One of the top news stories this week that had nothing to do with glamping was the announcement that Stephen Colbert would be taking over for David Letterman when he retires from “Late Night” sometime in 2015.
If you’re an avid viewer of his late night satirical television program on Comedy Central, The Colbert Report, perhaps you remember the November 12, 2013 episode that aired a bit on Shantytown Glamour Camping. In the piece, Colbert describes the latest exotic hybrid that combines luxury with ‘roughing it’: Shanty Town, a lodging option available at the Emoya Hotel & Spa in Bloemfontein, South Africa.
“Shanty Town is modeled after the ramshackle hovels of South Africa’s townships. Now,” the comedian explains, “you can bring the whole family to stay in an authentic corrugated tin shack, each with it’s own black smoke spewing barrel fire, beef tallow candle, and squatter’s kitchen.” How goes on to joke, “it’s like staying at a Sandal’s Resort . . . if the sandals where made from old tire.”
In reality, you certainly wouldn’t categorize this form of accommodation as “glamping”. It’s more like “Glamour Slumming”, or “Glumming” teases Colbert. All kidding aside, however, the sad truth is that millions of South African’s live in these settlements across the country. These shantytowns typically consist of homes constructed of old corrugated iron sheets or waterproof material that act mainly as shelters from the elements. Since they typically don’t have electricity, you’ll find paraffin lamps, candles, a battery operated radio, an outside toilet (also referred to as a long drop) and a drum for the fire they use to cook with.
In Shanty Town, guests can experience staying in one of these crude accommodations within the safe environment because it’s not actually located within a real shantytown or township. Instead, it’s found within of a private game reserve, complete with under-floor heating and wireless internet access! The website even promotes the fact that Shanty Town can accommodate 52 people and is ideal for team building, fancy theme parties, and braais (South African barbeques).
If “glumming” is something that might seriously interests you, there is another option that’s much more genuine because it’s found in a “real” shantytown. Within South Africa’s most famous township, Soweto, you can arrange an overnight stay with one of several hosts that will put you up for the night. Arrangements can be made by visiting www.sowetotownshiptours.com and inquiring about a home stay.
One such opportunity can be found in Motsoaledi, where visitors are offered overnight housing right smack in the middle of a shantytown. Beware that there is no climate control, but the bed looks comfortable and the hostess (together with her 4 year-old daughter) are very hospitable. One night stay will cost you ZAR 80, or about $8.00. For ZAR 150, or $15, you can have breakfast in the morning, which includes fat cakes with polony (an African sausage) and achaar (a spicy salad made of mango and oil).
So why would someone want to venture into a shantytown and sleep in a tin shack? Tours of Soweto have become big business ever since Nelson Mandela was released from prison and Apartheid was dismantled in 1994. Tourists are eager to see Nelson Mandela’s home, where some of the infamous riots took place, and what shantytowns look like up close. And for those who really want a richer experience and deeper understanding of life in Soweto, “glumming”, just like glamping, serves as yet another unique form of getting visitors that much closer to the places they travel to.