Poring over maps for the last few weeks as I try to get a sense of the layout of the city, the name of one particular suburb caught my eye. It’s called Roosevelt Park, and it is situated in the northern suburbs, just a few miles northwest of where we live. The name sparked my curiousity, and I wondered about the origin. I figured it could be one of two things: either Teddy Roosevelt had come through the area hunting for big game and had left his mark on the national conscience, or Roosevelt was a fairly common Afrikaans name and it had nothing to do with U.S. president’s at all (Roosevelt is, after all, a Dutch name). As it turns out, I was wrong on both counts.
“What are you going to eat there?”; “What type of food do they have?” These questions were among the most popular from our friends and relatives over the months leading up to our temporary South African migration. Fortunately for us, there is plenty of excellent food to go around, and the dollar to rand ratio makes all these great meals very affordable. Trying new food is easily one of my favorite and most rewarding joys in life, and almost always ends well (Exception: I ordered abalone at a place in DC. Just could not eat it). So after stuffing our faces over the past few weeks with everything from traditional Afrikaner braais to the freshest, juiciest mango I’ve ever had, it’s time to share a sampling of our meals.
I’ll be the fist to admit that driving has never been my strongest skill. I got a couple of lessons in driving stick shift back in the states, but to even say I am a novice at it would be a stretch. So you can imagine my unwillingness to get behind the wheel of our rental car here in South Africa, with the steering wheel on the right side of the car, driving on the left side of the road.
The unique landscape is not the only thing that draws geologists to Mpumalanga. This is also gold country. Discovery of the precious metal in the hills in 1873 ignited a gold rush that shaped the whole history of the area. Gold mines are scattered all across the province, and the region still has the feel of the Wild West about it.
A few hours’ drive east of Johannesburg lies the small province of Mpumalanga. This region is so different than the dry grasslands that usually come to mind when thinking of Africa. Instead, it is a region of verdant green valleys rising into barren, rocky mountains, where thick fog clings to the ridges. This is logging country, and the hills are covered in vast lumber plantations. Trout fishing, mountain biking, and hiking are the most popular activities here. If it weren’t for the occasional baboon crossing the road, you might think you were in the Pacific Northwest.
Cici and I are spending the night near the Swaziland border and have plenty of new stories to share. Cici tried to drive, we prepared our first braii, Spencer nerded out on some geology, and we spent the night with monkeys and emus. Hold tight and we’ll tell you all about it.
Friday was a great day. We found a place to live. I reconnected with an old coworker. We went to a fantastic music show at an open-air bar downtown. My favorite part, though, was our introduction to cricket.
We have only been in our temporary home city for a few days, but I am starting to get a feel for the place. Jo’burg, or Jozi, is a huge, sprawling city, with an unfortunate reputation. Crime and violence often seem to come mind at the mention of Johannesburg, and that certainly is a problem, but the city has a lot more to offer. Everything that I have seen so far indicates a thriving and dynamic cultural hub.
We have arrived! The trip was long, but mercifully easy and uneventful. My notoriously bad travel luck didn’t raise its ugly head, for once.
The direct flight we took from Atlanta to Johannesburg is apparently the second longest flight in the world. Luckily for us, we had strong tail winds in our favor and arrived after only 14 hours. Which is still twice as long as any flight should be. Still, the journey was not quite as bad as I had imagined, thanks in large part to the miracles of Ambien, complementary beverages, and on-flight entertainment. That, and Spencer generously sharing his shoulder with me for 7 hours at a time.