I arrived in Durban late on the evening of August 12th. Instead of resting, I dove into my mini-vacation here with Ciprian, his sister Daniela and her husband Justin. We are staying in the Durban metro area, but we are located in the suburb of Kloof. It feels like a separate town, but then Durban is a huge metro area.
Daniela, Ciprian and I spent the first day in downtown Durban. Few white South Africans go there. It’s a strange dynamic. I’m so used to African cities like Nairobi where everyone intermingles, although I guess even Nairobi has its stuffy white neighborhoods. Downtown Durban is quite lovely. It’s clear that it used to be even more glamorous in a western cosmopolitan sense, but I was quite impressed by it regardless. It has some features in common with other African cities like Nairobi and Accra, in terms of agriculture and street life, but it’s considerably cleaner, with more sidewalks and old European buildings. As I understand it, the clean streets that we saw are a recent phenomenon due to the World Cup, but I’m not sure what the difference would be. It looked cleaner than many areas of NYC in my opinion.
We went to City Hall which, in addition to being a government building, serves as a museum. There is a small art museum and a natural history museum with a decent African animal display. Much of the art is quite good and there is a gallery room where there are many large format photos of different people sitting in an old chair that was refurbished with elaborate beadwork. The people in the photos were asked about their dreams for Africa. Some of the people were famous figures and some were local community members and crafts people. Hundreds of women worked on beading the chair. The project, called Dreams for Africa, is the brain child of Woza Moya an income-generating craft group headed by Hillcrest AIDS Centre Trust. Dreams for Africa is a collaborative art project that is meant to encourage dreaming among Africans and to raise funds for training programs. The links describe the project and Hillcrest in more detail and have links to the photos that we saw at the gallery.
After our museum excursion we grabbed some food at an outdoor market next to City Hall. I believe it is a daily market. There are stalls with clothes and various other useful odds and ends, and there are a couple of food stands. I had a chicken curry with roti – basically chicken (on the bone) curry, no veggies to speak of, sitting in a roti (i.e. a tortilla-like flat bread, but sweeter than a tortilla) and packaged in a long styrofoam box. It was fantastic and only cost me about $2.50 (about ZAR17). ZAR is the South African Rand. The dollar goes pretty far here, almost as far as in Kenya. We walked around Durban a bit more and ended with a drink at the Royal Hotel, which was formerly a big colonial hot spot. It’s a very nice hotel, and has that old colonial air about it with hints of Africa here and there in the decor. The clientele appear to be almost exclusively black South Africans, not white. As I said, white South Africans don’t spend much time in downtown Durban, that is unless they work there or own a boat in the harbor. Of course this is only one foreigner’s observation, but I don’t think I’m far off.
On Saturday the four of us went on a hike in the nearby Krantzkloof Nature Reserve. A “kloof” is the Afrikaans word for a gorge and this is indeed a massive gorge, like a more heavily vegetated version of Olduvai Gorge. We hiked a couple of very short trails, having our breakfast at an area with a beautiful view of the gorge and then making our way down to a small waterfall. It’s winter here which is also the dry season so the waterfall wasn’t heavy, but it was still lovely. There is some wildlife there but mostly we saw zebra scat and a few birds including an eagle of some sort. Probably either a fish eagle, a martial eagle or a crowned hawk eagle.
I got my first taste of driving on the left side of the road on Saturday. Justin let me drive his truck a bit. Driving stick with my left hand is not as hard as I thought it would be, but as a whole driving on the opposite side is definitely a challenge. It threw me for a loop several times particularly when turning and when at complex intersections with other cars. I’ll drive once or twice more before we head to Botswana just to gain more confidence.
Today, Sunday, we did something a bit different. We went to a Hare Krishna temple. The Temple of Understanding is in a suburb called Chatsworth. It’s the largest of its kind in Africa. It’s not huge inside but the building definitely stands out. It’s quite tall compared to other buildings in the area and is shaped like a lotus flower. We listened to some afternoon chanting, which is really more like singing with drums and bells. It was actually very beautiful. Then we went downstairs to their restaurant where we each ordered the buffet and ate some of the best Indian food I’ve ever had. We all took seconds and stuffed ourselves silly. We barely ate dinner later in the evening, although Ciprian did manage to consume an entire 1/8 kg of kudu biltong. Biltong is like beef jerky except you can get it made out of game animals like kudu and eland. I’m not a fan, but Ciprian loves it.
Tomorrow we’re going camping nearby. I’ll write more before we move on to Botswana on Thursday. Cheers!