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Thursday, December 29, 2011

South Africa, Cow Head Soup

 

En route to dinner I am asked by Ja-ba-low if I have ever eaten at a hostel. As a backpacker, my immediate is “yes” although I soon discover that where we are having dinner is like no hostel I have ever visited.

 

JNB Trip 257Our hostel amounts to an open area with a few food vendors, a butcher shop and more interestingly a few communal barbeque grills made from 55 gallon drums.

 

 

 

Our first stop here is at the butcher shop where we pick out a steak and a type of sausage, “borra-vous”, that has a Dutch influence. Our steak is seasoned and along with the side dishes, “Pap” and “Salsa” which we will pick up later, our feast is about R$50 (US$8).

 

 

JNB Trip 261Ja-ba-low finds an open grill and the cooking begins.

No fancy utensils, our meats are maneuvered with a communal metal coat hanger type prong or the quick flip of a hand.

 

 

 

Although, I have been to many barbeque’s before, the simplicity and communal aspects of this one makes it a charming experience.

 

 

JNB Trip 261

 

 

With our meat cooked, we find a space at one of the many open tables and then head off for the “icing on the cake” so to speak of our meal. I am going to have some “Cow Head Soup”, a favorite among the men and men only for one or two intriguing reasons. This is one dish that women are not particularly allowed to partake in. No soup for them!

 

 

JNB Trip 263Approaching the soup guy, I can sense he is serious about his product as I watch him tend to his vat of goods.

He has no shortage of customers and I wait my turn in line for what he has to offer.

 

 

 

Ja-ba-low makes some gesture and conversations with him then he tells me to practice my Zulu thank you. As a guest, sort of, I have just scored a free plate of cow head meat. To complete this portion of our meal, I again return to the soup guy this time with a styro cup purchased for a few rands from the butcher shop.

Another wait in line and my cup is filled with a warm almost clear broth.

 

JNB Trip 268Back at our table, I am now ready to eat without utensils. I tear at the steak and sausage while following Ja-ba-low instruction to prepare the “pap” for eating.

A desirable portion of the hot white maize side dish is rolled and shaped between the fingers then combined with the meat and salsa.

 

A bit sticky at first but it all comes together nicely on the palette for an expected taste.

Next it's time to try the manly dish and I know I must erase from my mind that I am eating the meat from a cow's head. Again, following instructions and I am chewing on meat that ironically is from the inside cheek of the cow. It's a bit tough with the texture of a chicken gizzard although the flavor is not that bad. A few more pieces then it is time to partake in the portion of this meal that makes it attractive and a “men only” dish.

Ja-ba-low hands me the styro cup and I now stare into the warm now separated oily broth that is not particularly pleasant to look at. I am having second thoughts and start asking questions about it. An obvious stalling tactic that does not work. With some encouraging words, I blank out my mind and take a sip of the broth and then another. The taste is surprising. It seems to have a garlic flavor but I am told the taste comes from simply boiling down the cow's head meat with salt and water.

Learning the believed local benefits of this soup, I can see why it is so popular with the men.

But what about the women I ask, apparently they have plants and fruits for the same effect.

 

IMG_4908I can see that the dish has already effected some of the young men that were sitting next to us as they are happy to entertain us with a little dance as they are leaving.

 

 

 

 

Friday, December 23, 2011

South Africa, The Shack

 

It is a first for me to drink beer out of a milk cartoon but this is no ordinary beer or experience. Just around the corner from 8115 Orlando West, Nelson Mandela's home, is “The Shack” a local watering hole.

Initially, I am in search of food but for some strange reason I am drawn to “The Shack” and the blaring music coming from it. Here, I soon discover I can get a more people to people encounter of Soweto. A brief inquiry and I am a bit disappointed that no food is available; only drinks.

Guess, it’s time for “pork chops in a can”, Soweto style.

As often the case, my beverage of choice is a local brew. I am surprised when the bartender of sort questions my request and summons help.

 

 

JNB Trip 252I am further questioned about my request by the help who then retreats to another room.

He returns with a colorful green, black and brown bowl along with a milk cartoon.

 

 

 

 

 

JNB Trip 254A warning label tells me this is no ordinary milk or local brew.

Given the choice I take a seat at a table where a few men are already drinking and having an engaging conversation.

A few minutes later the conversation stops and one of the gentlemen focuses on me.

 

 

 

 

With a stern voice he addresses me and tells me he has a problem with me sitting at the table. This makes me a little uncomfortable until he tell me the reason why.

He jovially questions, “How can you sit at the table and not introduce yourself”. I am embarrassed by my action but his laughter breaks the ice and let's me know my sin is forgiven.

 

 

 

JNB Trip 253I now become a part of the conversation as the milk cartoon is opened and my beer is poured.

However, I have made another mistake but this time it is only in my head.

 

 

 

The beer I have purchased is not my beer it is a communal beer to be shared from the same bowl by anyone in the bar that wants to partake in it. Now made as commercial beer, Jo burg Beer originally started as a home brewed beer made for special occasions like weddings and graduations. A process that at home can take weeks to complete.

 

 

IMG_4902Communal Beer Drinking

 

 

With a pink milk consistency the beer is non carbonated and has a heavy taste. For me, this makes it more of a sipping beer which works well with the on going conversation. Between sips formal introductions are made and I think “Ja-bo-low” has now taken a liking to me.

Ja-bo-low, a Zulu shares with me about local Zulu life and traditions. For him, even as a father himself, his father is so respected that he cannot slaughter an animal without approval from him. Furthermore, if he shows his father disrespect his brothers would take him to the woods and “fix” him. I like this particular Zulu tradition and think it should be exported.

Our conversation eventually shifts to food. Although he has to pick his mother up at 7pm, Ja-bo-low offers to take me for a true local dining experience. With our beer finished, I am glad we are driving and not walking to dinner.

 

 

 

Thursday, December 22, 2011

South Africa, A Penny For Who?

 

A funny thing happened on my way to visit Hector Peterson Memorial and Nelson Mandela's former home in Soweto. On this particular afternoon, I notice that at most traffic intersections I am approached by disguised singing characters.

I must confess this peaks my curiosity and I begin wondering if there was something unique I missed about visiting Soweto. As I am strolling the grounds at Hector Peterson Memorial another group of these singing characters appears.

 

 

JNB Trip 218I now figure it's time that I solve the mystery like a good Chief Inspector would do.

 

 

 

 

 

 

JNB Trip 256Kato, I think these is something fishy going on in Denmark.

Girls are dressed up to look like boys and boys are dressed up to look like girls. I just hope I don't need to put on a dress to get to the bottom of this because I have nothing to wear.

Turns out my karaoke lessons are about to pay out big dividends as I join in with their singing.

 

 

“A penny for the Guy Fawkes, A penny for the Guy Fawkes, A penny for the Guy Fawkes”.

I look at my Rolex and it all comes together. It's November 5th, Guy Fawkes Day when children with a British tradition celebrate the day like Halloween in America. Although, I would say the children here might have a little bit of an edge, their treat is money.

 

 

JNB Trip 219“A penny for the Guy Fawkes”.

 

 

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

South Africa, Soweto A Sad History

 

Nothing saddens my heart more than the death of the innocent especially when it involves children. Standing at the Hector Peterson Memorial in Soweto, I am taken back to a time when such an event occurred.

 

 

JNB Trip 217Even today it is hard to imagine the horror when in June 1976 police opened fire on 15,000 students participating in a peaceful demonstration.

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_4884Hector Peterson Memorial

 

 

On that sad day in South Africa's history about 600 students innocently lost their lives for a just cause.

Forever a Hero, Hector Peterson was one of the youngest victims in South Africa's struggle to free itself from an oppressive white minority ruled government. With sad consolation, it can now be said that Hector and may others did not sacrifice their lives in vain.

A more recognized proponent of South Africa's fight from an oppressive government lived not too far away from where the student uprising occurred on June 16th, 1976.

 

 

IMG_4898At 8115 Orlando West, I am at the former home of Nelson Mandela which is now a museum.

Here, one can get just a glimpse of the struggles of those who opposed the government.

 

 

 

 

 

JNB Trip 223Bullet holes can still be seen on the exterior walls of the home and you can hear Mrs. Mandela share her side of the experience.

 

 

 

 

 

The museum also displays many of Nelson Mandela's memorabilia including letters written while he spent 27 years in prison, awards and gifts including a Title Belt from a fellow boxer like himself, Sugar Ray Leonard.

In his struggle to free South Africa, Nelson Mandela went from prison, returned to Soweto, won the Noble Peace Prize and eventually became South Africa's President. Today, Mr. Mandela is in his 90's and is believed to live somewhere in the Eastern Cape.

Although the museum itself is small, the things that happened here played a huge part not only in South Africa's past but also what it has become and will continue to be in the future. Today, what happened in Soweto many decades ago is proof that good can overcome evil, that all should live free of oppression.

 

 

 

IMG_4901Did you know that Archbishop Desmond Tutu another Nobel Peace Prize winner lives just blocks from 8115 Orlando West?

I imagine it is a rare occurrence to have two Nobel Prize winners that are practically neighbors.

 

 

 

 

IMG_4889Nelson Mandela

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Understanding what occurred here, it is not surprising that both Mandela and Archbishop Tutu won this prestigious award. A due recognition of what happens when you represent the best of humanity and what we can all achieve when the human spirit is triumphant.

 

 

Thursday, December 15, 2011

South Africa, A Prego Roll In Pretoria

 

While conventional medical wisdom holds that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, on this particular Saturday morning in South Africa's Administrative Capital, Pretoria, I might tend to disagree.

 

 

IMG_4877My breakfast, slices of a delightful bread, full of various grains, fresh orange juice, sausages, grilled tomatoes, pears and ham along with a few cups of Rooibos Tea has now become a major obstacle as I park near a beautiful purple Jacaranda tree.

 

 

Following a recommendation from the owners of Friends B&B where I stayed last night, I have made my way to Hazel Market. Here local farmers, butchers, bakers along with various food and drink vendors gather on a regular basis to entice and delight potential customers.

 

 

VID01240 0 00 00-18Free, hard to resist samples of many of the goods are offered.

Only the strong do not fall to the temptations.

 

 

 

A lesson on the cashew nut and I am purchasing a package flavored with Himalayan salt which apparently has a few health benefits. From salt it's onto sweets. Breads, cupcakes and pastries. Then it's a sampling of grilled trout followed by shelling out a few rands for smoked polish sausage links. I do manage to pass on the cheese offerings as I am not a big cheese lover.

 

 

VID01254 0 00 00-29Due to local ordinances alcohol is not allowed to be sold at the market so a Virgin Rock Shandy will have to do for the time being.

 

 

 

There are variations of this drink but it basically includes soda water, ginger beer and lemonade with a dash of bitters. A refreshing summer drink.

Walking the grounds the weather is amazingly beautiful and I give my stomach a break before I see what another area of Hazel Market has to offer.

 

VID01261 0 00 00-07A selection of custard pastries, the smell of grilled chicken along with flat breads topped with fresh tomatoes, veggies and cheese brings me this close to a penalty flag.

 

 

 

I have no intention of getting a “Roughing The Stomach” or “Hand To The Mouth” call, so I resist the temptation. Like a great football player, my discipline pays off as I eye a lonely seasoned chicken breast sizzling in a hot frying pan at the 50 yard line.

A smiling face opposite me and I quickly sign up to tackle that chicken breast when it is place between two slices of a fresh roll bread. Loaded with eggplant, chili peppers,onions, tomatoes, cucumbers and drizzled with an oil based dressing, I am taking on a formidable opponent.

 

 

 

VID01265 0 00 05-05A Pretoria Prego Roll

 

 

I am driven back by the gustatory sensation of one of the best chicken sandwiches I have ever tasted. It's first and ten, then as John Madden would say “If the quarterback throws the ball in the end zone and the wide receiver catches it….It’s a touchdown.” This Pretoria Prego Roll has just scored a TD.

With Pretoria Prego Rolls around, looks like breakfast may not be the most important meal of the day, after all.

 

Sunday, December 11, 2011

South Africa, Pilanesburg National Park

 

Just outside of Sun City which is about a two hour drive from Johannesburg is Pilanesburg National Park.

 

JNB Trip 113For about under US$10 admission fee you can enter the park and set off on your own self exploration of some of South Africa's natural wild life.

 

 

 

 

 

JNB Trip 084With a nice map and guide book purchased at the entrance, I am driving along a gravel road into the park. It is not long before antelopes and wildebeest are spotted grazing in the fields not too far away.

 

 

 

Going around a corner the road crosses a small stream and I can see huge gray masses moving against the bushy landscape. Slowing my approach and eventually coming to a stop, I watch as a pair of rhinos walk less than one hundred feet from me.

 

 

JNB Trip 086 

 

 

 

JNB Trip 087A quick look at my reference guide and I discover that these are white rhinos. Fortunately, I don't have to get any closer to tell this as a view through my camera lenses shows a distinct square nostril compared to the pointed snout of a black rhino.

 

 

 

 

JNB Trip 104Moving down the road, I encounter an animal that is familiar to most of us, Pumbaa! He has come down to a small stream for a drink.

What a handsome dude.

 

 

 

I know the black and white stripes act as a camouflage for zebras but a group of them that are standing around in an open field is not too hard to spot.

 

JNB Trip 111I even have a close encounter with a few of them including a mother and her calf that crosses the road right in front of the car.

 

 

 

One of the nice things about doing a self-drive safari is being able to move at your own pace to enjoy seeing the animals. Another is having the discretion to explore many of the side roads off the beaten path.

 

 

 

JNB Trip 120

 

 

Parked in one area, I silently watch as heads appear above some tall trees in the distance. A family of giraffes followed by some playful zebras are slowing taking a walk towards a lake apparently for an afternoon drink.

 

 

JNB Trip 131An almost surreal scenery to watch.

Looking towards the lake there are even ostriches along the shoreline.

 

 

 

 

 

Weighing a few tons can make it very difficult to hide but one elephant seems to be doing this behind a densely covered tree. However, his huge ears and hanging trunk gives him away. Eventually, he gives up and comes out in the open.

 

 

JNB Trip 133

 

 

 

JNB Trip 138Since elephants tend to be very social and travel in groups this one must be an outcast.

A park ranger is nearby and seems to be studying his movements.

 

 

 

In different locations of the park there are well protected hides built around areas where the animals tend to congregate during different times of the day. These hides some with electric fences and barriers, offer protection for visitors while they view the animals in their natural habitat.

 

JNB Trip 147At one such hide, a group of us watch a hippo laying around a watering hole.

Every few minutes it's head goes below the surface of the water and remains submerge for about five to seven minutes.

 

 

From others in the hide I am told I just missed a pair of rhino visitors. Meeting others touring the park is helpful as we are all eager to share our animal spotting stories. I am fortunate here to meet some Brits who have spotted “The King” not too far away from here.

Approaching the prized viewing of the day, others have already gathered at the spot. Parked I cannot see anything but trees. However, I can hear the distinct panting of the big cat. It is eerie that he is breathing so loud and that I am so close to hear but not see him.

 

 

JNB Trip 149 - CopySoon a car leaves and I am able to get a better spot where I can see two lioness resting in the shade. In the distant valley below a herd of antelopes are grazing without a care in the world. I have a feeling that may change later on in the day.

 

 

 

JNB Trip 160Turning to the left I have a sense that I am being watched.

This is confirmed as I am soon steering eye to eye with….

“The King Of The Jungle”.

 

 

Having the protection of glass and metal removes some of my fears but not my goose bumps. It is by no means a stare down but from his prospective he seems to be telling me welcome to the jungle, stick around we can have some fun and games. Your Highness, I think I'll decline the offer.

 

 

JNB Trip 162

 

I retreat a bit into my car as he gets up and seems to be walking towards me. I am relieved when I discover he is just going over to join the lioness.

 

 

JNB Trip 165What is striking to me is that they are not as orange colored as I expected and “The King's” mane seems a bit short.

Is there such a thing as lion male pattern baldness?

 

 

Leaving the park a light rain is falling and I get to witness a migration of a different sort. Stopped at a pedestrian crossing I sit and watch as a group of school children race across the street to their waiting buses.

I hope they have enjoyed Pilanesburg as much as I did!

 

 

Friday, December 9, 2011

South Africa, Sun City Resort

 

 

 

JNB Trip 004Sun City

 

 

Located about a two hour drive northwest of Johannesburg, getting to Sun City by car is easy although you will have to pay a few tolls along the way. Many people visit Sun City as a day tour from Johannesburg.

Since my plan also calls for a visit to nearby Pilanesburg National Park, I arrive in the Sun City area in the early evening. Less than ten miles away, I find adequate and affordable accommodations for the night.

 

 

JNB Trip 001Sun City is a popular getaway for locals and rooms at the various resort properties can run from US$180 to over US$500 per night.

I'll be able to keep on budget and afford to stay there when my rich uncle passes away.

 

 

For a day visit it's about a US$8 admission fee and well worth it. Although the casino is practically empty during my visit it has a beautiful jungle and safari decor.

 

 

 

JNB Trip 014

 

 

On this nice summer day one of the main attractions here is Valley Of The Waves, a gorgeous water park that easily makes you feel as if you are somewhere in the Caribbean instead of being in South Africa. I watch as groups of school age children are thrilled to spend a day at the beach.

 

 

JNB Trip 024A stroll around the grounds along guided paths provides a stunning and sometimes relaxing scenery near one of the many man made waterfalls.

 

 

 

 

 

 

JNB Trip 035A walk across a swing bridge leads me to the aviary just in time for the morning feeding.

Holding a lump of fresh cut up fruit, I am not worried about the birds in the bush as I quickly have a few of them in my hand.

 

 

Feeding time is exhilarating and enjoyable not only for the birds but for me as well. There are all kinds of interesting birds housed in the aviary here.

 

 

JNB Trip 057My favorite, a bright orange pinkish one that seems the least bothered by the commotion of feeding time.

 

 

 

 

 

Leaving the aviary, I encounter a group that is also interested in birds although not necessarily the feathered kind. I think this group is more concerned with “birdies” as they make their way to the greens and not the aviary.

 

 

JNB Trip 059Sun City Caddies

 

 

 

JNB Trip 064Crossing a world class golf course, my next stop is at a “Bird Of Prey” exhibition.

Here, in an open area, birds including some huge and not so happy looking owls are tethered to the ground or tree stumps.

 

 

 

 

JNB Trip 068These birds are rescued or donated animals that are being rehabilitated.

Although the tethering seems cruel, it is a part of the rehab process.

 

 

 

 

 

A few steps from here more animals are on display that are common to South Africa. The coolest one, a crane type bird that has a head that seems more alien than earthly. However, I am not going to be the one to tell him that.

 

 

JNB Trip 077What A Cool Head

 

 

If casino's are not your thing or beautiful landscapes or golf courses or birds or animals then maybe jet skiing, para-sailing or a banana boat ride or just relaxing by a dazzling pool may do. These are all a part of what Sun City Resort offers but a day is hardly enough time to enjoy it all.

My visit here ends in way that makes all my trips complete. I get a free language lesson from a parking lot attendant.

 

 

JNB Trip 002With a smiling face I learn a few African words like “Hello”, “Good Morning”, and “Please”.

Also more importantly, “Thank You”.

“Ya bo nah”.