Day 4: Cradle of Mankind

 A 60-minute drive from our hotel (the Melrose Arch, a swanky place with the feel of a night club and with creative touches like rubber ducks in the bathtub) took us out of Jo-burg, beyond its sprawling townships and dilapidated shanty towns, past enormous mine dumps, and into a landscape that looked more National Geographic-like than anything I had seen so far: vast, uninhabited, harvest-yellow grasslands pocketed by an occasional tree or bush. We had arrived at the Cradle of Humankind, one of South Africa’s eight(!) World Heritage Sites.

Our first destination was the Sterkfontein Caves, followed by Maropeng. Sterkfontein was made famous by the discovery of Mrs. Ples and Little Foot, the latter of which is still being excavated. The tour began with an excellent interpretive room and then proceeded into the limestone cave, which is a neat place even outside of its anthropological significance. Moropeng was more interpretive, less hands-on; but the theme park-like rides and offerings (including a 3-minute raft ride through an iridescent blue tunnel and past steam vents that is supposed to give the impression of descending through time to the beginning of the earth) made it among the more fun museums I have been to.

Earlier in the evening I squeezed in my first run since I arrived. (I usually run every day for 1-2 hours for fitness and mental health.) Personal safety is a near-constant concern in South Africa—petty crime is unfortunately common—and I’ve been frustrated by restrictions on my independence and mobility (e.g. use personal drivers only, no public taxis; avoid going outside after dark; do not venture into questionable areas alone; etc.) as well as by the city’s lack of open space planning, a consideration that was ignored during the hastily planned removals and reorganizations of people at the start of apartheid. The lack of physical activity combined with a continuous string of excellent meals could spell trouble after being here for 3 weeks…

Posted in on May 5, 2008

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