State of the Nation art exhibition open in Johannesburg

Kudzanai Chiurai’s State of the Nation is now open in Johannesburg. The art exhibition, which explores the notion of ‘state’ as a type of utopia, state of mind, and status, will be open to the public through December 3rd, 2011 at the Goethe Institut. This exhibition, from an award-winning artist, features photography prints, large oil paintings, video installation, and performance with an underlying focus on youth culture.

The Goethe Institut’s website offers some history on the artist.

“Born in 1981 in Zimbabwe, Kudzanai Chiurai was the first black student to graduate with a BA Fine Art from the University of Pretoria. Chiurai’s early work focused on the political and social strife in his homeland. Seminal works like “Presidential Wallpaper” depicted Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe as a sell-out and led to Chiurai’s exile from Zimbabwe”.

All in all, if I were you, and you just happened to be in Johannesburg during this time, I’d check out this exhibition.

Enter the Put Foot Rally for an African road trip adventure

Adventurous travelers looking for a unique road trip this summer may want to checkout the Put Foot Rally, which is scheduled to get underway in June. The event begins in South Africa and promises to send teams on a 7000km (4350 mile) long odyssey through the wilds of Africa.

The 17-day rally will kick off at two separate starting lines, one in Cape Town and the other in Johannesburg. Once underway, competitors will navigate on their own, and are free to take any path they like, but are required to reach certain checkpoints along the way by certain times. For instance, the first checkpoint is located at the Andersson Gate, just outside Etosha Park in Namibia. How you manage to find your way to that destination is entirely up to you, but you’ll certainly want to get there on time, as each of the checkpoints will play host to a party as well.

Subsequent CP’s will be located on the Okavango Delta in Botwsana, in Livingstone, Zambia, and on the edge of Lake Malawi in Malawi. From there it is on to Inhambane in Mozambique before proceeding on to the finish line in Swaziland. All told, counting the starting and finish line, there are seven checkpoints, and seven parties, in all.

The Put Foot is accepting just 50 crews for the inaugural 2011 rally, and as of this writing they are about halfway to filling that quota. A crew can consist of as many people as you want, but they all have to fit inside one vehicle. Speaking of which, you can also drive any type of car, truck, or SUV you want, as long as it gets you to the checkpoints on time. You can even elect to ride on a motorcycle if you prefer. Organizers of the rally estimate that about 95% of the route can be done on paved roads, which means a 4×4 isn’t necessary to compete. But part of the fun will no doubt be getting off the beaten path and finding interesting ways to reach the checkpoints. Just don’t take a wrong turn and end up in a country you weren’t expecting!
While the rally is going to be great fun, and will certainly provide plenty of opportunities for amazing travel experiences, it isn’t being run just for the adventure. The Put Foot Rally organizers have joined forces with the Bobs For Good Foundation to raise funds and awareness of that charity, which focuses on providing shoes for underprivileged African children. Many of those children might not ever own any kind of footwear under normal circumstances.

If you’d like to put your own crew together and enter the Put Foot Rally, you can register for the event, which gets underway on June 22nd, by clicking here. Be warned though, this is no organized jaunt down the well marked highway. It is instead a self guided safari through some of the wildest places in Africa, and if you’re not prepared for the challenges you could find yourself in real trouble. That said however, if this sounds like your kind of adventure, the rewards could be amazing as well.

Personally, I think Team Gadling would rock this rally!

Melville – where to have fun in Johannesburg

On my recent trip to South Africa, I spent a day exploring various neighborhoods and finding out where to have fun in Johannesburg. There was so much I didn’t know I didn’t know about Johannesburg, like the fact that gold was mined there for 90 years, evidenced by the enormous mountains of unearthed yellow sand, most of which to this day are still waiting to be removed. Or, that the Dutch East Indies Company scooped up land there to plant lemon trees and other fruits and vegetables so their ships could stop there and pick up supplies to thwart scurvy. The biggest meteorite ever recorded landed just 60 miles south of Johannesburg, and last but not least, there’s this neighborhood called Melville where all the cool people hang out.

Johannesburg is home to a vast array of wealth and poverty “developing apart” to this day (“apartheid” means “developing apart”). For example, there is posh Sandton, where the wealthiest residents work and reside in gated mansions, and destitute Soweto, where the residents who don’t live in cobbled-together shacks squat in old factory worker dormitories called The Hostels and get in trouble regularly for stealing electricity from the streetlights. Like Los Angeles, the city is spread out and feels like a collection of independent communities — and you can’t really get from one to another without a car, as the buses never seem to come and even the taxi system is considered extremely sketchy. There is a train called the Gau which goes to the airport, but its stops are very limited at this point. I stayed in Sandton at The Saxon Hotel, a former residence-turned-hotel where Nelson Mandela famously wrote Long Walk to Freedom, but shopping at Gucci isn’t really my speed, so I asked around and then told my Abercrombie & Kent guide I’d like to spend some time in Melville, Johannesburg (among other places, but Melville was my favorite).

%Gallery-107956%If Johannesburg is LA, Melville is Silver Lake. Melville immediately struck me as artsy and cool, and I felt instantly at home in the comfortable, stylish restaurants and cafes with indie-rock vibes and friendly people of all colors. One of the first shops I spotted was a vintage clothing store — a good sign, as that’s an amenity which, in my book, is a cornerstone of any fabulous neighborhood — then a bookstore, a sushi place, and then Love Revolution, a cozy coffee shop with an educated hipster appeal. While Melville has some great bars, there’s no loud, scenester-y dance clubs which would attract the kind of crowd that might disturb the laid-back peace. As I wandered, I encountered a few locals selling souvenirs on the street, and while no one gave me the New York hassle, there were definitely a few vocal shoutouts offered free of charge. In other words, this neighborhood isn’t just cute restaurants and shopping for yuppies, it has a certain gritty, bohemian character.

If you find yourself in Johannesburg, I would highly recommend spending a Saturday or at least a meal in Melville, where you can get a proper (and nifty!) taste of life between the superlative worlds of Sandton and Soweto. Check out the gallery for a peek inside some of the most charming establishments; a mini tour of Melville, Johannesburg.

[Photos by Annie Scott.]

My trip to South Africa was sponsored by Abercrombie & Kent, but the ideas and opinions expressed in this article are 100 percent my own.

Zombies with passports: The Walking Dead goes worldwide

In order to promote the new show The Walking Dead on AMC, swarms of zombies invaded 26 cities worldwide (including my city of Istanbul, pictured above and filmed here) earlier this week, lurching around major tourist landmarks and generally freaking out passerby. The undead began their sightseeing in Taipei and Hong Kong, then hit European capitols including London, Rome, and Athens. More arose in Buenos Aires, Sao Paolo, and Johannesburg, before going after American brains coast to coast from New York to the show’s premiere in Los Angeles. Check out more photos and video on the show’s blog and Facebook page.

Zombies would make ideal travelers: they can walk through airport security slowly and with no complaints, pack lightly, and don’t need to be fed or entertained on planes. If you can evade the attempts to gnaw on your flesh, they’d make better seatmates than a screaming baby or an armrest hoarder on a long flight. When there’s no more room in coach, we will all walk the earth.

See any zombies on your commutes or travels this week? Leave a comment below if you escaped unbitten. Want more Halloween dead-eyed fun? Our favorite British bear does his take on the zombie genre with Dawn of the Ted.

[Photo Courtesy of Fox International Channels]

Reflections on a round-the-world journey

Several nights into our journey, as we were speeding along dark roads en route to our guest house on the island of Lifou in New Caledonia, I felt a bolt of irrepressible excitement of the sort familiar, no doubt, to most travel enthusiasts. We’d just spent several nights in big, bold Sydney, a bona fide world city, well-organized and self-evident. Sydney was exciting, but, truth be told, not unlike many places I knew well. The quiet island of Lifou, with its hybrid French-Melanesian culture, provided a novel contrast. There were few people around, and few streetlights. The air smelled sweet. Occasionally a car overtook us during our 40-minute journey, and headlights once or twice revealed women in bright clothing walking along the side of the road.

We had made it to an unknown place. I felt myself caught up with that familiar emotion known to all who love travel: teeming excitement, tied to a lack of knowledge of what was to come.

Taking stock of a five-week trip after the fact is perhaps unavoidable, but it’s also fraught. You don’t want to put too much energy into second-guessing what you did on your journey, perhaps in particular because a specific round-the-world itinerary is unlikely to be repeated. Simultaneously, you also want to learn from the experience.

Here’s what we planned well and what we might have executed differently if we had the trip to do over.Good planning.

• Hotels. Our hotels were well chosen, all in the $95-$175 range. In terms of value, we did especially well by scoring a room through Hotwire at the Hilton London Docklands for just under $100 per night. Most of the hotels we chose are well-located, or close enough to secondary attractions to feel central.

• Open-ended approach. Our general lack of planning as far as activities are concerned was also beneficial. This approach gave us time to relax into each destination and pick up inspiration on the spot. Our approach perfectly fit my neighborhood-based strategy of urban exploration. More tourist sight-oriented travelers might find this approach to be less satisfying.

• Variety of destinations. Another plus was the variety of our itinerary’s destinations. By including big vibrant cities and out-of-the-way insular idylls on our itinerary, we were able to enjoy a range of experiences in a relatively short period.

So-so planning.

• Johannesburg. As I detailed in an earlier post, our brief Johannesburg stay suffered from poor planning. In retrospect, it turns out that I’d simply consulted the wrong sources. Several friends and acquaintances popped out of the woodwork following the publication of this blog post with tips. I’ll be better prepared for my next visit to Johannesburg. Lesson: always get feedback from your trusted contacts and carefully contextualize reports of a city’s security situation.

• Tanna Island. I’m a big fan of picking a base and then fanning out to other places. I wish we’d taken greater advantage of this approach to spend a few nights on Vanuatu’s Tanna island. I read about Tanna, an ecological wonder of nature, in Lonely Planet’s Vanuatu & New Caledonia guidebook. It is fairly easy to visit Vanuatu from New Caledonia.

• Rodrigues Island. Nine nights on Mauritius was perhaps two too many. A jaunt to the country’s far flung Rodrigues Island, 350 miles to the east, would have provided a fascinating cultural and physical contrast with the main island.

This is the final Capricorn Route series installment. Check out other stories in the Capricorn Route series here.