Johannesburg · Winter

Surviving the Treacherous South African Winter – Part 1 (recipe included)

A typical miserable Johannesburg winter's morn
A typical “miserable” Johannesburg winter’s day

It’s been quite a while since I wrote last, and I figured I’d better throw this out there before winter has actually left this country.  In case you didn’t know, the South African winter isn’t really treacherous, at least not here in Johannesburg.  For someone who comes from a part of the US that gets quite a bit of ice and the occasional snow, it hardly seems like winter.  However – what I’m not used to is being hypothermic in my own home.

For those of you who don’t realize it, homes in South Africa don’t have central heat.  As a matter of fact, there are a lot of homes around the world that don’t have central heat, even in countries with good infrastructure. Well. Let me be the first to tell y’all Americans out there that you are lucky to have central heat. I appreciate it much more now that I don’t have it.

Johannesburg: Best Weather Capital of the World

Let me explain: Johannesburg is in an interesting spot on the globe in terms of weather. This city has the most consistently great weather I’ve ever encountered (even in the winter). The air is very dry, year round.   All of my Southern friends are probably out there saying- “oh my Gawd, I would love that.”  Trust me, you would. It’s lovely.  Joburg is also at a fairly high altitude of 5,751 feet (1,753 metres).  What this means in terms of winter is this: as I type, the temperature is 68 degrees Fahrenheit (20 degrees Celsius. Yep, I’ve been out of the US for three years, but Celsius still means very little to me.). However – when the sun sets, it’s a totally different story.  The temperature will be dropping down to 39 degrees Fahrenheit tonight (4 Celsius). That’s a nearly thirty degree drop. When there’s no humidity in the air, there’s nothing to trap in the heat, and here in Joburg, when the sun disappears below the horizon, you best be disappearin’ into your house. Then you must pull out every trick in your book to defeat the perilous cold.

Layers, Layers, and more Layers

Ok, I’m aware that most of these “tricks”  are common sense, particularly for anyone who’s dealt with real cold before, but maybe I can give a humourous perspective. I’ve come from a country where I could keep my house at a balmy 72 degrees Fahrenheit year-round, to a country where I wake up in my bedroom and I can practically see my breath because it’s so cold (okay, I’m exaggerating, plus, the air is too dry for that). Layers are important, though, from the minute you step out of bed in the morning to the minute you get into bed.  I’ve been known to walk around the house looking like the bloody Michelin man, wearing:  three pairs of socks under my Merrells, jeans, a long sleeve tee shirt, polarfleece beanie, hoodie (with the hood up over the beanie), jacket, polarfleece scarf, and gloves.  Am I wrong, or is South Africa the only country in the world where you wear layers inside and then remove them when you go outside? It’s annoying as hell to walk around with that many clothes on, but, hey- it’s better than getting frostbite.

As you can see, winter time is not sexy time for me
As you can see, winter time is not sexy time for me


There’s a good reason that people living in places like Russia and Wisconsin tend to drink more alcohol: it does help you warm up (I’m speaking from personal experience, though results may vary). So, crack open that liquor or red wine that’s been gathering dust for a few months, and imbibe! One of my favorite ways to feel warm and fuzzy is a hot liquor-based drink .  I have several recipes that I use in the US, however, the ingredients don’t seem to be available here in South Africa (ag, shame!).   Should any South African readers happen to know of some secret source of hard-to-find liquors, first, do tell! , and second, check out this comprehensive list of hot alcoholic drink recipes:

Hot Water Bottles & Hot Baths

Before I moved here, I didn’t understand hot water bottles.  The only people I imagined using them were spinsters drinking their milky tea by the fireplace, with the snowy Scottish Highlands outside their stone cottage.  Hot water bottles make a whole lot of sense now, even though it’s kind of weird carrying around a sloshy plastic sack of hot water. They’re very useful for warming up the foot of the bed. If you don’t have a hot water bottle (though I can’t imagine many South Africans are without one), go completely old school and bake a couple of potatoes wrapped in foil to throw under the sheets. Okay, that’s a joke, but it was done in the old days and could work in a pinch.  Bonus – you can make Southern-style home fries the next morning!

A mainstay in Southern breakfasts.
The home fry: a mainstay in Southern breakfasts

Now on to my favorite way to warm up: the hot bath.  Yet again, this is just common sense, but did you know that taking a hot(not too hot) bath an hour and a half before bedtime helps you sleep more soundly?  All the more reason to climb into that tub – and while you’re at it, bring on the bubbles and candles too. A great company  from which to purchase handmade, non animal-tested bath products  is Lush.  The distributor is based in Cape Town, but for those of us in Joburg, there’s a store at Rosebank Mall, or you can have their products shipped straight to your house. Grab one of their bath fizzy balls, some candles, a mug of spiked hot chocolate, and you’re set! More helpful hints to come in Part 2…..

**Amendment: I have recently moved to Northcliff, and lo and behold, there is a Lush store in the Cresta mall also! Happiness!! 

My bathtub: one of the two redeeming features of my rental home














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