I recently found myself not cycling on a cycle ride through Alexandra Township. I was supposed to cycle, but there weren’t enough bikes and it was blazing hot and when someone suggested I ride in the Jeep that was escorting the riders and take photos through the open top, I gladly accepted. The bike ride was hosted by Art Affair, a tiny art gallery and studio in Alex’s East Bank that also serves as an events venue/community gathering place. Artist and cycling enthusiast Mxolisi Mbonjwa owns the gallery and organized the ride together with Bicycle Stokvel. I’ve visited and blogged about Alex many times. (You can browse all of my Alex posts here.) I don’t want to belabor this point. But if you live in Joburg and have never been to Alex, please go. Alex is a five-minute drive from Sandton but many Joburgers are afraid to even drive past it due to Alex’s reputation for poverty and crime. In fact, Alex is quite easy and safe to visit as long as you go with someone who knows their way around. And it’s one of the most important parts of Joburg historically, being the first township in Joburg and the […]
Over the past couple of months I’ve participated in two Joburg tours with Kennedy Tembo of Micro-adventure Tours. Kennedy offers all kinds of innovative, outdoorsy tours in Joburg and surrounding areas — from Gauteng all the way to the Drakensberg. I am so excited to try them all. I was planning to write about both the tours I’ve done with Kennedy in this post, but actually there is too much to say so I’m taking them one at a time. First up: Kennedy’s coffee and cycling tour through downtown Joburg. I’ve explored downtown Joburg countless times by car, on foot, on a bus, and even on a skateboard. I’ve done cycling tours in Soweto, Alexandra, and Diepsloot. But I’d never done a cycling tour though the middle of the city before, much less a cycling tour focused on coffee. Cycling Downtown Joburg I know what you might be thinking: Riding a bicycle through the frenetic Joburg central business district (what locals call the CBD) is only for cyclists with a death wish. Trust me though — it works. First of all, Kennedy is a great cycling guide. He is calm (in fact he has nerves of steel), navigates the streets […]
Diepsloot is one of those places, like a lot of other Joburg places, where people are afraid to go. A Diepsloot street. Diepsloot, which means “deep ditch” in Afrikaans, is a huge informal settlement in the far northern outskirts of Joburg; in fact, it is so far north that it’s just as close to Pretoria as it is to Joburg. It emerged from nothing on an abandoned farm in the 1990s, as migrants poured into Joburg from rural South Africa and the rest of Africa and had nowhere else to go. Hundreds of corrugated iron shacks sprouted up, then thousands. There were no public services, no police stations or hospitals or shopping centers. Diepsloot was a wild, post-apartheid frontier — one of those places that can only exist in South Africa. Just another day in Diepsloot. Today, hundreds of thousands of people live in Diepsloot and the number continues to grow. The area has more infrastructure than it did a couple of decades ago, but it still has an anything-goes kind of feeling about it. Diepsloot has kota stands, open sewers, vibrant community centers, secret gardens, fashion designers, herds of goats, Rastafarian hair-braiding shops, colorfully painted general dealers, and salons […]
I recently spent a few days in the Cape Winelands as part of the #MeetSouthAfrica local blogger trip. We ate a lot (you already know this) and drank a lot. We also rode bicycles, watched epic sunsets, and met a cute, aggressive, cork-nibbling parrot. I took many photos. I had never been to the Cape Winelands before and it didn’t take me long to discover that this is one of the most beautiful parts of South Africa. After an insane day of traveling from the Drakensburg to Durban to Cape Town, we arrived in Franschhoek just in time for a stunning sunset. We forced our hapless shuttle driver to pull over so we could run across the highway and take pictures. Sunset, mountains, and train tracks: The Instagram trifecta. Just ask Dane Forman, our resident #MeetSouthAfrica Instagrammer. Di Brown of the Roaming Giraffe will probably never forgive me for posting this. Di, you’re a serious sunset photography die-hard and the world needs to know this. The next morning, our first stop in Franschhoek (note the crazy spelling of Franschhoek — it took me a few days to get this right) was the Haut Espoir boutique wine estate. Haut Espoir is run by a very interesting […]
I have a love-hate relationship with cycling in Joburg. A couple of years ago, before I had a car, I bought a bike and planned to use it to get around. (Read the post about my bike purchase.) I liked the idea of riding a bike around town, but it turns out I didn’t actually like doing it. I used the bike about five times before deciding that cycling in Joburg is too hard (hills, traffic, minibus taxis, etc.). Perhaps this is why I resisted Critical Mass for so long. Critical Mass is a worldwide phenomenon — an event on the last Friday of every month when hoards of cyclists get together and ride through big cities as a way of “reclaiming” the streets from cars and trucks. Critical Mass has been happening in Joburg for a couple of years, and a few of my friends have been trying to convince me to ride with them for months. I finally caved last Friday.
Michelle and I arrived at the Marlboro Gautrain Station, on the edge of Alexandra Township, at 10:30 Sunday morning. Jeffrey, our guide, was waiting for us on the curb. “Who wants to get the taxi?” Jeffrey asked. I volunteered Michelle. Michelle stepped to the edge of the street and pointed downward, as Jeffrey demonstrated. Michelle hails a taxi.
For the next couple of weeks I’ll be holed up in an office in Joburg’s northern suburbs, pursuing professional goals that do not involve blogging. And I was just hitting my blogging stride! But hey, one must eat. I’ll still be moonlighting as a blogger during this period. I’ve got a post or two in reserve and my weekends are still free. And if I come across anything interesting to write about in Bryanston I’ll let you know. (Bryanston is to Joburg what Potomac is to Washington D.C.). Probably not though, as I’ll be spending 99% of my time in an airless conference room.
Transportation is an issue for me here. I don’t have a car and there’s little chance that I’ll get one any time soon. I moved to Joburg from Washington, D.C., where one can live quite comfortably without an automobile. I had a car while I lived there but I barely used it. I felt so free and happy when I sold it. But Joburg is a more like Los Angeles than D.C. This city is built for driving — sidewalks are scarce, public transport is unreliable and unsafe, and everything is spread out. Fortunately I live in Melville, one of the few walkable neighborhoods in town. But if I need to get somewhere outside Melville and Joe isn’t around to take me, I’m pretty much stuck.
Mom and I were in Cape Town for three days — we had lots to see and no car. I’m usually not a fan of group bus tours, but when Mom suggested a tour of the Cape Peninsula with a company called Daytrippers, it seemed like a good plan under the circumstances. Alexi, our charming Daytrippers guide, fetched us from the guest house at 8:45 a.m. To my relief, our touring vehicle was not a bus, but a cute van towing a bike trailer. (For some reason I did not take any photos of the cute van or the cute tour guide. Apologies.) We headed south out of Cape Town and marveled at the crystal blue sea and lovely beachfront suburbs. Clifton, a spectacular Cape Town suburb along the Atlantic coast of the Cape Peninsula.