We're on our last day of our South African trip. The rise is difficult on just a few hour's sleep. It was all my fault really, you see I was persuaded to come along to the Montecasino by the fun film crew and that was quite surreal indeed. On these trips, you really live off fumes (jet fumes really!) and you tend to be in a state of confusion and sleep deprivation. So it's made all the more surreal when you step into a casino and see a ceiling with clouds and a sky and shops of all sorts. It's sort of like gambling in Disneyland.
I managed a few hours sleep before my alarm woke me and Neil Perry's wife Sam, Anthony and I headed to 44 Stanley which is one of the newest up and coming areas in Johannesburg or Joburg. Formerly a laundromat, it has been converted into a cool collective of cafes, shops and galleries all with a design focus.
"What is that?" we ask the driver as he pulls up outside 44 Stanley.
"Oh my god, is that...snow?" I say. "Snow in South Africa?"
Indeed, the flakes of snow start off light and in this zero°C weather, they fall softly. "It's snowing!" we say to people as we walk past and it's so exciting to others that we watch locals excitedly talking about the snowfall.
Our place for breakfast that morning is Salvation Cafe. Beautifully styled, we take a seat by the fire and warm up our hands. Their philosophy is simple and the menu has an excellent selection of breakfast items as well as lunches. We could almost be at home in Alexandria, Surry Hills or Melbourne.
Beetroot, pear and carrot juice 28R/$3.27AUD
Squeezed to order, this is a layered juice served in a glass jar with a straw. I take a sip not knowing what to expect and it has to be one of the best juice combinations I've had. I make plans to make it at home it's that good and the sweet pear and carrot balances out any earthiness from the beetroot.
Breakfast duo 79ZAR/$9.24AUD
The waiter mentioned that the breakfast duo was popular and says that it's a good way to get the savoury and sweet in one. I couldn't agree more. The eggs benedict is served on an English muffin with juicy bacon and has a gooey runny egg yolk and a tangy hollandaise sauce. The right hand side is equally as good; the Caribbean French toast is eggy and spongey and topped with selection of sweet, fresh fruit and syrup. On the side is some whipped cream and raspberry compote.
We're all tempted by the shops outside, particularly Lucky Fish where I buy up big. Before I know it, I've spent quite a bit there (and that's also because I'm hopeless at maths and missed the crucial zero on several price tags! Please don't tell Mr NQN! ;) ). The other stores are also worth browsing as they have a covetable range of items from designer clothes, homewares to art.
As more snow falls and the clouds in the sky turn an ghostly white, our next destination is Soweto. We drive past the sports stadium, designed to look like a bowl. Soweto stands for South Western Township and there are between 4.5 - 5 million people out of South Africa's eleven million living here. There are forty nine suburbs within Soweto and there are affluent areas as well as shanty towns. Currently, Soweto's population is a mixture of black and coloured people (the term here in South Africa for mixed race) although our guide tells us that white people do like to visit there to go out at night. There are one hundred and sixty seven schools in Soweto, five technical colleges and one university.
Enterprising store holders set up shop
All images taken on a Sigma 17-50mm F2.8 EX DC OS lens
On our way we pass the matchbox houses. Each matchbox house has a total of four rooms: two bedrooms, one dining room and one kitchen and a toilet outside. They now have electricity.
We also pass shantytowns. Here, conditions are difficult to say the least. Instead of roofs, there are thin cloths and given the current snow and almost zero degree weather, we can't imagine how hard it is living there. 40-60 people share one chemical portable toilet and these are cleaned only once a week. It's bleak there and the lines of washing remind us that there are people still living here every single day.
We also visit the monument of where a 13 year old boy Hector Pieterson died in the fight for rights. The police opened fire into a crowd of protesting students and the image above became an enduring icon for their struggle.
When we visited Nelson Mandela's former house which is now a museum, a man who spots our van seizes his chance and contorts himself into a varied amount of positions.
We pass Winnie Mandela's house which is where she currently lives.
Our last meal in South Africa is taken in Soweto at Sukhumzi which serves traditional South African food. It is touristy but the food served there is said to be representative of the food served in the Soweto area. It is served buffet style and there are salads as well as items like tripe, chicken, soup, beans, maize and roasted yams. The chicken and the maize and soup are filling and the food is comforting and flavoursome.
It's sad saying goodbye to a country that has truly captured all of our hearts. Needless to say all countries affect you when you visit them but when you visit South Africa, there is so much hope for this country which has had such a torrid past. The people that we've met are resilient and hopeful and that in turn makes us want for it to succeed. I am certain that I am not the only one that has visited here and said that there will always be a part of my heart that is in the shape of South Africa.
So tell me Dear Reader, did you know about the conditions in shanty towns? Or was it a surprise to you? And what country have you visited that has touched you?
NQN visited as a guest of South African Tourism
44 Stanley Avenue Johannesburg 2092, South Africa
Tel: +27 011 482 7795
44 Stanley opening hours:
Monday 10-4pm, Tuesday-Friday 10am-5pm, Saturday 10-3pm, Sunday 10-2pm
6980 Vilakazi Street, Orlando West, Orlando, Soweto, Gauteng, South Africa
Tel: +27 011 536 1379