Lunch and Face Painting at Moyo Restaurant, South Africa

Posted on
Feb 19, 2013

Whenever I see someone who has succumbed to something incredibly touristy – whether it be the people running around Disney World with those invisible dogs on leashes, or anyone drinking beer out of a boot – two things go through my head:

  • That is so incredibly cheesy.
  • I … I kind of want in on that.

The only exception is when I see white, middle-aged women returning from the Caribbean with dreadlocks. I want no part of that, except to possibly pull them aside and, as I vigorously try to unplait their hair, counsel them against whatever other bad decisions they are about to make.

“Not even Bo Derek could pull this off,” I’d hiss. “AND SHE’S BO-FRIGGIN’-DEREK.”

It would be a public service.

But other than that exception, I find myself torn between being annoyed by the gimmick while I’m simultaneously seduced by it. And sometimes, despite my reservations, I fall for it.

I realize it’s silly. I’m sure more seasoned travelers and locals will roll their eyes. But for just a little bit, I’m having fun.

Which is how I justify walking around with what appears to be typewriter correction fluid on my face.

Moyo restaurant has several locations throughout South Africa. Which means, as much as I’d like to think otherwise, it is a chain. But it’s a lovely chain, and the mood of the restaurant, while clearly catering to tourists, isn’t unpleasant.

The day was hot, the sun searing everything it touched, and the shade offered by Moyo’s covered deck pulled us in.

We sat, drinking cocktails and sharing photos, perusing the menu and offering suggestions to one another. Two women who worked at the restaurant approached, and asked us if we wanted face paint.

We stared, looking at one another, trying to figure out if it was okay. Earlier, I’d seen tourists walking around the waterfront with similar patterned dots painted on their faces. And my usual reaction – that mix of judgement and envy – came to the surface.

Was this allowable? Was it somehow offensive? I stared at Rand, looking for an answer. He shrugged.

“Sure, why not?” he said, finally. 

The result. Personally, I think he should rock this look every single day.

And so we all did it.


Moments later, a gentleman came by with a pitcher of water and a large bowl, so we could wash our hands.

And we all did that, too, albeit self-consciously, and with some trepidation.

Some of us wondered aloud, as we saw servers walking around in traditional clothing, with white paint dotting their faces, if we weren’t on the verge of exoticism, of turning the peoples and cultures of Africa into something trivial and digestible.

Then our food came, and those deeper questions were forgotten, at least momentarily.

Despite all the touristy accouterments, Moyo has a pretty solid menu.

I know, I know. I not only went to a chain restaurant, but I got my face painted, too. We didn’t kid ourselves. We realized it was silly and touristy.

The awesome company I had for lunch. It’s cool to be jealous.

But you know what? Sometimes, we’re silly tourists. And I think that’s okay, every now and then, as long as we acknowledge it. As long as we appreciate it for what it is, and don’t try to make more out of it than that.

Still, if you find me contemplating dreadlocks, please intervene.

Leave a Comment

  • Ha! We totally did this in South Africa, too, but at the Moyo in Stellenbosch 😉

  • Andrea


    Your blog is awesome!

    I am South African, born and raised, and I have my face painted everytime I go to Moyo. Yes its a bit a touristy, but its also really fun.

  • Love this. LOVE THIS. So true.
    However- I just want to point out, TINY edit…
    Dreadlocks are thick knots most recognized in the Rastafarian culture / Bob Marley.
    CORNROWS are rows of braids. A la Bo Derek.

    If a woman came back from the Caribbean with dreadlocks, it would likely be FAR funnier than if she came back with cornrows.

    Do with that what you will!
    Loyal Reader

    • Robyn

      Thanks Abby,

      Having pulled off dreadlocks before, despite being caucasian, and having had my hair braided not once but 3 times in my life, none of which looked remotely attractive, I thoroughly appreciate this distinction. Although I hear having extensions braided in might work………..when will i learn?


  • YOU CAN GET INVISIBLE DOGS ON LEADS AT DISNEY?!?!! Woooooohoooooooooo 🙂 !

    • I thought the exact same thing!!

  • Haha, excellent. I agree though, sometimes you HAVE to do those super touristy things. As long as you keep in mind that you are in fact being super… SUPER touristy, I don’t see any harm. The fact that you considered whether or not you were trivializing a culture proves that you really weren’t. No harm, no foul, no doubt I would do the same.

  • Gina

    I got an invisible dog on an invisible leash for Valentine’s Day.

  • for what it’s worth, I’m South African and LOVE Moyo, at zoo lake in Johannesburg. It’s a great escape to feel like a tourist in your own city, well that and face paint makes my eyes pop.

  • Kamie

    Well, I have to admit I got cornrows put in while I was in Mexico. I looked absolutely ridiculous but I could NOT take my hair and the humidity ANYMORE! Recently I (also) went to Africa (Ghana) and learned to embrace my new curls thanks to the humidity…

  • I’m writing this from a cruise ship moored off the leeward (i.e. the drier side) of The Big Island of Hawaii. I’ll cop to the refrigerator magnet, but I draw the line at bobblehead hula dancers.

  • Alexandra Shiels

    I heart this so much. I knew I was in for a treat when a) FACE PAINT and FOOD? YES and b) I found out you share my deep dislike of white women in dreads….Let’s face it ladies, most of us are never good look as good as Lisa Bonet in them. I’m biracial and even I can barely pull it off (not that I really try to these days).

  • Cat

    I was just in the Dominican and people were doing braids. Drives me crazy I can’t stand it. But the face painting is cute 🙂

  • Sometimes you just have to embrace the touristy clichés, they can inspire some great stories!

  • Hey if you don’t indulge when traveling then what’s the point? You could have easily stayed home and watched a travel show on television – Great to see you aren’t taking yourself too seriously and you’re having a blast.

  • The tourist clichés can make for great stories!

  • Fun engagement: food, face painting and company. Travel is sure fun especially when shared. Thanks!

  • Oh man, I totally agree about the love-hate relationship with touristy things. At some point you just need to do it because you want to, and not care. While there are stereotypes about the tourist, there are also stereotypes about the “good traveler” and how to conduct yourself. Sometimes you just want to get your face painted, or go to that themed restaurant. Even if you kinda hate yourself afterwards, it was a good time, and you have a new story to tell. 🙂

  • I know exactly what you mean about the simultaneous attraction and loathing. And as for middle-aged women (that might be me;) getting their hair done in dreadlocks – all I can say is it’s best to get these things out of your system while you’re young 🙂 Looks like fun.

  • HAHHAHAAHHAAAAAAA! Typewriter correction fluid! TOO MUCH!


    I really like Rand’s footprints! very cute.
    Sometimes you just have to have some fun. Isn’t that what vacation is all about?

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