Before I start describing my adventures, I need to give a huge shout to my hosts in Johannesburg. I am staying with the most beautiful family in South Africa, the Chandler family. Mark and Wendy, along with their daughters Laura and Melissa have been so very gracious to me as I get my feet under me.
Sunday we started the day at church. The Chandlers attend a very warm Anglican Church near their home. I enjoyed the service. We then went to a large park/gardens area in the mountains outside of joburg. This was probably the best Sunday afternoon ever. We had a picnic, dozed off for a bit while listening to a South African choir. We walked through the gardens (South Africa is known for its huge variety of beautiful flowers) up to the base of a waterfall, then up the mountain to the top of the fall where we caught a glimpse of the black eagle. We returned to listen to the choir a bit longer then headed home for dinner and Pictionary.
Today was my first day wandering, but with some purpose. I had to get a phone and and try to learn about getting around Joburg. It must be one the least tourist friendly cities in the world. The only way to find out how to get somewhere is to ask each time, there are no printed materials for any buses or trains.
So anyway, I started at a bus station at which I was told different things by many people of how to get in to town. Eventually, I was pointed towards a larger street to catch a bus or a public taxi. Public taxis are VW bus-like vans that fit about 15 people. They have regular routes like a bus and can be hailed like a taxi, different hand signals are used to let taxi drivers know where you want to go, so they will stop and pick you up if your signal matches their route. The buses are like anywhere else, but again, you have to know what bus to take, the only way to really get information about a bus is to ask someone.
At the main road there was a joburg tourist info center. I was very excited to see this, but all I got from it was a placemat map of the Central Business District. I decided to walk down the road a bit before catching a public taxi. When I was ready to try for a taxi, a man in a small truck hailed me, cut off a couple cars and picked me up. His name is Walter, he is a messenger, he noticed when he drove up the road, and was perplexed as to why I was still walking when he was coming back towards town. We had a nice chat, he is very excited about Bafana Bafana, as am I. While we were at a red light, a policeman approached us to inquire why Walter had stopped at the red light. As Walter began to answer “because it was red”, the policeman interrupted with another line of questions to figure out why a white man was in the car with a black man. It was very nice, it felt just like home. My first stop was park station, the main train station, to learn about how the trains run. Walter insisted he drop me right in front of the main entrance “to make the best impression for his country.” Thanks Walter.
At park station, I hoped to get schedules and maps of trains. This failed. They do not have such things to give out. I got my cell phone activated along with a couple other tasks, then went to Wimpy’s for a late breakfast. Wimpy’s is a South African fast food spot with a pretty extensive menu, perhaps in the Denny’s/kings/EatnPark genre with a bit quicker service. I tried to ask my waiter what he likes to eat/recommends. He didn’t understand so I clarified, “What would you get if you were ordering.” Still perplexed, he pointed to one of the more expensive meals on the menu, I told him I’d have that, and he put in the order. He returned a moment later to clarify that I was buying him breakfast as well...he thought I was literally asking him what he wanted. So my cost of breakfast quickly doubled, but I made a new friend. He asked if he could keep the receipt, I guess as a keepsake.
I left Park Station to walk around a bit. There were street vendors surrounding the area. I was excited to find jerseys being sold for about $20. I ended up buying 4, two for other people, I felt pleased with my restraint.
My next mission was to stop at the bus information center in Ghandi square, fairly close to park station. I spoke with a couple people along the way. I asked for a map at the bus station, the man said he was going to pick some up right then, and he’d be back in about an hour. I wandered for an hour, in the end he only had World Cup maps that showed only how to get to and from the stadiums. I at least got a timetable and the intersection to wait at for my bus to return home.
I then wandered up towards a close by area called Newtown, I will have to tell you about it later because I got distracted by the South African Breweries (SAB) Museum. I went through the hour and half tour of the history beer worldwide then South Africa, then how beer is made. It was a bit overdone at times, but well worth it as we got a sample, the glass we drank the sample from, then two full glasses at the end, all included in the tour cost of $4. I shared the drinks at the end with a couple Australian lads here to support the socceroos and their tour guide. As we were debating the strengths and weaknesses of different teams, the chariots of fire theme song came on. It’s hard to explain, but it was a bit of an emotional moment for me.
It was now time to return home. I found the proper intersection after a couple more small distractions, then stood at the wrong corner at that intersection a couple times before eventually getting on my bus. The day ended well with another lovely meal with the Chandlers and an evening game of Outburst.