Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Hop On – Hop Oh God – Wednesday, June 18, 2014

I have to come clean about this…….I did a Hop On Hop Off bus in Johannesburg. In my defense though, I had an unplanned day in Joburg. Safety tips before I arrived warned me to not write down the actual name of my hotel on my customs form because the customs officials were known to hand those names off to friends if they spotted an unaccompanied female. (Cue scene from Taken.) Also, from the official Joburg airport site: “Public transport shouldn’t be used because it’s not safe.” Pretty straightforward. 

So ridicule me for it all you’d like, but I figured a Hop On Hop Off bus would be the easiest way for me to take in everything Joburg had to offer in the 8 hours I had to spend in the city between waking up at the hostel and going back to the airport for my flight to Istanbul. (It was also the cheapest tour option and the only one that didn’t require an advance reservation.) And I was not wrong…it was awesome!!

I took a cab from my hostel to Ghandi Square first thing in the morning, eager to meet my bus. Nervous about being late and failing at my whole itinerary, I arrived about 15 minutes early. Which seemed to be 14 minutes WAY TOO EARLY when I took a look around the square which, despite the name, did not quite come off as peaceful. I re-considered my plan of taking out cash and instead distracted myself by practicing “fuck you” faces in a nearby window. A favorite pastime really. I actually got so distracted with this activity that I missed the HUGE RED DOUBLE DECKER BUS (there weren’t too many of them) when it came driving through the square. I had to resign to pathetically running after the bus, waving it down, for fear of making “fuck you” faces at myself (and all passerby) for the next two hours. The driver commented that he had assumed I was there for the bus, but that I had looked so content that he wasn’t sure. Crisis #1 Avoided.

I paid my fee, grabbed my headphones, and sat back to listen to the history of Johannesburg while I comfortably – and safely – took in the sights. I stayed that passive way for about an hour until we arrived at the Gold Reef Casino (fun fact that I didn’t know: Joburg is the largest city in the world not on any large navigable body of water – BECAUSE there was gold there). Here, I paid the $30 upgrade to HOP OFF my Hop On Hop Off bus to go to Soweto.

Because Soweto (aka the South Western Township) is really what people think of when they think of Johannesburg: miles upon miles of shantytowns for as far as the eye can see. I couldn’t believe I was paying money to go tour poverty. It’s everything I hated about tourists in Rwanda when I lived there…but I also couldn’t imagine going to Johannesburg and not visiting Soweto. (When would I be back?)

Again. I am SO HAPPY that I did. I was the only person on my route who decided to upgrade to the Soweto tour. And instead of listening to an audio recording, this tour was hosted by a real, live tour guide. Which meant that I had a PERSONAL 2 HOUR TOUR of Soweto by an awesome, wonderful, enthusiastic and knowledgeable tour guide.  (Seriously – her name is Brenda and we’ve been in email contact since. If you’re ever headed to Joburg, let me know and I’ll put you in touch.)

Brenda is from Soweto and she was so excited to share it with an outsider. Not embarrassed – proud. She also works with tourists all the time and is used to requests for pictures – so she’s the source of more than half the pictures I have from this trip. Enjoy! [Read the captions - the rest of the update is in the captions.]

FNB Stadium
When I was last in South Africa (in 2008), they were in the process of building the stadiums for the 2010 World Cup. It was controversial at the time (and it never really stopped being controversial…but what’s an international sporting event without controversy), but I was so excited to watch it with Cory (he came back!) while we were at Tuck Bridge. And then it was awesome to see one of the stadiums in person! 
Orlando Towers
Before you even enter Soweto, you see the Orlando Towers – and you see them from most places in the Township as well. If you look closely, you’ll see a bridge between the two towers. You can bungee jump off of that. That was the other thing I was seriously considering doing this day. But since I’ve already gone skydiving in South Africa, I figured I’d save my mom the blood pressure by just taking a picture in front of them instead. (Brenda didn’t like how stoic I was in my FNB picture and forced me to be more “fun” in this one…)  
Welcome to Soweto!
The population of Soweto is about the same (a little more than) as the population of Johannesburg proper. It’s very much a city in its own right – not just the shantytown I had imagined. (Maybe you’re all judging my naiveté – but I think not.) Note the houses on the side of the road – they are actual, legitimate houses. Brenda was very proud of showing off how much of an actual suburb most parts of Soweto are – that it’s a place that middle-class people are proud to live. ALSO note the vuvezelas on the street median. They were everywhere. Couldn’t get away.
Vilakazi Street
Did you know that Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu grew upon the same street? I thought Rope Ferry Rd was special for sending so many kids to St. Paul’s…but it’s got nothing on Vilakazi Street which has two Nobel Laureates. (PS – I met Desmond Tutu during Semester at Sea!)
Mandela House
I don’t want to say that I didn’t fully appreciate what Mandela meant to South African people (and…the world) – but it was an incredible experience to visit his house (now museum) six months after his death. Is there anybody who is so widely acknowledged as a hero in America? Whose death would be so widely mourned?
Mandela House – 2
Brenda is a great tour guide. She made me take pictures with me in them. 
Mandela House – 3
I am not used to taking pictures while touring. I also don’t dress in anticipation of it. 
Kliptown – Museum
At a few points during the tour, a volunteer tour guide took over from Brenda for a bit. (It’s a little obvious that the volunteers are just hoping that they can one day be hired as real tour guides – but they had the same enthusiasm to show off their township to outsiders. And yeah…I gave them a few rand. So sorry. I’m an American tourist and I really appreciated what they were doing.) This particular tour guide showed me the South Africa Bill of Rights, which is carved into stone in an open museum in Kliptown. Notably, they have an article stating that women are entitled to paid maternity leave. Imagine that
Kliptown – 2
Okay. Okay. Before you start thinking that Joburg is nicer than Providence (possible?)…I’ll point out that there still IS poverty and, as much as my tour guides might not have wanted me to see it, there were areas where there were shanties on the side of the road. Straight out of the commercials…right? 
Apartheid Museum
After two hours in Soweto, Brenda and the driver dropped me off at the Apartheid Museuem…where I spent ANOTHER two hours. Incredibly emotionally draining…you are randomly assigned on your ticket if you are White, Black, or Colored and you enter a different door/have a different experience in the museum because of it. Although you’re transfixed by everything in your section, you can’t help but wonder what you’re missing out on in the other section…and like…can’t you just go out and go back in the other door to experience the other section? No. You cannot. Well…maybe you can go buy another ticket but you risk the same randomization for your color assignment. And that’s just where it starts. Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to journal after this experience because I was SO GOOD at my timing that I basically ran out to the bus to HOP ON to my next stop. 

South African Breweries
Yeah…don’t worry about it…I obviously HOPPED OFF at the South African Breweries stop. Unfortunately the tour was two hours and I didn’t have the time for that, so instead I walked across the street to the science museum. Seriously…Hop On Hop Off busses are amazing…How was there so much time for all of this in one day? Before a 6:45pm international flight??
Nelson Mandela Bridge
Okay…after that, I did have to stay on the bus. But look at this shot of the Nelson Mandela Bridge!
Bus Selfie
Because…why not? Note the blue over my right shoulder…there were actually other tourists doing the same thing! It wasn’t just me!
The very trendy part of town – where all the cool college kids hang. Too cool for me obvs.

Public Transport
Remember that guideline that public transportation should be “avoided at all costs”? Whatevs…I took the Gautrain back to the airport and I’m fine now. I also still have a card if anybody wants to borrow for their trip to Safrica.

1 comment:

Eli(zabeth) Mitchell said...

FYI - I spent way too long in HTML code to try and increase the font size of the captions. I just want credit for this.