On Tuesday, I climbed onto a single-speed bike and took a cycling and food tour through the eastern portion of downtown Joburg. It was a perfect day in the city — one of those days when all your problems and stresses magically disappear and everything in the world feels right.
Riding a bicycle for the first time in months felt amazing. The weather was warm but not too hot; I wore a short-sleeved shirt and didn’t feel cold at all, but also didn’t sweat. The city streets were busy and vibrant but not too hectic, and we could manoeuvre around easily on our bikes. I got some exercise but never felt exhausted. I ate a lot of tasty food but was never too full. My guides were friendly, knowledgeable, and easy to talk to. I learned new things, met new people, and bumped into old friends. I was completely happy — a feeling I don’t take for granted these days.
My tour was with Honest Travel, a local company specializing in inner city experiences. Franck Leya, the founder of Honest Travel, is originally from the Democratic Republic of Congo but has spent most of his life in Joburg and knows the city backward and forward.
Tye Mhlakaza, Honest Travel’s Head of Experience, accompanied us on the tour, along with photographer Nkanyiso Shabalala. Having another photographer on the tour was a huge perk for me, as riding a bike and taking photos at the same time is extremely difficult. (I still took a few pictures, scattered throughout this post.)
Our ride was a combination of several different Honest Travel tours, including the Taste of Africa tour, the Rediscovering Johannesburg tour, and the Johannesburg Art Markets tour. We started in Berea and worked our way through Hillbrow, Yeoville, Bellevue, Bertrams, Ellis Park, and Lorentzville, where we caught a shuttle back to Ponte.
I’ve lived in Joburg for a decade and done so many tours of this city. But I’ve yet to finish a tour without learning at least 20 new things. Tuesday’s experience was no exception. I picked up so many new Joburg facts, saw parts of town I’d never seen before, and visited once-familiar places that looked totally new.
Cycling Through Joburg With Honest Travel
We set out from Ponte and cycled slowly through Berea, pausing occasionally for Franck to explain things. We had our first food stop at the Purple House Café, on the corner of Tudhope and High Streets.
The Purple House Café is a hole in the wall (literally, it’s a hole cut in a wall) specializing in kotas. A kota is a giant sandwich — South Africa’s most iconic street food — which I described in my review of Winnie’s Tuck Shop in Tembisa. There are several other cafés on the same block around the Purple House, all competing for the city’s thriving kota market.
Franck and Tye ordered three of the Purple House’s signature kota: the “Fat Alice”. What’s in a Fat Alice, you ask? The answer is: Everything.
Franck, Tye, and Nkanyiso managed to put away two Fat Alices between the three of them, quickly and easily. It wasn’t even lunchtime yet. I struggled with mine for 10 or 15 minutes before giving up. But it was delicious and I’m not being ironic when I say that. I would totally go back to the Purple House.
We cycled down treelined streets past historic synagogues and churches, an apartment-block garden in full bloom, and countless colorful spaza shops (summarizing because this post is getting long).
We walked our bikes down Yeoville’s iconic Raleigh Street and stopped for lunch at the African Corner, a Ghanaian/South African restaurant at the corner of Hunter Street and Kenmere Road.
At the African Corner we feasted on grilled fish, pap, skop (sheep’s head), various South African and Ghanaian sides, and a spicy Ghanaian rice-and-bean dish called waakye. I also watched Tye and Franck play a heated game of checkers.
After lunch, we pedalled through Bellevue East and down the iconic, incredibly steep Stewart Drive — a legit mountain pass in the middle of the city. (There’s a great description of Stewart Pass toward the end of this article on the Heritage Portal.)
After an enjoyable coffee at Cleo’s Grind in Ellis Park, we made our last stop at the Bertrams Inner City Farm. I have far too much to say about this delightful place than will fit at the end of an already too-long blog post. So I’ll write a separate post about the farm. In the meantime, let me just say Fifi Molefe is a farming rockstar who makes the best green juice in South Africa.
We caught the shuttle back to Ponte, and did a quick photoshoot before calling it a day. I was sad when it was over.
Thanks to Franck and the team from Honest Travel — I had a ridiculously good time. Next time I’ll fast beforehand and finish every bite of that Fat Alice.
I was a guest of Honest Travel on this tour. Opinions expressed are my own.