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Trip to the Rainbow Nation
South Africa - Johannesburg
|by Jayati Chowdhury|
Brussels - Heathrow- Johannesburg, almost 9 and ' hrs flight. By 9 am the plane was nearing Johannesburg and activities on land really started to pick up - roads, farms, buildings just popped right out at me. The plane flew in an anti-clockwise circle over Johannesburg for the landing. The smell of the tropics greeted us; on April 5, 2006 I reached a place on earth where life is endurance.
Our flight landed simultaneously with other long haul flights and so it took sometime to get through the immigration process. My husband, who reached the day before, was waiting outside with the Bulgarian chauffer, Tony.
Tony was quite a chatter box; he wasted no time to introduce me to his place which had been his home for the last 12 years. Johannesburg, as he informed, is the economic powerhouse of Africa but there is an omnipresent fear of crime. While driving down to Rosebank I could see beautiful houses with towering walls topped with razor wire and electric fences. Tony said he will take us to the suburbs where people live in conditions ranging from basic to appalling.
Our next stop was Soweto. Soweto is the largest black township in the country. The township of Soweto as a whole could be called multi-cultural, in the sense that its residents are from all the tribes in South Africa. The type of housing ranges from huts to large manor.
Exhaustion overpowered us. We wanted to have dinner so Tony suggested we go to Nelson Mandela Square formerly known as Sandton square where a 6-metre statue of Nelson Mandela was installed to honor the famous South African statesman.
We had our dinner there in a Thai restaurant ' quite a sumptuous meal and that too very reasonable.
Myth tells that the Palace of the Lost City was the royal residence of an ancient civilization of South Africa but was destroyed by an earthquake. It has now been restored to its former grandeur. A large lagoon dominates the scene with a wave machine capable of generating 1.8 meter waves every 90 seconds. This water park has five thrilling tube rides. I am the least adventurous person of all and both my men - hubby and son, had to keep in tune with me so we lazed around in the wave pool for hours and hours.
The experience began with an excellent video show about the life and living of the tribes. Next came the tour of the tribal villages where traditional huts and daily life were displayed. Before entering the traditional huts we had to take permission in respective languages. The tour was followed by tribal dance where audience participation was hailed. We too couldn't resist dancing to the drum beat - heart beat of Africa. The final touch was a buffet. There was a kind of mashed potatoes made from corn meal. I enjoyed squash, ostrich, and crocodile.
Lesedi will always remain a fond memory.
Trip to Africa without experiencing wild beauty ' safari, was like to comprehend the body without its soul. So our next days highlight was 'Lion & Rhino park'. This time my husband's friend and his family accompanied us. The most famous safaris are that of Kruger and Kwa-natal but, these parks are massive and not ideal for a day trip.
The Rhino & Lion natural reserve is a privately owned park situated in the 'Cradle of Humankind', a declared World Heritage Site at Gautang province and is one of Africa's few remaining havens for big cats and scarcely believable diversity and abundance of species.
Climbing up was easier.
The children were impatiently waiting to see the big beautiful cats. We set out to our real life safari. The gate keeper of the lion park told us that the feeding time was around 1 pm. As we impregnated more and more to the deep savanna, we found a number of cars waiting and there were curious bystanders – well the onlookers were none other than the kings and queens.
Zebras gave us a curious inquisitive look- as if who are these guys? The abundance of ostrich reminded me of the crows in the streets of Kolkata. Cheetah as cunning as ever, very hard to spot but as we neared the exit of the park out of the blues rather green, came out one and stopped right on our way, it gave us a repulsive look and disappeared into the bush. Other animals that we saw were springbuck, gemsbok, impala, suricate, Siberian tiger, crocodile, mongoose, jaguar, stork and also white lions amongst other unknown ones. Unanimously the best part of the safari was to spend time with the little sambas - lion cubs under supervision.
Naughty little simbas literally jumped on us and few of the visitors got scratches here and there. When they cushioned their paw on my palm I could feel how delicately soft they were. Undoubtedly, this was one of the many memorable experiences of a lifetime to ponder upon and cherish.
My last day and I kept it free specially to do shopping of artifacts. Tony took us to a place called Bruma Lake – a successful conversion of an old sewerage catchments area into a lakeside flea market, shopping malls and commercial parks. The area offers a string of restaurants and shopping venues well frequented by bargain hunters of African carvings and artifacts.
I was at shopping spree and ended up with painted ostrich egg perched in between kudos horns, wooden carved candle stand and big-five bread basket, stone sculptured family, Zulu basket, Ndebele doll, small masks for gift and personal collection three giant masks and particularly, carved wooden mask called Guro from Ivory Coast.
It was very difficult to call it a day as the whole place was flooded with exceptional wooden and stone carvings, I had my luggage to think about so I had to wrap up my shopping and head back to the hotel satisfied with my bargain hunt.
It was time to bid farewell to the world in one country South Africa – remarkable for its diversity, from spectacular natural beauty to the vibrant ‘rainbow nation’ mix of cultures.
Sala kahle (goodbye in Zulu) and the promise Sizobonana (Zulu) – see you again, we boarded the flight on April 12, 2006.
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