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Sunday, 01 September 2013

Johannesburg: More than Meets the Eye - Page 2

Written by Isabel Buettner
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But the Gautrain will not get you to all the sights in Jo’burg. However, you can try the Hop-on, Hop-off City Sightseeing Red Bus; same thing as the open top city tour bus in London. As mentioned, I have my driver but a couple at my B&B used it and they were really impressed. You can buy a day pass between R120-150 depending on season and if you buy the tickets online you get a bigger discount. Now all you need to do is make your way to the first stop somehow. 


There is also the Rea Vaya Bus system. It calls itself Johannesburg’s fast, safe and affordable rapid bus system. I have seen stations across town going all the way out to the suburbs and even up to Soweto but most of them were not in use. It would be an ideal transport system and it annoyed me to see stations ready to be used but closed off for no apparent reason. This may have improved since my visit but during my two weeks I have only ever seen one bus and that was in the middle of the city. I hope they can fix that as it would really improve transport and would make Jo’burg more attractive to tourists.


The only other option is to use the city’s infamous mini buses. You can find these mini vans everywhere and in every condition imaginable; some look they could fall apart at any moment. Guide books recommend not to uses them because of health and safety issues. I think if you have to and during the day, you should be fine. I wouldn’t get into one on my own at night though. Safety isn’t your only problem when using the mini bus, but knowing where they are going to and how to tell the driver where you want to get off. They don’t bear signs of any kind. People simply stand along the road and wave them down. I found out later that there are particular hand signs that indicate where you want to go and if a bus heads that direction it will stop. You’ll also need to tell the driver somehow when to stop, again by hand sign. Don’t expect the driver to speak English. This is a country were at least 11 languages are spoken everything from Zulu, Xhosa, Tswana to Afrikaans. English is only the fourth most common language spoken. People using the mini busses are mainly non-whites, some are immigrants and/ or from the poorer townships. Hand signs do make sense to break the language barrier. Don’t worry everywhere else in the Gauteng region you’ll get by well with English.


“Welcome to laser land”, I’m greeted at the airport. I am an hour late due to the long queue at immigration and I am grateful for the hug, smile and the bottle of water. I have to say heads up to the immigration officers. Clearly understaffed they kept calm and cool and were probably the most welcoming I have met in all my travels. Despite tourists loosing their nerve in the heat and long wait. 


I am too early to check-in to my guesthouse so we are heading for a welcome brunch to JJ’s parents house where I am introduced to my first SA specialities; Pap and biltong (dried meat such as bulls tongue, venison or antelope). Pap is made of maize and has the consistency of polenta except it’s white. I think it’s more considered porridge after all pap is the dutch word for porridge. But I don’t think it is anything like porridge not in the English sense anyhow. People eat it like rice with their meals although you can sweeten it and make it into pudding just like rice pudding. I liked it. Not so much the biltong which is more like eating salty leather but at least I tried it as I do with all new things on holiday. 


In general South African food is a real melting pot if influences: Dutch, German, English, Indian and indigenous all come together. I don’t know if there is a single traditional South African dish as such. But one thing is for sure South African’s like their meat. If you are a vegetarian or vegan then you may have difficulties finding a decent restaurant. I don’t mind meat but after a while I was craving salad. You tend to get good value for money and the portion sizes are more than generous. For some reason people think you may have been starving for weeks in the desert so the plates are really large. I personally think it’s based on a cultural thing and the belief that guests need to be proper welcomed. A lot of restaurants make you choose between sides such as rice and chips or a salad. You never have both. Small side salads are often not available so you end up ordering a main salad, which comes in big bowls. If you really fancy some greens with your food get someone to share it with you. 


There are two ‘must eats’ that you should try if possible. Bunny chow and boerewors braai. Bunny chow or ‘Bunny’ is a curry stuffed into a hollowed out loaf of white bread. It’s originally from Durban which has the largest Indian population outside India and is now represented in other regions of South Africa. Boerewors literally translates as farmers sausage and it’s mainly minced beef but often mixed with pork, lamb or other meets. They are traditionally braaied (barbecued). Braai’s are very popular and any chance to have a braai is welcomed here. When I had a braai it was already dark and JJ’s dad simply wore a little head light to see what’ going on. One tip for the girls. We all know men like to take control of the braai, I think that is a truth universally acknowledge around the world. However, it’s taken to another level here so much so that even Lonely Planet felt to include a line about it into their guide. “If you are female, do not poke the fire or pick up the tongs - men do the cooking, beer in hand, while women make the salads”. Make up your own mind. I actually read this out during my braai and it caused great amusement. “We may be near the cradle of human kind but surely not cave men.”

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Last modified on Sunday, 01 September 2013

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