Every time I roll into Pretoria, the lyrics to The Virginia Company randomly echo in my head
Remember Pocahontas, and the opening number?
“for Glory, God, and Gold…And The Virginia Company”
It sounds to me like “Pretoria, Pretoria, a Beautiful city.”
Pretoria is an aesthetically pleasing city. It is known as the Jacaranda City, because of all the Jacaranda trees morph the city in spring. I lucked out and my elongated stay in Pretoria overlapped in Jacranda season. An entire city engulfed with purple flowers and their sweet (but not horribly pungent) aroma is a site I would not see back in New Mexico!
For a couple days with a set end date, Pretoria is a nice break for PCVs. After a week though the novelty wears off. The excitement of identifying country embassies, eating amazing Greek or Indian food (I know my favorite places in Pretoria) , and access to running water no longer curbs my cravings for village life. Regardless of my distaste for long term urban life, Pretoria is in South Africa and thus an adventure waiting to happen. So PCT from 32 (who is waiting for legal clearance…so they are not a PCV yet) and I decided to make the most of our wait and explore Pretoria Botanical Gardens.
The antics began en route when the Uber driver’s iPhone over heated (which was how he measured our fare). We had no idea about the final faire, but 32 was ready to walk to the garden and I was dead against it (we were in an unfamiliar part of Pretoria). Thankfully the driver turned off the phone/price meter and dropped us safely at the gate. We paid our tickets and I (being used to the Albuquerque Biological Park) anticipated a map with directions as part of the package. Ha! 32 and I walk up a pathway to see if there is a map, and wind up backtracking 15 minutes later. We find a map right at the entrance and use our smart phones to take a photo. There are signs towards a waterfall we thought was dictated on the map.
We reach the (human made) waterfall easily, and find a pathway up to places unknown. Of course we took the path above the waterfall and ran into the succulent garden. My adopted pet at the old site was the aloe plant behind my house so I can appreciate succulents. As the path continues we run into cacti and beautiful views of the city below. At this point we have no idea where we are except in the middle of the National Botantical Garden. The Latin species identifier plaques offer us no cues.
We continue our pattern of behavior and meander on to another path. About 5 minutes later, a BIG FURRY RODENT scurries on to the path. Bear in mind that prior to this we were surrounded by plants where the only hazard was pricking yourself on a cactus needle. We were not at Pretoria Zoo so there was no contingency plan for a wild animal. As we watched the animal for 2 minutes I whipped my phone out and snapped a quick photo, contemplating how this conversation could go down with the PCMOs. “So Katey, you are here on leave in Pretoria, what situation could you have possibly gotten yourself into where you need rabies prophylaxis?” Thankfully the rodent moved and the Pretoria Botanical Garden remains a safe place for PCVs to visit. Right after this sighting, we started to see signs talking about the survival instincts of dassies. By deductive reasoning, we stumbled upon the Dassie Trail and my potential host of rabies was actually the star attraction.
After our dassie encounter we stumbled upon the national herbarium which happened to be the location for the local book store (and possibly some lovely postcards). Anyways, we try to enter this sketchy building (with signs that say visitors only all over the place) at the bookstore, and the door is locked. We encountered another sign the defined a “visitor” by “appointment only.” At that point our stomachs took over and we headed to the café (after walking in the middle of a tar road…somehow we lost the dirt paths) for one of the most entertaining lunches I ever had. The entertainment was from the wisteria tree, which triggered my allergies and also garnished not just my lunch with its falling blossoms but my head and backpack.
The last leg of our outing involved bushwalking through the arboretum and a construction site in the middle of the path and finding the Enabling Garden for medical and mental needs right when we were heading to the parking lot.
Compared to staying in the backpackers for an afternoon, this was infinitely better and entertaining. Without all the directional snafus, the garden would not be as fun.