Johannesburg, South Africa
October 1st – 3rd 2010

I landed in Jo’burg with a sense of caution about the city. Apparently, daylight muggings are not uncommon, especially if you walk into the wrong areas. The hostel I stayed at was called ‘Gandhi Backpackers’ and is actually a house built in the late 1800s. It was very charming looking, in a classic sort of way. It was in a suburb of Jo’burg called Kensington. I started feeling ill that afternoon and thought maybe it was because I didn’t get much sleep since my flight from Cape Town was at 6 am and I had to wake up at 3:30 am. I started feeling weaker and weaker and then paranoia struck me. Maybe I have malaria! Please God, no malaria… I didn’t take any malaria pills nor did I use much insect repellent in Cape Town because there’s supposed to be no malaria in South Africa… I had lost some fluids (try to imagine how) that day so I walked to the nearby supermarket to try to get some Gatorade (no Gatorade, just Lucozade). Remember I mentioned daylight muggings? Well, I was feeling stressed out from a combination of my illness and paranoia about my surroundings. In my mind, every person that was on the street from the hostel to the supermarket was a potential mugger.I was scared as I was carrying a decent sum of money on me. But of course, nothing happened. And from that point, I hid most of my cash inside my left sock and my cards in my right sock.

I popped an Advil every few hours to suppress the fever. I was feeling nauseous and had the runs earlier. According to ‘malaria symptoms’ on Google, the above are some of the symptoms. By this point, I wished I had taken those stupid malaria pills. Nightmares, be damned. The Advil helped me get through the night (save when I went to pee in the bathroom and almost threw up) but the next day was no better. My body was feeling weak. It was a Saturday and I went in search of a clinic (this isn’t the USA so my chances of finding a clinic open even for half a day were slim). I managed to hail one of the many minibus taxis at the corner of the street. Minibus taxis are old junky vans that are usually filled with many other people going the same direction. The driver will drop people off at certain locations. It dropped us all off at Eastgate Mall, one of the biggest shopping malls in Jo’burg. From there, I had to walk to find the clinic. (Daylight muggings alert!). It looked a lot closer on the map than it was. I must’ve walked 30 minutes before I came across the clinic. It was closed and I was feeling too weak to walk back then so I parked myself in the local library and rested. That placed was old and empty. I guess people don’t read on Saturdays. The area around the clinic had lots of rich people as most cars there were BMWs, Mercedes, and Audis. Walked back to Eastgate Mall later and tried walking around but after a while, took a minibus taxi back to the hostel. Took a long nap. The past two days, I’ve been trying to stay hydrated and eating some Weetabix and drinking some canned soup. Otherwise, no appetite.

The next day, I woke up feeling 60%. Went for my Soweto Bicycle Tour where a few of us rode around Soweto, one of the most famous townships in South Africa and where Nelson Mandela used to live. (His old house now is a museum, filled with tourists). Got to see the poorer side of Jo’burg, even go inside a ‘hostel’ there, which is a temporary residence for people who came to try to earn some money to send back to their respective real homes. The space was so small and it looked so run down, it felt depressing. It was fun to see the kids so excited to see us tourists. They would run to us to hold our hands, get us to carry them, hug us… It was one of the highlights for me. We also sat in a run-down shack to drink some local brewed ‘beer’ with the locals. It’s made of bread, yeast, and ‘sogum’ (sp?). It’s like diluted glue-milk in a bowl which we all took a sip out of in turns. Wasn’t much taste to it and alcohol content was around 2% but some of the locals must’ve drunk a ton because they were acting drunk and had bloodshot eyes. Anyway, that was an interesting moment too. I carelessly forgot to bring my camera so one of the girls on the tour told me she’d send a few via email but I have yet to hear from her.

I barely made it back to the Soweto hostel. Over the course of the 4-hour bike trip, my illness was coming back to beat me up. When I finally got back to Gandhi Backpackers, I took another Advil and another nap. I still wasn’t sure what I had. Then one of my hostel-mates suggested I may have food poisoning. I Googled the symptoms, it was the same as malaria. (You’d be surprised how many things out there have common symptoms). So maybe it *was* food poisoning. I felt relieved and hoped this was the case. The next day, I was feeling even better. And as I type this, I am completely fine now but I’m using insect repellent all the time.

No pics from Jo’burg!

6 Replies to “Johannesburg, South Africa”

  1. hello, how are you?

    i’m living vicariously through your travel diary, esp. those last days you spent on cape town (maybe my #1 dream destination). i’ll be following the rest of your journey and should find time to read the previous entries. are you eventually coming to brazil? as a carioca, a rio citizen, i’d advise you to do so. if there’s one city that can match the wonderment and excitment of cape town (and sydney, perhaps), it’s rio – or so i’ve heard, since i’ve never been to australia or south africa.

    i’ve always dreamt of traveling alone like you and there’s a handful of great blogs on the web that basically reassures me that i’ll be fine and that there’s nothing to worry about, there’s no insanity in leaving home, right?

    good luck in joburg and all the best,
    guilherme, from rio/brazil.

    1. Thanks for following the blog Guilherme. I do plan to hit up Brazil if time and money permits. If not now, then I may plan on coming during WC 2014. You guys are lucky, getting the Olympics and WC!

      You’ll be fine traveling alone as long as you use common sense. People are generally friendly and don’t want to do you harm, maybe scam you a bit but that’s about it. I just got US$3 stolen from me today but I only realized it after the fact, but it’s only US$3 so I’m not mad.

      Good luck!

  2. I’m as paranoid as you about tropical diseases. Although I have a genetic immunity to noroviruses, which cause stomach flu (aka food poisoning) I also have an increased sensitivity to malaria. I found both of these out from the DNA test I took last year. So I’ve actually avoided and even cancelled trips to malaria-prone areas for that reason. I imagine I’ll have to get over my fear at some point if I want to visit some of the amazing stuff out there.

    1. I apply generous amount of insect repellent, sleep with long sleeves and pants even if it’s hot, and use a mosquito net if available. And yet, I have been bitten but luckily, no problems so far…

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