Today we visited Soweto and Constitution Hill.
We woke at 7pm, and had the very nice included breakfast at Gooseberry. When we booked on booking.com, it said no meals were included but when we asked, they claimed breakfast is included! It included fruit, coffee, tea, toast, juice, cereal, and yogurt that you could self-serve as well as a freshly made hot plate of bacon, eggs, tomatoes, and mushrooms. It was all very good!
We dropped off 4 pieces of clothing to be cleaned (R7.5/person for just wash/dry) and left Gooseberry at 8:30am to meet our tour guide at the Orlando Police Station in Soweto (SOuth WEstern TOwnships) at 9am. We arrived shortly after 9am, and no one seemed to be our guide. JT called the lady organizing the tour (Ntombi from Usizo Lwenkosi Tours), and she said the guide was running late. Still, no one showed up, so JT called again and was told that the guide was there waiting. We searched around, and still found no guide. JT called one more time, and realized that somehow there had been a big mis-communication and the guide was waiting at our guest house! Sigh. Despite Ntombi not admitting it (and even seeming to imply to our guide that it was our fault), it was certainly her fault. In her last response, she had said “We will meet at the Police station opposite Orlando Library in Orlando east in Mooki street.” Nothing seems unclear about that! It ended up taking the guide about an hour to reach us from this point (since the poor woman actually took public transit), meaning our 9am tour did not actually start until 10:45am.
Our guide finally arrived, and we took off on foot to explore Orlando East. We walked 3km out to the old cooling towers (which are now painted and used for bungee jumping – and were also featured on the Amazing Race), and then walked back. Along the walk, we saw common, non-tourist affected daily life in a township. Men were pushing carts of recyclable plastics to be recycled because they earned money by the kilo for recycling plastic. Men and women were getting their hair done in shacks. Men were playing games near the street. Kids were yelling and singing ‘lomo’ (white person) and waving because apparently seeing white people in this area is still a rather uncommon occurrence.
We also visited the house of a women our guide knew in a poorer part of the township. Her house was literally the size of two queen-size beds, had no air circulation (much less air-conditioning or a fan), was locked with a padlock, and had only a microwave for cooking. It is really difficult to comprehend that a number of people in the townships are living in those conditions (and, sadly, many around the world are certainly living in worse). It was good to hear that Soweto does seem to have good water coming from taps in the community, and sanitation seems to be under control (we never saw a toilet, but we assume there are some shared ones).
|If you go at the right time, you can bungee-jump from the towers.
Posted hours: Mon-Thurs 12n-6p, Fri-Sat 11a-2a Sun 11a-10p
After picking up our car, we drove to the rest of the locations on our tour. We could have taken a shared taxi, but decided the car would be easier and faster.
First we drove to see Nelson Mandela’s house on Vilakazi Street in Orlando West. We parked, but decided not to go in since Katie had read in the guide books that it really was not that interesting. Vilakazi Street felt very touristy, which was strange and somewhat annoying after having walked around Orlando East with very little attention. Next we drove to the lookout where the Amazing Race pitstop was in Soweto and then to the corner near where Hector Pieterson (13 year old boy) was shot and killed.
Then we drove to the Hector Pieterson Museum (R30/person), which we decided to go in and explore while our guide waited outside.
After the museum, we drove to the Oppenheimer Tower and walked up the 48 steps to the top with our guide. It gave a great panorama of Soweto, but the really cool thing is that the bricks composing the tower were made from the ashes of the shacks that stood nearby before Opperheimer helped finance the newer ‘Matchbox’ houses nearby.
Finally, we drove to Kliptown and wandered on the street there for a bit looking at the different stalls. We also stopped and had lunch at a fish and chips place (R57.8 for the two of us and R48.8 for our guide). After lunch, we swung by an ATM (Nedbank, no fees), concluded our tour, paid our guide (R300/person + tip = R660). The tour did not include lunch, tips, or museum entrance fees, so we were also paying these throughout the day (we also covered lunch for our guide, as this only seemed right). We dropped our guide off near the Orlando police station, and then headed for Constitution Hill.
We had seriously considered bailing on the tour when our tour guide had still not showed up an hour after we found she had gone to our guest house instead of the police station. However, we stuck with it and waited. And we’re glad we did. It ended up being just what we had wanted, and showed us many different aspects to Soweto. We are glad we opted for a more personal tour, instead of the more common bus tours. Also, we are glad that we took the time to walk through Orlando East instead of just driving around Soweto with our guide. We really got a chance to understand the true neighborhood. We received one of our greatest compliments from one of the rangers at the Oppenheimer Tower. He told our guide in Afrikaans (translated for us later) that we were “visitors”, not “tourists”. He could tell that we were interested in understanding what we were there to see – rather than just shooting video/photos like the “tourists” that go there.
We had hoped to get to Constitution Hill by the 4pm for their last guided tour of the day. Apparently their tours are supposed to be pretty good. But as soon as we pulled up directions from Soweto, we realized we had no chance of making it. We opted to still go, and just see a few things on our own until they closed at 5pm.
Constitution Hill looks like it could be an interesting and powerful place to explore. We did not get far in our 45 minutes, but the views of downtown from the elevated ramparts are pretty amazing. And letting your mind imagine the jail/fort when it was in use is pretty sobering. Constitution Hill deserves a lot more time than we gave it, but we are still glad we were able to stop by for even a short time. We were also pleasantly surprised that the museum offered free parking with a security guard present (no tip necessary!).
We headed to the grocery store to grab some water, wine, and sunscreen for our trip to Kruger National Park. The shopping center the mall was located in had no power, so it was somewhat eerie going through the mall (and the shopping center, which only had generator power for the essentials). Luckily, Gooseberry had power when we returned for the night.
We blogged, napped (JT), showered (Katie), and generally got ready to leave early in the morning. Off to Phalaborwa (just outside a central Kruger National Park gate) tomorrow!