South Africa

South Africa March 11-21 2023



“Welcome Home “I heard as we arrived in Johannesburg, South Africa. I felt the warmth of that welcome in my soul and tears in my eyes.  Coming home to the Cradle of Life, to my roots in Africa. I had not expected to feel such strong emotion!

I traveled with Conrad in a group tour organized by WBGO 98.3 the 24 hour Jazz station in Newark, NJ. Most of us in our 60’s, 70’s and 80’s. Most of us African Americans, some Whites, and one other Puerto Rican. It was a friendly group, many going to Africa for the first time. Leaving Newark at night and arriving to Johannesburg in the morning, having lost six hours had all 62 of us somewhat disoriented after 15 hours in a plane. We boarded two buses, met our guides, the trip coordinators and the bus drivers.




Touring Johannesburg began right away with an abbreviated history of the city and a lot of information about the different neighborhoods we drove through pointing out important sites, hospitals, universities, wealthy neighborhoods, as well as very poor areas. I was struck by the number of bridges crisscrossing the city, joining neighborhoods, but especially the Mandela Bridge. Built to join two neighborhoods, Alexandra, an extremely poor neighborhood and Sandton, a very wealthy suburb, the bridge is resplendent! This is a bridge for pedestrians, bicycles, and motor traffic, and as we cross to reach our hotel in Sandton the contrast between wealth and poverty is palpable reflecting the legacy of Apartheid and the ongoing inequality and racism in the country. Not so different from what we experience in this country.


As I take in the surroundings I imagine my ancestors living in Africa before being enslaved and brought to Puerto Rico. I envision them being transported to the island in Spanish or Portuguese ships to be sold or traded. What were their names? Where did they come from? What about their families? What happened to those who were left behind! Were they captured at the beginning of the slave trade or towards the end? I hold them in my heart.

The next day we visited Soweto and were overwhelmed by the history of Apartheid and the revolution, the violence, those who were killed or imprisoned, and the fight for freedom. So many tributes to Mandela and to those who lost their lives. There was so much energy in the streets filled with tourists and performers, and students in their uniforms carrying their books. I looked at their faces and wondered about how their lives have been affected by the history of Soweto, the revolution, the killing of youth in the street.



Feeling grief, sadness and anger after visiting the Apartheid Museum, we left Johannesburg and Soweto behind. About four hours later after a rest stop, we arrived at the Pilanesberg Reserve. Beautiful Ivory Lodge welcomed us with drumming and refreshments. We got settled in our individual cottage and quickly left for our first Safari. Our guide Brian, an Africaner, whose family has been in South Africa for generations was waiting for us ready to take us on an adventure. It was the first time for me and Conrad as well as for many others in our group of about 50 people (?). We divided in smaller groups of ten each with a different guide and drove out into the preserve.



I love adventure and this topped my list!! I was excited to see Elephants, Giraffes, Zebras, Lions, Rhinoceros, Hippos and other smaller animals as well as birds. Exuberant sunsets and sunrises out in the wild, alert to movement, noises, eager to spot one of the big 5.

With my heart filled with excitement and wishing that I could remain in this wonderful place we took a plane to Cape Town, our final destination. I had heard a lot about the splendor of Cape Town and was ready for  the music we  were all looking forward to. South African Jazz! But, there was so much more awaiting us. What a magical place! We arrived just in time to have something to eat and go to our first concert at one of the oldest theaters in Cape Town. What a treat! Our own Lezlie Hutchinson, one of the trip’s co-hosts and a Jazz singer performed with a couple of the groups. Very exciting!!

We toured some of the city and learned about it’s history and it’s people, the diverse cultures and different languages.  And then we experienced  the  big highlight in Cape Town, Table Top Mountain! The views were magnificent although there was a lot of mist that day. It felt as if we were walking on the clouds. The next few days we toured the coast and went through very wealthy towns by the sea as well as very poor and isolated neighborhoods with limited access to the ocean or resources. The blend of forest and ocean with mountains in the background was beautiful. Standing at a light house at the top of a cliff I saw the merging of the Atlantic and Indian Oceans where the ships were able to navigate from one continent to another. One of the most well known routes went from the north-western and western coasts of Africa to South America and the south-east coast of what is today the United States, and the Caribbean. They  traded spices and human beings not only from Africa but from other countries. I thought about my ancestors in chains on their way to Puerto Rico. How did they survive?

Cape Town is one of nature’s treasures! I had no idea that there were African penguins living by the sea in a preserve who often leave to visit the neighborhood and people find them in their yards and kitchens. They are free in nature and, like the lions, giraffes, elephants and others, feel free to rest, travel and make love in the open.

We ended the coast tour at the Cape of Good Hope. Our last concert that night was at a different venue with food and room to dance! We left the hotel that morning with our bags loaded on the buses and spent the day in Stellenbosch, enjoying  the farms, vineyards and olive groves. Our last meal in Africa was lunch and wine tasting at the only Black owned Vineyard in the area.


Wonderful wines and delicious roasted lamb. With a full belly and a happy heart, we headed for the airport and back to the USA.