Latest Trip

June 16-July 3, 2010

Upcoming Trip

January 29 - February 5, 2011


Hello from Africa.
Our Africa trip was spurred last fall based on three main motivators:

  1. We had airlines miles to burn and wanted to do something super cool.
  2. I’ve claimed that before having kids, I wanted to visit all six habitable continents
  3. Paul Simon’s “Graceland” album. One of my all-time favorites.

Nine months and lots of grassroots Tiffy details planning later, we found ourselves on the way to Africa to take part in the World’s biggest sporting event, The World Cup, with planned stops in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Botswana, and back to South Africa.

We arrived in Johannesburg, South Africa on Friday around lunchtime after about 40 hours straight of flying. We were a bit like angry zombies as we rode the train into town and then roamed the streets of J’burg looking for our hotel with a vague sense of bearing and a strong scent of BO. It’s pretty weird, at first, being the obvious ethnic minority, something we hadn’t experience except in Japan (where skinny me had six inches and 50 pounds on 99% of the country). After lots of sweating, we found our “hotel” and checked into a house in a neighborhood that has been turned into a “guesthouse”. We quickly ran right back to where we started to catch a bus to our first soccer match – USA vs. Slovenia. We figured out the mass transit after about 15 minutes of “ambassador” (official title) confusion of people telling us “you should take taxi” (I’m pretty sure that was the only words that guy knew because we accidentally asked him something later and he said the same thing), “you missed the bus, you should ride with us” for triple the price, and finally, “just go over there, I think the bus will come there”. Fortunately, the latter was right and after a crazy hour long bus ride where our driver’s daringness and tailgate-ability could compare well with Dale Earnhart (RIP Intimidator), we arrived to the stadium and started running to catch kick-off.

We got a little sidetracked and made it into the stadium about three minutes before Slovenia scored to go up 1-0. Long story short, the game was great, the American fans were mega-crazy, the local fans jumped and danced all game long, and I deleted a video of the blown call on the USA’s go-ahead goal on which I was going ape-poo until someone pointed out the goal didn’t count.

After the game, we headed back to our hotel in the suburb of Sandton. Everyone says that Johannesburg is dangerous and it’s not safe to walk around. For this reason, everyone we met took taxies everywhere and acted like wimps. We walked about 25 minutes each way from our hotel to the main transportation area each day with no problems (Mom, I was vigilant though and would puff up my chest if someone sketchy was walking by). Plus, we bought vuvuzelas (those annoying horns that sound like bees on TV) and nothing says tourist tough like a plastic horn.

Having seen the lily white side of town and toured enough of the local mall as I could stand (this is the place where everyone goes, to the mall), I decided we should do a tour of Soweto. Soweto stands for South West Township. A township is basically an African ghetto complete with some houses without electricity, plumbing, etc. The day before, we went to the Apartheid Museum and got to see the terrible and totally legal racial segregation history of South Africa. The country didn’t start legally respecting the rights of “non-whites” until the 1990s!!?! Seriously. Anyway, it certainly makes for a very strange racial dynamic (at least to me – I couldn’t stop thinking about that atrocity) when interacting with the locals. So we booked a tour of Soweto, something that would definitely be on (if that existed).

Our tour guide, Mandy was a gregarious life-long resident of Soweto who picked us up at a nearby hotel and told stories and jokes that entertained all 12 people on the tour. Soweto was originally an area of mining homes set up during the late 1800s during the African gold rush. We drove through row houses without power with people congregating around water wells. A part of the township (with sponsored signs by Coca-Cola) had houses made from discarded trash. We got out of the bus there and were guided around in groups of six by a local who explained who lived there, what they did for a living, and their sense of community (strong). Lots of people wanted to shake our hands and know where we were from. It was the craziest living situation I’ve ever seen. After the city tour, we were given a tour of a local church. We entered during a Catholic mass on Father’s Day and got to take part in a Catholic mass that was way more fun and joyous than anything I’ve ever seen. Ladies were dancing and singing, the band played the drums, and people encouraged us to come and sit by them. It was the most real Africa experience I’ve had on the trip and quite moving.

We ended with a museum visit (to commemorate the shooting of a Soweto child by police during rioting for equal rights), a trip by Nelson Mandela’s home, ate some Soweto food, and had the grossest beer I’ve ever tasted. I asked Mandy where I could get some local brew (I had read about it in our guidebook). She sent me down the street to a tin shack called, The Shack. Once there, I was led to the back by some locals and shown the ordering window. I asked for two beers in boxes (Mandy gave me the name but it was in Zulu and had a click in the title. I decided to go with the descriptive packaging route). The guy was confused at first. Then I asked for Soweto brewed beer. He went to the back and I ended up with two 1 liter milk carton boxes with grossness all over them. He cleaned them off for me and told me to shake them before drinking. I started walking back and shook them while walking, got about ten steps, and one erupted all over me. So some guy showed me how to properly shake them. Tiff and I toasted and tasted the sourest nastiest concoction I’ve had in some time. It was so bad, Tiff stopped after one drink. I had three or four more sips but decided to stop when I noticed the spilled beer on my shirt had turned my green shirt white. As of this writing, I have not gone blind.

Other random quickhits:

  • The South African team is known here as Bafana Bafana, which has sparked my wife’s newest nickname – Tiffana Tiffana.
  • Every building and business in J-Burg has razor wire, spikes, and/or electrified fence around the perimeter to keep out thieves. There are also a lot of random guys lying in lawns near the street. I’m not sure if they are sleeping or recovering from electrical shock.
  • Soweto, which has many real homes in addition to camps, has no thief deterrents in place. I asked Mandy about that and the lack of police and she said that Soweto polices itself. If something is stolen, the city and people take care of the problem.
  • I’m writing this from Zimbabwe, a country whose economy is so terrible that they:
    • Printed million, then billion, and then trillion Dollar notes
    • Decided this wasn’t enough and decided to drop seven zeros from the bills.
    • Finally decided to scrap their money all together and now only take US Dollars or the Euro.
    • On TV now is a “news segment” about how great the economy is and the measures being taken to improve the crime rate.
    • Now there is a show on about traditional Korean music. I might not go to bed just to see what’s on next.
  • We took a jet lag reducer herbal supplement on the way over and neither Tiff nor I had any jetlag.

Until later, I leave you with my favorite song of the year and the World Cup theme.


  1. Meghan & Matt Said,

    We just threw up, we’re so jealous! Good for y’all for going local– Always the best way to get to know a new place!

  2. mike Said,

    we’ve got Jimmy James Cross over here saying that a man can never truly be a man til he done drunk beer out of a carton!!!! lol

  3. Your Mah Said,

    What wild and wonderful experiences! Thanks for the “tour” and the photos. Stay safe, away from wild animals, as you safari.

  4. Anna Said,

    Can you please bring home some more “superior quality” beer?? Because if we played flip-cup with that, I am pretty sure I wouldn’t throw that up. And flip cup would be good cause it wouldn’t have time to sit in the plastic cups very long before the bottoms eroded.
    Yuk. Glad you survived. Hope you brought along some Cipro…

  5. Ned Said,

    Way to go! Can’t wait to hear about Botswana and read your next tour guide stuff.

Add A Comment