Road To… Johannesburg.

The hotel was a pseudo-Tuscan themed gated compound with barbed wire and electric fencing on top of the walls. Upon arrival, we were cautioned not to walk across the street at night. The next morning a tour guide picked us up and immediately warned us not to leave the hotel on foot. Later he encouraged us to walk into a cage with a golden retriever sized lion cub and invited us to rub him on the belly.  

There was no bathtub, no outlet adapters, and no consistently working internet. A rooster woke me up at quarter to three in the morning. I thought roosters didn’t start crowing until sunrise. I couldn’t get back to sleep, and discovered that coffee wasn’t really a thing the hotel was interested in providing at four, five, or six o’clock in the morning. 

Our tour guide picked us up at 6:02. He was an Irish man who relocated to South Africa forty years ago as a door to door book salesman and had a schedule planned for us. First on the list was a driving tour of a game reserve. There was an African Ornithology book in the back seat. On the drive to Pilansberg, we passed a sign on the road that said “Hijacking Hotspot” in the same way that a road sign in the American suburbs would warn people of deaf children playing. Cows and goats wandered the highway. Sometimes they grazed next to the highway, sometimes they just stood in the middle of the asphalt. 

After eight hours of being stuck in the car, we had seen everything except for elephants and lions. Kayden and I had both ridden elephants as children at county fair type places and I was much more interested in petting a lion cub than spending another six hours driving around looking for beige cats in beige grass, especially since I wouldn’t be able to touch them even if I spotted one.

He had intended to take us to a tribal casino area after the game park*. Neither of us are gamblers, so we did a bit of hijacking ourselves and informed him that the next item on his agenda had been changed to finding me a lion cub to pet and possibly an adult lion pelt to purchase**. That’s when we were taken to a place called Predator World. It reminded me of the Totem Inn Zoo near Wilmington NC, which I loved the living daylights out of as a small child. The Totem Inn was, in retrospect, not the most progressive or animal friendly zoo. In addition to the lion cubs available for petting, Predator World had what looked like half a cockatoo. The bird had pulled all of his own feathers out, and Kayden considered trying to smuggle him to safety in her purse. When we returned to the hotel, I found my toothbrush in the closet.

Tuesday morning I walked into the hotel lobby to find a mildly sad looking and under-caffinated Kayden sitting on the couch because the hotel staff the next morning was still withholding coffee. They kept saying the kitchen wasn’t open, and their words were accompanied by the smell of croissants and sausage cooking. I systematically complained to every person I could find until coffee appeared. I like coffee and I like cheering up cute blondes.

We saw the cave that the Australopithecus Little Foot’s fossils were pulled out of, and the Origins Center museum at University of the Witwatersrand which exhibits rock art and the San people who made it. Somewhere between The Cradle of Humankind and Wits, we hopped out of the car to pet a random donkey. We went to Soweto for dinner. The lack of barbed wire, in contrast to everywhere else we’d seen in South Africa, was relaxing. We got sleepy and went back to the hotel. I found my toothbrush under the nightstand.

Wednesday started with a trip to a college for a radio interview. The hosts of the show were delightful and well informed. College students give some of the best interviews. After another couple of stops for press, Kayden and I combined our powers of persuasion and talked the chaperone from Adult World into a trip to the Apartheid Museum. In return for his willingness to show us more of Johannesburg’s sights, he received a constant string of questions beginning with the word “why.” We somehow managed to miss two thirds of the museum, but I do feel highly educated on the subject of Nelson Mandela’s life. I found my toothbrush in the closet again, but on a different shelf.***

Thursday was the beginning of our time at Adult World’s Sexpo booth, but I try to be watchful of my word to photo ratio and that may be pushing the internet’s limit.

*Further research has revealed that this ‘tribal casino’ is Sun City, developed by Sol Kerzer who has since sold his interest in the property and moved on to places like Mohegan Sun in Connecticut and Atlantis in the Bahamas. ‘Cause it’s not like we can see casinos staffed by displaced indigenous peoples in the USA.

**A salesman tried to tell me that all the lion pelts came from old lions who died of natural causes. This sounds like dodgy fluff they tell tourists, so I settled for a small springbok pelt at the airport. Springboks are not endangered, and their numbers are actually increasing.

***Searching my hotel room for my dental hygiene supplies and handing Kayden wet wipes after touching four-legged beasts became mediocre running jokes for the trip. Also: nosebleeds.

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