Back to Antananarivo

After a short 3 night stay on Ile Sainte Marie we hopped a short flight back to Antananarivo. The flight took just over 45 minutes. When we added up the time it took to ultimately drive to Mahambo where we caught the ferry to Ile Sainte Marie plus only the ferry crossing time it was well over 20 hours of travel time. Maybe next time we just fly there and back!

We spent 2 nights at a very nice little hotel, K’meleon, about a 5 minute drive from the airport. The staff were excellent with one of the owners speaking very good English and the prices were very reasonable. The hotel and our room were immaculate and the toilet flushed! Our room cost per night was just under $25 CAD, a large  650 ml Three Horses Beer was $1.80 CAD and the restaurant served excellent quality meals for excellent prices. Our total bill was $123 CAD for 2 nights and included 2 very nice dinners, 2 breakfasts and shall we say “several beers” and some good South African White wine. To put this in perspective, our room tonight (which we had booked and put a down payment on many moons ago), Susie’s Place, cost just under $90 CAD per night, a 650 ml THB is twice as much at $3.60 CAD and the breakfast, although included is barely enough to feed a starving pidgeon. A very big difference and on a value-for-money basis K’meleon wins hands down. And yes, the toilet flushed at Susie’s as well.

On the evening of our arrival we met a very nice French Canadian Botany Professor from Montreal and spent the evening on the outside terrace discussing the Trans Canada Pipeline, federal transfer payments to Quebec and then settled down to some good old conversation about life, the universe and everything. Luc was a very nice man and it was a pleasure to meet him. Joyce and I both enjoyed his company.

That evening we arranged a 1/2 day tour of the city and at 9:00 am the next morning we headed off into the chaos of Antananarivo.

Antananarivo, or the original Tananrive means ” The city of thousand” is congested and the air very polluted.  It sits at 4,186 feet above sea level and most modes of transportation use diesel so the air is thick with particulate and hazy with the blue smoke from single and double cylinder engines. I find it intersting when you ask someone the population of their city. As was the case with Soweto, the census versus the local belief was way out of whack and so is the case in Tana. We asked our driver the population of the city and he said 7 million.  The latest census in 2012 estimated the population at 3 million. I guess it’s possible that another 4 million moved here in the past 7 years but it seems unlikely but Tana is not just Tana so the whole metropolitan area must be included. Either way, it sure seems like there are 7 million people squashed into an area that boundries 9 km north to south and and 6 km east to west.

Regardless of the traffic, smog and congestion it is always interesting to get out and see the real life day to day existance of any cities populace. There are several sites to see in Tana but with about 4 hours to spend and hoping to miss the rush hour traffic (it all seemed like rush hour!), we decided to just visit one site, Le Palais de la Reine.

Ler Palais de la Reine. or Queens Palace is located on the highest hill in Tana but due to a devasting fire in 1995 it is mostly empty but we had a guide who was able to explain to us some of the historical insights of this palace built for Queen Ranavalona in the 17th century. Photos were not allowed in the partly refurbished palace so, not much to post and to get into the history, the French colonization etc. etc. would require far more bandwidth than we have right now so I will leave it to you, our dear readers to do a little Googling on the subject matter.

Ile Sainte Marie

We departed Mahambo by ferry on the 13th to Ille Sainte Marie. The ferry was supposed to leave between 10:00 and noon and departed at just after 12:00. The boarding process started at 10:00. There is no dock or pier for the ferry so a small boat makes trips back and forth to the ferry carrying cargo and passengers. We boarded the ferry at about 10:30 and sat in the inside lower section of the boat where the engine fumes started to become everwhelming after a short period of time. They left the engines running the whole two hours that the boarding process took. Fortunately there was Malagasy music videos playing on the front TV screens but even this became a little overwhelming after a while. The crossing was supposed to take three hours, it took four hours and at times it seemed like the boat was hardly moving. With a capacity of about 220 people, I guess they take their time so as not to induce too many vomiting episodes as the sea was quite rolling. Fortunately there was a dock at our destination so the disembarkation process was a lot quicker and smoother. We were met by a tuc tuc and driven about 2 kms away to Libertalia, a nice French run and owned resort situated on the palm lined shores of the Canal de Sainte Marie/Indian Ocean. The island was a popular base for pirates in the 17th and 18th centuries and a pirate cemetary relpete with skull and crossbones grave markers still exists near the main town of Analanjirofo. The island is tropical and driving the main road was very similar to driving some of the small coastal roads in Jamaica.  We ended up doing very little exploration due to the fact that on the evening of our arrival I had 1 beer, a snack and then at dinner time turned white and made a mad dash back to our room where I threw up what seemed like the past 3 days of any and all liquid I had consumed so I wasn’t really in the exploration mood. I wasn’t sick per se after this episode but just felt “off”. If we had one more day we would have rented an ATV and gone off checked out the island. What can you do? These things happen sometime.

Our bungalow was set just back from the seaside and beside a nice infinity pool and long pier which extended to a small rock island. Unfortunately you couldn’t swim off of the beach as there were sea urchins and coral and was grassy when the tide was out and very shallow when the tide was in. You could however swim off of the end of the pier and there were some nice coral formations but not many fish.

The notorious RN5 to Mahambo, gateway to Ile Sainte Marie

Holy crap!!

Sorry, but that is the only way to describe the road to Mahambo. All of the guides and literature and everything you read tell you it is still a tar road but potholed. Well, that is the understatement of the century. Words cannot describe this road. It literally looks like it was bombed out during some war. The holes are, and I kid you not, 3 feet deep and water -filled in many places, sharp crags of broken pavement lining the edges, sudden drop-offs with huge broken chunks of asphalt lining the bottom, large trucks in front of you manoeuvring around the craggy edges, large trucks heading on your side of the “road” manoeuvring the best path forward and all of this in slow motion. You cannot travel more than 1-3 km/hour. I’ll say this again. I kid you not! From the tar road at the entrance to Manambato, which at that point I thought I had seen everything on the road to Manambato village, it took us 7 hours to travel a total of 131 kms! The only reason it didn’t take 10 hours was because there was the odd reprieve for about 200 metres where you could step on the gas and hit 60 km/hr for a grand total of about 45 seconds! It was mind boggling and to top it off there were literally dozens of minibuses loaded to beyond capacity traversing this route to and from wherever they were going. It was a common site to see these vans stopped on the side of the road, tires flat and the passengers lazing around the grassy areas on the side of the road where they were either (a) waiting for the flat tire to be repaired or (b) waiting for another overcrowded van to stop by and pick them up to probably get them into the same situation they were just in except maybe a few kms down the road. We didn’t see any tents on the side of the road but we were fortunate enough to travel this, this, I don’t know what to call it but we travelled IT during the daylight thank god almighty and we’re not even religious. We think our Marilyn was watching over us. We have driven some very challenging roads but for the life of me, I can’t imagine anything worse than this except for maybe some off road challenge that actually offered a prize for the first across the post winner. As mentioned in an earlier post, BBC has a series titled “The World’s Most Dangerous Roads” and the RN5 is one of the roads they highlight and we are quite proud to say that we tackled 131 kms of this road without a hitch! The few photos we took don’t really do it justice.

Exhausted and a little shall I say “frayed”, we arrived into the quaint little village of Mahambo and found, without any GPS problems, our lodge for the next 2 nights. La Piroque, a very beautiful setting on the beach with an eclectic array of basic to luxury bungalows nestled amongst the palms and lining front and back along an unspoiled beach.

We were upgraded to the luxury bungalow and at 35 Euro/night a very nice surprise although we had a couple of other surprises in store.

Not realizing how difficult the travel would be when we would return from Ile Sainte Marie back to Mahambo we had booked Grace Lodge in Andisabe as our pit stop on our way back to Antananarivo. A one night pit stop that now, in hindsight wouldn’t be possible. If the ferry from ISM was on time it would get us back to Mahambo at 8:00 am. If it was on time. We would then have a gruelling who knows how many hour drive through the pits of hell before we even reached Tamatav which is at least another 3 1/2 hour drive to Andasibe. In our calculations we were looking at an 11 hour drive on top of a 3 hour ferry back to the mainland. This is not going to work so when this hit us we decided we would fly back to Antananarivo and save the hassle involved. Roadtrip Africa is the company that we have rented our truck from and they offer a service whereby they will pick up the vehicle in Mahambo and drive it back for you for a minimal charge. I remembered this when we booked our truck so thought this is the way to go. Maybe we can spend another night on ISM, fly back to Tana and pick our truck up again at Susie’s Place where we first picked the truck up. Perfect plan. Well, not quite. We had 4 nights booked on Ile Saint Marie departing the 17th back to Mahambo where we would drive to Grace Lodge. NOT!  The only flight out of ISM we could get departed on the 16th. Okay so we’ll cut our stay to 3 nights instead of 4, book an extra 2 nights at Susie’s Place, not stay at Grace Lodge on the 17th as planned and everything will be fine. Luck was not on our side. We booked our flight and then proceeded to the ferry dock near where we were staying and asked for two one way tickets to ISM for the next day, the 13th. “Sorry, we’re full”!  OMG! Now what? One more day in Mahambo, 2 nights in ISM then fly back to Antananarivo? This is getting a little out of hand. We begged, we pleaded and voila, we have a seat for the 13th. Now all we need to do is confirm with Susie’s Place in Tana that they can accommodate us for 2 extra nights, the 16th and 17th as we already have the 18th booked. Nope, nothing on the 17th but the 16th is open. Okay, book the 16th and we’ll see what can find for the 17th. Jeez this is getting difficult but we had lunch at a nice place near Susie’s so we send them an email and ask if they have a room for the 17th. NO THEY DON’T but they will keep us informed if something becomes available. At the end of the day we were able to get a hotel near the airport in Tana for 2 nights then back to Susie’s for 1 night where we will pick up our truck with new tires and ready for the next 4 weeks of driving into the south, west and central parts of the country where we WILL have some more hairy driving experiences. Phew, now off to Ile Sainte Marie.

IMG_1060

Manambato and Canal de Pangalanes

img_0763

We set out on the 9th for a 135 km drive to Manambato, a small fishing village on the shores of Lake Rasoabe where we were met by our boat driver to take us into the heart of the Canal de Pangalanes to the Bush House Lodge. The canal consists of a series of natural rivers, waterways and man-made lakes and unspoiled natural beaches that extends for over 645 Sq.kms and runs down the east coast of Madagascar. It is used primarily for transportation and fishing. Major expansion of the area was completed during the French colonial period between 1896 and 1904 and additional expansion during 1949-1957.

The final 7 km drive from the main RN2 “highway” tar road to access Manambato requires a 4×4 and takes close to one hour to drive. Let’s just say it absolutely did require a 4×4 and the “road” was, well a 4×4 enthusiasts delight!

We finally arrived at Bush House Lodge after a 40 minute delay due to waiting for a non-apologetic Portuguese mother, daughter and guide. Our bungalow was nice and the location was beautiful but that is about all we can say about the place. The return boat transfer was 164 Euro, about $286 CAD, the meal choice, well, there wasn’t a choice for dinner and half-board was a compulsory expense at 72 Euro and the quality left much to be desired. The room cost was 100 Euro and the additional cost for 2 lunches and beer and wine was about $100 CAD. Total cost for 2 nights/days worked out to more than $600 CAD. Way over priced in our opinion. The staff had zero training (not their fault), could not speak a word of English (again, not their fault) so it made for some very frustrating situations. The on site manager, I believe his name was Stephan could speak English but was usually too busy trying to answer his cell phone to pay attention to the guests. I could go on but suffice it to say, we would definitely not recommend this place.

A short boat ride away is Palmarium Lodge which hosts a small Lemur reserve so we did a 2 hour hike through the reserve on our second day. There were 6 varieties of Lemurs mixed with a few hybrid species and all are very habituated and will climb on you looking for food, not our kind of thing but you do get up close and personal with them, smell and all!

Crowned Lemur

Indri Indri Lemur

Our boat back to Manambato departed on time at 8:00 am the morning of the 11th and from there we set out to our next destination, Mahambo, another small village on the shores of the Indian Ocean and accessible only by the notorious RN5, a so-called road.

 

Andasibe

Our first stop out of Antananarivo was Andasibe about 180 km, a 3 1/2 hour drive which turned into a 5 hour drive with a 1/2 hour lunch stop. The main road, the RN2 is the main road to Toamasina, a port city on the east coast. We expected the road to be good which it was for a short while and then bam! POTHOLES! And these potholes were deep! For crying out loud, I thought we left these behind in Zambia. The potholes combined with large trucks travelling through mountains on very winding roads made for a fun filled drive until we finally hit some good road and were able to travel up to 70 km/hr, albeit for only short distances.

Andasibe and nearby Mantadia National Park is a prime location to search for the Indri Indri which is the largest of the lemurs in Madagascar. It has a surprised expression that looks more like a gone-wrong panda than a lemur and are known for making an eerie wailing sound that can travel for kilometres. There nearly 60 “taxa” of lemurs (species, sub-species, and populations from 33 species across five families and 14 genera). I took this info from “Wildmadagascar.com” but the bottom line is there are plenty of different species of lemurs to see in Madagascar, 113 in all.

On evening of the 7th it was raining and cold. Regardless of what the weather would be the next day we decided to do a hike the next morning to search for the Indri Indri and other Lemurs that inhabit the area. There are several options. For some reason or another I’ve had a bum knee now for about three weeks. To top that off Joyce and I have been pretty well sitting on our butts for the past 7 weeks so we opted for the flattest hike in the area so we could slowly break in our atrophied muscles. We visited V.O.I.M.M.A Community Reserve for a 2 hour hike through secondary rainforest. The reserve is community run and all proceeds flow back to the local community. There are two family groups in the area comprising about five or six members each as well as others such as the wooly lemur and bamboo lemur. The weather was cold and wet with a misty rain falling during our 2 hour hike but it was great to get out and stretch our legs. We did see two Indri although high in the trees. We saw a Giraffe Weevil and Parsons Chameleon, the second largest chameleon in the world. Like any wildlife spotting trek, the luck is in the draw.

Below is a Giraffe Weevil pic I stole from the internet.

Giraffe Weevil

Joyce’s Weevil pic, Parsons Chameleon and the Sacred Vine, named from the red sap that flows when cut.

Below is a frame-grab from my video of the Indri Indri. Not the best but proof we saw them!

00276(2)

 

 

 

 

Antananarivo to Andasibe

We departed Ivato, a suburb of Antananarivo on September 7th, heading off for the next 5 weeks in a 4×4 Nissan with tires that look like they have been used for the full 93,000 kms that are on the truck odometer. Our fingers are crossed as the spare doesn’t look much better and in about 5 or 6 days we will be travelling on the RN5, one of the worst roads on the planet according to a BBC series titled “The World’s Most Dangerous Roads” and the “Land Rover Camel Trophy”! We shall see.

As our luck would and wouldn’t have it, the Pope, yes, the one, the only Pope Francis, was scheduled to arrive on the afternoon of the 6th. Fortunately we arrived the afternoon of the 5th. We have no idea what kind of mayhem we would have encountered had we arrived the same day as the Pope.  The airport is very small so it would have been chaos. As it was though, before leaving on the 7th we talked to the front desk manager at Susie’s Place, a very nice home converted into a B&B in Ivato where we spent two nights, and asked him if the route shown on Google Maps and Maps.me would take us around Antananarivo rather than through it. We have very little respect lately for our little electronic navigation helpers. He wasn’t too sure but it looked like the routes would take us through rather than around the city. As he tried to explain an alternate route and our eyes glazed over due to the fact we didn’t have a clue what he was talking about one of the office assistants handed him a piece of paper. “Pope visit road closures”!  Hmmmm…not looking too good. Where there is a will there’s a way and with that we paid one of his staff to guide us out of the city on his motorcycle. It took close to one hour until we finally reached near the outskirts of Tana but it was worth it as we saw amazing sites and scenery on our way. Below are some iPhone pics from our drive through Tana.

A Famadihana in Ivato, Madagascar

The day after we arrived, September 6th,  Joyce and I were able to get some Ariary (Madagascar cash) from a nearby ATM. At Ivato airport there are two ATM’s and both were out of ordedr upon our arrival and the exchange rate offered at the currency exchange desks were pitiful so we crossed our fingers we could find a bank the next day. In the afternoon we had our truck delivered and were enjoying a beverage on the terrace when we heard a very loud commotion not far from our B&B. We walked out our gate and to a small (main?) road just metres away we witnessed an extraordinary event that typically only happens once every 7 years “Famadihana”. Below is from Wikipedia.

“Famadihana is a funerary tradition of the Malagasy people in Madagascar. During this ceremony, known as the turning of the bones, people bring forth the bodies of their ancestors from the family crypts, rewrap the corpses in fresh cloth and rewrite their names on the cloth so they will always be remembered. Then they dance to live music while carrying the corpses over their heads and go around the tomb before returning the corpses to the family tomb.”

 

Next stop, the fascinating island of Madagascar.

We departed Johannesburg on September 5th for a short 3 hour flight to the capital city of Antananarivo. We have a Nissan double cab 4×4 rented for 5 weeks, equipped with camping gear. Although we’ll be staying at lodges through our driving journey we have the camping gear for any “just in case” situations. Below is our driving route with the blue colored portion indicating our flight to the north. After 5 weeks we’ll hop a plane from “Tana” and head to the Northwest for some much anticipated beach time.

IMG_1009

Please stay tuned!

Some final comments on our travels in Northern South Africa, Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

We had our Toyota Hilux bush camper for 45 days and in that time logged a total of 7,848 kms, burned 853 +/- litres of diesel and camped 29 days. The roads varied from excellent tar (asphalt) to deep sand to gravel to incredibly pot-holed. Toll roads are common in South Africa and Zambia although it often seemed in Zambia that if a toll was coming up then after the toll the roads would go to shit. It was was quite consistent this way in Zambia and in some towns where the roads all of a sudden became good you had to wonder why. They would only be good for a short distance before and after the town. We often commented that “this town obviously voted for the government in power” and this could very well be the case. The worst pot-holed roads were in Zambia. Calling them roads is probably an insult to all the other roads out there including gravel. They were bad, very bad! Another irritant (there are several that I’ll mention here) was the use of speed bumps combined with the lack of warning signs about the upcoming speed bumps. They came out of nowhere and in many cases there didn’t seem to be a reason for them. We would be travelling at 100km/hr and then bam! A speed bump or several rows of bumps. Often they weren’t too big but you just never knew because sometimes they were big enough to rip off the bottom of your car if you didn’t have at least 6 feet of clearance. A slight exaggeration but not by much. Speed limit signs in Zambia were few and far between so you really didn’t know most of the time what the limit was. And when they were posted it was quite comical because you would hit a speed bump then see a sign to slow to 60 km/hr then proceed over several more bumps then see a sign that would say 100 km/hr and then just as you hit 100 another sign would say 40 and then another speed bump. They love their speed bumps in Zambia. They also love their Police road blocks. We encountered countless road blocks. We were never sure what they were looking for and we would generally say hello, how are you, the Police would say hello, where are you going or where did you come from and we would be on our way. We (I) smashed our passenger side view mirror and at one stop we were asked why is the mirror pushed into it’s closed position? Because it’s broken. He paused and then waved us on. Now, in Zambia if you have any encounter with a tree or whatever and you damage your vehicle you’re supposed to stop at the next Police station and report it. Of course we didn’t know this and the Policeman who asked us about our mirror didn’t tell us so how the heck are you supposed to know I wondered other than studying the countries road rules-and-regulations handbook if one actually exists. When we departed Mana Pools NP in Zimbabwe, where the small sampling of the roads we did indicated to us they were probably on par with Zambian roads, we re-entered Zambia and within kms we hit a road block.

“What’s with the side view mirror” we were asked. It’s broken I replied. Just broke it in Mana Pools. A small white lie. “Did you report it to the Police?” No, I didn’t know I had to report this to the Police and besides, we just came out of the wilds and now we’re heading back to Botswana where they probably don’t give a crap. “Well, there was a Police station in Chirundu where you crossed the border, you should have reported there”. Yes, but I didn’t know I needed to report it. Where I come from you don’t need to report every scratch and dent to the police. It’s none of their god damned business! “Pull over there please and follow me” so I park the truck, cross the road and am led to a police car. A women cop is in the passenger side. She looks at her colleague, he says”broken mirror”, she says did you report it to the police blah, blah, blah. She was the main cop, judge and jury and I was fined 300 Kwacha, the equivalent of about $30 CAD and was told I now have a free pass to use for any further road blocks where they may actually give a damn about our mirror. We didn’t hit another road block for the rest of our journey through and out of Zambia but I have a great souvenir.

Self driving, in our opinion is the best way to see the real Africa, or any country for that matter. Tour groups or overlander trucks don’t take the side roads and stick primarily to the more crowded and popular camp sites, the ones with a pool and communal cooking and washing facilities. They do see some great places but they don’t require a 4×4 so they don’t see some of the many little villages scattered along a sand or grave road. Thatched huts, children and women carrying water or firewood on the heads, goat and cattle herders and the wonderful site of people getting by in their environment with very little. Some of these villages have probably been this way forever. Others were more developed and we were happy to see many primary schools dotted throughout. Not many secondary schools though so education for many is probably to a grade 6 level. Education isn’t free so this creates a challenge for many.

We spent most of our time in Zambia so I’ll continue with the narrative as Zambia was the highlight of our trip.

Tomatoes and potatoes seem to be the crop that is sold along the roads in the villages this time of year. Everyone sells tomatoes or potatoes with a sprinkling of onions and corn/maize. Outside of the towns and villages the sides of the roads are dotted with large bundled and wrapped charcoal fire wood. This has been outlawed in Zimbabwe but is still legal in Zambia which unfortunately is adding to the destruction of their forests. This is the primary source of heat and cooking fuel and we honestly don’t know what the people would use otherwise. The country has a long way to go in solving this dilemma.

The cost of living is low in Zambia, expensive in Botswana and quite reasonable in South Africa and the wages reflect this although we found a disconnect in Botswana. The minimum wage in Zambia is 1,500 kwacha/month, about $150 CAD. Food is cheap as is beer and other sinful indulgences which we’re sure someone on minimum wage does not enjoy. A meal at a restaurant in a small town is about about $4 CAD and can easily be shared by two people. A 340 ml beer is $1, a 750 ml bottle $1.50. The most I paid for a beer was about $3 CAD and this was at the Royal Zambezi Lodge. We’re not sure what the minimum wage is in Botswana which was also the most expensive country on our journey but the security guard at Nata Camp worked 12 hour shifts for 24 days with 4 days off and was paid the equivalent of about $8.40 for a 12 hour shift. He took home after 24 days about $200 CAD!

We met many young people who had dreams of being a doctor or teacher or just wanted the ability to continue their education but the roadblocks (no pun intended) seem insurmountable. The human potential in this small part of a great 55 country strong continent is incredible but, the government corruption to this day is alive and well and has a stranglehold on the people who want and DESERVE a brighter future. The land is blessed with fertile soils, minerals and desire. Technology is making it’s way into the daily lives of the people. Cell phone rates are cheap and there is a whole new cell phone cash transaction industry developing to allow small business and entrepreneurs to sidetrack the bureaucratic red tape that is so embedded into their daily lives. Enough said.

Our truck was fantastic. It handled the deep sand roads/trails beautifully. While in Botswana we met a couple from Britain who lived in Zambia and we told them we were going to Liuwa Plain NP and then on to Kafue NP. First he rightly explained the hassle we would encounter entering Zambia from Botswana via the Kazungula border crossing. He was 100% correct and he then continued to tell us about the horrors we would encounter in what I thought was Kafue NP. Be prepared for your truck to overheat driving in low gear in the sand. The “deep” sand, Have a contingency plan”. We actually thought he was talking about Kafue NP because I mentioned the two places in one sentence so we were extremely apprehensive and after leaving the deep sand of Liuwa we arrived in Kafue. It was a walk in the park. I really don’t understand where people get off giving you horror stories about a place. A simple ” the sand is deep, be prepared” should be all he said. Inside of me I had a deep anxiety about what to expect in Kafue and then it dawned on me he was talking about Liuwa. What a dick!

GPS versus good old maps….

When we last drove through South Africa, Namibia and Botswana we used maps. Actually Google Maps for SA and real live paper maps for Namibia and Botswana. I think we only got lost once in SA. We were told not to rely on GPS as it would probably get you lost and I can attest here and now that “they” were 100% correct. When you use a map you can see the broader picture, where you are in relation to towns, roads, villages etc. A GPS shows you your spot in time with no relationship to your broader perspective. You trust the GPS and you don’t really know if it is giving you a short-cut, a best road option or what. It doesn’t know how you want to get to your destination, only what roads it has in it’s map memory and whether there is a fence or not or whatever. There is a road so therefore it must be traversable.

In cities GPS is generally good but the first day we picked up the truck in Joburg we entered our lodge name and followed the GPS directions. As we neared the general vicinity of our lodge it kept telling us to turn left and we would be at our destination. It wasn’t our destination so finally we used Google Maps and we found our place immediately. These little instances leave a very huge doubt about their accuracy in the back of your mind. We were never 100% confident in our GPS directions so our advice is to carry maps at all times and be prepared for the inevitable. Leave plenty of time to reach your next destination because you really don’t want to be driving at night.

Self driving independently through Africa is a great experience. We promised our granddaughter we would bring her to Africa when she turns 16. Thats 5 years from now but we have a feeling we’ll be back sooner.

Soweto

For our last day in in South Africa we arranged a tour of Soweto. Soweto is short for South Western Township and was the scene of the 1976 student uprising where the students were protesting the introduction of Afrikans as the language medium of institutions. The number killed isn’t clear but between 176 to 700 people were slaughtered by the Apartheid police forces. The population of Soweto is approximately 5 million packed into and area of about 106 sq. kms although the last census put the population at 1.3 million. Johannesburg has a similar population and an area larger than 500 sq. kms. Soweto is home to two Nobel prize winners, Dr. Nelson Mandela and Bishop Desmond Tutu.

We visited the good, the bad and the ugly. Poverty is still endemic and the youth unemployment rate runs close to 70%. Shantytown areas still exist side by side with nice brick homes built in the 80’s.

Soweto was created in the 1930’s when the white government started separating Blacks from Whites. The original settlements were born out of the area in 1886 when gold was discovered. The history of this area is both fascinating and sad as the era of Apartheid took hold and families homes were destroyed and the Black population relocated to make way for Whites.

We visited Nelson Mandela’s home, Walter Sisula Square where in 1955 the Congress of the People met to draw up the Freedom Charter which was an alternative vision to the repressive policies of the apartheid state, and the site of the murder of 13 year old Hector Pieterson who became the icon of the Soweto uprising. In remembrance of these events, June 16th is now a public holiday in South Africa, named Youth Day.

This was a sad period in the history of SA but it was the start of the eventual dismantling of the horrible regime of apartheid, the release of Nelson Mandela and the eventual free and fair elections held April 24, 1994 which changed the history of South Africa.

There is so much more to write about on this subject so I urge anyone who is interested to dig into the details and discover the struggles the Black people have faced and to this day, 25 years later still face under the corruption of their government. Exclusionary financial and economic policies still persist and will continue under neo-liberal systems that were created to suit the needs of Europe but are implemented in Africa which is entirely different than Europe and do not work in the favour of the local communities and do not understand how local communities operate. The African agenda must be considered and policies need to change. Far too many are trapped in poverty and unemployment and the communities will continue to suffer at the hands of the system until a true economic transformation happens.

Soweto is the epicentre of the movement that changed the history of this incredible country. It was a moving experience that opened our eyes to the struggles of the past and the struggles that exist to this day.