This weekend I participated in a workshop on urban exploration in downtown Joburg, sponsored by Dérive app. Dérive is a new online application that encourages people to explore cities in a unique way — following a set of random instructions from a virtual deck of cards.

The cards in the deck say things like “Follow something red”, “Use public transport”, “Find a dog”, etc. Each time you complete an instruction you ask the deck for a new card, and keep going until you decide to stop.

derive card

Example of a Dérive app card.

During the two-day workshop we split into groups and took a couple of “Dérives”. Then we went back to our meeting space and designed a deck of Dérive cards that are specific to Joburg. The cards we created have been integrated into the app, so that anyone who downloads it and takes a Dérive in Joburg can use them.

hair salon card

Card created by Fiver Löcker and me — I came up with the idea and Fiver drew it.

As anyone who reads this blog knows, I love walking and taking photos in downtown Jozi. But usually my walks have a specific purpose — learning about Joburg history, exploring a particular neighborhood, or taking photos of a certain subject. The Dérives were great because there was none of that. There was no purpose to our walks whatsoever, other than to follow the cards and see where we wound up.

Most (although not all) of the places we walked were places I’d previously been. But since my attention was focused differently, I noticed things I’ve never seen before. Here are a few of the shots I took, mostly with my iPhone.

yebo yes driving school

Driving school car in Jeppestown.

camping zone

Car parked in a “camping zone” in the Maboneng Precinct.


Following a card that instructed us to “wait for two minutes”. Note that we chose to wait next to a penis enlargement sign.

At one point our Dérive landed us inside the Collector’s Treasury, a seven-story building packed floor-to-ceiling with old books and collectibles. I’ve been meaning to visit the Collector’s Treasure for years, literally, and I’m so glad the Dérive app finally got me there.

book pile


Collectors Treasury doll

I had to pull out my real camera to properly capture the Collector’s Treasury atmosphere.

vanessa camera

This woman’s name is Vanessa. In the Collector’s Treasury she found a camera called Vanessa.

Collectors Treasure pen nibs

A box of antique pen nibs. (Naturally.)

We didn’t get past the first floor of the Collector’s Treasury. I need to go back and write a longer blog post about it. In the meantime here is a Collector’s Treasury post from a friend’s blog.

cool old building

Pretty building near the Kerk St. market.

fabric shop guy

Streetside fabric shop owner with an amazing face (near the Carlton Centre).

pampers sign

Another funny sign.



One of the cool things about the Dérive workshop was that it forced all of us to go out of our comfort zones in one way or another. People around us were also forced out of their comfort zones. We received quite a few strange looks.

hiding dead body

With this card we were instructed: “Somewhat suspiciously, look for a place to hide a dead body.” Note the two bystanders.

When one of my Dérive groups — four white women — was walking through Jeppestown in the rain, a car screeched to a halt beside us. The woman on the passenger side of the car (who also happened to be white) rolled her window down and exclaimed, “Are you all OKAY?”

I wish I’d had my camera ready. The woman’s eyes were like saucers and the look on her face said: “I am terrified to be riding through this neighborhood in a car I can’t believe you ladies are walking you are bat-shit crazy.” We grinned and waved.

Dériving in Jozi is not like dériving in Paris. Joburg isn’t a city designed for aimless walking. You need to be aware of your surroundings and I wouldn’t do it alone. But meaningful experiences often require a bit of risk.

don't touch the samples

My favorite shot of the weekend.

group shot crazy

The Johannesburg Dérive Workshop crew. (Photo: Ashleigh Jacobs)

The Johannesburg Dérive cards that we created are going to be on display for a few weeks on the second floor of Arts on Main in Maboneng. The exhibition opens next Sunday (21 April). Keep an eye on the Derive app website and Facebook page for details.

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