In Favor of Returning

Because I am on this journey, I see it as forward trajectory and I dislike the idea of backtracking to places I’ve already been.

That feeling is changing.

On my way out of Madagascar, I spent five days in Johannesburg, South Africa. I’ve already been to Jo’burg before, on a college study trip around the country four years ago. I remember not particularly liking the city. I stayed with a host family in the suburbs and what I saw of downtown was pretty drab and empty.

Upon returning to Jo’burg and staying at a hostel downtown, that’s not what I found this time. Johannesburg is a city that has been rebuilt several times. Its thrive level depends on the current state of the economy, so it’s possible I came this time during a recent upswing. Or maybe I just didn’t look around enough before.

The picture I carried in my mind of Johannesburg since my first visit was of a long street between a small cluster of skyscrapers. The street glittered with rubbish and window after window after window said “for sale” with darkness behind each.

These are now the pictures I have in my mind:

A colorful skyline…

…with up-and-coming districts,…

…beautiful public art,…


…an extraordinary museum of early humans and rock art (Origins Centre). (I was so enthralled by the museum that I forgot to take pictures. This is probably the least impressive example I can offer. The exhibits are truly stunning.),…

…delicious desserts in steel truck trailers,…

…and (drumrollllllllll), the largest used bookstore in the Southern Hemisphere. Seven floors of magnificent literary chaos. Before I went in, I looked at the people next to me and said, “Someone hold me back.”

I stayed in two stylish and comfy hostels, one downtown in the Maboneng Precinct…

…and one in Soweto, the famous township outside of the city where Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu lived and worked. (The trees inhibited a good picture. That’s Lebo’s Soweto Backpackers hostel, highly recommended for a relaxing, beachy reggae vibe and helping you comfortably get out and experience Soweto.)

I took a bike tour one day and solo cycled the next day, which inevitably ended up in another infamous African sunburn.

Had a drink at a local bar,…

…got up close to Soweto’s twin towers,…

…and saw the disparity between Soweto’s Maponya Mall and some of the township dwellings.



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