Sunday, January 19, 2014

Discovering the real Soweto with Tours by Locals



Yesterday, our first day in South Africa, living a Travelife, we drove to Soweto to see the life in the townships.

I'd been to Soweto on my first trip to South Africa in November 2012.

However, after seeing a couple of important things there on that first visit, the Travel Companion and I had suddenly been hit by hunger pangs -- and so we'd decided to return to Johannesburg midway and have a nice relaxing lunch at Melrose Arch, which is a very stylish neighborhood of shops and restaurants instead.

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A MEMORABLE FIRST LUNCH IN AFRICA

I still remember that very first happy lunch in South Africa.

It had been very enjoyable, and it was the first time the Travel Companion and I had tasted springbok.

The appetizers for my very first meal in Africa, November 2012

We sat outside on a beautiful day, and there was live music playing from some performers nearby.

So I didn't mind cutting short that first Soweto trip in November 2012 at all.

SECOND TIME AROUND IN SOWETO
WITH TOURS BY LOCALS



But how lucky then, that I was able to do Soweto in full yesterday. Talk about second chances.

For this second visit to Soweto, I contracted a guide via a company/ website called Tours By Locals (www.toursbylocals.com).

They have a very novel concept of providing guides who basically work on their own, to visitors to a particular destination.



This is a really good arrangement especially for independent travelers who don't want to join a commercial tour, and who want to explore a destination with a real local.

I almost always contract guides on my own as I like having my own schedule and itineraries.

However, when you contract a guide via your hotel, it has a very business-like feel.

TOURING WITH A LOCAL



With Tours by Locals, your experience is akin to having a local friend guide you around. He took us to some really interesting places.

The Tours by Locals guide usually drives his or her own car, and he or she has probably lived in that place for many years at least. So you really get the honest-to-goodness ins and outs of a place.

That's how I felt yesterday afternoon.

THE NATIVE OF SOWETO



Our guide Nathan, who was born in Soweto and who has lived there all his life, picked us up at our hotel and drove us around in his own Mazda car.

So it wasn't a fancy vehicle, but the upside was that this arrangement was really like having a Soweto friend show us around.

THE BEST AND MOST INTERESTING OF SOWETO
IN ONE AFTERNOON


We were thus able to see so many things that most guides working out of Johannesburg are not aware of.

These included the best place to eat chicken wings in Soweto, the coolest hangout for the locals, and everything from the ritziest street of Soweto (basically its version of Beverly Hills) to the most downtrodden.



We even went to see some people bungee jumping from an old power station in Soweto.

And, boy, wasn't that amazing. When we arrived, a man was just about to bungee jump from these two colorful towers, wearing a white mini-dress.

Don't ask me why he was in this get-up, but it certainly amused us.


Of course, we saw all the major sites as well, including the street where two Nobel Peace Prize laureates (Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu) used to live.

We also visited the church where the African National Congress (ANC) used to congregate for meetings by pretending they were going for worship services.



LIFE UNDER APARTHEID

But perhaps the most interesting part was getting to hear about real local life in Soweto from a real local.

This makes a world of difference compared to a commercial guide.



Nathan told us of his childhood in Soweto under apartheid, and about the experiences of his family and friends. It was a difficult life, but they managed to be happy.

We were completely fascinated.

I saw Soweto in a new light, yesterday afternoon in South Africa, living a never-endingly eventful Travelife.

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