Johannesburg, South Africa

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South Africa is Dangerous They Said…..

Upon booking my trip to Johannesburg, several people were surprised.  “Isn’t South Africa dangerous?” Was the common question I kept getting asked.  I just smiled and said, “Looks like I’ll find out.”  Landing at Joburg (An acronym for the city all locals use affectionately) international airport was scary!  The customs agents were smiling from ear to ear and were more concerned with what time they were getting off work than they were with my passport.  Taking an Uber to my flat was even more scary.  There was little traffic, and besides the man who tried to wash our windshield, there wasn’t a soul stirring about.

Now don’t get me wrong, most of the houses and apartments have high walls, and barbed wire wrapping the perimeter, but the longer I was there all that stuff just seemed to be more precaution, than something absolutely necessary.  Better safe than sorry, I Thought.  Everywhere I went people were smiling and waving, having a good time while minding their own business unless they were trying to sell you something.  A simple “No thank you” sent them smiling somewhere else.

Mark Twain said, “Travel is fatal to racism.”  People in the USA need to get more uncomfortable.  They work themselves to the bone and then take a vacation in……………….  Chicago.  Chicago is great, I’m not a hater, I’m just saying if you’re going to vacation, then VACATE!  Get somewhere weird, unfamiliar, where you have to put your cognitive to use.

Downtown

Straight up, the food in Joburg is on Fire!  If you like meat, then you are in for a treat.  The best steak I ever had was in this country, but we’ll get to that later.  Stop number one is the Arts on Main food market.

arts-on-main

As you can see, there’s multiple stations set up with every type of food imaginable for you to try.  Everything is dirt cheap and as tasty as you can have it.  Meat, vegan specials, sweets, beer, wine.  It’s all here.  My plate of short ribs was 70 rand, or $5 American.  I was full for hours, but that didn’t stop me from trying more.

If it’s Sunday, head to the Living Room in Maboneng for the sunset.  It’s a really hip bar playing great music and has a great view of the city.  The crowd is older during the day, and around 5pm an amazing shift occurs.  The older folk disappear, and the youngn’s start showing up.

living room

The drinks are cold and the appetizers are delicious.  Bring a sweater ladies, as the sun starts to go down, you will quickly realize you are nearly 5,000 ft above sea level!  For further information, check them out HERE.

For dinner, I headed a little north to an Argentinian steak house called CHE.  What an amazing experience.  The second best steak I had in my life was here.  The cuisine was top notch, and the environment was very relaxing.

che

Around 7pm they started playing slides of some amazing old time pictures of South Africa.  It almost looked like settler times and they were captivating to say the least.  Around 10pm the DJ started pumping and the music became quite loud.  If that’s your thing, stay and dance the night away, I jumped in an Uber and headed back for a peaceful nights rest.

Outside the City

Safari’s are cool no doubt, but sometimes you don’t want to travel this far to do what someone else thinks you should do, especially if you’re a do-it-yourselfer like me.  Enter Pilanesberg National Park.  An easy 2.5 hour drive from Joburg, the park was formed by a volcano that erupted, built up over the years, and then collapsed on itself.  At its peak, the volcano rivaled some of the tallest mountains around today elevating some 7,500m above ground.  Today, the tallest peak is………… 700m.  History aside, the park is massive, full of animals, and for 20 rand ($1.50) you can drive yourself around for as long as you can stand it till the park closes.  Entering the south Bakubung gate make your first left and go have breakfast, (if you’re early) or lunch at the Bakubung lodge and just take in the view.

Bakubung

After you fill up the tank, it’s time to drive.  Make sure you picked up a map at the front gate even though there are signs for everything in the park and it’s pretty tough to get lost.  Take in the sights, here are some from my trip:

elephant herd

lion

giraffe

Remember these are just a couple of pictures.  The animals are not hard to find and you will see plenty of them everywhere you go.  I recommend staying overnight because the animals are much more active in the morning.  I stayed in one of the “luxury” tents at the Bakgatla resort for a little over $100.  The bed was comfortable, you have your own shower and toilet inside the tent, and the sounds of the birds, insects and animals put you right to sleep.

On the way back from Pilanesberg, I recommend going out of your way about 45 minutes and checking out the Cradle of Human Kind.

human kind

This interactive museum contains a 2.3 million year old fossil called Mrs. Ples as well as several other Hominid fossils.  It’s beautifully entertaining and shows how far we have come as a species, as well as how we survived through this evolution.  If you love National Geographic, this is definitely for you!

Saving the Best for Last

If you have the time and money (everything in Joburg is dirt cheap so you should :)) I would highly recommend stopping at two other restaurants.  One for the food, and the other for the view.

First on the list is for the view.  Marble Restaurant is a newly opened restaurant that has really good food, good service (a little slow) and an amazing vibe with a view to match.

marble restaurant

Saving the best for last, an absolutely must is to visit the Grill House.  Most steak houses I go to in the USA are highly overpriced in my opinion.  Not being pretentious, but every time I leave a steak house in the states, I always end up thinking I could have cooked a better steak.  Not so at the Grill House.  I ordered a fillet with the spice mix and was served up an absolutely amazing piece of meat cooked and seasoned to perfection.  The sides were delicious as was the beer and the wine.  I ate like a King who just returned from the battle of his life victorious for just a little over $28.  If you get there, tell them old Chris sent you.  They’ll have no idea who you’re talking about, but you’ll sound important and that may count for something.

Closing Thoughts

A quick tip.  I would not stay in the city because in the morning, everyone leaves the city, and in the evening, everyone goes back which makes traffic a BIG bummer if you’re trying to go somewhere.  Stay just outside in a hostel, or AIR BNB, and go into the city in the morning, then leave the city in the afternoon.

The only danger in life is the refusal to grow.

Everything else is mandatory.

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