Tag Archives: South Africa

Neighbourgoods

No, I didn’t temporarily lose hold of my senses while trying to spell “neighborhoods” – Neighbourgoods is a fun, partially enclosed market in the central business district (CBD) of Joburg showcasing local merchants selling all manner of goodies: organic wine, raw chocolate, French cheese, thin crust pizza, empanadas, fresh baked bread, fruit smoothies, raw honey, homemade hummus, and the list goes on.  It’s a paradise for people like me and Al (i.e., gluttons).

Neighbourgoods is one of three places in Joburg that I’ve been told I simply “must” visit to experience vibrant city life in this city of malls and walls.  And it was very fun – but true city life, it’s not.  It was more a safe gathering place for hipsters, foodies, and people who enjoy a cold beverage on a hot day.  Al and I sort of fit into two out of three of these categories, if we’re being generous, so we enjoyed ourselves greatly.

We met up with one of my new friends here, Mare, and one of Al’s colleagues, Kitso, for some pizza, oysters, sparkling wine, beer, eggs benedict, and other delicious bites, including beetroot hummus, goat haloumi, and gelato.  We sat outside on the baking roof, ate, drank, and listened to music.  A very nice way indeed to pass a Saturday morning.

Gotta love this beer:

Now we’re back at the apartment, resting up and watching crime shows, until we head out again to watch the Harvard-Yale game somewhere tonight.

Enjoy your Saturdays!

Drakensberg Mountains

This weekend marked our first real weekend away from Joburg, and it was all I hoped it could be.  Al and I and three friends (Josh, Ken, and Elli) spent the weekend hiking, braai-ing, and drinking in the Drakensberg Mountains and, let me tell you, it was glorious.

The Drakensberg Mountains run along the western edge of the KwaZulu-Natal province and also border Lesotho.  There are a lot of resorts in the Drakensbergs, but we decided to stay in the Royal Natal National Park, which, according to my guidebook, “is famous for its exceptionally grand scenery.”  This turned out to be no joke.

View from our hike

However, reaching the park was no easy feat.  The drive from Joburg was a harrowing five-hour ordeal involving a two-lane highway full of slow moving trucks and fast-moving cars, long stretches of unsealed/unpaved roads littered with potholes, and, for most of the trip, pouring rain.  Oh, also, we left Johannesburg at 7 pm – probably not the wisest choice, in retrospect.   We made it, though!

We stayed right in the park in the uber-charming Thendele resort.  The five of us rented a self-catered, six-person cottage with a fireplace, TV, kitchen, and, most important, outdoor braai area.  Priorities!

This was the view from our cottage’s back patio.

Our cottage:

It was okay, I guess.

After staying up until 2 am on Friday drinking wine and eating biltong, we got up at 9 am on Saturday, ate a filling breakfast, and then set out on what ended up being a rather epic four-hour hike.  The hike took us past several waterfalls and required that we scramble up wet, moss-covered rocks and ascend a chain ladder.  For those of you who have never climbed a thin, swaying chain ladder set against slick, wet rocks, go ahead and skip it.  We all pretended we weren’t scared by it, but I’m reasonably sure we all secretly thought we were going to die on that ladder.

View from “The Crack”

On our way back down from the midway point of the hike, we were passed by a group of very tough looking Afrikaner guys wearing compression leggings and huge backpacks, who informed us, quite gravely, that “the pressure is dropping” and that we needed to get back down the slippery rocks before it started pouring rain. Then they jogged up the rocks and we lost sight of them.

When they passed us again ten minutes later, going back down, one of them – in his eagerness to outrun the dropping pressure, I imagine – slipped on the rocks and fell so hard on his back that we all gasped and cringed, sure that we had just witnessed a spinal fracture. “Are you okay?” we all asked him.  “Fine,” he said cheerily, as he popped back up, brushed himself off, determined that he had no broken bones, and continued on down the rocks at a brisk clip.  These Afrikaners don’t mess around.

After our hike, we uncorked some wine and settled in for a braai – salads, steaks, sausage, garlic bread, grilled veggies, corn on the cob, and even cookies for dessert.  Stuffing myself silly with wine and food has become my main weekend activity here, but what am I supposed to do, not partake in the local delights? That would just be culturally insensitive.

This guy, and his friend, decided to join us for our braai. He was very bold:

Guinea fowl?

After stuffing ourselves with food, we went inside and started a fire, and, of course, drank more wine. Are you seeing a pattern here?

The only thing missing? S’mores.  I’m thinking s’mores need to become a braai staple. I also realized this is the second blog post in which I’ve mentioned s’mores. I might have a problem.

Some other highlights of the trip, for me, included several baboon sightings and this sign warning us not to feed said baboons:

I also saw this in the park’s “curio shop,” and had to really make an effort not to buy it.  By the way, what do we think – is headache powder to be snorted, or applied directly to the head? I couldn’t decide.

All in all, a great weekend.  South Africa is feeling more and more live-able every day.

Weekend away

We’re taking a weekend trip to the scenic Drakensberg mountains and will be gone until Sunday afternoon. So there will be no blog updates this weekend, but I’ll be sure to fill you all in as soon as I’m back.

In the meantime, please enjoy this ridiculous photo of some of the services offered at the beauty salon next to my gym.  I better make my appointment soon!

Enjoy your weekends!

Driving

Big day, guys.  Today, Al and I became the proud owners of a 2008 Toyota Yaris.  We went to the “car dealership” (full disclosure: it’s a repo lot) this morning and then I attempted to drive myself back home, following Al.

But first we had to get gas at a specific gas station, because the dealership/repo lot had given us a voucher for 100 R worth of petrol at a nearby filling station.  They told us the station was easy to get to: “You just go right, then right, then right.” That seemed easy enough.  I got behind the wheel of the new car and Al drove the rental and we set off to find the gas station.

Next thing we knew, we were driving through Alexandra (known as Alex), a township in Joburg.  This was not ideal.  It was my first time driving more than a block on the left side of the road (and on the opposite side of the car) in South Africa, and I immediately was forced to navigate through a sea of people, trucks, motorcycles, and general sketchiness.  Our GPS was chirping at me in an Irish accent to “turn left” and “enter the roundabout” but I couldn’t turn left and didn’t see any roundabouts, so we ended up doing several, highly stressful laps around Alex before we made it to the gas station.

Alex

Good times.

After we finally found the filling station, I followed Al back to our apartment building and we managed not to end up in any more slums.

Before leaving for his office, Al told me I did “great” except to watch for left-hand drift. Huh? Apparently, being accustomed to being on the other side of the car while driving, I tend to drift over to the left while driving here, which is probably a nerve-wracking experience for anyone in the lane next to me. Not for me, though – I was blissfully unaware of any such drifting, and will probably continue to be.

There were also a couple times while I was driving, especially after turns, where I had to remind myself, LEFT SIDE. I want to be driving on the LEFT SIDE.

I’m sure all of this will get easier.  In the meantime, since it’s raining lions and dingos today, I have big plans to take the car to the gym, which is one block away.  It’s good to have wheels!

Braai

On Saturday evening, Al and I hosted our first braai (barbeque).  Braai is the Afrikaans word for barbeque or grill.  In a traditional braai, the meat is cooked over wood, but nowadays a lot of South Africans use plain ol’ charcoal briquettes just like everybody else.

Al went to the store on Saturday and purchased a barbeque, charcoal briquettes, and a twenty-two piece braai set (we might have gone a bit overboard).

Our new baby

We spent the afternoon preparing food.  Luckily, our apartment was sparkling clean since our new maid, the adorably named Precious, got the place ship-shape that morning while Al and I sat around awkwardly and wondered if we should offer to help.  We North Americans aren’t good with domestic help.

View from our balcony

Our menu consisted of rump meat, boerewors (a type of South African beef sausage), and biltong, plus my famous horseradish beet dip, guacamole, and cookies-and-cream popcorn, which turned out to be a huge hit.  Seriously, if you want people to like you, make them cookies-and-cream popcorn. They will be putty in your hands.

In preparing the side dishes, I had to make some adaptations based on what I found at the Pick ‘n Pay.  For example, I couldn’t find jalapenos for the guacamole, so I substituted little green chilis, which pack a more powerful punch and need to be used judiciously so as not to knock over one’s guests.  I also couldn’t find prepared horseradish for the beet dip, so I used something called “creamed horseradish.” Sounds a bit gross, but it did the trick.

Our guests arrived around five and we all set to eating and drinking until we were fit to pop.  Or maybe that was just me.  Oddly enough, only one of our guests was South African.  The rest were from Germany, America (f*** yeah), Nigeria, and Botswana.  Pretty sweet. Anyway, a good time was had by all (see photographic proof below) and I think we’ll be hosting many more braais in the future, despite our meat hangovers today.

Yum.

Pilates – kinda

Another milestone achieved today: I attended my first exercise class in South Africa.  For me, attending an exercise class in another country is always an exciting and nerve-wracking experience and, therefore, a rite of passage into a new culture.  I’ve written before about the vastly different spinning experiences I’ve had in different countries and about gym culture in Latin America.  But Africa’s a whole new ballgame, and so I wasn’t sure what to expect from the 9:30 am Pilates class at my local gym, Planet Fitness.

When I got to the classroom, I grabbed a mat and set it out near the back of the room, away from the instructor’s platform, because only hotshots sit right up front on their first day.  As I waited for the instructor to show up, I checked out the fifteen or so other women in the class.  Most were middle-aged, slightly pudgy, and white, but there were a few exceptions, including a girl who was a dead ringer for a brunette Taylor Swift.  I may have stared at her a little too long while trying to figure out if she was, in fact, Taylor Swift in disguise.  I mean, she was wearing GLASSES for Pete’s sake.  Lamest disguise ever.

The instructor, whose upright carriage and floaty hand movements suggested that she was a former dancer, led the class through a series of movements that was not, in fact, Pilates, but her accent was so charming that I didn’t even mind.  These South Africans and their accents, I’m telling you.  I didn’t question it when she told us to do a downward facing dog and then bend our knees and hover them over the floor, because her accent was so pleasant to listen to.  But yeah, that’s not Pilates.

To be fair, SOME portion of the class did involve movements that I recognized as Pilates, like rolling like a ball and leg circles.  But most of it was just gentle stretching with some yoga moves thrown in.  Ah, well.  I’ve had MUCH weirder Pilates experiences. Ain’t no thang.

The obvious question now: I wonder what the gym’s spinning (or, as it would be pronounced here, “spunning”) classes will be like?

Just a small post…

… To say that things are somewhat coming together over here.

We don’t have the stuff that we shipped from DC (but it’s being delivered Friday, supposedly).

I still don’t have a desk.

Our toilet leaks.

We only have one (rental) car and one set of housekeys between the two of us.

And last night I ruined a pot of soup because a plastic ladle melted into it and made the whole thing taste like cancer.

BUT! I have a South African phone number now! Hooray! I am no longer completely disconnected from the world.

Being me, I got confused with the exchange rate when I bought some pay-as-you-go minutes and ended up buying a package of – wait for it – 18 minutes, but still – better than nothing.  After expending those 18 minutes (probably sometime tomorrow?) I’ll have to go back to the Vodacom shop across the street, where I’m quickly becoming a regular, and buy more. Honestly, those Vodacom people are going to be able to set their watches to me — I have been in there almost every morning since I got here and I’m now on a first-name basis with several of them (including one gentleman with the delightful moniker of Elvis). Whatever – I have a phone!

In other good news, I have a pot of homemade chicken noodle soup in the works (to be served with a generous helping of Salticrax) and I am keeping that ladle FAR away from it.

Salticrax and other curiosities

Given that I don’t have a car or phone here in Joburg, I am pretty much housebound.  Also, I’m married, so I guess this makes me, quite literally, a housewife. Depressing.  Give me a couple weeks and I’ll be hiding bottles of vodka in the oven and snapping at the children, Betty Draper-style.

Today I, along with all of the other desperate housewives of Craighall Park, took a spin around the fancy grocery store (Woolworths) and the normal grocery store (Pick ‘n Pay) and tried to acquaint myself with South African products.  Here are a couple of my favorite finds.

First:

“Kids, I made your favorite for dessert! Greengage jelly!”

I googled “Greengage,” which, despite sounding like a medieval wasting disease, is actually a plum-like fruit.  Still – gross.

I also saw this, which was displayed alongside instant coffee and hot cocoa, which leads me to believe it is intended to be served hot:

Hot, green cream soda, anyone? Anyone?

My personal favorite find was this charming brand of crackers, which I HAD to buy, obviously:

If finding Salticrax hilarious is wrong, I don’t wanna be right.

Okay, off to cook dinner. Salticrax will be front and center on the table tonight. Delicious.

Cricket

Yesterday I was introduced to cricket, the second most popular sport in South Africa (after soccer and before rugby), and, I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised.

Being an ignorant American, my impression of cricket was that it was a gentlemanly (read: boring) “sport” in which the players wear sweater vests and take frequent breaks for tea and crumpets while the audience watches the “action” through opera glasses.  Basically, I thought a cricket match would look like this:

Turns out, though, cricket is kinda fun! And the players are kinda hunky!  For example: we were sitting directly behind this guy, Michael Lumb (who was playing for Sydney but happens to be from Joburg), for the first half of the game:

Yay for cricket.

We went to a “Twenty20” final match between the local team, the Highveld Lions, and the Sydney Sixers.  I won’t try to reproduce the rules of cricket here but suffice it to say that I actually followed the game (at least, the basic outlines thereof) and was not completely bored. Which is more than I can say for baseball.

Perhaps the most entertaining part of the game was the wildly uncoordinated dance troupe that performed every time either team got an out or scored a point.  The male members of the ensemble were forced to wear shiny red vests with no shirt underneath (a la Matthew McConaghey in Magic Mike), cowboy hats, and exercise pants with one leg rolled up.  Not cute, you guys.  Also, they sucked at dancing.

Anyway, cricket was a good time.  I was a little disappointed that no crumpets were served, but beer and biltong were available, so that made up for a lot.

Here’s a picture of the sky over the cricket pitch.  Not bad, Johannesburg.

Small adventures

Since arriving in South Africa, my life has been punctuated by a series of small adventures:  Al has driven on the left-hand side of the road without killing us both in a fiery wreck.  We spotted a white-tail deer at a country estate.  I tried biltong (cured game jerky) and ostrich.  And now, we are currently experiencing the small adventure of being locked inside our apartment.  Exciting!

The thing about keys in South Africa is that they look like something from the Victorian age – spindly, toothy skeleton keys that require jiggling and cajoling and twisting.

We had been faring alright with the two big keys that unlock, respectively, the outside metal “security door” to our apartment and the inside wooden door.  Then, this afternoon, we went to leave the apartment and found that our key would not open the lock.  We tried to no avail for twenty minutes to jiggle and twist and cajole the key in the lock, but nothing worked.

After much frustration and a doomed attempt at soaking the key in Canola oil, we got in touch with an emergency locksmith, who is currently replacing our lock with a new one.  He seemed suspicious of us, as if we were somehow responsible for the broken lock.  But honestly, South Africa, get with the times.  Yale locks have been around since 1848 (I checked) – what’s the hold up?

Looks like the locksmith has broken us out of our apartment prison.  Time to go about our day. More small adventures await.