We set off on the intercape bus from Maputo to Johannesburg early this morning at 6:30am. Despite the early bus time, Ronaldo insisted that we go early so he could show us his favorite part of Maputo. Wow, Maputo is an absolutely stunning city. By the end of our short tour with Ronaldo, Andrew and I both agreed that we could live in this beautiful Mediterranean-esk capital. The view of the sea is stunning and the old colonial Portuguese buildings that line the main streets are gorgeous. I am very sad to leave Mozambique, but I know we will be back soon.
The intercape bus is definitely one of the nicest buses we have been on this far in our trip. We actually had leg room, AC, and a bus attendant that collected our garbage and brought us water. The border crossing was smooth once again and Andrew and I both smiled when we got two stamps into South Africa and not just one. As a traveller, nothing makes you more happy than watching your passport fill up.
We arrive in Johannesburg around 5:00pm to find Steven, our Couchsurfing host, waiting outside the Nandos at Park Station just as he had promised. Andrew and I have been very blessed to stay with and meet amazing people during our journey and Steven is definitely one of those people.
The first thing Steven did was introduce us to his girlfriend Roxy (who was waiting in the car for us) and then take us on a brief tour of Johannesburg. When we finished our tour he took us to his home (which is actually a sweet in a hotel) and shower us our room. We were stunned. We would have easily paid $200 plus per night to stay in a room like this at the exact same hotel.
In Johannesburg many of the buildings are vacant because the businesses that once occupied them failed to pay their taxes, and hotels make up a majority of those businesses. To combat this vacancy issue, many hotels rent out half their suites as homes and half as hotel rooms. While Johannesburg is a huge metropolis and bustling city, people are moving out of the dangerous inner city and into the beautiful surrounding suburbs. You hardly ever see white English or Afrikaans people walking the streets of downtown Jozie (Johannesburg). They all stick to the gated suburbs at the edges of the town.
After Steven and Roxy gave us a quick tour of their place, they asked us if we would like to go out to eat at one of their favorite restaurants in Johannesburg. How could we turn that offer down? We went out to eat at a cozy little South African joint called Pucks where they serve delicious South Africa Pizzas, salads, pastas, and meat dishes. Andrew ordered a pizza and I ordered a salad. Both were delicious and we enjoyed every bite. Steven covered the bill at the end, despite the fact that he had just met us a few hours before. Andrew and I are always amazed at the Hospitality we have been shown here in Africa. We have promised each other that when we host couchsurfers in our own home (which we plan to do), we will show them just as much generosity.
At the end of dinner, Steven and Roxy was again drove us around Johannesburg, but this time by starlight. Seeing how much they loved their city just made me fall in love with Johannesburg even more. People give the city a bad rap, but it is actually a very charming place. I think I could actually live here.
After pacing up and down the hall a few times and getting things organized I decided to knock on their door.
No answer. So I knocked again. Still no answer.
At this point I was getting a little anxious. Even though they lived in a beautiful home, it was fairly isolated and calling a taxi wasn’t even an option at this point. Thankfully a few moments after 5:15 (the time we had wanted to leave) Ronaldo exited, ready to go. Phew!
We drove through several of the back roads to get to the intercape station downtown, but Ronaldo saw that we’d shaved a few minutes of time off our schedule and decided to show us downtown Maputo. Since Kylie and I had dashed from one place to the next we hadn’t had the chance to see the city and Ronaldo took it upon himself to show us the highlights.
I’m glad he did because not only did we get a scenic drive along a beautiful coastline of Mozambique, but we got to zip through the city to see the beautiful Portuguese architecture. Most places in Africa didn’t impress me with their beauty or building design, but Mozambique was definitely an exception.
The buildings of downtown Maputo are quite fancy compared to any place we’ve seen thus far. The old mixed with the new as sky-scrapers rose from among humble, albeit well designed Portuguese structures with orange shingle roofs.
After zipping through Ronaldo brought us to the intercape bus station and dropped us off, wishing us the best on our journey.
The intercape. We’d always seen the large double decker buses, towing a luggage trailer when we left Malawi, but never had we looked at booking with them. The price always had put it beyond what was feasible for our low budget.
This time, with the discounts, it was our best option for traveling! The bus was beautiful, seats had enough leg room, they had tray tables (tray tables?!), a bag for your rubbish, a in-bus toilet, as well as security checks and air conditioning. We were rolling in style. Oh, and the seats were comfortable 🙂
As our bus zipped along the road Kylie and I chatted as we watched the beautiful countryside roll by. I thought to myself, I could live in Maputo.
The border crossing into South Africa was simple and efficient, the fact that the building to go through immigration was two stories tall seemed somewhat intimidating (borders have often been small run-down buildings up to this point), but everything went smoothly.
As we drove through the South African countryside, we noticed an immediate change. Beautiful banana plantations and orange trees dotted the landscape. This was the first country we saw with industrial scale agriculture operations.
Even when we stopped for petrol to get a sim card, I noticed that there were card readers everywhere! How crazy to be back in a modern city.
As we pulled into Johanesburg I’ll be honest I was more than a little nervous. The cities reputation overseas precedes itself and I was hoping we’d be able to meet up smoothly with Stephen (the couchsurfer we were to join) and get through safely. As we pulled into the CBD, it was a dirty city. And not a single white person could be seen as we drove the road into park station. I later would learn why, but during that moment I felt like I would stand out like a sore thumb.
Turns out the nervousness was unfounded. We pulled into the station, gathered our bags, and found Stephen waiting for us with his girlfriend Roxanne.
Stephen works in the real-estate market in Johanesburg and is classed as an English South African. He was extremely nice, and so was Roxanne who works in brand image consulting.
The two of them were very sweet, and they gave us a quick tour around the city, showing us some of the sights and sounds of Johanesburg.
After we zipped through the main city area I began to see how Johanesburg has many sides to it. While the CBD area can be rough, as you start moving out into the new areas or preserved areas of the city you start to see a beautiful city, steeped in history.
Stephen and Roxanne decided to show us their favorite part of town which was a quaint little street with an array of restaurants and bars and shops. As we walked the street we chose a little eatery called Estela and Luna which served traditional South African food (Italian with a twist!). The food was delicious! Kylie had a very beautifully crafted salad and I had a South African pizza that was very delicious (topped with olives, fresh tomato, and an array of other items).
Following dinner we got another great tour of Johanesburg and were shown some famous sites and streets (old pubs and diners, old historic parts of town, it was quite something). As we drove around near empty streets I couldn’t help but think of how nice a city Johanesburg is. While yes some parts are very rough, when you step out of the CBD the city really has a different air to it.
We even learned about a mystical creature called the tookaloshi. Think lechupacabra for South Africans. Overall it was an incredible day! When we got to Stephens place and saw the separate private room we were to stay in we were relieved. It was nice, clean, and the place was very, very nice. Time for a good nights rest!