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Arrival in South Africa

October 9-10, 2000

Planes, Buses, and Cab Rides

Johannesburg, South AfricaWell, my trip to Africa didn't get off to an auspicious start: as I was climbing into the bus to take me to Dulles Airport, my watch band broke! What a way to start the trip. As it turned out though, that was to be one of the few glitches in an otherwise spectacular trip.

After catching an early flight to Atlanta, I was off to Johannesburg via South African Airways (or "Springbok" as it is called by some: I would learn the significance of the name later). Fortunately the 15-hour trip was eased by the couple sitting next to me, who had many interesting tales to tell. They were going on a hunting safari further north (I think either in Zambia or Tanzania).  Apparently anything they catch is shared with the local families, who also help in the hunt and the butchering of the meat.   Endangered animals (such as elephants and rhinos) you can hunt, but only to tranquilize: they take a cast of the horn or tusk for you to take as a souvenir (as well as a picture).  I hope none of the animals woke up before that was finished: I'm sure they'd be plenty pissed!!!

I also learned a couple of things as we neared the airport: A) a lot of people call the city "Jo'burg" (presumably because that's easier to say than "Johannesburg"!) and B) Jo'burg is *very* polluted: it reminded me of L.A. on a bad day a decade or so back: there was a brown haze over most of the city!

When I got to Johannesburg International, I caught a cab to my hotel.  My cabby and I almost didn't find it, though: the "Cullinan Inn" I was supposed to go to had been converted into a Holiday Inn a few weeks before my trip!  Fortunately we did find the right place!

An American Tourist in Johannesburg

Once I had settled in, I asked the desk clerk if there were any tours of the city available.  Unfortunately I had missed the day-trip tours to the more interesting parts of the city (such as Soweto), but there was a tour leaving for Lesedi, which is a village built by five different African tribes to highlight their different ways of life (It's apparently been on-going since 1995)  It sounded interesting (and a good way of learning more about African culture).  Besides, it included dinner, so I joined up!


When you arrive in Lesedi (which means "light" in the Sotho tongue), you are greeted by a group of singers welcoming you to the village.  There were some groups of villagers there (they actually live in Lesedi, it's a bit more than a tourist attraction), some were playing games, others were sort of hanging around, waiting for the main show to begin.  You are also given a ceremonial drink of a mango/fruit punch (which was quite good!)  Then the tour begins

First up was a multimedia presentation of the different tribes represented: the Xhosa (to which Nelson Mandela belongs), the Zulu WarriorZulu, the Ndebele (who wear rings around their necks), the Pedi, and the Sotho tribes (who wear special hats)!   Of course, this was only a small sample of the different South African tribes: there are 11 official languages in South Africa, and dozens of different groups of people!  I could certainly believe it, since our guide was a little hard to understand at times: but hey, he spoke at least three languages, where I can manage about one and a half.  Draw what conclusions you like. :-)

Our guide told several tales about the African tribes: one of the most interesting was about the Pedi, who wear Scottish kilts.  Apparently, when they were fighting the British, they saw the British infantry in back, and a regiment of Scotsman in kilts in front, and laughed: they thought the British were sending women to fight them!  Well, after they were defeated, they decided to wear kilts as well (since it obviously was good luck!)

He told some tales of  Zulu tribe as well: I had heard of the movie "Shaka Zulu" (which I haven't seen, but I will one of these days).  Shaka Zulu was a warrior who led the Zulu tribe to Britain's biggest defeat by an ungunned (but not unarmed!) group ever.  (Clearly they were not as worried about men in dresses).

After the presentation, we walked through the different villages: there were many different construction styles, and many ways of keeping cattle, which were clearly very important (cattle were practically money: one could by women with cattle, although the price apparently varied: some would buy a woman with 11 cattle, others with 18).  Sometimes the cattle pens (called kraal) were in the middle of the village!

Before dinner, we were treated to a dance, with different tribes performing different dances.  There was stick fighting, war dances, and one audience participation dance! 

Dinner was a variety of game foods (including ostrich and crocodile) and included lots of "popo" (or "pap??" gotta look that one up), which is a staple diet in South Africa: it's very cheap and can be flavored in many different ways (I thought it tasted sort of like grits, but a bit smoother).  During dinner I spoke to our driver about travel, computers, and other topics of mutual interest (he was amazed that I own four computers: the Internet is only now starting to penetrate beyond the larger cities in South Africa, and because most people use satellite dishes there is no infrastructure for cable modems).


When we got back to the hotel, I almost immediately pooped out: I'd been awake since the 8th of October!  I had to get up early the next day too: I had an hour's drive to the airport, and then my flight to Victoria Falls.  I couldn't wait!

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2000  William Geoffrey Shotts. Last update: Saturday, November 02, 2002