17th to 22nd July

Thursday 17 July

We arrive in Joburg in two different planes, Mick from Addis Ababa and Julien from Doha. The planes are supposed to arrive within only 25 minutes difference. But there is delay… Mick’s plane is one hour late. And Julien’s plane is also one hour late. So we manage to encounter each other easily, just after the passport stamp.

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We mount once more the bikes, and we are ready to leave. It is 17h45… and the night is falling. It’s starting well! We have slept very little these last nights, we are in a country that we don’t know, they drive on the left (thank you the English), the cars do not respect the cyclists, we are in a city with high rates of crimes, and it is night now… Congratulations the champions!

We have 30km to pedal, and less than two hours later, we have arrived to destination. As we are in front of Antoinette’s door, there is no doorbell. We yell but no one answers. The telephone does not seem to receive signal here. Fortunately, we stop someone passing by, who calls her, and everything gets sorted. It’s so good to be inside, the weather is rather chilly. We met Antoinette through Warmshowers. She has already done several trips by bike and kayak. Antoinette works in SABC, the public South African media company, as a controller of the image emitted on one of the channels. After talking a little with her, we go to bed, totally exhausted.

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Friday 18 July

We wake up, like new men. Today, 18th of July, is the Mandela day. Everyone has to give 67 minutes of his time to the charity. It can be helping the less favoured people (to avoid saying the poors), clean a park, distracting children, … Why 67 minutes? Because Nelson Mandela gave 67 years of his life to public causes (since his fight against apartheid till the end of his presidency). We go to Joubert park, one of the parks of Joburg, where SABC distributes food to people in need. After this, we go to the train station, to book our ticket to go to Port Elizabeth next Wednesday. But the trains are already fully booked. And the buses do not accept the bikes. The only remaining option is to rent a car. After comparing the different car rental companies, we finally set up our next days. We had planned to go to the Kruger park this weekend, but it adds a lot of expenses, with the park entrance, the petrol, and especially the extra mileage on the car: we have 200km free per day, but any additional kilometre is charged 2 rands (that is to say 0.15 euros)… So we’ll stay in Joburg this weekend, to visit the surroundings with Antoinette. And we’ll drive down to Port Elizabeth on Wednesday. So we drive back home… it’s crazy at the beginning to remember that you have to go on the wrong side of the road! We have dinner in a nice pizzeria, in the borough of Melville (famous for being the place of filming of many local soap operas).

Saturday 19 July

In the morning, we go shopping in the neighbourhood, near the university. In the streets, we meet only black people, because white people prefer moving by car. However, here in Joburg, there are some neighbourhood where black people and white people are mixed, like in Brixton, where Antoinette lives. South Africa is very rich in fruits, but now, as it is winter, there are only few of them: apples, citrus, bananas.

We spend the afternoon at home reading and talking with Antoinette. She has a great experience of travelling in Southern Africa, and she also has taken part in the Border War between South Africa and Angola in the 80s. She has been in contact with many adventurers, like for example Loretta (we met her in the Casa de Ciclistas in La Paz), with whom she exchanged emails during all her journey across Africa. It’s true that the community of cyclotourists is small! For dinner, Antoinette prepared for us a delicious curry, of her own invention.

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Don’t believe we become idle! It’s just that the weather is really cold here (especially after the 40degrees we had in Mexico), and we have left most of our cold clothes in Europe. Also, we are a little scared to go out in Joburg blatantly showing we are tourists.

Sunday 20 July

We leave the house around 9h30. Antoinette brings us to the Rhino-Lion reserve a little north of the city. On the way, we pick up Piotrek, an old friend of Mick, who crossed Africa by bike and later by motorbike. He has just arrived in Joburg. If you want to polish your Polish, here is his website.

Visiting the reserve consists in staying in the car, and driving it through the tracks. Most of the park is only for herbivores. The ostriches live together with the waterbucks, springbucks, onyx, warthog, ! And the ostriches are the rulers here, they don’t hesitate to kick the other animals out with their powerful legs and claws. If they reluctantly accept the waterbucks and warthogs, the onyx are forbidden to come close to the trough. So they wait some ten metres away, and train to fighting. But careful to any wrong move, the antlers are like two foils of one metre length, waiting any occasion to pierce into the flesh. A little further, the zebras striped in brown and black (they should have a bath!) share their trough with the wildebeests. The springbucks walk around, peacefully. This specie of antelope is rather small, but it makes impressive jumps, of several metres.

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Afterwards, we enter the enclosure for the predators. First, honour to the lions! They are six individuals, three males and three females. And they are lazing in the shade of a tree. They are fed at 13h, and apparently, they are waiting for this without any other preoccupation. In this enclosure, we are advised not to open the window of more than one third, and of course not to get out of the car, or even take a hand out of the window. All around the feeding zone, the cars accumulate. Finally, the 4×4 of the park caretakers arrive with fresh meat. The lions have spotted it for a long time already. When it enters the feeding zone, they laboriously follow it. Oh boy it’s so hard to leave this state of drowsiness!

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In the next enclosures, we see a pack of wild dogs, and some cheetahs. They are all having lunch.

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Afterwards, we go to the Kromdraai cave. It’s a chasm, several dozens of metres underground. It formed some 2.2 million years ago. Slowly by slowly, the rain waters, slightly acid, have dissolved the interior of the cave and brought the calcium carbonate to create the formations that we can observe now: stalagmites, stalactites, columns, pools with many levels, cauliflowers, straws, ! there is even the virgin Mary praying!

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This cave has been discovered at the end of the 19th century and! guess what, exploited by the Italians for its calcium (used nearby to ensure the safety of the chemical reactions in the gold mines). Thanks to them, about 15% of the treasures in this cave have ceased to exist. Fortunately, 1914 arrives, with the end of the Boer wars, and the beginning of the World War I. So the exploitation is stopped. Today, we still can see the carts and rails that they used.

We finish the day in Sterkfontein, the “Craddle of Humankind”. Many hominid fossils have been found in this region: Australopithecus, homo habilis, homo erectus, paranthropus, ! About one third of the most ancient skeletons of hominids in the world come from this here! The museum tells about the local discoveries and what they brought to the paleontology.

We go to have dinner in Soweto, at Wandies’. They have prepared many typical dishes from South Africa that we can take as buffet: rice, pap, curries, chicken feet, tripes, ! It’s very good, and it permits to try many things!

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In Soweto, Antoinette brings us on the famous Vilakazi street, where Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu used to have houses. It is known as the street of the two Peace Nobel Price. Although this neighbourhood has improved a lot since the end of the Apartheid in 1990, it still scares white people. Few of them dare to drive inside, and even less to walk inside.

Monday 21 July

For lunch, we try a steak of ostrich! In fact, the meat is red like beef, but a little softer, and with not much flavour. But it is good! In the afternoon, we go to the centre of Johannesburg, for a meeting with the organization Earth Life Africa. But first, we have to understand how the bus system works here. We have to try at 3 stations to get a ticket, and for knowing which bus to take, better to ask other people!

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Earth Life Africa focuses on lobbying the government in order to introduce sustainable development, respect the environment, ! We meet two employees over there, Dominique Doyle and Nerisha Baldevu. You can find the report of our discussion here.

As the night has fallen, we hurry to go back to the house. You don’t see any white people in the street, and after what we heard about the city, we are not reassured every time we meet someone in the street.

Tuesday 22 July

Today, we have a meeting at 12 with Khathu at Witswater School of Business, located in Parktown. This time, we can’t be late because Khathu is following classes here, and only has a 45 minutes break to meet us. We plan to leave well in advance but everything goes wrong. We have difficulties to unlock the first (of four!) door of the house to get out. Then, the alarm does not set when we press the button. Finally, we leave half an hour later than expected. So we run to the bus station. And we have not looked where the meeting is, so we trust blindly what the GPS says. It seems that we have not learnt from our mistakes. But surprisingly, we arrive just on time to meet Khathu, and we talk with him about his job in integrated water resource management.

In the afternoon, we go to the Apartheid museum. Believe it or not, there is no bus station around it! just imagine no public transport 2km around Louvre in Paris or Prado in Madrid! After getting lost in the many loops done by the buses, we finally arrive at the Marumbi bus station, and from here walk half an hour, following the GPS indications. In the end, we arrive at 4 in the museum! only one hour to visit while 3 hours would not be too much. The museum explains the rise and fall of the regime of Apartheid in South Africa.

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This politics of “separate development”, the separation being based on the ethnics and skin colour, started to be formally enforced in 1948 and lasted until 1991. It emerges from the previous racial traditions during the colony (since its foundation in 1651) and the scare of the dynamic white leading class to be submerged by the black underdeveloped majority. The white had almost all the land, all the important jobs, and inter-ethnic marriages were forbidden. After several massacres, in Sharpeville in 1960 and in Soweto in 1976, the imprisonment of the charismatic leader of the ANC Nelson Mandela in 1963, South Africa became marginalised by the other nations, with particularly an embargo on weapons. At that time, South Africa was involved in a decolonization war in Namibia, and in civil wars in Angola and Mozambique. The townships, where were packed the non-white people became impossible to govern, constantly in riots. Finally, at the end of the 80s, under international pressure, local risk of civil war, economic consequences of the wars, the government deconstructed the apartheid policy, liberated Mandela in 1990, and allowed the first free elections in 1994.

We walk back to the bus station, and then to the house. Our return tickets don’t work anymore. After some discussion, they let us enter and take our name: they’ll call the station where we get out to open the gates for us.

For dinner, we cook pasta with ostrich sausage. Piotrek is also here. And guess what, we talk about travels in South Africa.

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Here is the first video of Africa: