The flight from Sydney to Johannesburg took a loooooong time. First there was a 14 hour leg to Abu Dhabi, UAE, with a 5 hour layover, followed by an 8 hour leg down to Jo’burg. Fortunately for me, I do not sleep well on airplanes, so I never get jet-lagged because I am napping and adjusting the whole ride. Unfortunately, all the weather changes and more than a day on airplanes messed with my immune system which left me with a cold once I landed in South Africa. The cough and congestion that came with the cold drained me and meant the first time round in South Africa was not everything I was hoping for. Also, somebody decided to schedule Easter right in the middle of my trip, so a ton of stuff was closed for the holiday. I still managed to see a few things and meet some people, though. The weather in Jo’burg was way chillier than expected, which did not help my deteriorating condition. Getting to the hostel was no cup of tea either, because maps are hard to come by, even in South Africa. The directions basically told me to get a taxi, but that is not my style, so I tried to do it the hard way. My luck working the way it was, though, figuring it out on my own once I landed was not really an option. The train from the airport got me a little further in to the city, then from there taxi was really the only option. You should have seen the looks I got when I even asked about walking to the area where the hostel was. The hostel itself was nice enough and part of a growing movement by some locals to create a better city. The neighborhood had restaurants, cafes, art galleries, and small bars where artistic- and entrepenuerial-types mingled. On any given day the street was hosting photo shoots or filming of some sorts.
For my part, I tried to keep it simple while I fought off the cold (a losing battle by the way). The first day after arriving I went to the bank to cash a traveler’s check and spent most of the morning there. The mall where the bank was was nice, too, so I grabbed lunch and a waterproof coat in anticipation of the rainy season to come in the places I wanted to visit. At that point, enough of the day had passed that I just headed back to the hostel to catch up on my writing and make plans for the next few days. The apartheid museum was open on the second day I was in town, so I decided to spend the afternoon there. I needed more time to be able to appreciate and deal with all the information at the museum. The people in charge of creating and upholding apartheid were despicable, worthless scum. Realizing that such tactics and doctrine was used against the majority of a nation, or any people for that matter, while the rest of the world stood back was disgusting, finding out how the people who were abused made sure to create equality and reconciliation was inspirational. The thought was also discouraging because the U.S. still has yet to come to terms with so many past atrocities or to sincerely change many of them.
Some people at the hostel asked if I wanted to join them on a tour of Soweto, so the next day we all went to visit the largest slum in South Africa and Nelson Mandela’s house. The others had arranged for a driver to take us to all the places we wanted to see and he was really great about it. We saw the slums and walked through the neighborhood where Mandela’s house is, but could not go inside because it was closed for the holiday. I was more in shock about how gentrified the area around his house has become. Two blocks away in either direction are areas where warnings about safety are given everyday, but cafes, restaurants, and vendors of all things fill street where Mandela lived. Such a strange contrast.
In the evening, a group of us, almost all from the U.S., went out together to get some food, drinks, and have a night out. One guy who worked at the hostel also joined and showed us some more of the local spots worth seeing on a Friday night. For most of the night we were in the Melville suburb of Jo’burg. The food and drinks were good, but then at the club while we were dancing, I hit a wall, figuratively. Remember that cold I was holding off so valiantly? Well, the cold came back with reinforcements and my defenses failed. Even though the others were just getting into the fun, since apparently they needed more drinks to loosen up than I did, I spent the rest of the time trying to drink water and wait for others to share a cab back to the hostel with. We did visit a really local dive with pool tables and a packed club which was fun to watch if nothing else. When some people eventually headed back, I crashed in my bed and that was basically the last thing I did for the rest of my time in Jo’burg. The last full day was spent in and out of sleep and purchasing a bus ticket to Durban before I had to leave very early in the morning the next day.
My time in Durban was not much better either. A couple of days more were spent trying to sleep off the cold. On top of which, Durban did not have a lot to do outside of the beach. The mall was big enough to fill a day’s worth of walking around. The beach was nice enough, but hanging around on the beach is hard to enjoy when you are cough every few minutes. I was able to stay at a rather nice bed and breakfast for the first night in town. I could not completely enjoy the stay since the gap in prosperity between the majority of people and the gated community where the B&B was was so gut-wrenching. How does one relatively small group end up with so much of the wealth and hold it over others? However, the next couple of nights I was able to stay at a hostel, where I met, surprise, more Germans! One couple was in my room and they were kind enough to head let me share a ride down to the beach, Umchlanga Rocks, with them. Over the next few days I had some nice chats with them, but they definitely had a honeymoon aura about them. The others were a couple of women traveling together and a group of three, with two who were students in Cape Town for a semester and a visiting friend. The group of three and I went out together for a nice dinner at a restaurant right off the beach on the last night.
The owner of the hostel had made a real home of the place. We had a large barbecue one night, the hostel had a buggy to transport guests around, we watched movies together, and shared not just amongst the guests but with everyone. I really hope to get back there before I leave.
Nonetheless, I had to head back to Jo’burg to catch a flight. Oh well, I just hope to defeat the cold in time to start the volunteer work in Kenya.