When I was in Johannesburg late last month I was extremely surprised to see how great the US dollar fared. No matter what the exchange rate indices or the airport exchange houses say, you just never know how great (or not so great) the dollar does until you get into a country and start spending money. That is why I pretty much won’t go to Europe right now.
The first day I was in Joburg I went to a grocery store and spent $10 USD on a bottle of wine, two bags of potato chips, a huge chunk of cheddar cheese, and a whole box of crackers. That is when I realized I would be able to eat very, very well during my stay in South Africa. The exchange rate between the rand and the dollar is great. It also doesn’t hurt that Johannesburg has amazing restaurants and their wines are some of the best in the world.
After long days visiting NGOs and getting a feel for the city, it was nice to sit back to enjoy a great dinner, especially when everything was so ridiculously cheap! This is the first time I have been able to buy a full course meal including appetizer, entree, and a full bottle of wine without blinking an eye. If it had been the States in say DC or Washington, or in Europe, say London or Berlin, the full course meal would have been a “no go” and a full bottle of wine would have been OUT of the question.
All in all I rather enjoyed Johannesburg (mostly because of the exchange rate) although the city really had to grow on me. I didn’t expect the level of segregation I saw. After all, we have all heard apartheid died in the 90s. Well, there are still vestiges of it running throughout Johannesburg. The best restaurants seemed to be in the suburbs where there were few brown people. So, yes, there is a lot of progress Joburg still has to do. The only time I saw some race intermingling was at a Saturday market in the city center of Johannesburg (photos below). It’s sad, but it does seem like things are changing for the better. At least, I hope so.