless, Ian kept reminding us to be careful and we’d remind him that we live in New York and also get the same warnings each time we visit Jamaica so we knew how to keep our guards up. The evening before, Judith and I wanted to use an ATM that was inside the mall at the V&A. Ian insisted on accompanying us and warned that we stand guard behind whoever was using the machine. I felt he was being overly protective but I figured it’s his city, he’d know it better.

But apart from a woman with a child who approached us in the mall asking for money — unfortunately, living in a large city like New York, we’ve become inured to people like her and spotted her a mile away — no one bothered us and we felt completely safe.

Along the way, we noticed a cab driver and asked him to take us to Long Street. He told us we were only 10 minutes’ away so if we wanted to, we could walk. He even gave us directions to get there! Okay, we’re definitely not in New York!

Sure enough, after a leisurely walk, we noticed the sign for Long Street. Right away, the energy felt different – still not as bustling as Johannesburg or New York but definitely livelier than before. People were hustling about and there were lots more cars, buses and noise.

It was hard not to miss the first shop we stumbled on. Life sized African figures, wooden carvings and furniture marked the entrance to the small store that was chock full of stuff: jewelry, fabric, sandals, carvings and more decorated the walls and sprouted from either side of the narrow walkway. We had to be careful not to knock anything over but despite that, we ended up spending nearly 2 hours browsing, haggling, and socializing with the Nigerian owner, who told us he was a prince back home (aren’t all Nigerians princes back home, a friend asked me when I related the story) before hunger pushed us to look for lunch.

With the Nigerian Prince

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Maropeng and Sterkfontein Cave – Meeting “Mrs. Ples”

Since we had only 2 days in Joburg, Thope had suggested a visit either to Maropeng or Sun City. Google it, she had said, referring to Maropeng.

I’d never heard about Maropeng but when I discovered its background and that it had been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1999, there was no doubt where we’d go.

About an hour’s drive from Johannesburg, Maropeng, the “Cradle of Civilization” is the area where our ancestors lived for more than 3 million years. The earliest human fossils, the most famous of which, “Mrs. Ples,” believed to be a distant relative of humankind, were unearthed in the nearby Sterkfontein Caves.

Mrs. Ples

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Sawubona! Finding Family in Johannesburg

During our meetings in the months leading up to our departure, Sandra, Judith and I decided to identify our three ‘must-see’ places in South Africa. Soweto was on each of our lists.

An abbreviation of South Western Townships, Soweto, is home to about 2 million people. It is recognized internationally as the seat of the Apartheid resistance, and for us, women of African descent, it holds a strong emotional charge. No visit to Johannesburg would have been complete without a trip to Soweto. In fact, if all we got to see was Soweto, we would have been happy. Anything more would be, as we say in Jamaican parlance, brawta, a treat.

We arrived in Johannesburg, South Africa’s largest city, on the last Thursday night in August after a lovely flight via Amsterdam on KLM. KLM’s flight attendants were extremely friendly and attentive, the meals delicious and so attractively presented, I almost didn’t want to damage the package by opening it. (Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport, where we had a 2-hour layover and KLM’s service deserve separate posts.)

Thope and Hope, our new friends, were waiting to meet us at Johannesburg’s Oliver R. Tambo International Airport. Thope‘s a friend of my new friend, Montrealer and South African jazz singer, Lorraine Klaasen, and Hope is Thope’s friend and co-owner of Shepherds Court,the guest house where we were booked to stay.

We had met Lorraine earlier in the year, told her about our trip and asked her to recommend places for us to see. When I told her that we didn’t know a soul in South Africa, without hesitation, she whipped out her Blackberry and gave us the contact information of several of her friends and relatives in Johannesburg. We were deeply touched by her generosity.

Sawubona, Finding Family in Johannesburg

Sandra, Marcia, Lorraine Klaasen and Judith

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