Astounding Southern Africa - Johannesburg, Friday 2015 February 13


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Africa » South Africa » Gauteng » Johannesburg
February 13th 2015
Published: December 12th 2015
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Landing in JohannesburgLanding in JohannesburgLanding in Johannesburg

Later learned that the yellow is gold in the slag heap
I am really here! After all the planning (for one year) and preparation and excitement, I am actually sitting by the pool of the Garden Court Hotel in a wicker love seat under the trees with the noise of downtown traffic humming in the background.

In this garden a hidden bird cries from the trees, emitting a long descending squawk that sounds very much like a baby starting to cry. Too reminiscent of last night on the plane! And on the edge of the pool is a woman with waist-length braids, who has been taking selfies for the last ten minutes!

Patrick, the guide who brought me from the airport said that Sandton is a “second downtown”, built in the last thirty years on what used to be farmland. No hotels remain in the old downtown. Neither one of us mentioned how dangerous is that part of the city.

I left home at 3:42 on Wednesday, dressed for -8°C in my summer jacket, heavy fleece, and fall hat and gloves, and multi-season long scarf bought in Santorini. At the airport I ate all of a huge hamburger with bacon and an excellent garden salad, and beer, of course.
Sandton LibrarySandton LibrarySandton Library

...and my new friend
Very glad to be stuffed, because our 7:50 flight was delayed by a power outage in London! They couldn’t send the electronic flight-plan to the Edmonton control tower. After about half-an-hour the pilot was happy to announce they had successfully used old technology - a fax! Another twenty minutes on, he announced that because of the delay, the de-icing had to be heavier and longer than usual. (The weather all day consisted of grey heavy cloud sitting on the ground.) By the time we took off, the completely full plane was already feeling crowded.

An hour late the plane arrived in Heathrow. My experiment using “No-Jet-Lag” tablets left me feeling fairly alert despite a night of stiff catnaps. After a quick trip through security again (why?), I headed to a “pub” to have an enormous toad-in-the-hole (too much!) and half a Guinness to establish the new time zone as afternoon. I walked for twenty minutes, pulling my luggage (travelling hand luggage) and sat for twenty minutes. Then I managed to stay on my feet for about an hour before taking the airport train to Heathrow 5C. No problems – found the right gate and continued to stroll, counteracting somewhat
Nelson Mandela SquareNelson Mandela SquareNelson Mandela Square

Having fun mingling
the first of two flights of over ten hours each. Very fortunately, my seat on the plane was right beside the only empty seat – luxury! My seat mate in the aisle seat was a friendly plant-biology-archeologist from Cambridge who was going to a dig near Port Elizabeth to work on a study aimed at determining how human DNA was affected by food stress. And I thought archeology was boring!

Disappointing to have low cloud and haze/smog on our approach to Johannesburg – took photos anyway. All else went well, including landing on time at 6:55 am. Except, I was well past a point to return to the plane when I noticed that I had left my jacket in the overhead bin. I tried to reconcile myself to the loss, while I walked the final yards to my greeter, Patrick. I immediately confessed my negligence. We walked all the way to the other end of the airport, and then back again almost to our starting point, trying to find the British Airways agent. He radioed someone, and to my delight, after about fifteen minutes, a woman walked towards us with my jacket. She gave me a “lecture” about how
Sandton LibrarySandton LibrarySandton Library

Inviting interior
I should have gone to the lost luggage in the arrivals area, thus forcing her to walk 20 minutes to find me instead of 5! I thanked her profusely.

The drive into the city proved to be the usual mix of highways, industrial sites, warehouses, etc. Patrick commented that there is virtually no public transit, so everyone is commuting by personal cars (one person per car mostly). Other transportation is by dangerous mini-van taxis dashing across lanes, not worrying about traffic laws. The most interesting site was Alexandria Township, where every small, adjoined house had a solar panel for heating water – not for electric light.

After eating my packed peanut butter sandwich and drinking green tea at 10:00 a.m. local time (9 hours difference from Calgary, 2 from London), I succumbed to the need for sleep. Ninety minutes later, I forced myself off the bed and into the shower.

To keep going, I strolled out to the shopping mall across the street. The receptionist’s directions were “turn right out the door”, and she shrugged and smiled. But couldn’t find it! The Convention Centre was next door to the right. I crossed the street to find only luxury office buildings and hotels. Eventually, I let a doorman usher me into the Michelangelo Hotel. On the third floor it turned into part of an enormous shopping complex. Similar to The Core in Calgary it exists without obvious entrance for the unknowing. The hundreds of shops ranged from ultra-high-end to middle-income. Woolworths here is an expensive store, with very good quality goods, said Patrick on our drive.

Eventually fatigue was slowing my footsteps. I had to search for a place small enough to serve a pot of tea without lunch. I stopped at “Mugg and Bean”, where after ordering I discovered it had a huge establishment behind the indoor sidewalk café I chose. The green tea came by bag or loose leaf; I chose the latter. Unlike anything I have ever seen! I still don’t know how it is supposed to work. A large tea strainer was served almost full of many types of ground green leaves, and possibly seeds. I tried dumping the leaves into the large pot, but it was too fine to drop out of the strainer. So I tried pouring the water through the leaves in the strainer, resulting in a cloudy green tea with a tangy, pleasant flavour. And, I fell into temptation and ordered a piece of their special strawberry chocolate cake. The piece was so large it was served on a dinner plate! Brightly flavoured strawberries in chocolate cake covered with chocolate ganache. I had to abandon the challenge with some cake still left! The waitress was so cheerful I told her it was my first day in South Africa. She was astonished – both by the first day aspect and that I would enjoy myself on my own. Our chat made it easy for me to ask her to change a 50 Rand note (about $5) into some coins, with which I then gave her a tip. The whole cost was 70 Rand (about $8).

Now another hour’s walking was required! After exploring shops some more, I found the exit onto Nelson Mandela Square. Hard not to think it ironic that he is honoured at this market of enthusiastic conspicuous consumption. Nevertheless, my ironic mood was burst by a friendly little girl eager to pose for me by the fountain, with a gigantic poster of Mandela in the background on the Sandton Public Library. I almost came to tears thinking about how far this society has come in 25 years.

I checked out the library, of course. Although rectangular on the outside, the inside is designed around an oval ascending walkway. The imminent closing was announced by a hand bell that could be heard everywhere. Out on the street, I found the way to my hotel, asking only once for directions. Excepting the lady at the airport, everyone has been ultra polite and kind. Accent does trip me up occasionally.

Dinner at the hotel Bar and Grill.

View map showing our hotel in Sandton.

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13th December 2015

Evocative
Thanks for a piece that almost took me along. Looking forward to the rest of the series.

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