I have never been this excited for a trip so far. At the midst of the rush hour of Christmas last year, I managed to sneak out and head off to South Africa and take on one of my most unplanned trips of my life. I boarded a Cathay Pacific plane from Manila that was en route to Hong Kong. I decided to stay for a day in HK, before boarding an evening flight to Johannesburg.
I arrived in Johannesburg early in the morning. I booked a room at the Holiday Inn Rosebank. Now, let's take a step back first. Because of the stress of the holiday season, I wasn't able to plan everything well. I booked my plane tickets and planned an itinerary, but I wasn't able to secure all the hotels. I actually just booked this hotel in Rosebank without knowing where Rosebank was in Joburg.
I was pleased that the hotel turned out well, and it was located beside a mall. Yes, very Filipino of me to land in a hotel attached to a mall.
I thought it was early, because there wasn't a soul in sight. As I drove to my hotel, I noticed Joburg to be very quiet. The driver told me it was because it was Christmas Day. So I forgot, it was a holiday. But I didn't expect the city to be deserted. I mean, even in Manila, Christmas Day was still alive.
I was then told that most people were on holiday, and if I plan to head out to Cape Town and all those touristic places, I will be flooded with vacationers. It was a good thing I thought, and I wanted to plan already. But I was tired and jet lagged, so I slept the entire morning instead.
I was to meet my daughter who would have arrived the next day, because she missed her flight on Christmas Day. In any case, she arrived the next day, and I thought the unplanned itinerary had now served its purpose.
So while waiting for her, I took the time to go around Johannesburg. Everyone warned about the taxis here, so the only safe option to go around is the Gautrain.
The Gautrain was constructed for the World Cup in 2010. It still looked new and well-maintained. It only had a few stops, so it really doesn't take you any further than the normal tourist places in the city. One of those stops was Sandton.
Johannesburg doesn't have a reputation for one of the safest cities in the world. In fact, everyone told me to be careful when I arrived here. Because of the glaring income gap, crimes are persistent in this sprawling city, which is the economic center of South Africa. The entire city looked bare though. I was expecting Singapore or even Makati, but it wasn't like that. Joburg looked more like huge suburb, with a conglomeration of buildings in certain pockets.
Sandton was the exception. It looked more like Europe than Africa. This was where most of the luxury hotels and businesses are located. Though it still looked bare relatively to a progressive urban center, this was where I finally saw people.
And they were everywhere here, but inside malls and shopping centers. The Nelson Mandela Square was a magnet for tourists. There are several cafes and restaurants surrounding the square, so it's nice to sit here and people watch.
Sandton City is the mall to be, and perhaps the only mega-mall in the city. It had the big name brands, but I still found it lacking in selection. There is really nothing much to do here, so I decided to go outside and just explore the area.
But as soon as I stepped further out, the place became more deserted and uninteresting. I was looking for a nearby museum, but I couldn't find any. I then discovered that Joburg is best explored with an arranged tour, since it's hard to get around on your own. And even unsafe. So the next day, I took a tour to Lesedi Village, to experience my first taste of Africa already.