This weekend I participated in a city immersion adventure in Joburg, tentatively named “Jozi, the Amazing Place”. Eight people spent 48 hours in downtown Joburg, traveling around on public transport and accomplishing various “missions” assigned by our hosts. In addition to carrying out the missions, we slept in dorm-style rooms at Curiocity Backpackers in Maboneng, hung out on the 52nd floor of Ponte City, drank copious quantities of Black Label on a pub crawl, and laughed a lot.

Group shot

Joburg explorers, from left to right: Verena, Martin, Catherine, Heather, Nas, Brynn, Mark, and Guinivere. (Photo: Bheki Dube)

The weekend was sponsored by Curiocity and Dlala Nje, a “games and cultural emporium” based at Ponte City. Our weekend was a pilot program to test out the experience, which Dlala Nje and Curiocity will now offer to the general public.

I know I say this often, but I can’t remember the last time I had this much fun.

In two days we accomplished ten missions around the city, plus our visit to Ponte and the pub crawl (a mission in its own right). I would love to describe each of the missions in detail but that would take way too long. (I also don’t want to give it all away for those who plan to undertake this adventure.) Instead I’ll show you a few photos (a mix of iPhone and DSLR shots) and describe some of the highlights.

Ponte night view

Mike Luptak, one of Dlala Nje’s founders and our co-host for the weekend, lives on the 52th floor of Ponte. We hung out there on Friday evening and watched a documentary called Unhinged: Surviving Jo’burg. This is the view from Mike’s window.

The next morning we divided into two groups — I was teamed with Catherine, Martin, and Verena. We received our first mission via direct message on Twitter.

Here are a few of places we visited along the way.

SPOILER ALERT: If you plan to participate in the adventure and don’t want to know what you’ll be doing, stop reading now.

Zaheer World of Samoosas

World of Samoosas serves the best samoosas (spelled with two o’s, not one, in South Africa) around. While waiting for our samoosas, Martin got into a conversation with Zaheer, one of the proprietors. We learned that Nelson Mandela and Joe Slovo once ate at World of Samoosas and signed the guest book. Here is a picture of Zaheed showing us Mandela’s signature. 

Eating samoosas

Catherine and Martin experience a joyous moment of samoosa/masala tea ecstasy.

Bree Street taxis

The cavernous Bree Street taxi rank. I felt much more comfortable navigating the taxi rank this time than I did the first time I went there — a few weeks ago during the South African Cities Network Amazing Race.

Albert photographer

This is Albert Mbayo, a portrait photographer at stall 113 in the Yeoville Market. Albert is originally from the Democratic Republic of Congo and has been a photographer for nearly 45 years.

Albert portrait

Albert poses for a portrait of his own. The portrait he took of our team is in the foreground. 

Yeoville panoramic

A panoramic shot of Yeoville Ridge, also known as Yeoville Koppie, Yeoville Heath, or God’s Land.

Running race

We ran a 400-meter race around the track at Johannesburg Stadium. Martin beat me, but I maintain that I would have won if I’d had shoes.

Cherry Lane Bar

I didn’t take many photos during our evening pub crawl, mainly because I was busy dancing and clutching quart-sized bottles of beer. But here is a shot of the entrance to the “Lady’s Bar” at the Cherry Lane Hotel in Jeppestown (“Daily rooms from R200 per night”). I don’t know why it’s called the Lady’s Bar, as there were lots of men and more than one lady inside. (For more information on Curiocity pub crawls, contact Bheki at info@curiocitybackpackers.com.)

Inside Carlton

The interior of the Carlton Centre, the tallest building in Africa. (See photos from the top of the centre here.) The mall at the bottom of the building is one of the busiest shopping centres in Joburg.

Hillbrow lotto tickets

Catherine shows off the lotto tickets we bought at Shoprite on Pretoria Street in Hillbrow. Bheki Dube, who runs Curiocity, is taking the photo. Bheki and Mike met up with us at various points along the way to see how we were doing and document our experiences.

Maria Kwa Mai MaiMaria, a vendor at the Kwa Mai Mai Market in eastern Joburg. The Mai Mai Market sells muti (traditional African medicine), as well as traditional clothing, accessories, and food. It’s a fascinating place to visit and incidentally right around the corner from Maboneng.

Kwa Mai Mai

I visited the nearby Faraday Muti Market a few years ago but this was my first time at the Kwa Mai Mai Market. I loved it. Just don’t go alone and be sure to ask permission before taking photos.

I’m always saying that Joburg is beautiful, but not in a conventional way like Paris or San Francisco or Cape Town. Joburg’s beauty lies in its grittiness, its people, and the secrets hiding behind the crumbling facades and chain-link fences. Joburg is beautiful but you have to actively discover the beauty. That’s what this adventure was about.

Over the weekend, Catherine began tagging her Twitter and Instagram posts with #DiscoverJoburg. (By the way, in addition to being an awesome human being, Catherine is a DJ on 5fm. Check out her show, the Fresh Drive, which is currently on in the afternoon but about to move to mornings.)

I did some research and discovered, amazingly, that the hashtag #DiscoverJoburg has hardly ever been used before.

So with Catherine’s blessing, I hereby initiate a #DiscoverJoburg campaign. Go forth, Joburgers, and discover the beauty in your city. Not just downtown, but in every corner of this ginormous metropolis. Then hashtag it. And if you don’t know what a hashtag is, just go out and discover your city in traditional fashion. Or contact info@dlalanje.org and sign up for the next immersion adventure.

View from Situation East

#DiscoverJoburg, baby.

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