Catching up on my posts as the hostels that I have stayed at in South Africa and Namibia have had unreliable wifi or lacked outlets for British/US plugs. Since I’m only here for a short while, I didn’t purchase an adapter. It was not a problem in Zambia. One place even charged for wifi use, which I didn’t want to pay for as I was only there for one night and the fee is a flat one for one’s entire stay. I miss writing.
Let’s start with Johannesburg, my first stop after Livingstone. Border crossings were a nuisance. In the middle of the freezing night, we had to get off the bus to first go through immigration to leave Zimbabwe (we drove through Zimbabwe as opposed to Botswana to get to South Africa, which means I had to pay USD30 for a visa transiting through Zim) and then to enter South Africa. The South African border crossing was quite strict as all of the luggage had to come off the bus to be inspected. In total, the border crossing probably took an hour. It would be smart to pack a fleece blanket next time as it also gets cold on the bus at night.
South Africa is beautiful. In the early dawn hours, in between my dozing I caught glimpses of lush green rolling hills and low mountains. It was a complete contrast from the arid and flat yellow expanse of Zambia and Zimbabwe. Johannesburg, also known as Joburg or Jozi is a very hilly city. I walked about half an hour to get to a shopping center from my hostel, which was an ok walk. However, the climb back was quite a workout. I could barely make it. There is a large Chinese population in Jozi, as evidenced by the sizable Chinatown near my hostel and huge Chinese all-purpose shopping centers exactly like the kind that I have seen in Beijing. Unfortunately, the roast duck rice in Chinatown was completely atrocious; I golfed it down as I was starving after not having eaten for a day on the bus, but I still felt nauseated by the cold and foul tasting duck and rice that had been sitting for probably a while.
The hostel itself was quite neat as it is an old mafia mansion and sat high atop a hill, with great views of the city. The next day, I took a city sighting tour on one of those red double-decker buses. I opted to take it as it was the most economical way to get around the sprawling city and the Apartheid Museum, the main point of interest that I wanted to see, was one of the stops. The bus had a nice audio tour giving an overview of the historical interests of each area as we passed by, but the feeling is almost like the safari experience that I had in Botswana. It’s as if we are touring through a national park and the local people are the animals that we are kept a distance from on the high and conspicuous red bus. Probably I’m overthinking it, but it felt quite wrong, though it was efficient. Therefore, I plan to not take one of these tours in the future unless there really are no other viable options.
The Apartheid Museum was really informative and well organized. I like this kind of smaller scale museums with a clearly mapped out route to follow so that I could really get a sense of the chronology of events. Something that I learned is the significant population of slaves from Southeast Asia that the Dutch had brought with them to South Africa. I am still not 100% clear, but I believe they and Indians form the group called “coloureds”. Many Chinese also arrived as economic immigrants. I always imagined Apartheid to about blacks and whites only, thus it was enlightening to learn about the fates of other racial groups in South Africa.
Another interesting aspect of my Jozi experience involved taking minibuses. I had only taken them once previously with my Ghanaian friend in Lusaka. I had no idea what was going on and merely followed his lead. In Jozi, I asked the hostel reception about how to take the minibus as a trip by minibus into the city is R10, while by taxi it is R120. Luckily, the hostel is located barely a block from a minibus route into the city. I went to the corner that I was instructed to go to and put up my right index finger hesitantly. It felt like such an odd gesture to the newbie. Barely 30 seconds passed before a minibus swerved in front of me and pulled over a few feet ahead. I ran towards it and hopped on, telling the driver that I wanted to get to the Park Station. He appeared to nod in understanding and I took a seat on the unpacked minibus. By the time we were heading out of the suburbs several minutes later, the bus was packed and everyone got out their R10 to pass towards the front to the bus driver. It’s quite an orderly system, actually. The problem is that the routes are not posted, and people just verbally tell the driver when they want to get off. I believe they say something to the effect of “at this roadblock”. Roadblock is term they like to use in South Africa and Namibia. Anyway, after we circle through the city for a bit, everyone is off and I am the sole passenger left. Finally, I ask the driver if he is heading towards Park Station and he told me that I should have gotten off a bit ago. He was extremely nice though and circled back to take me there. Jozi has a bad rep, but if you meet the right people, Joburgers, though not outwardly warm, are actually very nice and helpful. I had a good experience with people in Jozi. My second minibus experience was similarly pleasant. I think taxi drivers appeared more cunning. In general, my experience is that it’s generally safe and pleasant when one utilizes services and goes to areas intended for locals.