Maboneng Precinct

After 29 hours I am in Jo’burg when is dark. My destination is Maboneng Precinct, the coolest quote in in town. This inner-city district (also known as City and Suburban) has been converted from industrial warehouses and factories to a happening lifestyle playground. Street art is a big feature here, along with an eclectic selection of restaurants and stores. The pioneer development is Arts on Main, where one of South Africa’s most famous contemporary artists, William Kentridge, has his studios. It’s also home to the inner-city’s major Sunday Market on Main, the Museum of African Design, a cinema, theatre, trendy apartments, restaurants, coffee shops, a culinary institute, the 12 Decades Hotel, Curiocity Backpackers and even a spa. The list just keeps on growing. Maboneng is a Sotho word meaning ‘place of light’.

The night I stay in the Relay (Situations Space Program), a light house  forms part of Curiocity Backpackers located on top of The Main Change Building, a former industrial building converted into offices, retail and cultural spaces. It’s like sleep in an art installation and it’s not a problem the shower on the terrace outdoor  any protections from voyeurs. From there I can see the east side of Johannesburg CBD. Maboneng is home to several independent retail, restaurants and entertainment venues as well as loft apartments, offices, hotel, a museum and creative factory spaces in an urban landscape.

The day after I visit the the Sunday Market on Main and the numerous art gallery on the quarter. Just before to take the 24 hour trip to Dublin (including a 7 hours stop in Istanbul where I have my second breakfast).

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Port Elizabeth – Jo’burg by train

The long-distance train from Port Elizabeth  arrives 8 hours late in Jo’burg. “It’s always late,” I was warned at the PE station. Fortunately this time i have my coupe in tourist class and the journey is safe and enjoyable.

Assuming there would be delays, breakdowns and shortages, I brought a box of food and enough bottles of water to last 2 days. The 20 hours trip to Jo’burg usually 30 hours…  In my wagon there a family of afrikaners, a black lady, 2 english girls  and 2 old white couples, one finnish aid worker.

Three hours after  we set off, speeding south, we came to a halt. “There is something wrong. We should not be stopping here”. Four hours later  we were still there. “see what I mean?” It seemed there was a problem with the track. “The heat of teh sun has caused the iron rail to expand and buckle. We must wait until it cools”. This was an unconvincing explanation.

In the 28 hours journey i kill the time listening  great African Music (Hugh Masekela, Vusi Mahlasela, Miriam Makeba, Simphiwe Dana, Phuzeklemisi, Thansiswa Mazwai) and viewing the panorama: part of the Karoo desert, many small villages, fields with eucalyptus and  small forests.

For dinner I sat a table at the wagon restaurant with Anika, an aid worker and an older English couple who seemed tetchy but perhaps were just nervous. They kept their names for themselves. But they did say that they had lived in southern Africa since 1960 and,  “We could never live in England now”. They were taking a holiday. The man said he was a train buff. “My dream is to take the Trans-Siberian. But I have health problems.”

They lived in a suburb about fifteen miles north of Johannesburg. Of course, there was crime there, the man said; there was crime everywhere, He gave an example.

I was coming home a few years ago and stopped in my driveway. I got out of my car to open the gate and was surrounded by three champs. They had guns. They were shouting at me – they wanted my car -. My wife heard the noise. She thought I was talking to the neighbors. She came out with our two dogs’.

“So you were safe?”.

“not a bit. The dogs were useless. They thought we were going for a ride. The wagged their tails. My wife was pistol-whipped and I was hit hard. We both needed stitches. We lost the car. But, you see, that could have happened anywhere”.

“Anywhere in South Africa”.

“Quite”.

The train arrives in Jo’burg the day after at 8:30PM instead 11:30AM. I have 24 hours to visit the coolest quarter in Jozi and sleep one night in an art installation.

A noisy, joyful and moveable feast 

I have survived. After 29 hours I am in Cape Town safe and sound. It was very tough but I am happy to have chosen to take the long distance train with just a seat ticket. I don’t recommend it to anyone and I don’t think to repeat the experience but now I am happy to have gone for it. 

At the very beginning I had some problems to go up to the economy class wagons because the train conductor was incredulous of my economy ticket; he spent most of the 29 hours checking if I was ok. 

The wagon was terrible warm, dirty and full of people. The seats are old and basically is impossible to use them to sleep. The toilets are small but clean.

The other passengers were very surprised to see me. One of them tried to protect me with some advice. One was to never show the smartphone specially if it is expensive. “Someone could cut your thumb to unlock it!” He said. I think he was joking. Anyway…. My original plan was to stay in my solitary coupe’ in complete relax most of the time making photos and videos and listening to South African Music. but… My iPhone 7 Plus was for 29 hours in my pocket, I took just three photos at the end of the journey. 

I was very cautious in the first 15 hours and I slept with my sunglasses, one eye closed and the other one open. In the morning of the second day I was feeling safe and more social. It helped to share some food for the breakfast and play music together. Fortunately, I had brought my harmonica in this trip. The wagon filled with music and loud chatter in the morning.

The people in my wagon were simple, easygoing and fun. They were trying to make fun of me in an innocent way and they were nice people. It was a great experience meet them in such A long trip. Just at the end nobody really understood why if I was so rich to pay the 1000 Rand (70euro) for the flight jo’burg – Cape Town I was there…  

I was too busy to survive in the first part of the journey and to socialise in the second part that I did not pay much attention to the view. The scenario was very interesting anyway. I noticed mainly three things:

The slams and the bidonvilles full of rubbish along the way. South Africa is not just the exsclusive Cape Town’ waterfront.

The Karoo desert. By taking the train, you can see it at the sunrise and it is an impressive endless red land. We stopped there for an hour. Rumors said that the reason was a crash with few zebras.

The approach to Cape Town with Table mountain and the vineyards.

Tomorrow I will start the 3 days hike.

Jo’burg

After 15 hours of flights via Istanbul I’m in Johannesburg. An ugly city far to seas, rivers, harbours located in a 1700 metres plateau where there was a gold miner. Ugly, but interesting with a huge  development of new buildings and positive vibes. I visited Soweto, I saw a show at the Matket theatre and I spent 2 hours at the apartheid museum.

I have a bed in the progressive street of Malville. I choose the lucky bean guesthouse, a peaceful and welcoming b&b with stylish, large and cosy rooms. The property is 20 minutes walk to the lucky bean restaurant where you can eat for few euro superb ostrich fillet, springbok pie, boerowors and umnsqususho (sugar bean and Samp) and Portuguese steaks.  

Tomorrow will be a long day.