SOUTH AFRICA TRIP
Pictures from this trip can be found at
September 27: We left San Francisco for London on British Airways at about 5:30 PM. We ate dinner at San Francisco Airport (turned out to be unnecessary, there was plenty of food on the flight).
September 28: We arrived at London Heathrow Airport at about 1 PM and waited in the transit lounge during the seven-hour layover. We ate at a seafood restaurant in the lounge area. The gate for the departing flight is not announced until an hour or so before departure, so there is a mad scramble to get to the gate, which of course was the farthest from the lounge. We left for Johannesburg on British Airways. The person sharing the three-seat row with us was on a one-day business trip to South Africa! He was going to fly from Johannesburg to Durban, drive to his appointment, have an all-day meeting, then catch a flight back to Johannesburg and to London late that same evening. Although he had the aisle seat, he got tired of us disturbing him to go to the rest room while he was trying to sleep, so he moved to the window. In gratitude, we bought him a bottle of good Scotch from the duty-free on the airplane.
September 29: We arrived at Johannesburg early in the morning (about 7:30) and were met by Peter and Marsha. They drove us to our B&B (Barrett Lodge) in Benoni, by a circuitous route that went past "the plot" where they had lived for many years. We were able to check in immediately and to get some sleep. We had a late lunch at Whittaker’s coffee shop in Northmead Mall in Benoni. There was a "Rehearsal Dinner" at the groom (Tino)'s sister Maria's house in Benoni. Sandy really liked some tile in Maria's house, which Maria told us came from CTM Tile.
September 30: Breakfast at the B&B--excellent, lots of eggs, bacon, fruit, cereal, juice, etc.--cooked to order. The B&B itself was also very lovely, spacious and comfortable. Our bathroom was about as big as the bedroom, had a jacuzzi (we were in the honeymoon suite) and a large, wooden hippo which made a good towel rack. We went to the CTM tile shop in Boksburg (near Benoni and the airport). We bought border tile for the kitchen. We also found some tile for a decorative pattern in the front hall but it had been discontinued; the shop phoned their store in George and found that they were in stock there so we bought them for pickup in George. We had brought one suitcase with gifts for the family in South Africa, which weighed about 30 pounds and would be empty on the way home; the tiles weigh 14 Kg (a little over 30 pounds), so we were sure we could get them home if we could keep them from breaking (though many people questioned our sanity in taking tiles home with us). Peter took me on a tour of Benoni. We had lunch at the "Santa Cruz Spur" steak house in Northmead Square, Benoni. [www.northmeadsquare.co.za/] I also cashed a bunch of traveler's checks at Rennie's in Northmead Square. (The B&B could not take credit cards so I had brought enough traveler's checks to cover our bill there.) Dinner was at the Waterfalls Inn, Benoni; the family (including Frank's girl friend Lara) plus Wendy's best friend Regan joined us.
A note on crime, security, and the economy: South Africa has a terrible crime problem. Black-on-black crime is huge, and many rapes go unreported because they know the perps will never be arrested, tried, or imprisoned. South Africa also has a huge problem with illegal immigration from the rest of Africa, and a very bad drug problem, partly because so many of those illegals are drug dealers. (And it has the highest AIDS rate in the world, primarily among the black population.) Unemployment is officially 30%, and another 20% are in the "informal economy" which means that they are hawking things on the street corner, or coming out between the lanes of traffic in Johannesburg during the red lights to sell things, or waiting outside the equivalents of Home Depot to ask you to hire them to install whatever you bought. Because of the crime, every building in the Johannesburg area has an eight-foot fence around it, many topped with razor wire or electric fencing. Security is one of the biggest businesses around. If you are in the 50% of the economy that is doing well, you are probably doing very well: while downtown Johannesburg is overrun by gangs and is only now beginning to be retrieved, the northern suburbs in particular are booming with construction and business. There are many luxury cars (gasoline sells for the equivalent of about $3.50 a gallon) and obviously many prosperous people. South Africa handles its homeless problem differently than the United States does: there are shantytowns ("squatter camps") near the cities, with hundreds or thousands of shacks built of plywood, sheet metal, cardboard, etc. Government corruption is also large and increasing, which doesn't give much hope for the future.
October 1: Wedding day! Breakfast at the B&B. Lunch was at Mimmo's in downtown Benoni). The wedding was at Northfield Methodist Church in Benoni (http://www.northfield.co.za/), the reception at Adega Portuguese restaurant also in Benoni (http://www.adega.co.za/). The wedding that preceded Wendy & Tino's had bagpipers among other things. The church was under reconstruction so Peter had asked them to be sure that there was no construction debris where the bridal party or guests need to walk. There were about 90 guests. Tino's parents and 84-year-old grandmother came from Portugal. Frank was MC at the reception. There were several speeches and blessings; Sandy gave a Jewish blessing. We sat with Peter's sister Monica, brother-in-law Keith (a retired mining engineer), nephew Michael and his wife Ronel, and niece Gail.
October 2: Peter, Frank, and Lara took me on a tour of Pretoria including the Voortrekker Monument and Jan Smuts's house (Smuts Museum, town of Irene). Pretoria is known for its jacaranda trees and they were in full bloom. The street on which the US Embassy is located has particularly spectacular jacarandas and we parked there so I could take some pictures. It wasn't 30 seconds before the security guards were at the car to see what we were doing. We went to the Union Buildings, one of South Africa's three capitals. Lunch was at an outdoor restaurant near the Charles Glass brewery. While we were on this tour, Sandy & Marsha hung out at the B&B. B&B owner Gwen Phasey was kind enough to fix dinner for us and for guests for another wedding from Australia. (Her husband and children had gone fishing for the weekend.)
October 3: We returned tuxes to Dave Paul in Northmead Square. We checked out of the B&B and left with Peter & Marsha for Pilanesberg National Park (http://www.game-reserve.com/south-africa_pilanesberg.html) by way of Hartebeespoort Dam (http://www.hartbeespoortdam.com/, http://www.go2africa.com/south-africa/gold-reef/hartebeespoort/). Lunch was at Squires on the Dam, Hartebeespoort--possibly the most expensive restaurant we visited in South Africa. (For the most part restaurant meals cost about 1/4 what they do in the US; some of the really good ones are maybe 1/2; Squires was just about American prices.) We checked into the Bakgatla Lodge (http://www.places.co.za/html/8412.html) and found that our "chalet" was a bit uncomfortable--Sandy and I had the loft, which had very thin mattresses over wooden boards, and the stairs were steep and unsafe. The kitchen area was full of ants. There was only one bathroom. Also the arrangements were supposed to include two meals a day but at checkin we were told that only breakfast was included. We had dinner at the Lodge as there wasn't really anyplace else.
October 4 (my 65th birthday): At Bakgatla Lodge; Peter took us on a dawn game drive. (The animals are smart enough to come out only at dawn and dusk.) The park is the animals' home and people must stay in their vehicles except for some fenced-off viewing areas. We saw rhinos, guinea hens, lions, gnus (wildebeest), elands, impalas, kudu, ostriches, and zebras. Apparently there had been a fire in the park a few weeks previously and several elephants were killed, and the elephants were grieving and not coming out where they could be seen. After the game drive we went to breakfast at the lodge. Peter made it known that he was not at all happy with our quarters and we were moved to a timeshare that was vacant because the people who made the reservation did not show up. It was much better--the loft was much more comfortable, there were two bathrooms, and the place was bug-free. That afternoon we went to Sun City, which is located in what had been one of the Apartheid black homelands (Bophuthatswana). It is somewhat like Las Vegas, in that it has hotels (with gambling and shopping arcades) and golf courses, but there is no "city" as such, and you have to pay to get into the area. The employees live in hotel-dormitories or in nearby villages. There are good restaurants (we had lunch at the Café Scalini in the Entertainment Centre between the hotels) and big-name entertainment. The South African government permits only one gambling operator per province so there is no competition, and almost all gambling is slot machines with a very low return (60-65%); if you ask, you can find roulette and craps. We went back to Bakgatla in the late afternoon, managing to get lost, but a kind gentleman who was driving to a nearby location helped us. Dinner was at the lodge.
October 5: Still at Bakgatla Lodge; another dawn game drive; we saw most of the same animals as the previous day plus giraffes and hippos. We had a late breakfast at the lodge after the drive. Lunch at the lodge. We signed up for a guided night game drive. There were about 12 of us in an open van. The driver carried a loaded rifle. Right at dusk we saw a cheetah and after waiting a few minutes saw him attack one zebra from a small herd who was a little slow in detecting the cheetah's presence and running away. Later we saw lions and other animals. Dinner was at the lodge after the game drive.
October 6: A third dawn game drive and breakfast afterwards at Bakgatla Lodge. We checked out and returned to Johannesburg. We had lunch on the road, north of Johannesburg and near the "Cradle of Humanankind" (http://www.cradleofhumankind.co.za/, near Sterkfontein). Sandy found an antique shop there and bought some gifts. We went to Frank's townhouse in Sandton. Frank took us to dinner at Angelito's, an Italian restaurant near his house. We checked into the Holiday Inn (Garden Court), Sandton (http://www.southernsun.com/Sunrise/Hotels/CDA/HTL_Index/1,1277,0-36-6,00.html) , on Nelson Mandela Square. (Many places and things are named after Mandela.)
October 7: Breakfast buffet at the Garden Grill restaurant in the hotel. Frank took us on a tour of Johannesburg. We had lunch (outdoors) at the Ocean Basket (http://www.dining-out.co.za/member_details-MemberID-2115.html), at Mutual Gardens shopping center in the Rosebank district, near a crafts fair where we spent a lot of time looking and bought a couple of things, like a decorated ostrich egg which we managed to get home intact. We went to the Johannesburg Military Museum (http://www.militarymuseum.co.za); among the exhibits were some of Gerald Bull's superguns (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gerald_Bull). We met Wendy & Tino for dinner at Smith & Wollensky (http://www.smithandwollensky.co.za/default.asp), Eastgate Shopping Center (http://www.eastgatecentre.co.za/). (The restaurant is named after the two white Prime Ministers of breakaway Southern Rhodesia.) Sandy was running low on glucose test strips and we were able to find the exact ones needed at Gateways Pharmacy in that mall.
October 8: I changed Sandy's reservations to fly home with me on October 19. We were not sure that we would be able to carry our international baggage allowance of two bags of 32 kg (70 lbs.) each domestically--the airlines in South Africa, even British Airways, do not maintain 24-hour telephone service, there is always a long wait for a live person on the telephone, and I didn't seem to be able to get a definitive answer--so we downsized and left two large suitcases with Frank so we could meet the domestic limit of 30 lbs. per person. Frank took us to the airport and we flew to Cape Town on British Airways (operated by a local contractor); the flight was over very desolate land that constitutes most of South Africa. I did see the "big hole" at Kimberley where diamonds were mined (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kimberley,_South_Africa). That afternoon we walked around the V&A (Victoria and Alfred, not Victoria and Albert) Waterfront shops (http://www.waterfront.co.za/). The V&A is a former working wharf area that has been converted into a shopping complex, somewhat like Pier 39 in San Francisco (http://www.pier39.com/) but much larger. We had dinner at Quay Four restaurant on the wharf (http://www.waterfront.co.za/eat/restaurants/guide/Quay+Four+Seafood+Brasserie/). Our hotel was the Commodore which is five-star and deserves every star. (http://cybercapetown.com/Commodore/) We were greeted at the hotel with a glass of South African wine as we were checking in. The wharf area was busy and well patrolled, and safe at all hours, as was the hotel. Hotel security included checking our room keys or IDs as we entered the elevator.
October 9: The Commodore serves a magnificent buffet breakfast including cooking eggs, bacon, and other items to order. We had an all-day tour of the Cape Peninsula (http://www.go2africa.com/south-africa/cape-peninsula/, (http://www.cpnp.co.za/). This included the Atlantic Coast (http://www.discoverthecape.com/atlantic-coast.html), the lighthouse and area where the Indian Ocean and Atlantic Ocean come together, Hout Bay (http://www.go2africa.com/south-africa/cape-peninsula/hout-bay/) where we took a boat trip to a seal rookery and bought some items at an informal market on the dock, False Bay (http://www.discoverthecape.com/false-bay.html), many baboons, a colony of African Penguins at Boulders (http://www.simonstown.com/tourism/penguins/penguins.htm) (it was molting season and most of them couldn't go into the water), Simons Town (http://www.simonstown.com/) (headquarters of the South African Navy), the towns of Fish Hoek, and Muizenberg, and the National Botanic Garden at Kirstenbosch (http://www.nbi.ac.za/frames/kirstfram.htm, http://www.discoverthecape.com/kirstenbosch.html). My USS New Jersey hat had disappeared somewhere along the way (which was doubly disappointing because I had promised it to the owner of the B&B in Benoni for their outstanding collection of hats) so I bought a South Africa hat at the Cape Point lighthouse shop. Lunch was at Seaforth Restaurant, Simons Town, dinner at the hotel.
October 10: In the morning we toured Cape Town, including Table Mountain (http://www.discoverthecape.com/table-mountain.html) and The Castle (http://www.discoverthecape.com/castle.html). The tour also included an Apartheid Museum. In the afternoon we went back to the V&A Waterfront and to the Aquarium (http://www.aquarium.co.za/). I cashed some more traveler's checks, this time at American Express which did not charge a fee since the checks were also American Express. Breakfast at the hotel, lunch at a restaurant in V&A, dinner was takeout from V&A eaten in the hotel room.
October 11: Buffet breakfast at the hotel; In the morning I went to Capetown Maritime Museum (http://www.museums.org.za/maritime/index.html). In the afternoon we flew South African Airways to George (http://www.gardenroute.co.za/george/geohome.htm, http://www.tourismgeorge.co.za/). We were met at the airport by Peter and Marsha, and took a quick driving tour of the city. For three nights we stayed at Bougainvillea Cottages, a "self catering" a couple of blocks from them.
October 12: George. Peter and I went to the CTM tile shop to pick up the tiles we had reserved and paid for in Boksburg. However there had apparently been a misunderstanding and the tiles we had ordered and paid for were small, thin wall tiles not suitable for our planned use in the floor of the front hall, so we cancelled the order and got a refund. We went to the Oteniqua Railroad Museum. (Oteniqua is the name of the region of South Africa, and of the scenic railroad that runs from George to Knysna. However due to some landslides, it was only running for part of the route.) Besides rolling stock, the museum housed an active model railroad club and stored many antique automobiles (and tractors). That afternoon Sandy and Marsha joined us for a drive to Victoria Bay (http://www.gardenroute.co.za/vbay/) and Herolds Bay (http://www.gardenroute.co.za/hbay/).
October 13 (Yom Kippur): We drove to Oudtshoorn,north of George, in the area called the Klein (little) Karoo (http://www.oudtshoorn.info/, http://www.oudtshoorn.co.za/). We went to Cango Caves (http://www.places.co.za/html/cango.html, http://www.oudtshoorn.co.za/content/view/41/96/). Lunch at Friedl's Restaurant; I was sufficiently tempted by Ostrich Carpaccio to eat lunch. Across the street was the C. P Nel Museum of Outdshoorn history (http://www.cpnelmuseum.co.za/home.php) where we learned about the history of the ostrich farming industry (http://www.cpnelmuseum.co.za/tour.php?ostrich_hall). The museum has a Jewish section including an old synagogue that was actually moved to the museum (http://www.cpnelmuseum.co.za/tour.php?synagogue). We drove back to George, and that evening we went to the home of the Nobles' friend Erica Cohen for an official breaking of the fast with several of their friends from the area. The home is also a B&B in a spectacular location along the coast in the town of Wilderness (http://www.gardenroute.org/wilderness/index.htm).
October 14: Frank's company (Teljoy, http://www.teljoy.co.za/) owns a lodge near Knysna where Frank had arranged for the six of us (including Lara) to stay from Friday through Monday. Knysna is about an hour's drive from George and the lodge is located a few miles back from the ocean and lagoon on the Knysna River. It has a main house with about four bedroom suites, and a "guest house" with its own bedroom suite. It is a spectacular, quiet, and peaceful location. It comes with a small staff of caretakers who do dishes and laundry, clean the rooms, etc. However they don't cook, or at least we didn't ask them to cook.
October 15: We drove into the resort town of Knysna, which reminds me of Monterey. It has a shopping and restaurant area like Fisherman's Wharf located right next to the harbor. We had refreshments at one of the harbor restaurants and then went on a harbor cruise out to Knysna Heads (the entrance to the harbor), which is one of the few places in the world where Lloyd's of London will not provide insurance. We then went to the Ile de Pain (http://www.eatout.co.za/EatOut/Eat_Restaurant/0,11248,1494,00.html) on nearby Thesen Island for lunch. We did some shopping in Knysna to get the ingredients for dinner and went back to the lodge. Marsha and Peter's very old friends Malcom & Pat Rumbelow joined us for dinner at the lodge.
October 16: We drove to the Plettenberg Bay area to visit the farm of Peter's cousin Clive Noble. On the way we stopped at the Knysna Elephant Park (http://www.knysnaelephantpark.co.za/) where we got to see the elephants we missed at Pilansberg. This is a hands-on experience: you get to feed the elephants and to touch them. There were half a dozen adults and two or three juveniles. (Elephants are born with six sets of teeth, and as they grind each set down with their vegetarian diet, the next set moves up. When all six sets have been ground down, the elephants starve, which limits their lives to 60 or 70 years. Elephants spend a lot of time in the mud to keep from getting overheated, and spray mud and water on themselves and each other to keep cool. Thus when you touch them they are not only rough but dirty!) Clive is a semi-retired physician (orthopedist) of great reputation, and his farm is a B&B run by himself and his wife Colleen. Their son Bruce and daughter-in-law Susie live on the farm, and daughter Jen (a physician) and son-in-law Johan came in from Cape Town. We spent a very pleasant afternoon and had a wonderful barbecue dinner, then drove back to the lodge.
October 17: In the late morning we drove back to George. Sandy and I stayed at the house for the rest of the trip. We explored George a bit, including the "Biltong Shop" (biltong is local beef jerky) which also sells nuts so I called it the Nut House.
October 18: Sandy and Marsha did some shopping. Peter and I drove around Fancourt and then to Mossel Bay. We explored the area and had lunch at a tavern. In this part of South Africa, English is definitely a minority language. In Mossel Bay, only about 8% of the population has English as its first language, in George only about 12%. Many more speak Afrikaans as their first language (both Afrikaners and "colored," the mixed race population). For the blacks, one of the other nine of South Africa's 11 official languages is their first language, probably Sotho in that part of the country though Zulu is the most common first language. Many people who have known Marsha for years and know that she is an American will speak to her in Afrikaans. She can understand most of what is said to her.
October 19: In the morning we hung out and drove around George a bit. In the afternoon we flew to Johannesburg on the regional airline South African Express (http://www.saexpress.co.za/) since South African itself no longer serves George. Frank and Wendy met us at the airport where we were reunited with the baggage that we had left with him. We got our sales tax refund receipts for items we were taking out of the country, including the tiles. (We had our baggage thoroughly searched; perhaps the tiles raised suspicions.) At the airport I finally found a South Africa T-shirt I liked so I bought it, and also some South African brandy and some Scotch (cheaper than at Heathrow) at the duty-free. We left for London on time at about 9:30 in the evening.
October 20: We arrived at Heathrow in the mid-morning. I got some Swiss chocolate at the duty-free although it was fairly expensive. This time we only had about four hours between flights, however when I changed Sandy's return reservation they had apparently lost the information that she was diabetic and they were unable to obtain diabetic meals for her on the San Francisco flight. But they were able, on request, to tell us what the departure gate was, so we went there in a relaxed manner a couple of hours before departure. The flight itself was uneventful and after some delay and confusion we got the shuttle back to San Jose.
Wendy is a teacher at Rynfield School; Frank is a Director at Teljoy (http://www.teljoy.co.za/)
Peter's bumper sticker: "The truth shall make you free,,,unless you're a criminal, then the courts shall make you free."