Today was a national holiday: South Africa Human Right's Day. The office was closed so one of my hosts, Herman, the Clinical Engineer (Field Service Engineer) took me around town to see some of the sights. We travelled throughout Pretoria, the capital of South Africa. Herman was a fantastic guide!
We had a bit of excitement right off when we were traveling to our first destination. We were on a main highway with very little traffic when things came to a dead stop. Herman realized it was a road block. The police set these up to check for auto registrations, weapons, or outstanding fines. He told me we would be fine as long as they weren't checking for outstanding fines - he happened to have over 10,000 rand in outstanding fines (approx. $1300US). When we got up to the roadblock, they asked him to pull over. Herman phoned his wife and told her to be ready to come and pick me up in case they arrest him and to bring her checkbook!) After checking his license, they miraculously came back and returned his license and sent us on our way! Phew - that was a close one!!
Our first stop was at a local market or bazaar with all kinds of hand made crafts: wooden figures, tapestries, statues. Most things were too big to carry back on the plane! If one vendor didn't have what you wanted, he would ask you to wait, and travel through the rest of the shops trying to find you were looking for, purchase it, and then sell it to you for a small profit - very inventive!
The area we were in was where a dam has created a large lake and an economy is developing around the lake. There are shops, hotels, golf courses, and homes. We stopped for lunch at a restaurant there. They have a restaurant concept called a Brai - similar to our BBQ. Guests will choose their uncooked meat and the restaurant prepares a charcoal grill at your table and you can cook your own meat. The smell was incredible. I couldn't wait to eat! Unfortunately, the service was not exactly quick... we waited for 1/2 hour and still had nobody wait on us after requesting twice. Herman decided we would go someplace else.
While we were waiting to cross the dam (a one lane bridge) all sorts of street vendors approached our car selling their wares. Herman got us our breakfast here which was a pastry, deep fried, and then soaked in a sweet syrup. It was very tasty but very sweet!
From the dam area, we worked our way around Pretoria and ended up near the Menlyn Park Mall. We had lunch at a nice cafe. The mall area was packed since it was a holiday.
Herman then took me to a high point in the city. He was able to point out many of the key buildings in the area and I could appreciate the size much better from up here. There are lots of trees in the area, otherwise, the climate and terrain is somewhat similar to Arizona.
One of the most striking things I noticed today was the differences between the classes of people living in South Africa. There is a huge gap between the haves and the haves-not. I saw 10,000+ square feet homes and hundreds of homes made up corrugated metal packed into 10,000 square feet. Where we had lunch, you would think you were in Scottsdale, AZ. To get there, people are always approaching your car either asking for money or selling papers or AC adapters, etc.
I really gained an appreciation for the history of South Africa today. I learned about apartheid - what it meant to both the black and white population... How things have changed - both for the better and the worse.
After my tour of the city, Herman brought me back to hotel for a few hours in the afternoon. I was able to get caught up on email and do some planning for the rest of my visit. During the evening, Herman picked me up to take me to dinner with his wife and some of his friends. We met around 7 and were at the restaurant until after midnight! It's taken a couple of days to adjust but I really enjoy the slower pace and really recognize how rushed my life is back home. I don't think I've ever spent 5 hours in a restaurant for dinner but it was great!
Two of our dinner guests had just returned this afternoon from a 5 day trip to Botswana. They had great photos and videos to share from their trip - Lions, Elephants, Cheetah, Vultures, Rhinos, Boabab trees measuring 18 feet around. It was great to see - this was their camping trip!
It was a long day but very enjoyable. Tomorrow it's back to work. Jemina will be picking me up at the hotel at 8am so I better be getting to sleep soon...