Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Nelson Mandela, Hooters and McDonald's

So on a 24 hour layover in Johannesburg in route to Entebbe, Uganda, I got a small glimpse into the roots of the city's bad reputation.

I arrived safely to my hotel in Jo-burg, which brought a successful closure to day 1 of my Africa journey! The 14 hour flight from Sydney, felt like the longest 14 hours of my life! Although I did have a lovely pastor from Ghana and his wife sitting next to me. He insisted on giving me his address and email so that I can come volunteer at his wife's orphanage. He also asked me if I was Christian, and for some reason I felt compelled to say yes, which led to an awkward conversation about working at his church.

Landing in Johannesburg was quite interesting. It seemed like everybody was trying to "help me" with my bags and or take my money. The good news is, I only got ripped off by one guy who pointed me in the direction of the hotel shuttle bus area and told me I owed him and his friend each $50 Rand for their assistance and would not leave me alone until I paid them.

As far as the 15km radius from the airport that I experienced on my drive to the hotel, it was not quite what I expected. First of all, I'm glad to see that the worst parts of America have made it all over the world (e.g. Hooters and McDonald's). Furthermore, all I could see were car dealerships, factories and construction. I guess if I ever make it back to South Africa I will have to venture out further to get any real grasp of the country or see any pretty scenery.

Anyway, I leave for Uganda at 2pm tomorrow and I'm feeling rather optimistic about this upcoming month and my choice to volunteer with Arise and Shine (a local non-profit organization). Please send good vibes my way though!

My advice for those traveling alone in Joburg, whether its for a layover or otherwise is:

  1. Walk like you know what you're doing, even if you can't hide the tourist look with your backpack and foreign clothing. 
  2. Don't accept help from strangers even if they are airport staff, unless you are prepared to pay them. 
  3. Check if your hotel has a free shuttle, to avoid having to exchange money and general convenience.
  4. Make sure your accommodation has 24 hour security. You will definitely want it, when you arrive and notice that most residents are gated and guarded (for good reason).
  5. Get your hands on the South African Rand- it is pretty cool and it has Nelson Mandela on it, so it makes for a good souvenir! 

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