South Africa is so different and so much like coming home
WORDS: AMRITA LALL
Floating across the South African skies in a hot-air balloon, steering through towering clumps of thick, fleecy cloud above the majestic peaks of Drakensberg, makes me think of Oswald. Oswald, the genial, fun-loving blue octopus from my cartoon-watching days of the early 2000s, who, in an episode titled Cloud Collecting, trudged up a hill and broke off a piece of a cloud. While my adult self acknowledges and greatly admires the creative genius of the show’s writer, as a kid, that episode just made me really envious; I wanted to step into Oswald’s shoes to steal a little bit of fluffy cloud for myself.
Now, as I take to the skies over South Africa, somewhere inside me, a 10-year-old still hopes to collect cloud. I take a deep breath and stretch my hand out – it gently skims through the pillowy clouds, but it doesn’t look like I can pull an Oswald on them. They feel cool, slightly wet and not solid, quite unlike Oswald’s puffy, ice cream topping-like cloud. As I offer small consolations to my 10-year-old self, we dip below the clouds, to be met with an incredible sight. There are oddly symmetrical strips of orange and pink on the horizon as the sun rises up into the sky behind us, creating surreal shadow lines of our giant balloon on the grasslands below. Completing the picture-perfect sight is a herd of wildebeest crossing a stream in the distance. I’m reminded of Meryl Streep from Out of Africa and how she found love in the wilderness of Masai Mara. I’m not seeking love and this isn’t Masai Mara but, somehow, I feel a little like her. As I sip champagne at the end of the one-hour flight, toasting a couple celebrating a wedding anniversary, I can’t help but applaud their choice in celebrating togetherness up in the African skies. I ask them if they feel a little like Meryl Streep and Robert Redford. They chuckle and tell me that they did watch the film on their flight to Johannesburg. I, on the other hand, had consumed zero content on the flight – no films, no books, no music. I was far too busy dreaming of the 10 days ahead of me in the Rainbow Nation.
GIVING IN TO BIG-CITY PLEASURES IN JOHANNESBURG
Pleasant and sunny with zero chance of rainfall – that’s the weather we were prepared for in Johannesburg. We are welcomed instead by a steady drizzle, chilly winds and the promise of two very wet days ahead. Our mild trepidation is met with a big, warm smile from Charles, our guide. “It’s considered a blessing when guests bring the rains with them,” he says and repeats many times over the next few days as we huddle under umbrellas, scramble to find cover from downpours, and turn up the heat in the car as we explore the country’s biggest city. By day two, the weather grows on me – I realise it is a nice feeling, being able to rely on a cup of hot chocolate on a rainy day to warm your insides. The one at Walnut Grove at Sandton City does the job excellently. It even comes with a mini cupcake that’s almost too pretty to bite into. The mall does excellent sandwiches as well – the massive portions will keep you busy for a long time, long enough for you to dry up before setting out again. But colder weather calls for stronger drinks, and we head to the Neighbourgoods Market and find a small stall called Partridge’s Potions. We pick from the five flavours on offer (the Chilli Chocolate and Salted Caramel are excellent), down a few shots and set out to explore the vibrant, lively market, spread across two floors and established to promote local artisans and food vendors. While the ground floor has a wide range of food on offer (everything from biltong and paella to plump little samosas), there’s quirky clothing and accessories upstairs. By the time I get upstairs, the liqueur has worked its magic; I’m feeling warm, tingly and uncharacteristically talkative. An hour later, I’ve chatted up several lovely locals, bought myself bright, kitschy clothing and grooved to lovely jazz music. I stroll around the area surrounding the market and come across some spectacular street art. A similar shopping environment, with some great art on display by local artists, minus the food, is the Rosebank African Art & Craft Market, where haggling can get you great buys.
South Africa, as a nation, is synonymous with Nelson Mandela, and rightfully so. Mandela’s significance can be felt throughout Johannesburg, which is also the seat of the country’s Constitutional Court. There’s no better place to get to know the South African hero than the Apartheid Museum. By the time we get to the museum, the weather’s switched from slightly cloudy to being a mild storm. We dart across the first courtyard where visitors are greeted by the seven Pillars of the Constitution, and arrive at the entrance. Charles hands us our tickets – half of them say ‘whites’, the other half ‘non-whites’. There are two separate entrances for the two categories, intended to make visitors feel the racial divide that existed during the regime. I walk through the door labelled ‘non-white’, and can’t help but feel a strong surge of emotion as I look at the identity documents on display that once formed the basis of the divide. Designed to illustrate the rise and fall of apartheid, the exhibits include provocative film footage, photographs, text panels and artefacts. I notice Charles watching a short film about the day Mandela was sworn in as President in 1994. He smiles. “I was here. It’s almost impossible, isn’t it, to fathom how recent my country’s history is?” I can only offer a smile.
To get first hand experiences of South Africa’s wild life, adventure, cities, cuisine, check out LPMI’s January 2019 issue. Pick up a copy from your newsstand or click to subscribe via Zinio or Magzter.