Surfing my city: Part 1

For me, travelling is about seeing another side. It’s about talking to people and finding out how they see the world. It’s about reworking my perceptions. It’s about being surprised.

Couchsurfing is an easy way to achieve this. You get online, make some connections and arrive to a place with a friend ready to meet you. On this last trip I surfed couches all over Eastern Europe and Southeast Asia. In fact, it was three months before I even stayed in a hostel. I met some incredible people, many of whom I now call close friends. I saw sides of the towns, cities and countries I visited that I wouldn’t have had access to if not for my new friends. I got happily distracted by these people. I spoke. I shared. I laughed. And now that I am back in my city it is my pleasure to welcome travellers into my home.

Last weekend I filled up the house I’m looking after (don’t tell the owners) with travellers passing through Joburg: Alex from Ecuador, on his way to Hong Kong; Florian and Andal from Germany, on the last leg of their backpacking trip; and Levy from Israel at the end of his trip south from Ethiopia. Together we created a happy commune, eating huge meals and going on missions around the city.

Joburg is a sprawling city and requires you to make an effort getting around. But once you do – gather a crew and hop in the car – you will be rewarded. I got to be driver, guide and tourist.

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Fill a house with boys and give them access to your fridge and you can be sure they’ll be cooking up a storm at every opportunity. We spent a Saturday night up to our elbows in flour as a crowd of my friends came over to make pizza. Thank goodness all the boys were staying with me – I got distracted by the party and left the dough making and pizza baking up to them! We followed that night with a visit to Market on Main where we ate every tasty thing we passed. And if that wasn’t enough, our gentle eccentric Andal concocted a feast to fill our bellies to bursting point – more than once too!

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Chalkboard outside Market on Main, Fox Street.

My favourite place to take visitors is the Top of Africa, the 52nd floor of the Carlton Tower, which offers a 360 degree view of the city. It’s my favourite place for two reasons. One is that, seeing as Jozi is so massive, it’s a great place from which to get an idea of the city’s layout. The other, more personal reason is that views are on my list of top favourites (chocolate, picnics and beards are on that list too).

The Carlton Tower was closed on Sunday so we headed to the Northcliff Water Tower instead. Being blasted by a fresh winter wind was worth it for the northern views, and the excitement of a lazy afternoon adventure.

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Northcliff Water Tower.

By Tuesday we had lost our friend Alex to warmer weather in Asia and the four of us headed to Orlando Towers to jump/fall/watch a bungee jump. Note to anyone keen on the jump – the towers are closed from Monday to Wednesday.

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It was not a wasted journey though. In search of a “traditional” lunch we ended up spending a few hours at the market around Barra taxi rank. The first man we met suggested the boys try cow’s head, and showed us the tent around the corner where we could order the dish. They didn’t, instead eating beef stew with rice and some tasty sauce. We walked around the market, stopping to buy vegetables (spinach R8, beetroot R6) and meat for our dinner (Andal), tasting all manner of local treats like beans and mopane worms, getting half naked on the street in order to have a shirt (Florian) and pants (Andal) fixed by an old man and his Singer sewing machine – and then taking slightly porno pics (Levy and Andal) much to the amusement of the onlookers.

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Market at Barra taxi rank.

The final experience to round off our visit in Orlando was trying our hands at breaking into a car. We weren’t being criminal, but merely helping a stranded driver, and attracting more attention to her plight, with a few men suggesting tips (thinner wire, for example) and offering their expertise (I want to know where they learnt this particular skill).

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After such a full day I felt like this dude – ready to take a nap just about anywhere.

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More pics from more wanderings around the city centre coming soon…

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