Johannesburg Day 3

Sat, 02 Aug 2008 15:01:02 +0000

Johannesburg Day 2 Index Jo'burg to Maputo

Today was dedicated to getting a Mozambique visa. I'd asked the bloke at reception, Peter, how to do this, and he laid out a clear plan for the day. Wait until 8:00 and phone the embassy to find out how much it costs. Take a taxi to the bank and transfer the fee into their account, collecting a deposit slip. Take the slip to the embassy and submit the application in the morning. Go to the shopping centre and have a nice meal, and then come back in the afternoon to collect the passport. Sounds straightforward enough, but in a strange city it's still a complicated undertaking.

I got up around seven, showered, and prepared to put the plan into action. Just after eight I phoned, and they didn't answer. I kept trying until I got through, and wrote down the fee and the account number. So far, so good. The bad news was that the deadline for getting the passport in is 10:00 in the morning. That makes things quite tight.

It makes sense to do what Peter said, and take the taxi straight away, via a bank. But I didn't know where exactly the bank would be, or if it would be within walking distance of the consulate. So instead I walked down to the shopping centre where I knew there was a bank, taking the gamble that it would open before 9:00. That much paid off: they open at 8:30. Unfortunately the account number was wrong. I had to find a pay phone and phone the consulate again. It turned out that the lady has a real problem with the double "1" near the end: both times she said "...five four - no, wait, one - one three". Confusing. But I got the money paid and hurried back to the hostel to book a taxi.

It was around here that I noticed that not only did I have a persistent sniffle, but my face seemed a trifle hotter than it should be. Uh oh. I don't care about getting the flu, but I'm supposed to be on the lookout for malaria symptoms. If I get a fever I need to track down an English-speaking doctor, get a blood test, and wait for the results, none of which I have time for. So I spent the next few hours alternately convincing myself I was feverish and that it's all in my head, until I was thoroughly confused and worked up. I can be a real hypochondriac at times. Anyway, fever or no fever, I still wanted that visa, so there was nothing to be done for the moment.

The taxi turned up around quarter past nine, and it wasn't an awfully long way to the consulate. It's in a somewhat Escher-esque building, all tunnels and staircases leading up and down and round the corner, but without any actual way inside. I eventually figured it out, and had fifteen minutes to get my application in. Plenty of time, really.

One of the spots on the form, in fact on all these forms, is your address in the destination country, an utterly ridiculous question to ask a backpacker: if I knew, which I don't, it would only be for a day or two before I'm off somewhere else. I usually fill in some random hostel from Wikitravel, but I didn't have that information on me at the time, so I asked another traveller nearby for her Lonely Planet. She turned out to be a New Zealander working for BHP in Johannesburg, and we chatted for a bit.

My form went in pretty much on the deadline, and they seemed happy enough with my deposit slip. I was told to come back at three o'clock, later than Peter had promised, but still the same day.

So the next task was to find this shopping centre. I'd neglected to ask for directions to this, but hey, it's a shopping centre, it shouldn't be hard to find, right? I embarked on a random walk for a bit. I wasted an hour exploring three different directions, none of which revealed anything shopping-centre-like. But I did notice that I was rather close to the skyscrapers of downtown, an area I'd been warned was a guaranteed mugging. So this strategy looked like a bad idea.

Instead I walked back to the consulate, where there was a cafe. I had a diet coke and got some extremely hard-to-follow directions, but more usefully the name of the mall: "Killarney". Killarney is a suburb on the map in my GPS, so that narrowed things down a bit. I just had to figure out how to consult the GPS surreptitiously, so as not to look like an obvious muggee.

It was a real pain walking there. The area is cut up by a freeway and a major road, and there's no provision for pedestrians. One footpath I tried to follow eventually just got overgrown by shrubs (and had quite a few rats scurrying around too). I went on a big long detour, and Johannesburg has taught me to fear suburban streets. But eventually I found the haven of the shopping centre. It's just a mall, but getting there felt like an achievement.

I had some lunch at Wimpy, which seems to be a much classier joint in South Africa than in the UK. It still focuses on horrifically fried food though. And I had a coffee and cheesecake at the Mugg & Bean, useful because they have wifi there. Not free wifi, but it's my best option here.

So then a rather shorter and more efficient walk back to the consulate. I was about half an hour early, and settled in to read. After a bit the New Zealand woman turned up and we resumed our chat where we'd left off. We talked about malaria, and I mentioned my current bout of hypochondria. Actually I hadn't felt at all feverish all day, and since she said that yes, colds were going around like, er, the plague, right now, I decided that I did indeed have a cold. Obviously I'll watch out for fever, and certainly if I get a rash that'll be a sign to seek urgent medical attention. Until then I think I can afford to relax.

It was after four before we were eventually given our passports back, and I got my visa no problems. It occurred to me that this is the last visa I need to apply for (apart from the Chinese one, but that'll wait until the comfort of London). From here on in, life should be much easier.

And to make my day perfect, the New Zealand woman offered to give me a lift back to the hostel. What a nice person. We chatted some more about life in Johannesburg, especially the crime. Growing up in New Zealand, she doesn't have the instinctive paranoia of the locals, which was nice to see. She even said that she gives money to the beggars who approach cars at traffic lights, despite her friends telling her that she's inviting a carjacking. I must say, that was my reaction too. Maybe I've been suckered in by the paranoia. But then she explained about the minibuses here, which are not like the matatus of Nairobi: these are run by real gangsters. She saw a shootout between them on the highway once, after one had been poaching passengers from the other. In L.A., the gangs sell heroin. In Jo'burg, apparently, they sell transportation.

Next thing to do was book my bus to Maputo for tomorrow. Fortunately things don't seem to be nearly so fully booked as they were when I tried to get to Gabarone, and I had my pick of the buses. I booked one for 8:00 tomorrow.

I'd resolved to walk to the further of the shopping centres for dinner tonight, since it's the best place to find an actual restaurant. But this time, I properly remembered to lock away my bag and my wallet in the hostel first, taking only about EUR 15 of cash. I fully expected to be mugged, but at least it would only cost me a small amount (although I guess it'd probably cost me a kicking when they discovered how little money I had).

For just under 100 rand, 10 EUR, I got myself a huge pizza, two beers, coffee and a muffin. Johannesburg is actually reasonably cheap, it's just the taxis that cost the money. Not having any change, I was forced to leave a 20% tip, which went down well.

I didn't get mugged on the way back either, so you can call that a bonus. I made a phone call to Mozambique to book a bed for tomorrow night, which was no problem. So I'm all set for tomorrow. I'm going to Mozambique, and quite likely even Malawi. Things are looking good!

Johannesburg Day 2 Index Jo'burg to Maputo