Why South Africa?
Christmas eve 2014 was pretty much like any other day. Like always, I checked Facebook before heading off to bed. As I was strolling down my timeline I saw several people talking about insanely cheap flights to the United Arab Emirates and South Africa. It really seemed too good to be true that people were finding flights from NYC to Johannesburg for less than $400 round trip. It had been a long day so I fell asleep still thinking about if what I saw on Facebook was real or was it some cruel joke. I awoke on Christmas morning and everyone on Facebook was still talking about how these low prices to South Africa, UAE, and a few other international locales will not last. So I immediately started calling friends and family that I thought would be interested too. I had already booked my ticket at this point so now I was just trying to spread the word. I called my new friend Danielle and convinced her to book the flight to South Africa. It took her some time because the price would go up and down depending on the dates but luckily she managed to find similar dates to mine and we had officially booked flights from NYC to Johannesburg for 375$ per person. It took some time to get over the shock of having booked the best flight deal ever. A flight to South Africa was definitely one of the best Christmas gifts ever.
The journey to Johannesburg was definitely long but well worth every minute. The first leg of the trip was from NYC to Abu Dhabi, flight time of 12.5 hours. After arriving in Abu Dhabi, I had a 14hour layover before my 9:00am flight to Johannesburg the next day. Since I arrived in Abu Dhabi at night, there wasn’t much time to explore. I stayed at the Premier Inn hotel which is the epitome of convenience because it’s connected to the airport. However, I did manage to visit the Sheikh Zayed Mosque. You can see the well-lit mosque from the freeway. Women have to put on an abiya before entering the mosque, which are readily available for use. The first word that comes to mind when I think about the mosque is captivating. The mosque is truly a sight to behold that will leave you speechless. After leaving the mosque, I headed back to the hotel to try and get some sleep before my flight the next morning. The flight from Abu Dhabi to Johannesburg took 8 hours, so it took a total of 20.5 hours to arrive in Johannesburg, South Africa.
One thing that I’ve learned in my travels is that 9 times out of 10, you WILL get taken advantage of by a taxi driver at least once. I was told ahead of time, how much an uber should cost from the airport so I initially avoided taxi drivers at all costs. The only one problem with getting uber is the fact I did not have a South African sim card and the airport only provided free WiFi for 30 minutes. So as I was waiting for an uber outside, the WiFi signal kept going out. This was frustrating because at this point, I just wanted to get to my place and relax. So after 45 minutes of trying to get an uber unsuccessfully, I relented and got a taxi. Prior, to getting in the taxi, the driver and I had already negotiated a price. Of course, the price was more than it was supposed to have cost but at this point, I was beyond exhausted so it didn’t really matter.
My airbnb was located in Maboneng ( translation-place of light) which is an urban neighborhood located on the east side of Johannesburg. It a privately owned precinct that has security surrounding the area. On my first night, I was warned not to stray outside the precinct as theft is very common in certain parts of the city.
I thoroughly enjoyed the Rhino and Lion park. Due to the short length of my trip, I didn’t have time for a safari so for me, this was the next best thing. The park is located an hour outside of the city so you will need to take a taxi or an uber, we took an uber who was basically our driver for the day. You will definitely need at least 2 hours to explore the park. When you arrive at the park, you’re immediately greeted by giraffes at the Neck and Deck cafe. Here you can feed the giraffes or just snap pics. It was the closest I had ever been to a giraffe so I had no complaints. Zoos are cool but being up close and personal with a giraffe is 100x better. The cost of admission is about 10$ per person and it’s an additional 2$ to enter the enclosure with the Leopard.
Soweto literally means South Western Township, is located in the Gauteng district of Johannesburg. Soweto is crucial to South African history because it is the place of the 1976 uprising, where mass protests erupted over the Government’s decision to conduct all education in Afrikaans instead of English. My friends and I took a four-hour bike tour which really gave us the opportunity to really explore Soweto. Although Soweto is not a huge township, the differences between certain areas were quite striking. The first part of the tour we rode to the part of Soweto that is obviously the poorest. Trash is strewn on the ground, the roads are unpaved and there are three bathrooms that are shared between many of the residents. Another part of Soweto, not far from Winnie Mandela’s home, is considered the Beverly Hills of Soweto. The houses look like homes you would see anywhere else. It feels like you could be in suburbia almost anywhere in the U.S.
The Apartheid was a period of racial segregation in place from 1948-1994. People were classified as Black, White, Coloured, and Indian. Coloured refers to individuals that are mixed race. Upon entrance to the museum, your race is randomly assigned which allows you to use the entrance for whites or non-whites. Heavy is the first word that comes to mind when I think about the Apartheid museum. The museum itself is filled with artifacts, videos, and pictures which depict the ugly history of the Apartheid era in South Africa. At times, I felt a myriad of emotions ranging from anger to sadness reading about the atrocities that happened to many Black South Africans as well as other ethnic groups. I definitely left with a much more complete understanding and knowledge of South African history.
The Nelson Mandela House is national museum located in Soweto where Mandela lived from 1946-1962. We didn’t have much time to explore the museum but it was nice to see where Mandela lived at one point in his life.
Hector Pieterson Museum
Hector Pieterson is the youngest person killed as result of the 1976 Soweto uprising. He was only 12 years old. The museum is dedicated to the preservation of all who participated in the 1976 uprising.
Held every Saturday, this is the place to be and to be seen. There is an eclectic group of people who come to the market to listen to live music and enjoy many of the countless delicacies which are served. Food is served on the first floor of the market and on the second floor is the bar along with vendors of clothing, jewelry, and art.
This is a cute shop located in the Maboneng precinct. This is where you can find something truly unique with an ethnic flare. The prints are bold and beautiful and the prices are reasonable. I bought a really cute dress that I can’t wait to wear.
*all restaurants located in Maboneng unless otherwise stated.
A bustling restaurant which offers African Fare. Popular with the locals and foreigners alike. Reasonably priced restaurant that will satisfy whatever you crave.
Argentinean restaurant, located across the street from Curiosity Backpacker’s hostel. Definitely, a meat-lovers dream. The empanadas are also quite tasty.
Mexican food was not what I was expecting to have while in South Africa but I was pleasantly surprised. I enjoyed the chicken nachos as well as the Strawberry Margarita. Everything on the menu is super cheap so it’ s hard not to indulge.
Jewish inspired cafe that serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. I ate here for breakfast and was so happy that I did. I had the Israeli breakfast which came with an omelet, pita bread, small salad, and humus. While dining here, my friend and I met Kali, a local, who showed us around to another side of Jo’burg. Meeting the locals is always something I desire when traveling but sometimes it’s not always possible.
The Living Room
Come for the view, stay for the ambiance. The Living Room is a rooftop lounge located on the 5th Floor of the Main Change building in Maboneng. Small eats are available as well as a full bar. The cocktail menu is quite extensive so there’s truly something for everyone. It can get cool in the evenings so bring a light sweater or jacket just in case.