Upon arriving in Johannesburg, I felt as though I were walking through a dream. I have never been anywhere ‘exotic’ or foreign in a sense and it was difficult for my brain to comprehend the fact that I was not only in a different country, but on a separate continent. Considering how western South Africa’s major centres are, it wasn’t a huge leap from Canada, but perhaps the most shocking realization was that I was standing in a sunny, snow free paradise, sweating like a pig on New Year’s Day. That was weird. Good, definitely very good, but weird.
Having heard a handful of horror stories about the brutal crime that awaited us in Johannesburg, I wasn’t looking forward to the one night stopover at a backpacker’s lodge. Even more of a disappointment was the fact that the one place I hoped to visit in the area, the Cradle of Humankind, was closed for the holiday (silly as it sounds, I didn’t expect New Year’s to mean anything in South Africa). So alas, instead we were whisked away by the Joburg Backpacker’s airport shuttle to our new home (for the night anyway). Our driver was a lovely local resident that enlightened us on the local sights and tried to put our minds at ease about how dangerous the city was as we whizzed past the barrack-like homes, surrounded by 10ft tall walls, topped with barbed wire and surveillance cameras. It was unsettling to say the least. The hostel thankfully was also surrounded by a wall, barbed wire and keypad, although the keypad was just for show it seemed, since when we ventured out in search of wifi, we just pushed the gate aside to get back in.
Our room at the hostel
We were told that in order to get wireless for our devices we would need to walk down to the local shops. This was a scary thought but not as scary as what might happen to us if we DIDN’T get a hold of our families to put their minds at ease that we were in fact alive and all together (important to note, I had to rendezvous with my fiancé and friend at Heathrow so that was actually a legitimate concern). We found a cute little ice cream shop where we took a group shot to send as evidence to our families before enjoying a well deserved cool treat.
Our walk back consisted of us trying to ‘blend in’ which obviously was poorly done, and our nervous postures probably made us even more susceptible to stares. I had read all sorts of travel safety tips to try and prepare myself and of note was the perpetual nagging to never bring your passport with you and to have a dummy wallet in case you were mugged. I had bought one of those ‘under the shirt’ body wallets which was stupid because all of my clothing was fitted so it made it that much more obvious that I was trying to hide it. Instead, I used that as my decoy and stuffed my real money into my socks, underwear, etc. At one point when we were returning to the hostel, a carload of guys started slowly coasting beside us and I thought for sure they were going to jump out and attack us but instead they ended up continuing on their way after a few seconds. Probably just paranoia, but Dan felt it too (not that we can trust his judgement because of the three of us he is the most anxious). In fact this is probably a good time to understand the three characters in this story:
So this is me (graduating) which is actually important to note because that was what sparked the whole trip to begin with. I basically held off any important life events because I was convinced they weren’t allowed to happen until after I finished University. The first was getting married, which will be happening sometime in 2014 and the second was travelling. Before finishing my second degree, while staring blankly at my animal behaviour text after just having watched an episode of BBC’s Planet Earth (I convinced myself watching it would be the same as studying, which it wasn’t), I came to the conclusion that I would much rather be somewhere beautiful filming mysterious underwater creatures. That was when I started to avoid studying by googling ways for one to become an underwater videographer, but more on that later. To say I am a dreamer is an understatement. I am basically in a perpetual state of ‘i wish i were doing something awesome’, but unlike most people that get into those funks, I will find a way to reach a seemingly unachievable goal. It’s important to know that although I may seem daring and unpredictable, I am actually neither of those things. Although I want excitement and adventure, I want it to be well planned and affordable. I can’t just up and go with no forethought and I can’t just blow through my money for the sake of doing it. Therefore, this grand trip was thought out for a solid year before it occurred and every step (and I mean virtually down to each second) was planned out, from where we would stay to what we would do… planned. This trip was my brainchild and the other two were along for the ride, and happily so.
The number two of this trip is Dan, my fiancé (who consequently loves any reference to poo, the likes of the one I was just able to squeeze in there…and there). He is a brilliant guy who was able to ace even the most difficult of physics courses through his university career and went on to become a teacher, only to realize that he didn’t enjoy teaching in the classroom at all. This is partly due to the fact that he is one of the most high strung perfectionists you are likely to meet. I feel for him I really do, because it’s a burden to be worried about things ALL the time. In fact, if it weren’t for my prodding and demanding nature, i doubt he would have ever left the comfort of Canada at all. However, he did and in the process threw a lot of his inhibitions out the window, and opened his eyes to the big beautiful world we are lucky enough to live in. I am thankful to be sharing these amazing experiences with him and look forward to many more in the future.
Last but certainly not least is my good friend, Jessi. Ever since we were in junior high we have shared a mutual love for sharks and it is this shared interest that sparked the invite to join us on our trip in the first place. Jessi’s life dream has always been to go diving with Great White’s and well, South Africa is one of the best places to do just that. Originally she considered going alone, but the thought of my friend travelling as a woman, alone in a foreign country, well it didn’t sit well with me. So in proper granny fashion, I insisted that she join us (much to Dan’s despair). I am grateful that she did because i think as a trio we do pretty good at balancing each other’s insecurities and passions, as well as providing the occasional much needed reality check.
So this was to be the fellowship…
We had survived our first day, and in proper traveler fashion, took a long satisfying nap to relieve our jet lag, and then relaxed in the outdoor pool before retiring for the night. Our first night in Africa.
Joburg Backpackers : http://www.joburgbackpackers.com
We stayed in a family room which had a big bed and a bunk bed as well as our own bathroom. To me, the only way I feel comfortable in a hostel is to stay in a private room and ideally to have a private bathroom. Joburg Backpackers was really great, and the property was huge and beautiful with a little outdoor pool. Inside there was a pool table and television – very enjoyable.