Jo’burg, reveal your secrets

Yesterday (2 Oct 2014) marked the start of the ABSA Johannesburg Festival with the theme Go To Town. The festival focuses on getting people to enjoy the inner city again an celebrate its revival.

Jo’burg is a city rich in history and beautiful buildings and architecture, it is very undervalued as such though. As people moved out the inner city a lot of this was forgotten and literally abandoned which is clearly very sad. Jo’burg is the city of gold, we should cherish it.

So, enter the festival and a lot of great events paired with it. As I love the city I took the opportunity to attend the opening of a new venue TheSheds@ 1Fox. The name says it all. This massive space is basically an old shed in the city. Some parts date back to before the Boer Wars and is thought to be one of the oldest existing industrial buildings in JHB. It was used for this purpose for years until it was eventually left dormant and empty.

The Johannesburg Land Company purchased it at some stage in the hope of redeveloping it and its neighbouring buildings in the future. Well, enter two Jo’burgers: Jan Roode of Happy Me and Gerald Garner of Spaces & Places – JoburgPlaces, who “discovered” the building and in 2014 signed a long term lease so they could try their hand at something potentially awesome.

I got a taste of that potential last night and dare I say I really enjoyed it. The space is now essentially a food and hand made goodie market coupled with an entertainment and band area. There is soooo much space in this old relic and their vision just makes it all fit together. It’s very eclectic and somewhat rustic but it is very cool.

The courtyard between The Sheds and an old brick factory

To my delight some of the original building fixtures are still in place and I marvelled at the old wooden doors and the tall brick factories next door. Buildings with history and spirit make me happy and this shed had plenty of that.

My friends and I dined on Smoque street food of brisket and pork belly while enjoying great craft beer and being entertained by a folksie type band. What more could one want really.

1fox view from the top - Photo by L Snyman The bar area

This place is a gem and I hope people see the potential and book gigs and parties and bands and weddings and markets and birthday parties and whatever right there. Right there in “scary” Jo’burg city where things are beautiful and life is rich.

Don’t wait. Just go.

It’s easy to cry when you understand

The new (latest) South African Tourism Ad  has been trending around here and hopefully in other parts of the world. A lot people say forthright that it will make you cry. They’re not wrong.

I don’t want to spoil anything but there is a moment that will bring most people to tears. You’ll know it when you see it.

I, however, the Proudly South African sap that I am, started long before this moment though. I cried when I saw my country as I feel it. I cried when I saw warm generous faces, South African spaces and people sharing good food. This is my South Africa.

What brings me to tears is that the moments in the advert resonate in me. Make me feel at home and make me proud to be South African. Get the tissues and watch it.

Driving nearly as diverse as our nation

If you’re not from SA and reading this I would like to start off by saying that most South African drivers don’t even acknowledge Zebra crossings. You would think we would be emotionally connected to them because of the name but it’s almost the oppisit. Most of the time we don’t care that they exist. We sometimes don’t even care if you’re on them. I have nearlly been hit by a car while in the middle of a zebra crossing in sleepy Stellenbosch. So, don’t take for granted that zebra crossing work here as they probably do in your country. Look both ways before crossing the road and don’t assume a driver will stop for you.

Ok, now that’s I’ve finished my public service announcement I’d like to talk about driving in South Africa. I know from experience that our traffic or driving is not the worst in the world (Egypt and Thailand were pretty scary to me) but since you might be inclined to hire a car here I think it’s worth noting that difference regions have different styles of driving.

Jo’burgers are an impatient bunch. We drive quickly and we make decisions quickly. We will hoot if you don’t pull off from an intersection fast enough or will swear at you if you hog up the middle lane on the highway. You’ll prbably get stuck in traffic somewhere along the line. It will suck and make you late unless you left early for your appointment. There is a certain predictability about it though so once you’re used to it you should be ok.

Cape Town on the other hand is less aggressive but not predictable. People weave on the highway and cut you off. They will change lanes around you. They will drive slowly then quickly. It’s all rather haphazard. Because it’s generally quieter you probably won’t have an accident but keep your eyes open and your reflexes sharp.

Durban is very relaxed. It’s fairly nice if you’re on holiday. Not nice when you’re there for work. People take their time. And you don’t need zebra crossing in Durban, people just cross the road when they want where they want and they have full faith that you’ll stop. Not because you’re a friendly Durbanite but because you’re probably just going slow enough to avoid the inevitable squash and pending law-suit. They walk by faith

The Free State is relaxed. But there you have to watch out for two completely opposite things: 1) The slowest tractor of combiner of harvester EVER and the 2) the fast asshole who thinks that a country road with no shoulder is an appropriate place to put his foot flat. No matter that you can’t see ahead due to windy roads and may crash into an unsuspecting tractor. I’ve seen the crash site of such an encounter and my heart still aches for the poor tractor driver.

The Eastern Cape will have you dodging donkies, horses, children, tractors, drunkards, goats and everything else inbetween. There are also asshols drivers who go too quickly. We warned.

Take note that there are minibus taxi’s EVERYWHERE. They are a force which abide by their own law. They are a pain in the butt but they serve a very important purpose in a country where publi transport failed the majority of people miserably so what can you do. Here are some tips to deal with them. Try not drive behind them, they will at some stage stop without warning. No warning and they won’t care. The key is to watch the pedestrians on the side of the road. If they suddenly throw up a hand signal slow down or change lanes. The taxi is going to stop right where they are staninding RIGHT THERE. I blame the commuters for being too lazy to walk to the taxi stop. If you’re in a pinch though and need to change lanes urgently though look for the nearest taxi. They will generally give you a gap when you need it. They’re generally good people trying to make a living. Try remember that when you see red when you’ve been forced to stop suddenly.

Ok, so those are some things to discover. Driving in SA is an adveture all it’s own so just take a deep breath and drive. Be safe 

JHB and the Couchsurfers (part 1)

My mom was the first person who told me about couchsurfing. She read it in the newspaper or somewhere and told me for whatever reason. I thought it sounded amzing and promptly forgot all out it. After the 2010 Fifa World Cup my friend told me about a long-standing couchsurfer she had hosted during this time and I was green with envy. How could I have forgotten about couchsurfing. I would have loved to host someone during the World Cup! That would have been awsome.

I wouldn’t let regret get me down though and promptly signed up at The website intrigued me as did the sign-up process as you have to reveal parts of yourself that attain to what a great host you’ll be. Generally this involves being excited about your city and your country and talking about your travels. You need to be willing to trust people and they need to trust you. The site has good built in “trust” and “reliablity” featuers that I won’t get into but it was interesting me see myself in this way.

So, profile complete and photos posted I eagerly awaited for someone who wanted to come to JHB and then for that someone to want to stay with me (and husband and two enthusiastic dogs). I don’t know what the chances are of someone selecting you as a potential host but in a big city with not too many tourist (vs say Cape Town) it can’t be too high. That’s another reason why a good profile is important. You don’t want to be shunned by someone who doesn’t even know you.

Well, it took about a month to get my first request. I could hardly contain myself. A young female med student from Mexico who would be travelling with an Indian male med student who was studying in Texas has contacted me. They had never couchsurfed before and somehow I was the one to introduce them into a world I had never experienced before either. It’s a daunting thought.

I could write an essay about what we got up to but it’s my first personal encounter with them that I want to share here:

In my enthusiasm to be a good host and meet couchsurfer 1 and 2 I offered to pick them up from the Gautrain Station in Sandton on the morning of their arrival. The train system was still fairly new and it was the only station but luckily it was close to work and I worked a flexible schedule so it made sense to me. It was no bother as far as I was concerned.

I carefully worked out what time I thought they would arrive at the station. I took into account late flights and customs queues and the train ride and then still added on half an hour for good measure. Waiting at Sandton station for some time isn’t too bad when you’re excpeting a pick up from a person chaperone so it would be perfect.

It wasn’t perfect. The one who ended up waiting at the station was me. For a very very long time. Initially I didn’t mind because I marvelled at the staion and the people coming and going and I wondered if they liked the train and admired how clean the station was and how helpful the gaurds were. But then I waited for over 40 minutes and I got a bit paniced. Where on earth could by people be? What if something had happened to them? What if they had missed their flight? All these things go through your head. Worst of all, i had no way of contacting them. They had my cell number but I only had the couchsurfing website and an email address. And sitting at the station I had no way to access either of these.

After another 40 minutes I actaully had to go because I had to drop something at a client. I felt terrible at the thought of leaving two people stranded in the middle of JHB with no clue on where their host was.

So, I devised a plan. I managed to tear open a paper folder I had in my car which made it A3 size. I then wrote couchsurfer One’s name on it as big as I could. I walked up to a taxi (cab) driver and asked him if he would hold up this sign and wait for these people if I paid him 50 bucks. He said yes. I also wrote my number small on the poster and left with one instruction. Tell them to wait. I WILL be back. Just wait. And off I went leaving my faith in a stranger.

I was about 15 minutes away when my phone rang with cab driver calling me to tell me that they were by his side. I was so happy I turned the car around and went straight back to collect them. And there, looking tired, but exactly like their pictures, were my first ever couchsurfers. They embraced me with relief and warmth when I dashed out my car and I was as relieved.

This random cab driver had done more than give them a message. He had called me and kept them company until I got back. He had been a great ambassodor for a scary city. All while he could have taken the money and left the sign blowing in the wind. This story is about couchsurfing, but it’s also about him. That’s why I love it.

I should invite John Simpson for sundowners

I’ll say it again: I truly love Jo’burg. Anyone who knows me will know at least this because I believe it’s worth saying since hopefully someone will ask me why. I could talk about Jo’burg, it’s beauty and it’s potential for hours. Most people think I’m mad but I’m sincere.

I am not widely read or world famous though so my thoughts and reasoning have a limited scope. So I was excited when I learnt about Mr John Simpson who writes for The Telegraph in the UK. He seems to like Jo’burg a lot so hopefully his ramblings will inspire others to give my city a good, less paranoid look.

Two of his anecdotes below

John, if you’re ever in town I’d love to meet you for a drink

AC/DC would like Jo’burg in the summer

Jo’burg is not high on any sightseeing lists. It’s a city with some charm and some history but it’s not seen as overtly beautiful. I love this city for many reasons so I think it’s beautiful and I reckon mother nature agrees with me. In the summer she lights Jo’burg up with the most stunning electrical storms. For just about an hour every afternoon heavy clouds gather our part of the Highveld and with almost no notice start lighting up the sky with tenacity. The sight it stunning and awe-inspiring and humbling quite frankly. As the lighting crashes around and the thunder rumbles throughout the grey sky you feel small. But you also feel alive, and you feel lucky to see such wonderment for free and from where you safely sit in our your house or office block. You don’t want to be outside in this weather but you do want to enjoy it. It’s a natural wonder and once you’ve been through one you will acknowledge that this may be the most powerful thing you’ll ever witness. It’s a recurring near guarenteed performance. So, if you’re passing through Jo’burg on a summer afternoon hole up safely with coffee, whiskey or wine, and wait for mother nature to show off.