So Beulah was kind enough to pick me up from my B&B where I said goodbye to my landlady (who had been really nice and whose guest cottages were great. Her own house where we had breakfast every morning was immaculate–one of those Better Homes and Gardens kinds of places–and she’d serve us coffee and fruit and homemade bread, all while ABBA played in the background.)

Beulah herself was so sweet to me. She not only gave me a ride to the station despite being ill, she also gave me a bar of nougat (soft not the hard turron kind I got in Spain and artisinal for South Africa) and a Zulu wire basket. I hugged her goodbye and got on the bus for Jo’burg.

Greyhound here has it hands down over the States—big double-decker luxury buses with tea, coffee and snack service; actual leg room; DVDs playing (even though it was A Knight’s Tale and Shall We Dance?—the one with J Lo and Richard Gere); and a complete lack of sketchy people or stations. I rode the 6 hours to Jo’burg in comfort and snapped many a (probably blurry) picture of the changing landscape. The guesthouse owner said that you could tell as soon as you left KwaZulu-Natal and she wasn’t kidding. We hit a point where all the misty green rolling hills disappeared and suddenly you were in the West—still rolling hills but much drier and browner with flattop mountains—then positively prairie-like. You’d see townships closer into the cities, a few round kraals off to the side of the road, people hitching and walking sometimes but mostly just a lot a lot of land. I took our one station stop as time to indulge my twin road trip loves—dodgy convenience store food (Cornish pastry, Fanta Orange, Aero (chocolate) bar, fried chicken flavored (!) chips, and biltong, the national South African snack, a version of jerky that comes in eland (I just tried “traditional;” not bad but perhaps an acquired taste even for a jerky-lover such as myself)) and trashy foreign magazines (SL (Student Life), which was the usual student irreverence; bleeding edge, hipper-than-thou music; career advice for the truly young; and nods toward a society whose youth are still integrating; and True Love—not what it sounds like, it seems to be sort of like Essence and Cosmo all smooshed together with a sprinkling of articles on the crash of Zimbabwe’s economy and spousal abuse (according to a report in the article, South Africa has the highest rate of women killed by their partners; for women in South Africa, violence against women and AIDS seem to be the two biggest problems (along with the crime and unemployment that are also major general concerns))

I hit Jo’burg which announced itself like any big city with increasing industrialization and snarling superhighway and the added feature of additional townships. I didn’t get to see a great deal of central Jo’burg just the approach to the bus station, which as any Greyhound rider knows, is nothing to judge a city by, though I did see the Nelson Mandela Bridge. I got out (reminder-less luggage next time) and got a taxi after considerable consultation amongst everyone at the stand who had no idea where my hostel was (the Backpacker’s Ritz—very recommended by both me and Lonely Planet). So I whipped out my Lonely Planet map finally and my cab driver and I started out with high hopes (after a brief stop for gas). So we made good time to Jan Smuts Avenue but then took a wrong turning or two, stopping to consult at least three people in what I assume was Zulu and then a bunch of kids who, as I thought, turned out to be backpackers. Along the way I saw more suburbs like the ones I had seen in Pietermaritzburg—immaculate, fairly upscale, lots of blooming jacarandas and high walls with security systems prominently advertised, all large private residences or offices. We ended up finally not so far from where I thought we should be at a large mansion turned hostel at the end of a cul-de-sac lined with gated apartments.

So I hopped out of the taxi as the backpackers we’d consulted were passing by and, being friendly backpacker types, they offered to help me with my luggage, which I’m sure they immediately regretted as they helped lug my humonstrous black suitcase and smaller bag up and down two short flights of stairs and through two security gates. I immediately felt old, since not only had nice young things uncomplainingly helped me with my luggage, it was clearly old people’s luggage and not the shiny nylon or whatever high-tech fabric backpack I would have had 10 years ago. I was now the Man, on a business trip, just pretending to backpacker vibey-ness. Such is life.

I felt even older when I came back from my excursion to the very swish Hyde Park Mall (in search of adapter and cell phone but netting only dinner and way too many books), called Rosa Stella to decline her offer of having a Jo’burg friend take me around (what was I thinking!), and eventually just crashed in spite of plans for dinner on the town and maybe dancing. I realized later I had come to that stage of traveling (esp. as an introvert) where I just needed to be alone and recharge. So I curled up in my bunk bed, commiserated with the German girl next to me who wasn’t feeling well (“I sound worse than I feel” I told her, my usual post-sinus infection laryngitis having set in. “I feel worse than I look,” said she.) and decided to hit Jo’burg the next day.