Words and Photos: Joanne Olivier
I Love being on a motorbike. Apparently it is the undoing of melancholy, as some guy quoted somewhere sometime. The purr of the engine, the freedom of ramping pavements and smelling the world as you go by, braai by braai. This is why a day spent on the back of a quad bike exploring the backroads of Soweto is a day spent well. Soweto Outdoor Adventures is an activity company situated under the Orlando Towers. Kgomotso, owner and entrepreneur sits behind his desk in a grungy office covered in graffiti thank you notes. It’s a clever company targeting the fact that a lot of South Africans feel like tourists in their own country. He hands me a hair net and a helmet. As I ease it on over my head, I wish I had brought my own helmet.
This is the kind of tour you can tailor make to your own fun levels. Choose how many people you want, where you want to spend most of the day and set out guided with a personal tour man who knows the streets. First stop is at Ramblers store, opened by a lady who made the best vetkoeks on the street. Her doors are now bustling with queues from early AM to the PM. You get handed fat cakes and tiny plastic bags of atcha and liver paste. A pure fatty carb delicious mess. Downed with gulps of syrupy coke, this is a breakfast of champions.
Unlike most beige tours where the guide recites monotonous historical facts about architecture and timelines, on this tour you experience it your own way. Every now and then we stop and are told tidbits about the area and shown where Mandela grew up and where Desmond Tutu lived and the such, but this is broken up by the fact you are in a silent helmet cocoon and experiencing it all privately, allowing it to touch you in a deeper way. Eventually we hit the famed Vilikazi Street – tourist deluxe. Groups of people listen to guides talking about Hector Pieterson. Best stop of the day is The Shack Shebeen. It’s 5 minutes across the road from the more touristy Sakhumzi Restaurant and boxes of Joburg beer lie emptied on the floor. It’s the middle of the day and the pool table is busy, the Black Labels are flowing and life seems easy. Part of the trip is experiencing the Traditional foods. On the way in our guide stops by a man chopping cows heads and bones up on the pavement. He’s preparing Smiley, (Sheep’s Head). It’s not ready though, so I escape the pleasure narrowly.
On the way back we stop by the Maponya Mall, which is a mall basically,(move on) and then the back roads through one of the most poverty stricken areas of Soweto. We dig dirt up through Motswaledi squatter camp. Even amidst the poverty and suffering, tiny babies peek through fences with muddy feet and massive smiles. Ditch the hop on hop off tours; this tour is the one to choose. Truth is, every single quad tour will be different, according to who you meet and what you see.
It reminds me of Thailand, zipping through uncharted areas exploring, not knowing what you will come across…and this, in itself, is the real reason we adventure.