Waiting For Grace At Park Station: Gaborone to Johannesburg

Cramming so many things into my adventures means I often cut things short, without wanting to. I had to say farewell to Botswana on my third day. I had basically only decided to go there as I was staying in the north part of South Africa so close to the border that it would be crazy to miss popping across the border to say hello to four of my former University friends from Bournemouth University. I flew the Botswana flag in my excellent Guesthouse on the final morning and walked to the bus station. The bus company was Intercape, and the bus station was just the petrol station on the other side of the Mall in central Gaborone.

The Botswana Flag.

The excellent Guest House. Brackendene Lodge. Most travellers and backpackers that pass through Gaborone stay in a place called Mokolodi Backpackers and I guess that;s where I could have stayed. But I wasn’t doing the zebra tours or the visit to the Okavango Delta, I was simply catching up with friends while trying to see some of the capital city of Botswana, so Brackendene Lodge was perfect for me.

Quiet corner early morning on my walk from Brackendene.

Botswana’s capital city is surprisingly quiet. You sometimes have to wonder if it’s really a capital. This photo is pretty much the city centre of Gaborone at 8 am on my short walk to the bus. 

This tourist information centre in central Gaborone had been EXTREMELY kind and helpful to me the day before.

Morning in the Mall in Gaborone before my departure.

Some office blocks in the centre of Gaborone.

My bus is there and on time. The company is Intercape and it leaves from the Shell Station. The bus journey is quiet, calm and pleasant. And of course I’m the only white person on board.

Housing on the edge of Gaborone from the bus.

This clock and the blue fences had been my entrance into Botswana here at Tlokweng. I would be leaving by the same way I came in. The border crossing was very simple and easy.

Goodbye to Botswana. It was a short reunion trip and of course, with most places in life, I really want to go back!

This sign at the Tlokweng Border Post says “Welcome To Botswana” and the gates behind are the entrance and exit to Botswana. The glory about these sort of journeys is they are way way off the usual “backpacker trail” and as such always feel that bit more authentic, like I’m really travelling. 

And on the other side here is the “Welcome To South Africa” sign at Kopfontein. It was a fairly simple, standard border crossing. No hassle. I had a lot of Botswanese Pula and I needed to get them changed into South African Rand, which I was able to do no problem at the gate on the border.

Safely back in South Africa. I really enjoyed the bus journeys in and around South Africa. I used three separate companies – Intercape, Baz and Greyhound. I’d say Intercape were probably the best, but Greyhound gave us free tea and snacks, and Baz picked us up door to door.

I bought my own morning coffee at the first stop, just over the border and began to plan my trip down to Durban. I was due to arrive mid afternoon into Park Station in Johannesburg. From that station I was meeting Grace from Durham (who I met in Soweto Backpackers) and we were going to get the train or bus down to Durban.

A church spire from my window on the bus journey down.

My view from the bus. There was something on the TV but I didn’t watch it. I had my book, my notes and my iPod to occupy me.

Soon I had arrived back in Park Station in Johannesburg. It was my first bit of time in the downtown part of Johannesburg, as I had previously only passed through it plus I had lunch in the suburb of Melville and visited the Apartheid Museum the week before.

Park Station. I was warned before my visit that Park Station is not a safe place. And I stand by that. I had a few hours to kill before meeting Grace. We randomly agreed to meet at 7pm at the Wimpy on the ground floor of the station. We had agreed this via e-mail 3 days earlier. Neither of us had phones – we just had to assume the other would be there. It was like a nice bit of old fashioned travel.

The first hour or so I spent walking around on my own. I enquired about train tickets, and due to a flood the train that night to Durban was OFF. I would relay the news to Grace later on. I then got a few different prices for bus tickets, most of which were night buses. The train station entrance was very dodgy and I didn’t take any photographs in there but I was asked for money manys a time and hassled by a lot of locals. It’s a dangerous place and I bet muggings happen a lot. 

This is the nearby Joubert Park. They tell you it is a no-go area for foreigners, it’s quite sad that the city centre of Johannesburg is so dangerous, especially since I spent a full week in Soweto and found it to be one of the most safe, friendly and welcoming estates I have ever been in. The area near Park Station is also very dodgy, and not recommended. Johannesburg actually gave me the creeps at times, though I must admit I never got scared of those around me because I never carried a lot on me. I did however, on this occasion have my passport and wallet.

 As I was on my own, I decided not to venture out of the station much, except for when I went to the train station entrance when I popped out for daylight, before realising that the train station and bus station were interconnected. Even in the bus station people were acting weird, hoking in bins, staring at you and on drugs. I didn’t want to sit with these types of characters for a couple of hours, so I turned to football, beer and food. A sensible idea!

Upstairs in Park Station is an excellent wee bar called Buffalo Bills. I didn’t see many other bars but I knew this one would be a decent place to relax. It just looked good. I was right. It was superb.

I got a seat in the corner, of course I was the only white guy in there and everybody was watching cricket and football on the TV. This was great!

I got to try three different beers in my time in there and caught a full football match and part of another football match. First up I tried Windhoek, a Namibian beer.

Then to the food menu and a choice for my football and beer lunch!

From the menu I hadn’t yet tried a “Johannesburger” so I had to have one, I had seen them advertised in a few places, and though they wouldn’t look like the one above, it was worth a try.

My lush Johannesburger and chips, plus a Hansa Pilsener beer to wash it down. At this point I shared my table with 2 other locals (all black of course) and we got chatting about the football. They told me that one of the matches was postponed that day due to flooding. The same reason I thought was why the night train to Durban would be cancelled. I think the match that was cancelled was due to take place in Bloemfontein between Bloemfontein Celtic and KaiserChiefs. Most of the locals in this region would have been supporting Kaiser Chiefs. Another match came on though and this was Moroka Swallows v. Amazulu Soweto. Soweto won 4-0 as I recall and most of the locals were happy with that result. I met a local guy called Benny who gave me his number actually and said he would take me to the pub for a match when I got back (I would be returning to Johannesburg exactly one week later after doing Durban and Swaziland). But by now, time had crept up and I had to go to the Wimpy to meet Grace.

Following the beers upstairs in Buffalo Bills, I went downstairs to the Wimpy to wait for Grace. I ordered a simple coffee, and low and behold within a few minutes Grace arrived. I told her about the train cancellation, and so we enquired about a few buses again. Grace being the lady, I let her choose which bus she wanted us to get. We opted for Greyhound which was priced in the middle of the ones we checked. This would prove to be safe and the added bonus of snacks.

A photo of Grace and I. She is a lovely lady and has spent a lot of time in Africa. We walked around Soweto and Durban together, and fate changed when she came to Durban with me, as we met a cool Scottish guy who was working down there, and Grace managed to get a job there and start working. The above photo was taken in Durban, at the Happy Hippo hostel.

Our bus ticket from Johannesburg down to Durban. The trains aren’t that safe anyway apparently and we had two seats together. I was excited at heading south, seeing a beach and Grace was a fantastic travel buddy, pity it was just a short trip. The bus ticket cost 265 Rand, which is around 26 pounds. Departure time was 10 pm.

A final photo I took in Park Station as Grace and I grabbed a last cup of tea there.

The bus queue for Durban.

We boarded the bus early, around 9.40 pm and I’m sure it left on time. Having started the day in Botswana’s capital city of Gaborone, I was now heading all the way down to the south east coast of South Africa, to Durban. Life was pretty good!

From – Brackendene Lodge, Gaborone, BOTSWANA

To – Park Station, Johannesburg, SOUTH AFRICA

Transport Used – Intercape Bus, Greyhound Bus

Nationalities Met – Botswanese, South African, English

Strange Currencies – Botswanese Pula and South African Rand

Key Song –

Random PARK Ji Sung Tribute Video –

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