Second stop: Johannesburg

Johannesburg Travel Blog

 › entry 5 of 21 › view all entries
Round fields!?

I woke up at around 7 AM local time, had slept about 5 hours on my comfy double seat. The sun had risen already and I looked out of the windows, trying to make some spots out. The landmass underneath me was Africa…Africa. Finally. It didn’t look all that strange or dried out or whatever comes to mind. It looked pretty much like a lot of places look from the air: some green, some brown, and not many settlements. I crossed Tanzania and Mozambique before we entered South African airspace.


When we approached Johannesburg, two things sprang into view: farmers seem to have a hang for having and maintaining round fields. Very strange! Some looked like pacmans. I have not been able to assess why exactly it is that they are doing that…never saw it anywhere else before.


The second thing was power plants. Power plant after power plant was passed. Most of them must have been in visible reach to each other. I counted no less than 8 power plants, all equipped with 6 cooling towers, so they must have been pretty big plants. It was a palpable sign of what I had read before: South Africa is booming and its hunger for energy is enormous. I later learned that it also supplies other Southern African countries with power but that is seems not to be able to keep up its contractual obligations to deliver energy because it needs so much for itself.


While descending to Oliver Tambo International Airport, the settlements became more visible and it was clear that many streets seemed not to be plastered at all. The settlements looked alright, some shaped in round forms. I was excited, but I was also a bit scared. I am not a regular taxi user so the thought of having to rely on a taxi driver that I don’t know at all in a city which has quite a reputation for crime made me not feel that comfortable.


Immigration into South Aftica was easy and quick. My backpack arrived among the first pieces of luggage, so I unpacked it from its bag and went through customs, which was also easy, they did not even take my customs declaration form.


I then went straight to the tourist information counter and asked for assistance in finding a suitable cab. The man behind the counter pointed to a fellow in his late 30ies with whom he was talking and there we were. I asked him for the price to get me to the International Bus Terminal, he said 200 Rand (which is approx. 16 euros) and since this price was in the reasonable level that I had inquired before I agreed. I got some money at an ATM (thank God for my free withdrawal worldwide Visa card) and followed the guy to the mini-bus he was driving.


The ride was really nice, we talked easily and Jeff, that’s his name, complained about his divorce once he got to know I am a lawyer…I had to laugh because of my own situation and so we complained a bit to each other about women in general and in particular. ;) We then talked about Johannesburg and he persuaded me that it is not as bad as I always thought it is. The city has been filled with policemen and private security men are to be seen at every second street corner. Jeff explained that certainly there are areas in Jo’burg that you don’t go to, but apart from that it’s ok. We had the doors unlocked and the windows down while driving to the station. I never felt unsafe.


The city looks (architecturally) like an American city stuck in the 1970ies. If you watch American series from that time on television you get an impression what I mean: lots of concrete. It is all quite a bit more run down, but apart from that I really felt like in an area that looked familiar. I witnessed three remarkable things: First, I noticed that all traffic lights were switched off. Jeff explained that the quarters of the city take turns in being shut off from power because of the power shortage, despite the amount of power plants. Second, we passed an accident involving a pedestrian having tried to cross the street and being hit frontally by a car, visible by the cars indentured front window. One of all too many of these accidents in African cities. And third, we got stuck behind a demonstration rally. About 300 to 400 blacks were protesting against something (Jeff wasn’t able to guess) marching to municipal buildings. It was incredibly moving to see these protestors being guarded by white and black policemen, voicing their discontent at something. Just to imagine what could have/would have happened to them 30 years ago was very touching.


Jeff dropped me off safely at the bus terminal at 11:15 AM, gave me some tips to avoid being bugged, and told me about the tours of SOWETO, the south western part of Johannesburg, which he organizes. He brings people to this vibrant quarter, showing the house of Nelson Mandela there, eating at a local shop and then visit the Apartheid museum there. I am really considering doing it when I return for my return flight. I have his cell phone number…

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Round fields!?
Round fields!?