Kapoors Year 6: Iceland To S. Africa & Namibia travel blog

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BACKGROUND

Here are some excerpts from the Lonely Planet – South Africa & Lesotho & Swaziland chapter on Gauteng:

“Created from the old province of Transvaal after South Africa’s first democratic elections in 1994, Gauteng is South Africa’s smallest province, and also the country’s commercial and industrial hub. Not surprising then that the quest for profit was the driving force behind this area’s recent history. Gold was discovered here in the late 1800s, and within a decade a thriving city, Johannesburg, had sprung up from the highveld.

Today, Johannesburg (also known as Jo’burg) is Gauteng’s provincial capital, and an enormous bundle of energy, where New York–style skyscrapers, busy freeways, shiny shopping malls and wealthy, high-security suburbs exist alongside pockets of grim deprivation.

South Africa’s political capital, Pretoria, feels like a different world. It’s a laid-back city of historic old buildings and wide, jacaranda-lined streets. Founded by the Voortrekkers, it was once the heart of the apartheid regime, but these days, it’s a black president who surveys the city from its grand Union Buildings.

Gauteng is known for its high crime rate and while it is a problem, you shouldn’t let it prevent you from experiencing everything the city has to offer. The worst crime is often limited to certain suburbs and doesn’t affect most tourists. Things change quickly, though, so ask a local what the current situation is on the ground.

Jo’burg does still bear the scars of past op- pression, however, and many will take time to heal. There is a strong divide between the haves and the have-nots, and the glitzy shop- ping malls and exclusive restaurants of affluent suburbs such as Rosebank and Sandton are just down the road from desperately poor townships such as Alexandra.

Although the post-apartheid government has ushered in some social progress, it has not happened fast enough, and the city’s high crime rate is one symptom of persisting inequalities. For the first-time visitor, Jo’burg can seem like an intimidating sprawl, and although most serious crime occurs far from the tourist haunts of the northern suburbs, it’s certainly somewhere where you should be on your guard.

That said, Jo’burg is an incredibly friendly, unstuffy city and there’s a lot to see here, from sobering reminders of the country’s recent past at the Apartheid Museum, to the bohemian streets of Melville, to the buzz of Newtown and the country’s biggest township, Soweto.”

KAPOORS ON THE ROAD

We were keen to visit South Africa, and have been for a long time, but there was no way we were going to until after the first elections were held, and Nelson Mandela was chosen to lead the country. We would have preferred to fly directly into Cape Town from Addis Ababa, but Jo’berg is the hub for the airlines so we decided to spend a week there and see what was what.

We found an attractive guesthouse in the suburb of Rosebank and it turned out to be the best move ever. The owner Anne Mauchle gave us the warmest of greetings and showed us around the lovely home and garden that she had converted into the guesthouse after moving to live elsewhere with her husband. We were thrilled with our room and the lovely breakfasts we had each morning.

We were a little hesitant to go out walking in the neighbourhood after Anne explained that it wasn’t really safe to do so. The Rosebank Mall was just three blocks away, but she made certain that we knew that we should turn right and not left when we left the guesthouse on foot and were heading for the mall. She pointed out that there were guard posts at each corner we would pass, and the sentries would ensure that we were safe while walking.

If we turned left when leaving, we would end up arriving at a busy main road with no security posts, and she couldn’t be at all sure that we wouldn’t be mugged, or at the very least, pickpocketed. We don’t usually feel intimidated, but we were beginning to feel a little insecure as she explained all the security measures we were to take if we would ourselves alone in the guesthouse during the day or night. She pointed out the high walls around the property, with razor wire on the top, and showed us to ‘panic button’ we were to hit if we ever encountered an intruder.

Now, we were getting more than a little anxious. What had we gotten ourselves into? We knew we would most likely have to come back to Jo’berg to take flights back to Europe once we were done exploring the Western Cape province, and Namibia, so we decided just to hunker down at the guesthouse and limit our outdoors time as much as possible. We made almost daily trips to the mall, following Anne’s instructions, and passing through the tight security to get inside.

The Rosebank Mall is quite a fabulous, modern mall with a large interior garden space and multi-level shops and restaurants that open to the air and the gardens. In a sense, everything looks into the central courtyard, and the access doors are around the outer edges, with security guards and scanners that must be passed through when entering. Even the automobile parking area has tight security, with guards that use mirrors with long handles to examine the undercarriage of every vehicle that arrives.

To make things more palpable, we discovered that the Rosebank Mall had a large multi-plex cinema, and many of the current Oscar-nominated movies were showing. As a rule, we like to see as many of the nominated films as possible before the Oscar ceremonies are broadcast, so we made it a point to go and see a different film every afternoon. We ate our main meal of the day in the afternoon different restaurants in the mall, and then brought something back with us to have in the evening at the guesthouse.

Because many of the guests prefer not go out in the evenings, Anne has provided a fridge filled with snacks, cold beverages, and the freezer was stocked with meals that could be thawed and heated in the microwave. There was also a bar with a wide variety of liquor, beer, and wine for the guests to access. The food and drinks operated on an ‘honour’ system, all you have to do was note down what you consumed and it would be added to your bill what you checked out. How trusting of Anne, and how thoughtful!

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