Back after the break they have lifted another ring into place and whilst a girl dangling from the roof is trying to distract us we are all actually watching them build a rickety cage and as expected it is soon filled with 5 lions 1 tiger and a rather reluctant and rather small black panther (or maybe a cougar who knows). Anyway the ring is quite small so they take it in turns to do their tricks. The tiger having seen it all before keeps falling asleep and the lions a left to lead the entertainment. Walking in and out of poles and jumping through hoops and over fire (quite small fire sticks actually). Out ring master is also the lion tamer however I doubt the animals are bothered. They go through their routine and then escape down the tunnel to what ever feast they get for supper. The Small black thing is last to leave and seems bent on refusing to be involved in any of the activities. I have to say the Tiger was rather large and I am sure had it wanted to it could have taken them all out with a couple of easy swipes of some huge paws.
Yet another ring is lifted up from the subterranean area and this one starts to fill with water. We muse maybe dolphins or at the very least sea lions. There is a lot of water being pumped into the thing and it takes probably 10 minutes to get to a decent depth. What do we get? We get “parrots” which seem pretty tame after all that build up and to cap it all one flies off into the rafters and can not be induced to come back. The handlers are probably the most scary part, the guy looks like he is albino far too pale but maybe it is the costume. Now parrots are colourful but not really attention grabbers so the act soon passes.
After this we get the boxing kangaroo which keeps forgetting the script and needs reminding to punch (then kick) its opponent who has a very hefty chest protection suit on. Maybe the water is to stop it gettign away or maybe they are just showing off that they have it anyway the significance escapes me.
After this they start to call it a day and we get another parade with all the girls and anyone else they can muster prancing around the outside of the ring. There is so much sparkle it is difficult to focus on any single item and it sort of fizzles out as the ring master and the young boy who started it all climbing a large set of stairs and waving as hard as they could until the lights come on and everyone get up to leave.
We queue for our coats along with everyone else and make our way to the exit and the Metro. All in all a very entertaining evening and one which will live in memory for a while. It is not often you get to visit one of these iconic things. I remember as a child watching the famous “Moscow State Circus” on the TV along with the annual Military Tattoo ( they pulled guns around and took them to pieces in a race ) and of course who could forget the Brian Rix Farce’s wich were also an annual event. (Hey its my blog so I will be as nostalgic as I want) Google these if you think my memory is failing I am getting on a bit now but they were a big deal back in the day.
And after a short interlude we will recommence with
Not quite sure where I left off but need to tell you about our visit to the “Moscow Sate Circus” something which was our surprise for Mike and Lan when they visited the other week. One of the reasons for the surprise was it did not allow them any time to say they objected given there would be animals involved and you never know these days what people object to. Anyway Mike worked out where we were going about 4 stops before we got off the Metro. You see there is still an art to decoding maps and working out where you are and what the options are.
The actual metro we were on was packed to the rafters as it was on the same line used by the Russian soccer fans on their way to the World cup qualifier with Germany being held locally which they lost however there were no riots or fights and given the high police presence and the massed ranks of army personnel hanging around not a complete surprise (you don’t mess with those guys you just do what you are told).
We emerge from the Metro opposite the State Circus building which is a huge round thing. You could tell we were in the right place as there were two humped camels and pony’s giving rides to excited kids. There were stalls selling bright coloured animals and windmills, you know those plastic things on sticks which no self respecting kid or adult in Western Europe would buy any more as they are not sophisticated enough don’t need batteries or have remote controls or 5 pages of warning about choking hazards or safety instructions.
The Russian kids I find still have an innocence and are allowed to be “children”. The rest of us hurry them through this phase and quickly into designer clothes and gameboys or what ever the current fad is. Not sure why we do this maybe we are embarrassed about them playing with a hoop and a stick or maybe we are paranoid about the fact they may even laugh and get a bit dirty (god forbid).
So into the building and to the cloak room which stretches right around the inside of the building. There is no charge for this it is a service given everywhere and needed given the weather is turning quite cool these days. I go off to try and find some sustenance to keep us going and joint a long queue to buy some coke and water. Now this is something the Russians need to get a grip of. There are 4 places to buy things serving the whole building. Each has one person serving and there are probably 3 thousand people in the audience. The Americans would have a booth every 5 meters and several people eagerly waiting to detach you from you money with a smile and an “enjoy the show”. Here it is still somewhat of an imposition to want to buy food or drinks but I eventually get to the front and a sour faced guy takes my money with a bored sigh.
Finding our seats we are surrounded by families with children in fact the place is crawling with kids. The show starts with a monolog from someone which we do not understand but I think it this young boy is talking about how he wants to grow up and run away to join the circus or something similar anyway this done the show starts with a flourish of lithe ladies in skimpy sequined costumes and large feathered headdresses flouncing about in the ring. A grand parade with performers wandering around in different directions all sparkling in the spotlights. A real circus begins with the acrobats jumping around and throwing and catching each other with “some” element of danger. Clowns entertain us as they clear the ring of some items and arrange the next. A troop of Dalmatians are next performing a routine which seems at times a little random although some of the dogs do seem distracted by the audience and have to be reminded it was their turn to jump over or through something.
There is a vast array of animals which is slightly surprising Horses, camels, various monkeys / chimps, antelope, zebra’s even porcupines. Now one has to ask how you train porcupine however their trick is to jump over a pole which is possibly something they could do in the wild anyway so maybe not that tricky really.
To set the mood for these antics the floor of the ring is littered with animal skins. Maybe as a scene setting or as a warning of failure for the cast. This seems to have an effect on one poor zebra who is galloping around with a monkey on its back it manages to slip on one of these skins and tumbles over. The monkey clearly confused that this is not part of the rehearsed script decides to make a break for it and dashes off in the direction of an exit. With several of the “minders” in tow. Getting to the exit it may have though it better not to given it did not have its coat check with it and it was cold outside and decides to come back into the arena. Not wanting to rejoin the antics in the ring it decides to wander around the audience ending up in the row right in front of us. It manages to terrify several people before deciding to settle down in a seat just in front of us to watch the rest of the show. I assume it just though I will sit here quietly and nobody will notice. Not much chance of that as several people close in on it and it quietly gets led away.
There is a ring master who I should have mentioned before as he seems to be the animal trainer for “all” of the none human acts. He is only slightly weird, that is his hair is too long and slicked back making him look a little creepy. He must have a lot of influence or someone would have had the nerve to tell him he looks a bit of a prat.
Maybe there will be a feedback form I could not it down on. Anyway he keeps reappearing in different costumes but always with a stick of some sort to make sure his prodigies keep to the script (escaping moneys exempt of course). Jo and Trina will remember our visit to the famous “Circus Apollo” in Conway where the girl who sold us our tickets was also the same one who sold us popcorn and balanced on the high wire and rode around on the horse troop, well similar to that this guy seemed to be everywhere doing everything.
An interlude is called after a couple of hours like a time out as there were no gaps in performances. A constant array of acts running around on two or four legs leaping up to or down off things. We stretch our legs but decline the opportunity to have our picture taken with an angora rabbit. Judi describes it as a “hat waiting to happen” which I find rather amusing.
Which is not the Cradle of Mankind which I keep calling it after which the locals correct me. Anyway it is about an hour away from Johannesburg through the countryside. The ride is fairly pleasant as the city melts away and opens up into rolling hills. I am reminded constantly that these are the oldest hills in the world. Fine they just look like hills to me. We pass by various ostrich farms and fishing lakes and on beyond the many chicken places. You can always tell the chicken farms large low metal sheeted buildings and there must be 15 or 20 in the area which ever way you turn there is one. We pass by a small hotel which is actually the entrance to the caves where the remains of what ever Neanderthal I am off to see were found. They have some paintings down there but not being a particular fan of caves I decline. I am ok to see what they brought up I don’t need to go down and see the hole they left. Now this is a mistake which I will find out later.
Arriving at the Cradle of Humankind you can see it as a dot on the landscape as it is right in the middle of nowhere. You enter through a barrier (after paying) and get a plastic card. On to the car park and then to the actual building. Buy you tickets and you are in. Now it looks very much like it was designed on a Disney theme as the first things that happens is you get in a little boat and drift down past some simulated ice flows then volcanoes neither of which is impressive but it does get cold then hot. I think I should have invited some kids to come along. Off the boat and onto the exhibition which is constructed of bright colorful plastic with lost of “Press me” buttons where random facts are blurted out at you. Not quite what I had expected. I though is would be more sedate and museum like. I understand the need to get people engaged in history but this is dumbing down a little too far. There is no need to bring people all the way out into the middle of nowhere you could have built this in the middle of the city. There are a few bones at the end but they are only replicas so maybe the caves would have been a better bet. I have seen the area in Tanzania where they found one of our early upright ancestors (I think it was named Lucy) and you could feel the atmosphere there were people passionate about it and it came across in their explanation. The discovery was accidental by a German who was traveling the length of Africa collecting butterflies who really stumbled over it. Here it is push the button to find out what sound a dinosaur might have sounded like. I may sound disappointed and that is because I was somewhat.
Outside the view of these old hills is quite good. You can tell the rains are due as everything has that dry parched look. I can imagine it would be quite spectacular in a month or so once the summer comes.
Moving one we encounter the crying child in the souvenir shop, I say crying more whining and so was the man muttering about the price of drinks being 3 times the norm. (he had 5 kids so some sympathy goes out to him). We hand in the card at the barrier and I wonder if we really needed it. The barrier stops us so not sure what the card in actually for. Maybe to stop people stealing cars but we are in the middle of nowhere with a fence around us nobody could walk in and steal a car without the barrier people spotting them. Maybe I am just not getting the logic. So on to find lunch which is at some cheese farm a very nice little place where they say they are full and we need to wait 45 minutes until I point out the 4 empty tables and suddenly we are seated. A nice veranda with a great view, kids, dogs and chickens wandering around the tables and a great salad it was nice to just sit in the warm sunshine and watch the world go by. One of the guests causes a bit of a stir by leaving in their own helicopter which excited the kids and scared the chickens but other than that it was quite peaceful. I imagine our house in France will be something similar but the cheese will come from the market and not be made by me.
Driving back to the city over the dam which I think is more cosmetic than functional it may be more for sailing as it is not generating electricity but is surrounded by holiday homes and hotels. As the city approaches you realize the mines are really close in fact the book I read says the town sort of grew up around the mines and there are several redundant pit heads which are inside the perimeter. The mine spoils are all around like big monumental scars. A big lump of earth standing out against the flat city ground. They are reclaiming them as they think the new extraction methods can eek out a little more gold. They reckon if there is 4 oz of gold per ton of spoil it is worth doing and given glod has just topped $1000 an oz well worth the effort. Lets hop they don’t just put the rocks back where they are perhaps they could be a little more inventive and hide them.
I am not talking about work because in the main it is not exciting but on the back end of my trip so off home soon. Maybe my trip back will provide some excitement. I have a 50 minute gap between landing and taking off again and not sure if I should book my luggage through or try and pick it up, oh the excitement of it all !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
I seemed to have gone missing in action for a while but back home for a few days so a little catch up for anyone who might still be following this.
I managed to spend a little time in Soweto which is really South Western Township (and they had a competition to come up with the name “Soweto”, go figure. Now normally all you see of this place is on the TV and mainly to do with something going wrong, riots and the like and even last year there was some trouble with xenophobic attacks on people. The South Africans are concerned that given the economic state their neighbors are in having lots of other nationalities there is taking jobs from the locals.
Anyway the place itself is fairly well organized and so it should be with 2.5 million people in it. It has hospitals and several hundred schools, universities, shopping malls and all the facilities of a town. In the main the houses are small probably only 2 or 3 rooms but I have to say they do seem to take care of them and most look well managed. Not a lot of open space or flowers but maybe that is because spring is just arriving. Surprisingly not a lot of litter or graffiti some but not to the extent you might expect. Driving around people are just getting on with there lives and doing normal things. There is a cemetery where they claim there are 300 funerals a day which might be interesting to see but it is not on our itinerary. We do pass by the worlds largest taxi rank but to be honest you don’t see much so you have to take their word for it. They have 2 old power station cooling towers which are no longer in use which they have painted which is quite a sight. All bright with adverts and religious pictures on. Plus some bungee jump thing strung out between them for people who can hold their dinner down. Also not on my list. The actual power station they belonged to is still there but no longer working. My guide pointed out that despite its location it never supplied power to Soweto it was all for the people in Johannesburg not sure where the locals got theirs if they did. There is a section of the town called dark town as it has no electricity so as you would expect it is dark at night. Net it does not look as scary as you might imagine however not sure I would want to be wandering around on my own or at night.
We pass some “unregulated” dwellings which is a euphemism for tin shacks put up where they shouldn’t have. These have nothing at all except a few tin or canvas walls although I have to say there were many washing lines with clothes on them. The pigs running around the edge of the small river next to it completed the scene and you have to wonder how people survive this type of existence although my mother used to tell me you can get ued to anything.
We swing up past Nelson Mandela’s house and that of Desmond Tutu and the common quote that it is the only street in the world to have produced two Nobel peace prize winners add another layer to the place. Lunch is in a local place with local food. I have a lamb curry which is full of bones and comes with some vegetables which I do not recognize. Why did you not remind me not to have the chef special you are supposed to be looking after me. Anyway I survive and we continue wandering around . There are a couple of huge Football stadiums we see (sorry soccer) one is the new world cup stadium ready for next year and the other a local team the Orlando Pirates. Both places look like they hold 60 -80 thousand people and I know the local population is almost as devote about football as they are religion. There is an “unregistered” settlement next to one and I have $10 on that being moved before the worlds TV cameras get here.
They have put in a brand new bus lane system which people are already complaining about as it takes work away from the local taxis which are white vans really. It is strange when proposed improvements are seen as detrimental to local culture. Not sure anyone would say the taxi system which is stop anywhere and pick up people is ideal but it seems to work and people are used to it so having to find a bus stop, which by the way are in the middle of the road and queue seems to be a little too much “improvement”. We shall see,
Off for a drive in the country next to the “Cradle of Humankind” should be enlightening.