Every person who got to know that my trip included the destination of Johannesburg had only one question in mind-“Why Johannesburg?” And I persevered through with the same answer every time-“Why Not?” Johannesburg is renowned for its ‘reputation’ of being one of the
most dangerous cities in the world. Many people tried to shake me up by their tales of horror about how their friends got mugged in the city and this and that. But I had one simple thought in mind-if one is smart and careful enough, nothing would go wrong and as far as the crime rates are concerned, walking in any odd street of any major city anywhere in the world would be mostly result in equally horrific tales. My trip till then had been so adventurous and full of ups and downs that I had no time to think about anything else. It was finally time to put my head down and enjoy some time chilling out in the city of gold. I was also incredibly lucky to have a superb host waiting for me in the city.
Before I move on, I would like the readers to understand the geography of the area. South Africa is divided into nine provinces. Gauteng (meaning ‘gold city’) is the smallest of the nine provinces but includes the largest city of South Africa i.e. Johannesburg. Just like Johannesburg, there are other cities within the province such as Pretoria, Ekurhuleni, etc. To connect the cities within the province, a brand new train link called the ‘Gautrain’ has been launched. Fast, safe but a little expensive from the local’s point of view, the Gautrain is super efficient and has made a tremendous upgrade in the transportation facilities. The last train operates till about 8:30 pm which is quite an early closing but that’s just the way it is. My host Isabella lived in Pretoria and guided me to take the Gautrain from the station to Pretoria which was about 40 miles from there and cost me 170 Rand (9£).
I tried not to let other’s opinion of the city take over my head as it would mess up my mind and make it difficult for me to enjoy the city. As I reached Pretoria, I found Bella waiting for me and within minutes we were on the road on the way to the place she wanted to visit for the evening. She had informed me about the plan earlier over the phone and I had agreed to join her. After a half an hour drive outside the city, we reached an offbeat place called ‘Klitgrass’ (Drumming Circle). The place was an open air hangout place. It was the sort of place one falls in love with no matter what kind of a person you are. It seemed to be a hidden spot known only by the locals for I couldn’t see any other tourists there. A truly hippie place, the people were smoking, drinking, hanging out and the best part of it all was the drumming circle (as the name suggests!) There was a huge area with a bon fire at the centre, hundreds of people were sitting around it and playing African drums. They weren’t professional musicians, it was just the rhythm which had to be taken forward and anyone could borrow a drum for as less as 40 Rand (2£) and join the rhythm. If a person wanted to take a break from the drumming, there was a live rock band open for all performing right next to the drummers. We stayed there till 2 AM and enjoyed dancing, drumming while lot of fire artists played with the fire. On my way back to Bella’s place, I wished that I could show all those who warned from visiting Johannesburg how this city knew how to party and all you had to do was know the right people and visit the right places. What an epic welcome to Johannesburg I had received!
I spent two days in the city and met a couple of more locals and Kay was one of them. I met Kay the next morning as Bella had some work and couldn’t join me. I had done my research and knew few things which I wanted to see in the city. Kay was a local and was kind enough to show me around the city. One place I would highly recommend visiting is the Apartheid Museum which showcases the freedom struggle in SA. I had no prior information about SA history other than the little bits and pieces that I had learned at Robinson Island in Cape Town. I visited the museum because I wanted to see the famous Nelson Mandela Memorial. We also visited a tower called the Top of the Africa; it’s just a building from the top of which, one can see all the four sides of the city exceedingly clearly. One of the main things on my list was the Gandhi Square for obvious reasons. I wanted to see the statue of Mahatma Gandhi in Johannesburg. A walking distance from the Top of the Africa led us to the Gandhi Square where the statue of Mahatma Gandhi from his days in SA was located. There was nothing fancy about the place. It was as ordinary a square as any but I just had to take a picture of myself with Mr. Gandhi in Jo’burg. We drove through the Nelson Mandela Bridge onto the other side of the city as Kay had offered to show me her university. I wanted to see the university since I had read about the ongoing protests happening at the university about racism. Kay told me all the stories about the places and about what had happened there. The evidence of multiple protests was clearly visible on the walls of university in the form of vivid graffitis.
The day was very productive and I covered almost everything which I had wanted to see along with some extra places as well. It was time for me to experiment with the night life of the city so Kay and I went to a place called SAB (South African Breweries) which was a beer museum. Yes, a museum full of beer and I knew that I just had to go there so we did. We couldn’t take the tour because it was organized on a timely basis but we had the chance to taste some authentic South African beer fresh from the brewery. The second stop of my night pub crawling was a roof top bar called ‘The Living Room’. It was an exceptionally cool and trendy place but was quite over crowded because of it being the weekend and more importantly, valentine’s evening. We managed to get a seat and had a few drinks there but it was really hard to talk so we left for our third bar of the night, a cocktail bar called ‘Lenin’s Vodka Bar’. The drinks were particularly affordable and it was the perfect place to have a quality time along with light music playing in the background. We sat down and talked about a lot of things right from travelling to a lot of other random things. It was about midnight when we finally left and I had missed all my chances to get a public transport back to Pretoria so the only option I had was to book an Uber which would cost me a fortune. So there came my superwoman host Bella to my rescue. She drove all the way from Pretoria to Johannesburg in the middle of night to pick me up and I can’t express how I was completely blown away by her kindness. For my second day in the city, Bella said that she would join me to some of the places which I was yet to see. It was Valentine’s Day the next day and also my last day in South Africa. It had to be perfect. I will be writing about my last day in South Africa in my next post so keep following the Wanderer. There is still a lot for you to see through my memories. You can find full photo album of Johannesburg here.