After last night’s planning and booking for our overland trip through Botswana, we went to booking the rest of the journey in order to have us in Victoria Falls by the 11th of July. This meant booking a bus from Johannesburg to Bulawayo where we will then catch a train that runs from Bulawayo to Victoria Falls. Luckily Elna’s odd internet allowed us to load Computicket.com and we purchased our bus tickets of R280 on an overnight bus departing 1400 on the 7th of July, which will have us into Bulawayo at just past 0500 the next day. From there, we will catch the train that departs Bulawayo every Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday to Victoria Falls. Many travel sites have talked about doing this, but it wasn’t until we stumbled across seat61 that I felt much comfortable about going this route. Tickets for the train can only be purchased day of, and the website makes it seem like this train is never full, so bookings are not difficult. Thus upon arrival (which will surely be much past the 0500 that is advertised), we shall head to the station and book a ticket for the train that departs each night just before 2100 and completes the 480 km trek north to the Falls. This also means we can save two nights of accommodation by taking the two overnight trips, however, our last overnight trip to Maputo wasn’t very restful and it wiped me out the next day (though the after effects of my food poisoning probably didn’t help). Thus we are looking for someplace in Bulawayo that we can perhaps drop our stuff off, and maybe catch a nap. Lonely Planet doesn’t have many backpackers listed, and neither does SafariNow.com. We shall do more research on possible accommodation as we get closer to departure in the case we do need to sleep the day away someplace.
After numerous booking attempts through Citiliner (which timed-out incessantly, then had a server overload), they finally came back with a error when we used our foreign credit cards. So instead we went through Computicket, who we booked all of our other bus tickets with, and though we lost out on the 10% web special, we at least knew these would be easy to pick up at the numerous Computicket locations.
With this sorted, Elna was finished with her morning patients and had offered us the night before to take us to Gold Reef City on her way to run errands. Gold Reef City is the city’s theme park, and apparently quite popular during the holiday season. Elna suggested we go when I voiced my desire to go to a gold mine. The park was built on the old mines of Crown Mines, and thus we set off across town to the Rand, and the grounds of Gold Reef City located directly next to the excellent Apartheid Museum that we visited on our last visit in 2007 to Joburg.
The park has a very Disney-like feel upon entering, though of course on a smaller scale and didn’t have the ‘new’ feeling that Disney maintains throughout. We bought our tickets, R140 a person, and entered the park. It had become an overcast day in southern Johannesburg, and quiet a bit cooler than the morning sun had alluded to, and the park was only dotted with visitors, thought most appearing to be locals, rather than football visitors. We headed straight to find out about the Heritage Tour, which includes the Mine Tour, as Elna said she would come to fetch us around 1800, and now we had 6 hours to spend in the park. The two hour tour seemed to work, but upon asking to purchase at the entrance, were told to buy within the park. Heading there we saw the 1400 tour departing, and started to look around where the main office was. A elderly white gentlemen with a guitar in his hand that worked for the park, told us he would show us what we needed to do, and proceeded to take us on a mini tour of the houses that were made to look and decorated with 1920s relics and decor much as the mine manager’s had when they lived on the property. It wasn’t anything special, other than old stuff in old houses, and it all being behind plastic barriers at the door’s entrance, it wasn’t much to marvel at after we had walked through the houses at Pilgrims’ Rest that literally looked as if they had been in use just before our arrival and we were able to touch everything in them (there were no signs that said no touching, which was a bit surprising when they had actual 1940s newspapers laying out on the dining room table for our perusal).
He continued to show us around that area of the park, and sadly we started to wonder if this was his way to save us the money on the tour, but for him to make it as well. Such is the state of Africa these days that you immediately question whenever someone does something for you to save you money. However, it turned out he was a foreigner as well, a 20 year resident of Joburg, but formerly of north London, and an Arsenal supporter as well. He showed us all the places where we wanted to be for our tour and the other attractions and we thanked him and he went on his way. With his direction we bought the tickets for the mine tour, and as it was now approaching the 1430 time for our tour we headed to the building that housed the information on the mine, and after a bit of a wait behind the massive tour that we had missed (but had got all the relevant info, sans the kids movie about the mine and the area), we were given hard hats and we made our way to the lift that would take us to 250+ metres below the surface, but to only level 5 of the mine shaft that had 91 levels and reached 3200 metres below the surface (thus taking it below sea level as Joburg is 1760 metres above sea level), the deepest mine in the world according to their literature. 1.4 million kgs of gold were extracted over the 60+ year history as the mine was closed for production after 1972.
With our purple hardhats affixed, we stood in the lift waiting to take us on our 1 minute descendent into the mine. Once below we were led on a 15 minute walk around the of the mine allowing us to see the gold bearing quartz that was the sign of gold bearing rock, a shaft that moved ore mined on one level to the level beneath for extraction, and demonstration of hand chiseling and machine drilling and how water was pumped up to form small lake to keep dust down and then pumped up to the surface. The guide was knowledgeable, but it felt like she was reciting from a script rather than giving us information she knew. It was still an experience to be in a former South African mine, and definitely well worth the extra R80 for Alisa and I to head below. However, I am now ready to graduate to a full working mine, but will have to save my money and bide my time till I am next in Gauteng.
With the mine checked off we went to the 4D Heather, (Johannesburg’s Only!), so Alisa could watch her short flick on sea turtles. Nothing amazing there, though the seats were extremely comfortable. I had to wonder how South Africans thought about this: was it really cutting edge? cheesy? once in a lifetime? Admittedly, for being South Africa the park itself was fairly well done, and the roller coasters seemed to be intriguing enough that it would keep nearly all visitors occupied. They did have a roller coaster that purported to be the replica of the Superman at Magic Mountain in Valencia, CA, though upon further inspection, it was the mini-replica (still too fast and high for Alisa, and it did descend underground so perhaps the length was continued far beneath?). With Alisa continuing to be in the spirit we rode the Fun Train around the park at a brisk 5 kph. With this down, and now with the Netherlands – Brazil match underway, Alisa did not need much convincing to move inside to be a bit warmer and to watch the soccer.
The cold here has caused a head cold to linger on for a while, and today it was the first unbearable day and the Sudafed had come out of its box. Alisa had also started to pick it up, and Elna has some variation of the flu as well. Typical winter, everyone sick. I suppose I shall have some new immunities upon my return, but I am looking forward to the 20+ temperatures in Zimbabwe, and Botswana.
After the match, and with Elna stuck in traffic, we wandered over to the Gold Reef Casino, that was done up much classier than Sun City. Gold Reef had a much more contemporary Vegas feel and had lots of posh looking restaurants dotting the edges of its primary slots and gambling floor, while Sun City had a 1970s/tacky Vegas feel (plus restaurants that were not open between 1400 and 1800). We happened to stumble upon a Computicket and were able to pick up our tickets for Zimbabwe so now we had two things checked off our to do list, making it count as a productive day in South Africa.
Elna eventually made it through the Soccer City traffic to fetch us and we headed to little India where we sat for dinner. Alisa was able to finally get her vegetable bunny chow, and I thought I would get away with ordering something mild, but upon placing it was directed to try the Mandarin chicken instead. It turned out to still have a kick, but one that was quite delightful instead of overpowering, and having a side of a focaccia like bread to help dull the spice a bit certainly helped. We’ll post pictures of all of our most recent foods soon!