Johannesburg (October 14- 18, 2016)
Need directions? Do yourself the favor and don’t ask! This is the first lesson we learned when we arrived at the Johannesburg bus terminal. All we wanted to know is the bathroom location. The worker in the terminal, who usually puts customer’s luggage on a trolley and pushes the baggage, ended up following us all the way to the toilets, even after multiple attempts to tell him we could figure out the rest on our own and that he should go away. I guess I should be thankful he at least didn’t follow me into the stall. Why would he do this? For money, of course. We didn’t feel inclined to pay though. I got the vibe that all the workers at the station are looking for tip money or aren’t happy to help otherwise. Personally, this made me dislike Joburg (Johannesburg) right from the start.
I thought I was used to public transportation and how to get around in South Africa, but Joburg was on a new level. This city has a high danger level and wandering off is discouraged for safety reasons. Many had warned us to take care of ourselves here. Deciding to be on the safe side, we choose to take a cab instead of a bus. Many locals at the station were asking us where we were going and I knew they would take us there in exchange for money, which I didn’t want. Not being able to find the taxis on our own, we then settled on utilizing a local anyways, who led us quite far away, down the busy street. We were getting concerned for safety and ready to head back to the station, when the cab was finally in sight. The driver quoted a rate to the hostel, double the amount then we had on us. Someone once told us a fair rate prior to arrival, so we only took that amount out of the ATM. The driver didn’t budge on the price until we turned around and walked away. I was happy to be on our way to the hostel.
At the hostel, we booked a bed in an 18-bedroom dorm. That’s the biggest dorm by bed count we’ve ever stayed in. I was worried about crowd control, but luckily there was never more than 1 additional person staying in there. We even had the room to ourselves for one night! That’s the joy of traveling off season. Also, lots of people will spend little extra money to stay in a smaller dorm room, thinking there will be less people, and in the end barely anybody is in the largest dorm and the majority is sharing the small dorm. This happened a few times! So, if you book online where they show how many beds are left, always check the bed count before booking.
From the hostel, we did a few day trips. The first was to the mall. Not particularly fond of shopping or malls, but needed to find a shop to look at my phone since the device broke in Botswana. Need to be able to take pictures for you guys! (I don’t have a camera.) I got a cheap, temporary fix. To get a permanent fix, I would have needed to leave my cell at the shop for a few days and I couldn’t do that. Happy to have been able to snap pictures of my activities in Joburg, eventhough my cell completely broke a few days later, causing me to lose most of my pictures.
An activity we did was to visit the Apartheid Museum. Apartheid is the oppression of nonwhite population through rigid policy of economic and political segregation. It’s shocking to realize that Africans here only got basic rights 25 years ago; no wonder hatred towards white people is so strong (hence the bad safety rating). The museum has many cool displays, but they layout is repetitive, confusing, and harsh on the eyes. Much of the exhibition is reading. I read a couple of facts multiple times through the museum and I got the feeling that the creators couldn’t decide on how to line up the story. The last 2 rooms are better in this regard. Even though improvements can be made, the story is powerful and I would recommend going. I’m distraught to see that humanity still has much ahead to achieve equal rights and how this kind of thing only got kind of sorted few years ago. Effects of inequality are still easy to feel currently. We barely see racial mixing here and I don’t recall seeing people of different color walking together.
After having this eyeopener to reality, we swung into the Indian festival being held next door. Ate some of the food sold at the booths and watched a few performances before heading back to base. I chatted with the cab driver on our way and he told us his perspective of Joburg. Though I knew that white people are frowned upon, but he had a stronger distaste of Africans from other nations. Didn’t know that. As we drove through a neighborhood, the driver mentioned how white people used to live here and that the streets used to be clean and safe. Now there is a mainly black, non-South African population, who brought drugs with them, dirtying up the area and dragging down the safety. I made a point of striking up a conversation with all my drivers and I got some decent information. If I must pay for rides instead of walking due to safety, I might as well get more out of the experience and make them my private tour guide. Try to take Ubers since they will save you money.
I wish we would have taken an Uber instead of a cab for the next destination, the cradle of human kind. It was quite the distance away from the center and the driving cost us more than the activity was worth. We went to check out a cave where many fossils have been dug up. Very informative tour about the cave, but we were hoping to see more fossils and learn about human history, instead of listening how the caves came to existence. I wouldn’t go again mainly because the ride to the place was expensive.
Before we arrived in Joburg, people from here as well as other tourists warned us that there is nothing much to do. And I would agree to that. The best thing to visit is the apartheid museum, but a good documentary should be able to replace that experience. The city becomes quite expensive as well since you shouldn’t go to places on foot. We already purchased our flight out from Joburg to New Zealand and thought to check out the city since we are already here. If you come here, I’d advise to keep the duration short and stay safe.
Cost breakdown of Johannesburg (4 days with total cost of $222.50. Average daily cost is $55.63.)
- Hostel: $54.32 (4 nights which incl. breakfast)
- Transportation: $105.47
- Bus: $21.70 (initial bus to city)
- Taxi: $83.77 ($52 to get to the caves)
- Food: $31.06
- Meals: $15.18 (4 meals)
- Groceries: $14.28
- Snacks: $1.60
- Activities: $18.04
- Apartheid Museum: $5.45
- A Cradle of Human Kind: $12.59
- Miscellaneous: $13.61 (fix my phone)
South Africa Overall
In general, the country has quite a bit to offer, from history, to scenery, to animals, to activities. My favorite experience was riding an ostrich in Oudtshoorn. Not something many people can honestly claim they have done! Also, seeing hundreds of wild penguins in Betty’s Bay, near Cape Town was fascinating.
Something to keep in mind while visiting is safety and cost of transportation. When arriving in a new town, always be sure to ask at the reception about safety, which part is ok to walk and what transportation method is recommended to tourists. I wouldn’t go making assumptions. Researching transportation options, before arriving in South Africa is advised. Getting around here can easily add up in cost. Don’t forget that regular, out-of-city buses don’t usually have a station, except for major cities, and will drop you off by a gas station or a grocery store instead.
Overall, I do think that South Africa is worth to visit since there are so many different things to do. The experience here was rather different compared to South America. People speak English! That’s a plus. You don’t have to worry about language barriers. When you visit, just be sure to have all your ducks in a row before arrival.
Random facts I’ve encountered:
- Most towns don’t usually have a main bus terminal
- Racism issues are still strong
- My favorite candy bars: 5Star and Crunchie
- Traffic lights are called robots