The much anticipated blogpost about my 2 week trip to South Africa, Belgium and the Netherlands is finally here. It took longer than was necessary because my photos kept crashing while I was editing (if anyone knows a fix for this please let me know). Anyway excuses aside here is part 1 of the trip.
Destination: Johannesburg, South Africa
Currency: South African Rand
Languages Most Spoken: English, Zulu and Afrikaans
Thanks to a glitch fare earlier in the year, I along with two friends, Alana and Lawron were able to secure a flight to South Africa over thanksgiving week for about $400, with a retuning trip to Brussels. We then booked one way tickets from various destinations back to the US. Since we got a flight deal our journey wasn’t the most direct, and we had a 13 hour layover in Doha, but eventually made it to Johannesburg about 35 hours after I left Houston (Thanks to my Chase Sapphire Reserve Credit Card I had access to airport lounges all over the world so we were able to make use of this during our long layovers). This is where all the fun and adventure began.
Upon arrival in Joburg (as it’s commonly referred to) we got our bags, cleared customs and were able to secure an uber to the location of our Air B n B without any issues. We stayed in the Maboneng district of Joburg which according to recommendations from other travelers was an artsy, trendy, & vibrant part of central Joburg. Imagine our surprise driving up to the location, and legit feeling like we were in the hood, hahahaha. Then our uber driver pretty much scared us with warnings of being very mindful of our surroundings, not asking any strangers for directions, and being extra vigilant since the part of town was sketchy to say the least. With fear in our hearts, we decided to settle for dinner and met up with an acquaintance in Melrose Arch, a more upscale part of town (kind of like a Rice Village or City Centre area for those in the Houston area). We went to a restaurant called Moyo which was African themed with a lot of unique art pieces, colors and featured dishes from numerous African countries. We got our face painted, got a couple of drinks and tried some Mopane Worms. Our Uber driver from earlier in the day had told us about the local delicacy so we figured we might as well try them out. It took a few attempts and some will power to eat them buy thankfully they were not bad. We even persuaded our host to try them, who even though is South African had never tried them. It was crunchy, chewy and some parts were grainy, but overall, a lot better than I expected.
We only had one full day in Joburg and decided to do a full day tour with Curiocity Backpackers which included a tour of Kliptown in the Soweto District, Hector Pieterson Museum, Vilakazi Street and the Apartheid Museum. It was an amazing immersion experience and honestly the best way we could have spent our day in the city. The tour guide Tshepo (forgive me if misspelled his name) was super energetic, friendly and honestly had a good vibe. We visited Kliptown where we did a walking tour through the township with another group of energetic guides and a little entourage of kids, they were too young to start school and basically played around the township, they had such big personalities. The Soweto ‘South Western Townships’ district became a settlement for the native African workers who were forced out of their homes and not permitted to live in Johannesburg during the gold rush era. The tour guides, who were also born and raised in Kliptown shared the history, how people live and honestly despite being in a ‘slum’ this was the one place where I did not feel unsafe. It was a humbling experience hearing about the history and what the people have been through and are still going through. Still in Kliptown we visited the little Rose Centre a community project that started out as a playgroup for pre-school children in the township which through the commitment of the community and the generosity of sponsors and volunteers has since grown into a fully donation/ volunteer funded community center for Kliptown. The center offers various programs including preschool, shelter for orphaned and vulnerable kids, soup kitchen, vegetable gardening, reading program at their library, computer skills lab, after care center, amongst others. We spent a bit of time hanging out with the kids and just enjoying their company, excitement and appreciating the work being done there, it was truly inspiring.
Next stop on our tour was the Hector Pieterson Museum, and for those like me who did not know, Hector was a 12 year old student who was killed on June 16 during the 1976 student uprising in Soweto. What started as a peaceful protest against grievances of high school students, center of which was the introduction of Afrikaans as the medium on instruction in all South African schools, quickly turned tragic. Afrikaans was regarded as the language of the minority oppressors who implemented apartheid and now students were forced to not only learn their course work but learn in a new language they neither spoke nor understood. It is Estimated that over 20,000 students took part in the protests and tragically about 700 students were killed (there are memorial stones at the museum with names of some of those students). Hector became the image of the Uprising in apartheid South Africa when a photograph of a dying hector being carried by another student alongside his sister was published around the world. Reading accounts of survivors, witnesses, activists, and the history captured there was emotional, sobering and honestly had me deep in my feelings.
We then walked a block over to Vilakazi Street famous for being the only street in the world to have housed 2 Nobel Prize winners, Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Mandela’s house became a museum but we did not go in as we had another stop at the Apartheid museum while Tutu’s house is still inhabited by the family. We stopped at a local beer place where our guide explained that back in the day alcohol was restricted and so the local women started to make their own home brew. Said home was super fermented and had a strong smell, so as expected I had to try it out, lol it wasn’t bad but would not be anything I would spend my actual money on.
Final stop was the apartheid museum, and if I thought the Pieterson Museum was sobering, the Apartheid Museum was heartbreaking, sad, and honestly had me in tears. There was not a single dry eye in the room by the time we finished walking through the museum. It was an enlightening but emotionally overwhelming experience. I think more the reality of just how recent in history this was, and the pain and the suffering the people of South Africa had endured sufficiently left us spent. Seeing how many lives were and still are impacted by the apartheid period, which was very evident in the city, was explained in the best way possible by the Museum, I highly recommend a visit to anyone visiting Johannesburg. We wanted to do a Safari tour to Pilanesburg National Park but there wasn’t enough time so we ended up getting dinner at a local restaurant close to the apartment. (Pictures were not allowed in the Museum)
Other Pictures from various locations around the city
We ended up briefly chatting with the owner of CurioCity Backpackers
Stay tuned for Part 2 where we visit Cape Town, South Africa.