Africa-Part I

Africa-Part I


Leonard Zwelling

Genie had wanted to visit South Africa for years. So we set out to do so on May 17, thus the absence of blogs for the past week or so.

Couldn’t I take the lap top? Not if I ever wanted to see it again for we were coming back to Houston through Istanbul on Turkish Airlines and Istanbul is one of the ten banned cities from which electronics bigger than a cell phone cannot ride in the cabin.

On that, a word of warning.

First, what they don’t tell you is that noise suppression headphones are considered an electronic device even though they do not have Lithium batteries. They are gate checked and returned at your destination at a separate table in the baggage claim area. In Istanbul at least, they are not confiscated, BUT the security at the airport was tight with three passport checks AFTER you obtain your boarding pass and another if you have electronics and that’s another line for checking them.

The airlines called for going to the gate a full two hours before the plane left. You need it!

When Genie’s cousin said, “we are going to South Africa in May,” Genie responded, “Can we come?”

Now South Africa is about 12000 kilometers from New York City and even further from Houston (8600 miles). The tour we booked was for eight days, too short a time for so long a trip. A stop in Greece going through Istanbul, and I mean just going through Istanbul on Turkish Airlines, seemed like a good idea. And it was on two fronts.

We didn’t stop in Turkey, a country whose politics engendered a warning from a friend to stay away and Greece is glorious, even if somewhat economically depressed.

That does not suppress the taverns and restaurants from filling up every day of the week, of course, After all, this is Greece, the cradle of civilization and another social democratic western European democracy with huge value added taxes and thus, early drinking. Why work when so much is taken from you?

Athens, thanks to a guide set up for us by the great Dr. Logothetis, was everything it was supposed to be and more. The Acropolis was grand as were the near islands we visited by boat, Hydra, Portius and Aegius. A small Jewish Museum of Greece (found by Coach K, of course) was worth the walk through the Plaka. Then we were back to Istanbul and on to Johannesburg and Capetown.

Johannesburg was airport only for us but what a glorious thing to behold it was. The floors of the brilliantly modern facility were spotless and the people not only friendly but gorgeous.

The native South Africans are statuesque. The men look like models and I think all of the women are. The complexions of the women are like cream and each has high cheekbones and great posture and many are very tall. Africa was beautiful upon first reflection.

Capetown is a spectacular city with the huge Table Mountain dominating the horizon. Again, on our free day before the formal tour began, we took in a very elaborate Jewish Museum and Holocaust Center. There’s a theme to Genie’s priorities.

The only thing more stunning than the reproduction of a Lithuanian shtetl in the museum was the price of things. Your dollars go far against the Rand in South Africa. Everything, including dinner at Nobu in our One and Only Hotel, seemed to be at half price.

Tomorrow, Wednesday, May 23, the actual tour begins, but so far, our decisions going in seemed to have been wise ones from adding Greece to missing Turkey although from the airport alone, Turkey seems like a fascinating, if unstable place right now.

The tour began on Table Mountain and the environs of Capetown, which is the jewel of the country, but also the site of Robben Island where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned. Unfortunately, touring the island and its museum hat is a full day activity, not on our schedule. We must come back. Parliament is here as well along with traces of every culture that has dominated the area, the Dutch, the English and the native Africans now.

Ascending Table Mountain in a funicular took us right through the clouds as the top of the mountain could not be viewed from the base nor the city from the apex. Too cloudy that day, but the majesty of the setting and the harbor could be appreciated from the middle of the ride up and Capetown is clearly South Africa’s jewel.

We took in the Cape of Good Hope and many spectacular views of Capetown including the
rather common sight of a zebra or baboon along the road or in the city.

The most humorous part of the tour, however, was the way the eighteen or so people on it broke into two groups almost from the onset.

We had gone with our cousins and they had invited a couple of friends as well. We adopted another physician from New Jersey and his wife. That made us five doctors—3 MDs, a DPM and a DVM—all Jewish. Then there were ten others, none of whom were caregivers and none of whom were Jewish. Talk about the weird birds of a feather of South Africa. Many in our group had thick roots in New York as well.

Of course, we followed the course of the president’s trip during the course of our own. It seemed that Mr. Trump feels most comfortable among the autocratic and dictatorial company of kings and princes and less so among the leaders of western democracies. How sad!

While Capetown was a worthwhile stop, we had come to Africa to see animals. Big ones. That was on the itinerary next.

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