South Africa and Other Stories
21.02.2011 - 27.02.2011
I have recently reached a historic milestone, relatively speaking, in my journey. As of this writing, I have been out of the US (and loving it) for exactly a month. Good thing there is another month-and-a-half left, so I can officially make my transition in adulthood and prove myself as a man who can catch flights, make reservations, and still have the prescience to have a good time.
One of the best parts about revisiting my South African roots is getting to see family. I feel very lucky to have such kind and generous relatives who have literally opened up their homes and country for me to see and yet are still able to call me out on my shiite. As much as I have enjoyed meeting new people in my travels, there is something cool about seeing familiar faces and getting to reconnect with people that you haven't seen in 6/7 years. So without further adieu, here is a recap of what has gone down during my first week here in Johannesburg:
The best thing about changing continents is getting a chance to change your diet. (Un)fortunately for me, I went from one meat-eater's paradise in Argentina to another one in South Africa. Between the bags of fresh biltong and dry wors right after I got off the plane, the late night McDonald's run after Greenside, and the boeri and the steaks in Kruger (see below), I knew it was going to take a modern-day miracle for me not to get the gout. Luckily for me though, South Africa has many more culinary influences swirling around from within, and I have jumped right in. First off, the key difference between the two has been the kind of flavors. South Africa has many more spices and heat in its dishes, allowing me to have curries with chutney and dishes with peri-peri and madagascar pepper sauce. Secondly, the selection of meats and non-meats is ridiculous, as I have had ostrich burgers, calamari steaks, and even kudu jerky (type of deer/venison). Lastly, the people here get the concept of having fruits and veggies with meals, meaning that I can order a side-salad with a meal and not look crazy and can find amazing grenadillas, mangos, papayas, lichis, and nectarines in abundance. I also can't mention a trip to South African without mentioning the sweets. Between the koeksisters, wine gums, licorice, and chocolates, if the gout don't get me then tooth decay will. Add this all up, and I have eaten like a king since the beginning of my stay whether it be at home, at a cafe/ restaurant, or even a bar. My only justification for the binge-eating is that in a couple short weeks I will no longer get to taste the flavors, and so I must persevere.
One of great parts about having amazing fruit is that you can make real fruit juices that are cheap and delicious. This makes a great accompaniment to any meal or maybe even alcohol, if you so choose. Besides that, I have renewed my support for Appletizer and Grapetizer, which put there US "cider" counterparts to shame without so much as a second look. In terms of alcoholic drinks, one of my missions when I go into a new place is to stick with everything local. As I only recently turned 21 and had my first drink in the US, I was able to see a new side of South Africa during my latest visit.
As of right now, I would rank the major beers here as follows:
- Windhoek Draught
- Windhoek Lager
- Hansa Gold
- Black Label
- Castle Draught
- their respective light counterparts
Outside of beer, I have had the opportunity to have Amarula again, which is a creamy drink made of the marula berry that grows here and is a favorite of the elephants at Kruger Park (see below). Whether you drink it alone or as a part of White Russian (affectionately called a "Witbank Russian"), it is a great way to end a meal and has a flavor that is more palatable than Bailey's. Another interesting concoction is the Cane and Cream Soda, which mixes a delectably green cream soda with a sugar cane based drink. I was fortunate enough to try this at the truly South African establishment Hooter's while cheering on Man U with the raucous group that filled the bar.
South African Lingo
Just wanted to share some of my favorite lingo/sayings so far with a brief definition for my fellow Yanks:
- lekker - something that is delicious/good/fun
- chilled - the same as saying something/place/person is chill in US (nothing to do with food/beverage temperature)
- tonsil - a**hole (in US body part that needs to removed if inflamed - some irony here)
- chop - see tonsil
- juicehead - someone who drinks a lot (in US refers to steroid-abuser)
- pommie - brit/someone from the UK
- robot - street light
- talent - reference to the attractiveness of the men/women in room
- "Rolly Dodger" - affectionate nickname for the Jolly Rodger, a bar in Greenside that has half-priced pizzas on Wed/Sun, a sketchy spice you put on it, and good crowds that are split between the old-timers on the bottom floor and the younguns on the top floor
- "let's play it by beer" - saying - refers to making arrangements in regards to going out
One of the highlights from the Jo-Burg stay was going on a guided tour of the Soweto Township with the always helpful and funny Kaizer. Situated behind the mine dumps that border the city, it serves as a stark reminder of the past of South Africa and can hold some insight into its future. Within the limits of the Township, one can see the worst poverty in communities of shacks that lack electricity and running water up to houses that are on par with some of the fancier neighborhoods in Jo-Burg. Kaizer also discussed the problems of overcrowding, as individuals will move from there shacks to government-built housing only to sublet out there place to relatives. During the tour we made stops at the
- Regina Mundi Church - site of many meetings during Apartheid and shows some of the scars of Apartheid as the site of police brutality during the student uprisings of 1976, when live ammunition was fired both inside and outside of the church
- Nelson Mandela's house in Orlando West - Shows the layout of one of his first homes and includes excerpts, awards, and relevant history on the his life and that of his second wife, Winnie
- Hector Pieterson Museum - chronicles the events leading up to the 1976 Soweto student uprising and ensuing murder of 13-year-old Hector Pieterson, who served as the figurehead for the Apartheid struggle
- Wandie's Place - home to authentic cuisine of the region, including pap (a thick rice dish), tripe, and beet salad
- Soccer City - the location of the FNB Stadium, which hosted both the opening and championship match of the last World Cup and has some of the coolest architecture I have seen on the stadium
Kruger National Park
Over the weekend I got to travel with my aunt, uncle, and cousin to Kruger National Park, which is famous for its wildlife diversity and is usually the go-to place for seeing wild game in the area. During the short time I was there, not only was I fortunate enough to see each of the "Big Five" (lions, leopards, elephants, rhinos, water buffalo) and a host of other animals. Basically imagine the Lion King and then insert a brown person watching them all from the safety of a car and equipped with a camera and a pair of binoculars. My favorite encounters included have a herd of water buffalo pass right in front of the car, seeing a group of hyenas come out from under and bridge to check us out, and our numerous run-ins with the baboons, who by far are the most absurd and entertaining creatures present at the park. Even better was getting to return to our cabin along the river, which was complete with a thatched roof, nagapies and bats in the neighbooring trees, and a braai that was in full force during meal-time. When we left the park this past Sunday, the trip became even more memorable as on the way home we stopped at God's Window. During the drive one thing that struck me was how dramatically the vegetation changed from to more bush, grasses, and acacia to mountainous trees like pine being harvested to the top of God's Window, which had more of a deciduous jungle feel. The view from the top was spectacular and spanned all the way from a nearby canyon to Kruger Park.