Johannesburg, Jo-burg, Gauteng; however you call it, it stands for one thing: opportunity.
"Johannesburg is a city of opportunists, if you don't leap at the chance, the city will jump before you and that chance will be gone forever" we were told by a taxi driver in the city.
South Africa's commercial capital now boasts a metropolitan vibe with a rich and emotional cultural history. It leapt to its current status following the gold rush and has been evolving with a strong financial influence ever since.
Gauteng comes from the Sotho word for gold and it is also the province which Johannesburg is in. This precious metal became the motive of fights for the land and the battles between the English, the Boers and the locals. The local tribes tried to fight for their rights and defend their homes, but they were faced with advanced military equipment from the newcomers with pale skin. The indigenous people of the land were subjected to slavery and suffered for generations. Racism and segregation were normal in their everyday lives. The political situation (control of the Boers) led to the apartheid in 1948.
The apartheid museum is one of the most emotional, but interesting and informative activities in Johannesburg. Once you have purchased your ticket, you are randomly given a card with one of two things written on it. 'White' or 'non-white' - this determines which entrance you take and gives you a taste of segregation.
Once inside the museum, you are taken on a tear jerking journey of the torn nation that South Africa was.
Whilst constructing a faithless perspective of humanity in your mind, several characters on the walls pierce this film. The brave martyrs of the struggle against separatism and then Mandela who changed the face of a country, speak to you through extracts from films and quotes layered on harrowing images. When you look at the country today, you see pride in what has happened, but the museum accurately shows that corruption is still rife in South African politics and the future of the country is nothing certain.
Mandela and his first wife Evelyn lived in Soweto, a group of 57 townships on the edge of Johannesburg. Now more developed, Soweto is a beautiful area with 5 million people and a lot soul. The charm of these townships comes from a deep wisdom which was born in the Apartheid. The site at which 13 year old Hector Pietersen was shot dead on June 16 1976 can be found here. Riots had broken out when police attacked students who were peacefully protesting. The police set dogs on the young students and opened fire. There is a memorial here for the 600 students whose lives were taken by evil men.
Experiences like these have changed the way we act in our day to day lives, and they are a must for anyone visiting Johannesburg.
There is a brighter side to the area, Soweto has two disused towers from an old power plant which have been painted beautifully and now have been converted into an adrenalin adventure park. Not only is there a bungee jump, paint balling, a bar and rock climbing, but there is the biggest free fall drop in the world - definitely worth it!
No matter where you are around the world, food is always important. Johannesburg is not one to let you down. We found two restaurants which were particularly fantastic; an Indian (our favourite) and a strictly vegan (obviously our other favourite!).
Thava Indian restaurant and Green Side cafe both cater for vegan needs incredibly well! We strongly recommend both of them for herbivores and carnivores alike. The 'fancy' restaurants in Africa, do not differ much in price from the cheaper options so do not be put off by fancy tables and lots of cutlery.
Pero, con 'barriga llena y corazón contento', se debe dormir.
(But, with a full stomach and a content heart, one should sleep.)
Laura's parents were celebrating their 30th wedding anniversary with a trip to South Africa and so we joined them to stay in a beautiful hotel in a very central, yet secluded area in the busy city. The Peech Hotel is a great option for a bit of luxury in a homely environment. Find a nice spot by the pool, have a nutritious breakfast and relax in the comfy rooms with all the facilities you may need for some rest and relaxation.
If you are more on a budget, like we are most of the time, there are many backpacker options in this city, you just have to check the area before booking, there are some areas that may be dangerous at night. Don't let this put you off though. We were told that several parts of South Africa were incredibly dangerous and over 2 months of backpacking across the country we have had no problems at all and have met so many beautiful souls.
Johannesburg is the commercial capital of South Africa. The opportunities for someone looking to start a business or slip into to a fast paced way of life are endless.
Johannesburg is rich both commercially and culturally with a history that shaped a country and with people who keep it moving. Please share any of your travel stories from Johannesburg with us and ask any questions you have in the comments below.
For a slower pace of life, read our blog on Cape Town here.
If you have any comments or other great experiences on Jo-burg let us know in the comments below!