Sunday market in Johannesburg and heading out to safari in Sabi Sands and Kruger National Park
14.12.2014 - 18.12.2014
After two red-eye flights, we were glad to arrive on a warm and sunny December morning in Johannesburg. Despite its reputation as a violent, crime-ridden city, I had decided to book a ‘backpackers’ (aka hostel) in the up-and-coming district of Maboneng - ‘Place of Light' - to the east of the central business district. The area turned out to be more ‘coming’ than ‘up.’ Maybe it’ll be up & coming 10 years from now. But definitely not yet.
Sunday, it turned out, was the best day to be in Maboneng. The vibrant Market on Main, with its art galleries and food stalls, could have been in Hackney or Bushwick.
After munching on a filling Durban bunny chow, a local dish consisting of curry served in a hollowed out loaf of bread, the lethargy kicked in after two sleepless nights and we headed straight for the Ethiopian coffee stall. It was while we were guzzling stupidly strong - yet well needed - coffee that we met a young South African guy named Ashley and ended up chatting with him for a while. We ended up exchanging numbers and arranged to meet him later that night for dinner at a popular nearby restaurant, Pata Pata.
Ashley met us at Pata Pata for some al fresco dining. After a fun dinner, he suggested we continue the party back at his place so we could try a bottle of his favourite South African wine. Heading to a stranger’s house in an industrial part of Johannesburg? We didn’t think twice about it. We walked through the eerie, empty streets that had been throbbing with people just a few hours earlier. It was only about 10pm at this point, yet every shop, house, and restaurant was boarded off with metal bars and felt entirely deserted. As we passed one building, we heard loud rap music coming from its garage. Marina asked if it was a new underground bar that had opened up. Ashley explained that it was “hijackers haven” where highjackers brought stolen cars to take them apart. How much further is your apartment, again?
When we finally arrived at Ashley’s building, I’ll be honest, I was a little perplexed when it came to the entrance. The industrial-looking, high-rise featured a wrought iron turnstile akin to a one normally reserved for entrance into a large sports stadium. We entered the building by passing a fingerprint scanner and then entered what appeared to be a bullet-proof middle area, which served as the neutral zone between the entry and exit points. Heading by lift to the 8th floor, we entered the apartment and met Ashley’s partner. Ashley immediately ushered us onto the couch, poured us two large glasses of wine and dead-bolted the steel door with four massive deadbolts, all in one fell swoop. It seemed we stumbled on a bit of an adventure in a city that averages two murders an hour and almost 20,000 burglaries a year.
A trip to South Africa wouldn’t be complete without a safari experience. I must admit that I’m not the world’s greatest animal lover. I certainly had my reservations about choosing a holiday where we would be woken up at 5am only to be driven on bumpy roads to see a load of animals at sunrise. Sometimes, however, you’ve got to admit that you were wrong.
We spent 2 days getting pampered in a private lodge in Sabi Sands, a private gaming reserve teeming with wildlife, which borders the famous Kruger National Park. Our private hut included an outdoor shower and had a zebra theme throughout. Staying at the lodge, we saw the Big Five (lion, elephant, buffalo, leopard, and rhinoceros) game animals in no time at all, as well as a plethora of other animals including the rarer-to-spot highly-vicious wild dogs.
For our third and final night, we stayed at rest camp, Lower Sabie, deep into Kruger National Park on its southern tip. If we thought the drive through the park in our hired car past all the wild animals was fantastic, we weren’t prepared for our afternoon safari drive at Lower Sabie Rest Camp. We took in all the bog standard activities. Before our very eyes, we watched a leopard sleeping in a tree, giraffes eating from tall branches and watched crocodiles slide with menace into the river.
As darkness took over, we were driving along the road when we spotted a fully grown male lion sitting in the middle of the road, trying to catch a bit of the heat which was absorbed by the tarmac from the day’s sun. The lion was so close you could almost reach out and stroke him. He didn’t seem bothered at our presence and sat stationary for a few minutes. Eventually he rose to his feet, shook his mane, and yawned so widely that he showed off all his teeth. Now we understood why he wasn’t bothered with us. Mr. Lion padded off into the bush and started calling his buddy. And I thought I wouldn’t be that impressed with a safari.