Tuesday night was the 2nd night here and that’s traditionally the worst from a jet lag perspective. The first night I’m usually so tired I can sleep through easily. The 2nd is the struggle and from there it gets pretty normal. Well this was the night. I woke up once feeling like I’d been asleep for hours. It was just 11pm, and I’d gone to bed at 9:30. So when I woke up again I felt rested and thought for sure it was like 6am. Nope. 2am. Oh well. Having realized it was night 2 and this was normal, I leaned into it. I did some reading, listened to my audio book (Conversation with Good, Book 2, Neale Donald Walsch), played games on my phone, did some yoga and meditation, and by about 4am started on the blog. All on just water. By 6:15pm I decided I didn’t care if I woke up Ash, I was making coffee. And that Nespresso machine is Loud. Oh well again. Coffee was just what I needed.
At about 6:50am I caught this beautiful sunrise over the hills and through the trees.
I was done with the blog and moved to the balcony to do my final proof from my phone – another ritual. It was about 50 degrees so crisp but beautiful. Fall is lovely here.
This is the view from the far end of the balcony to my left. That glass tower is essentially an elevator, taking you to the 2 restaurants I mentioned in the prior entry. You can see just how close it is to our room. Literally around the corner.
Ash got up about 7:30 and we made our way out to breakfast about 8:15am. I started with some fruit and what I thought was yogurt when I picked it up. Turns out it was a fruit smoothie, which explains the huge straw.
Ash ordered a salmon benedict off the menu.
I ordered what they called a South African breakfast. When in Rome. It was incredible. Underneath those eggs are a hunk of steak, same quality as I had at dinner the other night; a very crispy hash brown patty, some pork-n-beans, and mushrooms. With avocado on the side. It was terrific.
I finished off with a couple of pastries. That pecan cinnamon roll was maybe the best I’ve ever had.
The day before was very cloudy most of the day, and Wednesday everything looked very different. This was a view we passed between the elevator and the restaurant every time, but it’s been dark (sun sets at like 5:30pm) or gloomy so this really caught my attention.
We were pretty lazy this morning really feeling the jet lag and finally got on with our day around 10:30am.
First stop, the Apartheid Museum. Ash kept saying “I can’t believe you didn’t know about this.” Me: “I was pretty much drunk in the 80s and wasn’t paying attention to much of anything.” I mean, I had a vague understanding of who Nelson Mandela was, but certainly didn’t understand the details. So just in case, like me, you haven’t paid a bunch of attention to international news in your life for whatever reason, I’ll start with a little history.
Remember the Dutch colonists I talked about in the prior entry, from the Voortrekkers Monument? I had an uneasy feeling about all of it the entire time we were there, and it was hard to put my finger on. I have mostly caught up on overviews of international politics since I’ve been sober, at least enough to recognize that there was something about the tour guide’s pitch that, as informative as it was, felt it a little off. I never really got the sense that she had a sense that there was anything wrong with what they did. By the time that monument was completed in 1949, the Dutch colonists, now known here as Afrikaners, had come into minority power and instituted Apartheid: a system of radical segregation to keep non-whites separate from whites and ultimately to ensure that they would never have any power because the Afrikaners knew that, if non-whites could vote for example, the numbers would be so large the white minority would never have any power again.
The parallels I kept seeing between this history and what’s going on at home were quite disturbing.
At any rate, this museum tells the story of the period of Apartheid, from 1948 until 1990 when Nelson Mandela, a resistance leader, was released from prison as one who had been imprisoned for no other reason than breaking laws related to apartheid (as opposed to theft, rape, murder, etc). There was still lots of unrest – the period from 1990 to 1994 saw more deaths in the struggle than in all the years before it combined – until he was elected President during the first fully democratic election in 1994.
With that background, on with the show.
Four pillars, some covered by trees, but each with one word on them: Democracy, Equality (you can just see the shadow of it really), Reconciliation, Diversity.
Three more pillars: Responsibility, Respect, Freedom. One of the first things you see upon entering the museum is a sign labeled “Pillars of the Constitution” and you understand what you just saw in the parking lot. This constitution “contains guarantees of equality more extensive than anywhere else in the world.” I believe it. Ash and I keep talking about how you can feel it in the people. Everyone here is so happy, friendly, and easy to be with. We have been thoroughly welcomed everywhere we go.
“To be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.” Nelson Mandela.
Boy, we could use some more of that attitude back in the States, eh?
The tickets you received randomly came out as White or Non-white and the entrance was labeled that way as well. Apartheid was law from 1948 – 1990 and they wanted you to get a feel for how it was. So, the first 75 feet or so of the exhibit segregated you and you had a different experience on the other side. Ash took the white and I took the non-white. When we talked about it after there wasn’t a ton of difference in the exhibits themsevles, the curators are just making a point. And we got it.
This first part of the exhibit was all outside, had these interesting figures in mirrors, and little exhibits inside the brick walls on the right that sort of gave the history of humankind, reminding you that we all come from the African ancestors. It gave a very short synopsis of the African experience once European colonists started to arrive, and the struggles that ensued as everyone fought for the same resources: land and water.
The mirrors were trippy. Here you could see everything behind you from the mirror. But on the other side you saw the front of this woman.
At the end of this walk was a panoramic view of downtown Johannesburg, as a reminder of how much of the struggle occurred here. They pointed out that Soweto – an acronym for southwest townships – was behind us, a neighborhood that had a significant role in apartheid for several reasons, including being the one-time home of Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu.
From here you finally entered the museum itself. Photos weren’t allowed in the museum, both a blessing and a curse. We were there about 2.5 hours I think, I wasn’t paying close attention to the time. It was very impactful and we had interesting conversations throughout. There were a couple of movies that we really enjoyed. One was just 15 minutes and it did a sweep of history from about 2500 years ago until 1948 when Apartheid began, to give you an understanding of how it all came to be. That was just as you entered. Another much later in the exhibit covered the struggles from the 80s which is when things really started to turn.
And how things started to turn is very much related to Soweto. The schools there taught history as it actually was and encouraged political activism in the students. In 1976, the government instituted a policy requiring that all education be delivered in Afrikaans (what the Dutch Afrikaners spoke) rather than native languages. This led to the Soweto Uprising, protests in this township on June 16, 1976, that were heard around the world. This was the moment the proverbial genie was out of the bottle and couldn’t be put back in.
We drove to Soweto with the intention of seeing the Mandela and Tutu houses and maybe have a little lunch. We entered an area of abject poverty the likes of which we don’t really see in the US. If you’ve seen the movie Slumdog Millionaire, it was just like that. As we approached the street that had everything on it, we encountered a bunch of young men trying to scam you for parking and who knows what else, very reminiscent of our experience at the national park in Costa Rica in November. While we didn’t feel unsafe exactly, it did sort of take the wind out of us and we ended up just driving around the neighborhood a bit and then moved on. We headed into downtown.
Random goats stopping traffic.
These guys had just crossed the street and their buddy in the prior photo couldn’t decide what he wanted to do I guess!
A little bit of downtown. It’s actually pretty big, probably 3-4x what you see here.
We were headed to Constitution Hill. This is an old fort and prison which was established in the late 1800s by the Dutch and used, among other things, to protect against the British, then later turned into a government facility and, most famously, being where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned in 1962.
It has since been turned into a complex of museums, restaurants and other activities. The inscription at the bottom of this large statue of a little girl is a Mandela quote: “Our children are the rock on which our future will be built. Our greatest asset as a nation will be the leaders of our country, the creators of our national wealth who will care for and protect our people.”
This sign indicates all of the different exhibits spread over the complex. We were really just interested in food at the moment so moved in the direction of the Food, I Love You Kitchen.
Our path took us through some barracks type buildings. What we didn’t know at the moment we entered was the building on the right was where Mandela was housed.
The entrance to the kitchen at the end of that path. As we were walking I’d noticed what looked like a security guard standing at the top of the wall – see the red circle – although I thought the uniform looked strange compared to what we’d been seeing. As I got closer, I realized it was just a silhouette of one. But for me at least it landed the creepy factor I assume was intended.
This little restaurant is done in the old prison kitchen. Holy repurposing, Batman!
The sign stated that this was the only place where black and white prisoners met, but they were treated differently. Black prisoners didn’t receive milk, bread or jam, and were given roughly 140g of protein four times a week. White prisoners got about 200g of meat every day, and of course milk, bread and jam.
Meet Timba, who greeted us at the door and took care of us while we were here.
Lunch is essentially an “all you can eat” buffet paid for by the pound.
It wasn’t very big but was comfortable.
We had a quinoa spinach salad, fresh tomato salsa, charred green beans with a little spicy red pepper which was amazing, and cauliflower roasted in turmeric. Everything was very fresh and tasted great.
And a tiny loaf of banana bread!
From there we went to Victora Yards about 10 minutes away, a collection of artisan shops and restaurants in old warehouse looking buildings. As you can see from the list it’s huge, we entered top left and saw about 1/3 of it, mostly along the bottom of this map.
Throughout the complex in between the buildings were herb and vegetable gardens which were well cared for.
We stopped in this African art shop (is that redundant?) and bought a couple of things to take home: an egg for Ash (if you’ve been in our dining room you know he collects these) and a pillow case, something that’s become a bit of a tradition for us.
There was a huge vegetable garden in the back.
We made our way back to the hotel and decided, once again, to stay there for dinner. But we did promise ourselves it would be the last time. We’ll see if we stick to that tonight!
We walked over to the restaurant so Ash could give them a hard time about being out of salmon the prior two nights. They indicated that, once again, they would be out, but said they’d try to make something special for us. While Ash was kibitzing with them, I took advantage of the daylight – it was about 4pm and the sun would set around 5:30 – and finally got some photos of the rest of the restaurant that’s always in the dark. I don’t think I realized you could see downtown from here.
This section of the restaurant hasn’t been used in the evening despite all the set tables.
A little infinity pool underneath the deck.
We went back to the room. I worked on the blog and Ash got caught up on phone calls. He’s got people helping him with all of the Airbnb work while he’s traveling so he can have a teeny sense of vacation – he never really gets a day off – but it’s still helpful to check in here and there.
We went back for dinner around 6:45. They put us in a different – and quieter – section of the restaurant that we liked better than where we’d been the prior 2 nights.
Although tempted to get the springbok carpaccio again, I decided on something different: bone marrow. Once they brought it out I’d remembered I have had it before although don’t remember where. There’s not much to it really, certainly won’t fill you up, but it’s interesting and tastes great. Ash had the lobster bisque again.
And a surprise: somewhat encouraged by Ash’s prompting, they made a special trip out to find salmon for that evening. So of course, that’s what Ash had.
I had the same steak I had the first night and it was just as good.
For dessert we split a chocolate torte, very dense, with some Nutella gelato.
And that was our day. Very full but we had a great time. Today will be another full day, our last in Johannesburg. Mostly we will be outside of it, planning on seeing some things outside the city. You’ll have to come back to see how it goes!
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Thanks so much, I am just catching up with you two and loved the history lesson and views of places we only heard about in the news years ago. I must admit the experience brought a tug on my heart. You both are such great ambassadors of the US in this world. Bless you for your connection to people around the world.
Hugs and kisses, Deanna
What a lovely comment. Glad you’re coming along!
I am loving the commentary on the Apartheid museum and your thoughts “something was off”. This brought back such memories – I remember protesting the UC involvement with South African companies and demanding that they divest due to apartheid. And I love how you two enjoy your food experiences!
We were joking yesterday about how we are always planning the next meal 😬
Loved the history lessons here. I wasn’t clear about the Dutch Afrikaners. I’m delighted to hear about the feel of the people after apartheid. It gives me hope 🙏🏻
It was always very confusing to me as well but I feel pretty clear on it all now. And I just skimmed the surface in the blog. We have learned a lot in the last 2 days!