Wednesday, January 25, 2012

South Africa: Johannesburg & Visiting the Cradle of Humankind

We started our South Africa adventure in Johannesburg. This wide spread city (seriously, it’s huge) isn't known for being terribly tourist friendly but we managed to have a few days there trouble free. It may have helped that my mother had previously spent quite a lot of time there for work and was able to gather tips and research some of our plans. (Disclaimer: This post is about to get pretty nerdy and wordy, you've been warned!)

We arrived after a 17-hour flight from Atlanta to a drizzling evening and immediately crashed at our hotel in order to prepare for the next day's trip. Since tours and organized trips aren't really our style we rented a car.  The following morning we set off for our first day of exploring and visited Maropeng: The Cradle of Humankind, the World Heritage Sight where some of our most recent bipedal ancestors have been found! As an anthropology student I spent countless hours studying (and attempting to memorize) all of our various hominid ancestors, so this spot was high on my list. Academically inclined or not, if you're a human and passing through the Jo-burg area then you should visit this museum,  especially if you're keen on science, history or reading National Geographic.

(Image via...)

It's only a 90-minute drive from the Stanton area of Jo-burg where we stayed. Go ahead and give yourself about 2 hours to get there because tourist friendly signs are few and far between in the city center and virtually non-existent in more rural areas. It didn't matter how many maps we studied, without road signs or indicators we were just randomly traveling down on one dirt road after another. We did, however, bump into a handful of other equally lost tourists who had rented cars so, if that's your travel preference I'd definitely recommend to take a deep breath and give it a try. Especially since I haven't heard much about tours heading out into this area yet. For those of you still confused what this post is about go here!

Of course, getting lost is inevitable while traveling but this experience ranks high on our list. Our detours allowed us to spend some quality time enjoying the pleasantries of South African grocery stores and gas stations, and we quickly discovered that a lot of the locals (surprisingly?) had no clue where we were headed but at least everyone seemed happy to try and help. Oh, and to answer your question yes, the ride back took even longer, how perfectly wonderful for a rainstorm to arrive just we're departing!

Whew! We decided to document our arrival after a very bumpy ride with a photo. Hi, mom!

Once you finally arrive, there are two areas suitable for visitors, the Sterkfontein Caves and the Maropeng Museum. We started with a guided tour of the caves where some archaeologists are currently excavating ancient hominid remains.

Inside the Sterkfontein Caves...

It was fascinating to see a live archeology site! For those of you who might be familiar with Mrs. Ples or Little Foot, this is the location where they were found along with the very recently discovered Austrolopithicus Sediba (nerd alert: it was really cool!!)

The site where Mrs. Ples was found... (anthropology nerd alert!) 

Later, we headed to the recently built museum where we brushed up on our human evolution knowledge and caught a glimpse of some ancient bones. After our all day visit we stopped at the museum for a delicious meal and snapped a few photos of the surrounding hills. Looking out at our surroundings, I couldn’t help but wonder how many more fossils were hidden, waiting to be found. Like I said, if you're a National Geographic buff, this spot should not be missed!

Views surrounding the Maropeng Museum...

There also happens to be a small, very lovely looking hotel located in the same area of the museum. We didn't stay here but could have easily stayed over night and spent another day exploring more of the grounds. I'm curious, have any of you stayed at Maropeng? How was it?   

Next up: Safari adventures! Stay tuned...

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