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Something for Everyone

hat is the first thing that comes to mind when I say ‘South Africa’? Animals, said one. Gandhi, said another. Nelson Mandela. Whales. Table Mountain. The Ocean. Beauty... It probably was just a random question asked by one of our hosts, but the answers summarise what the country has to offer. Reams of history, loads of wildlife, beautiful land and seascapes that provide an ideal getaway. There is something there for everyone. I have been to South Africa once before, but I might as well have been to two different countries. It is definitely not for those who want a weekend getaway. If you cannot spare at least 10 days, do not even think about booking tickets. We had all of six days and five nights in two cities and a spa in the southern biosphere. What we packed into these few days was only a drop in a mighty ocean. The schedule was different, in that, it included Pretoria, which does not usually show up on the tourist’s radar. But apparently, Pretoria (and Sun City from there) is hugely popular with Arab tourists. The Capital City throws up surprises at every turn: Natural reserves, bird sanctuaries, a meteorite crater a distance away, museums and monuments and the majestic Union Buildings. You need at least three full days for Pretoria. While a day can be spent going around the city, taking in the Union Buildings and the museums, another needs to be set aside to visit the Twaing Crater and the Hartbeespoort Dam and areas surrounding it. A third can be dedicated to the De Wildt Cheetah Farm, the natural reserves near Pretoria and the bird sanctuary. If you are brave enough, you can feed a few cheetahs and some wild dogs at the farm. But I would seriously suggest you sit tight in the vehicle and admire the animals from a distance. We don’t really stand a chance against lightning speed and crunching jaws! At the Rietvlei game reserve, we were lucky enough to spot a black rhino. A rarity for even the South Africans accompanying us. Personally, it was a great experience to see the two February 2005 Qatar Today 79

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of Table Mountain from the City is the view of the City from atop Table Mountain; to use a traveller’s cliche – it is picturesque. The bustling metro, the bay and the Robben Island in the distance. A drive through the cape towards the Cape of Good Hope and Cape Point is a must. As much for the destination as for what you see en route. Beautiful fishing and naval villages, and beaches were penguins flock in the thousands. Further down the route is Hermanus bay, which is a prime whale watching spot. Unfortunately we missed the season by a few months. Where to Stay and How to Move For a country that only after 1994 started receiving tourists by the planeload, the kind of infrastructure and facilities available for visitors is commendable. Be it a trip on a shoestring budget or with a heavy wallet, you don’t have to search long or plan hard. Entrances to most tourist spots are either free or reasonably priced, and whether you wish to shop till you drop or just feast your eyes is a matter of personal choice. So that leaves you to fix two basic things – transportation and lodging. Bed and breakfast facilities are freely available, and most offer online bookings. If you prefer to stay in luxurious comfort, then there is a pick of three, four and five star hotels. But to get the best out of your holiday, try to juggle different facilities, choose a luxury facility in one city, and B&B in another, or a hostel in a third. They all offer unique experiences. There are buses that ply between cities, and certain towns are connected by train. But if you want to be adventurous, hire a 4x4 or a motorbike and cruise through the country. Petrol stations and convenience halts line the freeways, and you get to stop at the most quaint and beautiful places that are not on the tourist map. What you should see, that we couldn’t This by itself is a full length feature, as I said earlier South Africa is not a quick stopover. A good idea would be to take the Qatar Airways Doha-Johannesburg direct flight, spend a few days at Jo’burg and Pretoria and hit the road on

animals I had missed on an earlier visit to another reserve – the rhino and the hippo. Even as we took in the sheer raw beauty of the reserve, it was difficult to ignore the not too distant city lights and heavy air traffic over the reserve. A constant reminder that all that we saw and enjoyed in that hour or two was indeed so fragile and in so much danger. We began the trip visiting fragile nature reserves and ended it on a similar note too. Before flying out of South Africa on the sixth day, we spent a night at the Western Cape Hotel and Spa, situated in the middle of a biosphere. The Kogelberg Biosphere Reserve in the Western Cape is the first internationally recognised biosphere in South Africa and is registered under UNESCO’s man and biosphere programme. The focus of attention in a 80 Qatar Today February 2005

biosphere reserve is humans, and their existence in harmony with nature. Norris Snyders, Environment Consultant at the Hotel, pointed out that there were no legislations in place to protect the environment, but a lot was being done to educate those who live within it. Certain areas of the biosphere have already been damaged by alien infestation and what is being done now is damage control and preservation of existing facilities. But before stopping at this breathtakingly beautiful place on the south-western coast, we did manage to pack in some pure tourist moments. Cape Town – the mother City – is what draws most tourists all the way to South Africa. Dominated by the Table Mountain, which like the moon against a clear sky, follows you wherever you go. Almost as breathtaking as the view

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a rented or chauffeured vehicle. Head east and then south along the coast. From Port Elizabeth begins the Garden Route, which goes all the way to Cape Town. Some of the beautiful stops on this route include Knysna and George. If you want an adrenalin attack, check out bungee jumping, abseiling, parasailing and kayaking on the way. From Cape Town explore the peninsula a little more, and don’t miss a visit to Robben Island. A short ferry ride away, this island served as a larder for sailors a couple of centuries ago and most recently was the place where Nelson Mandela and his colleagues were incarcerated. Guides, including an ex-prisoner, will take you on a tour of the island and give you the low down on the last years of the apartheid era. From Cape Town you can take a direct flight back to Doha. But if you wish to catch up on a few Game reserves, do it from Jo’burg, before you take the coastal journey. Shop till you drop Pack an extra bag. Or two. Or just ask your hotel to give you old cartons. You will definitely need it. With a favourable conversion rate (approximately ZAR1.5: QR 1), most things are inexpensive and are definitely good value for money. Handmade curios made by craftsmen in South Africa, Zimbabwe and Zambia are available at every corner. A bit of haggling does not hurt. Apart from the market squares, sprawling shopping centres offer both designerware and local produce. An interesting aspect of South Africa, which can sometimes disconcert you, is how everything - and I mean EVERYTHING - in the country is geared towards tourism. The tourist guide making a presentation of what he has to show you or the Municipal manager making a presentation on his City is one thing, but a waiter making a presentation out of what he/she has to serve you or a shopkeeper making one on what he sells seems a little beyond comprehension. Such focus on tourism also means that everything is convenient and available. Every stop includes spotless restrooms, refreshments centre, a curio shop and plenty of volunteers to help you around the place. n

What you may not see
What makes one person’s travel experience different from another’s is the people they meet and see. So I guess for the 11 mediapersons from GCC who spent six days and five nights in South Africa, experiences were as different as they would have been if we had travelled to 11 different countries. We all chose to see different people, and opted to listen to different voices. As we stepped out of Johannesburg airport early one morning, we were greeted by two bodyguards, who were to drive us around and protect us as we travelled 82 Qatar Today February 2005 around Pretoria – City of Tshwane as it is being called now. That we had bodyguards and moved in close groups set the tone for our stay. One was tall and serious-looking and the other was short and gregarious. Hollywood stereotypes do seem to have some foundation! We were accompanied by members of the municipality, who were both passionate about their city and candid about the problems facing it. After an aerial tour of the city suburbs, which included decrepit shanties that were in stark contrast to where we stayed (at the Sheraton opposite the Union Buildings), Hendrik Kleynhaus, a development officer, pointed out that most of the areas we saw from up above did not even have water and electricity. Social integration was top on the agenda, but is not something that can be forced, says Dr Hein Wiese, strategic executive officer for economic development of the City of Tshwane (Pretoria). Unemployment is another huge problem that the city in specific and the country as a whole is battling with. But tourism in itself is a huge employment generator. The recent trip showed me a whole new country – a country that not many tourists will have the privilege of experiencing. We saw the exercise of nation building. Of individuals and government trying to put aside the dark years of apartheid, and building an integrated society. If I were to say that they have already achieved that, then I have definitely been bribed heavily to lie. It is a work in progress. From Jo’burg and Pretoria to the southern coast and Cape Town, the distinctions are clear... A good 20-30 kms before you enter most city suburbs, beautiful landscapes are lined with tin houses jammed together on tiny plots of land. ‘Black’ housing ...

Footnotes: If you are a vegetarian, I suggest you get used to cheese, bread, cheese, salad leaves and more cheese!!!! Or keep a few quick recipes at hand and pass it on to the waiter – the chefs are rather obliging Qatar Airways flies four times a week to Johannesburg and Cape Town, and if the inaugural flight was any indicator, the direct flights were long awaited indeed. Not a single empty seat! The trip to Pretoria and Cape Town was courtesy Qatar Airways and Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide Inc. QT would like to thank Qatar Airways for good connections and comfortable flying. We thank Sheraton Pretoria Hotel and Towers, ArabellaSheraton Grand Hotel and The Western Cape Hotel and Spa for their hospitality. Special thanks to Marta Andreeva, Willie Williams and Nawaf Al Tamimi.

But the residential suburbs within the city are picture-book perfect. Sprawling houses, a garden in the front and another at the back, a car or two in the garage, and electric fences to keep it all safe. The differences between the ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’ is as clear as that between ivory and ebony. ‘Affirmative action’ is the catch-phrase in the country. A quota system of sorts – where blacks, coloured and Indians get preference over whites in employment. But it is not well received as the quota has either been implemented before or along with the quota in education and training. So persons

without appropriate qualification often find themselves out of depth in jobs they are not equipped to handle. When white people speak of the changes, they speak in tones of tolerance. Hopefully, tolerance will lead to effortless acceptance and seamless integration very soon. Because tolerance as an end result will be as bad as the past. However, it is a process of learning. A country that in 10 years has made such amazing progress in attracting millions of tourists from across the world and million of dollars in investment, will hopefully sort out its demographic problems very soon. February 2005 Qatar Today 83