Digging Durban

Trip Start Aug 26, 2012
Trip End Dec 22, 2013

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Where I stayed
Happy Hippo Accommodation Durban
Read my review - 5/5 stars

Flag of South Africa  , KwaZulu-Natal,
Sunday, December 2, 2012

In planning my travels through South Africa I knew that I had to apply for my Indian visa along the way which would mean spending at least a week somewhere to do this. The only places with Indian embassies accepting Visa applications were Johannesburg, Pretoria and Durban.  I thought Durban would be the best place to lay my hat and I guess it was, as my one week turned into two, partly because I didn't apply for my visa straight away and partly because I was very intrigued by this strange city and realized I was in no hurry to leave.   I stayed at a great backpackers, the Happy Hippo (www.happy-hippy.co.za), which is a funky place set in a warehouse with rooms around the edges and large common spaces in the middle. The location is a bit odd as it in an industrial part of town near the port but it is also by Ushaka Marine World (a shopping area/aquarium/water park all rolled into one) and has close proximity to the beach and waterfront promenade.  Also having stayed there so long I also got to know the owners a bit and become friends with some of the staff who made me feel at home

I’ve heard descriptions of Durban such as the city where first world meets third, or Durban is where Monte Carlo meets Las Vegas.  I would agree with both descriptions but I would include Fort Lauderdale from an architectural perspective, somehow into the second one.  Durban is a major holiday destination for South Africans because it’s on the coast and the water is always warm.  However aside from the beach scene and a few other tourist places there is not much to see and do especially for a foreign tourist.  Nevertheless, my first three days in Durban was spent playing tourist with Jesse as she was leaving to go home soon.  Then the day she was leaving, Tymaree and Andre were arriving for about four days and we continued to play tourist on as slightly lesser scale. Here’s how the week’s played out.

Jesse and I arrived in Durban around 10:30pm on a Sunday night and we had it on good authority (Jonny, our Baz Bus driver and Durban native) that out of all the nights Jesse and I were going to be here together this was the best night to go out on the town.  And the place to go was Joe Cool’s in North Beach.  So a quick shower and change and we were in a cab heading out in hopes to catch some of the action.  We definitely walked into a bit of a gong show at Joe Cool’s but it was a good vibe, and quickly meet some South African marines who were good for a laugh and ended up having a really fun night.

The next day, we spent the morning wandering around UShaka and then went with Mika and Ines (girls we meet on the Baz bus from Coffee Bay) for a walk through town to the Victoria Street market to look at the stalls and sus out a recommendation on where to go for a good bunny chow.  What is a bunny chow you ask? Well it’s concept that came up during the apartheid regime, when Indians were not allowed in certain shops and cafes and the shop owners needed a way of serving take-aways to the people through back windows.  It consists of taking half a loaf of bread, carving out the middle to make a bowl filling it with curry and then placing the carved out piece back on top.  The recommendation was a small little place on a corner that we walked by trying to find because it was so small. But it was spot on!  The curry was so hot and spicy all of our lips were burning but no one was complaining.  

The afternoon was spent wandering back along the waterfront promenade which spans all along the coast from the port up to the Stadium, covering a distance of approximately 6km.  Here you will see all kinds of people, poor, middle class, wealthy, white, black, Indian and mixed races enjoying the waterfront either by strolling, running, riding bikes, going for a swim, napping or just sitting having a bit to eat.  The beach and waterfront are relatively quiet during the week but starting about Thurs. the crowds get larger and then by Saturday the whole waterfront is absolutely packed. I loved to watch the build-up of the crowds during my two week stay.  Especially the second week as school holidays had started and the kids were hanging out at the beach full force.  The waterfront was always a good vibe and provided great people watching so that is where I spent most of my time after Jesse, Tim and Andre left.

For dinner and drinks that night we decided to try out an area called Florida Rd (supposedly equivalent to Long Street of Cape Town) and went to good place called TacoZulu.  I know, why are we going to a Mexican place in Africa…..well why not. Where else can you get guacamole and Doritos? This in Africa (TIA) remember.  While dinner was good and we had a few drinks, Florida Rd definitely does not compare to Long Street. It was a Monday night, the slowest of the week but I also went back with Tymaree and Andre on a Friday night and while it was definitely busier there was still no comparison to Long Street.  Perhaps we were not on the right part of Florida Rd….I guess I’ll never know.

The next two days was spent touring to a rural Zulu village and a few townships in Durban with a fantastic guide named TK (short for Thami Khuzwayo).  TK was born and raised in Ntuzuma, a township in Durban, SA.  When he was 20 years old, having become concerned by the level of crime and teenage pregnancies around him, he started a community project called Freedom Extravaganza.  The project grew, becoming a popular youth theatre group, which has travelled to a number of countries around the world including Canada (Vancouver).  It was on these journeys that TK became conscious of how little people knew about the life of the South Africans and realised there was a widely held mis-conception about the people who live in the townships.  He began to invite international visitors to his home and noticed that their first, and perhaps most surprising impressions was that they could walk around the township and feel so safe.  From this TK started his own tour company called Vibe Tours (www.vibetours.com) and is a manifestation of TK’s hopes and aspirations to expose the true nature of SA townships to international and domestic visitors.  He has also turned his home (previously his mothers who passed away) in his township into a backpackers (www.townshipvibebackpackers.com) to allow visitors to have the experience of living in a township.  His backpackers just recently got into the latest edition of the Lonely Planet which is such a great opportunity for him and I really hope it opens his doors so to speak.

For our Zulu village tour, TK picked us up in the morning and we drove about an hour inland from Durban to the Valley of a 1000 hills area and it was just that, rolling hills for as far as the eye could see.  We arrived at the village of Isithumba and picked up another tour guide (unfortunately I can’t remember his name and didn’t write it down) who is a native of this village and would be taking us around for the day.  We first drove a little out of the village to drop off some food that would be cooked for us for lunch and then went for a bit of walk up the hill to get a view of the village and river and learned a little bit of the history of the area and how it was first settled by the Zulu’s.  Then we got back in the van and drove back into the village and then continued our walk.  Our first visit was to the tuck shop where staples are sold to the villagers, as this is the only source unless they go to Pinetown a suburb of Durban.  We had a taste of what they call Fat Cake, which is essentially fried dough; delicious of course.  From there we continued through the village to the spiritual healer’s house on the way learning how the Zulu’s live in the village and some of their traditions and customs.  The healer was unfortunately not home but our guide gave us a good overview of what he would do, what things he would treat and how he would give treatment.  Continuing on to the traditional healer’s home, our bad luck was continuing as she was not at home as well.  It seemed her child was sick and had to take her to the clinic.  Ironic I suppose, but good to see that they know enough when their ways of healing the sick may not be enough, and need to go to the doctor.

Next we strolled down to the river and got a lesson on Zulu dating.  Apparently the river is where it’s at in terms of meeting a boyfriend/girlfriend.  The boys would come down to the river in the pretense to be washing their own clothes or bath but in reality they would be there to check out the girls. If they liked one, they would talk to the girl and basically get to the point that they wanted her to be their girlfriend.  The girl if interested would let them know by spilling water on or near them as they were leaving the river.  The ultimate commitment was if a girl made a bracelet from a reed and gave it to the boy.  With this bracelet the boy could go to the girl’s family and arrange marriage and the dowry, which depending on the wealth of the boy’s family could be anywhere from 3-12 cows.  Now a days though, not many families have cows so dowry’s are becoming more cash based.  As expected, Zulu culture does allow for a man to have more than one wife or girlfriend.  Our Zulu guide had three girlfriends having a small boy with one of them, all in different villages. I asked if he would marry any of the girlfriends and he said the mother of his child is the most likely one for him to marry but sounds like he would still continue to have girlfriends.   I really appreciated him being so open about this part of their culture and we indeed bombarded him with questions which he really seemed to enjoy and appreciate as well.  I get their point of view on this topic especially when back in the day more children meant more help on the farm and therefore a better chance at being wealthy.  But in today’s world with farming not being as predominate in the villages and more and more people are going to town to work, that theory doesn’t hold as much weight.

While at the river we meet the chief’s first wife who was on her way to collect firewood and found out through talking with her that the chief was also not in the village today.  So we were three for three in not meeting any of the leaders in the village….to which we responded to our guide "This is Africa".  Regardless we went to the chiefs home to see it and meet his second wife who was there with her daughter and children.  We sat for a while as our guide explained the role of the chief in the village and how he handles different situations such as theft, fighting etc., and how if necessary  he would then go to the police. Then it was off to enjoy a traditional lunch of pap (maize meal), butternut squash, spinach, cabbage and tomatoes.  It was very delicious and the portion was enormous.  After saying goodbye to our guide, TK drove us back to Durban and dropped off us of at the largest mall in the Southern Hemisphere known as Gateway Mall.  This thing puts Vaughan Mills to shame.  It was enormous and had every imaginable western store.  There also was a surf pool, rock climbing wall, and a mini putt.  It was a day of two extremes for sure.

The next afternoon TK picked us up once again to take us on our township tour.  The first township we visited we just drove through to get an idea of what a township is all about.  This was one of the poorer townships in Durban, in that the houses were built with anything and everything and abolitions placed very close to the houses and roads.  There was definite a good vibe as we drove through in that everyone was out walking around, talking with people and generally going about their day.  There were some concrete houses already built and being built by the government that are providing decent housing to those living in their current shacks.  It is the hope that by 2020 all of the people in townships will be housed in decent government built homes. 

Next we drove through a colored neighbourhood and an Indian neighbourhood to get a different perspective. And different we did.  We noticed that the houses were obviously better constructed and larger in the colored neighbourhood and this was a given in the Indian neighbourhood.  In the coloured neighbour there were definitely less people out in the streets but still some.  And in the Indian neighbourhood, not a soul was to be found.  We had a good laugh with TK on this as we all understood what this meant and its significance. The more money one has, the more things you buy to occupy you on the inside and there is no need to rely on your neighbours and community for anything. 

Then it was off to explore TK’s township of Westrich, Newlands West.  After parking the van we got out and wandered over the barber’s  for a quick chat with them , then over to the tuck shop for a look and then next door to the neighbourhood daycare to meet the kids and the tireless lady who look after them while the parents are at work.  TK then took us to his house/backpackers for a tour and a cup of tea and a nice chat about anything and everything.  I really enjoyed listening to his life story and asking questions of him to gain his perspective on township life and apartheid.  Our last stop of the day was to a local butchery were we had a Shisa nyama (means burn the meat), or a braai (BBQ) at the butchery.  We bought some different types of meat, some bread, tomatoes and chillies and then they grill the meat for us.  Great way to end the day! 

Being Jesse’s last night in Durban we went to a night club called Sasha’s.  Unfortunately it was a bit of young crowd and the rainy weather likely kept most people in so it wasn’t too crazy of a night but nice to go out.  Finally after four days of being in Durban I got around to submitting my Indian visa application in the morning before Tymaree and Andre arrived.  Since they still had their rental car for the afternoon we went for a drive up the coast a bit to an area called Umhlanga Rocks an upmarket beach suburb (read as white area) for a bit of lunch at a pub and a brief walk on the beach

On Saturday we decided to rent bikes for the day.  Our first mission on the bikes was to secure tickets to the soccer game that evening for us and the security guard from the Happy Hippo as we invited him the night before (after hearing rumours about the game).  We first rode up to the Moses Mabhida Stadium thinking we could buy tickets there only to learn we had to buy them at Shop-Rite (grocery store).  So based on loose directions from the guard there we went off in search of the Shop-Rite, found it and got ourselves 4 tickets for R100; women only had to pay R10!

With tickets in hand we then made our way back to the waterfront and biked back down,  for a pit stop at Ushaka to watch the Zulu dance competition.  The one judge would have given Simon Cowell a run for his money.  Harsh was an understatement and he said no to continuing on to the finals more then he said yes.   Next we rode through the port area and over to the other side looking for a place called Wilson’s wharf.  Not finding much there (thinking we were at Wilsons wharf – but we later realized we weren’t) we set off to find Davenport Rd, which was supposed to have some pubs.  Our next mission was lunch and the televised rugby game (SA vs. England).  Despite having a map and consulting it often, we somehow missed Davenport Rd and had to circle back eventually finding it but named as Helen Joesph Rd.  Apparently the city of Durban began changing the street names within the last five years.  And because the street naming changes are still taking place, there is no correct map to consult and locals don’t know the new names if you ask them, reference the old names when giving directions but the street signs are the new names.  It’s confusing, challenging and funny all at the same time.  Finally we had some lunch but no rugby to watch as it didn’t start until 4:30pm and we had a soccer game to go to!

Cycling back to the stadium, and nicely asking a security guard to watch our locked bikes we meet Forward (the security guard and yes that’s his name!) at the gate and proceeded in.  What an impressive looking stadium (www.mmstadium.com) that was built for the 2010 World Cup and was the venue for the Germany-Spain semi-final game.  The game we saw here, AmaZulu vs Free State Stars did not fill the stadium like I’m sure the world cup games did, but still there was a lot of spirit from the fans that filled the very small section we were in.  It was great to see the AmaZulu fans having fun, dancing, singing and chanting for their team.  In the end it wasn’t enough and AmuZulu lost the game.  The team has been having a very bad season and hadn’t won a game against Free State since 2009. Two days later I read in the paper that the AmaZulu coach was fired, with the recent loss as the final straw.  A storm was a brewing during the game and with it being an open air stadium the wind was something for the teams to contend with.  With every kick of the ball no one was sure where the wind would carry the ball and land. After the game as luck would have it the rains came and we had no choice to cycle back in the storm along the beach.  Soaking wet when we arrived back home would be an understatement.

The next day the weather wasn’t much better so after brunch at a café, we wandered back to Joe Cool’s just in time to participate in happy hour!  It was a good way to pass the time away, hoping that the weather would be better tomorrow.  Thankfully it was and finally a proper beach day was had.  This was Tymaree and Andre’s last full day in Durban so glad they could finally enjoy the beach.

After saying goodbye to my dear friends the rest of my time (5 days) in Durban was spent not being a tourist and pretending to be a local.  After finally getting my visa and getting funds for the next leg of my journey I could make plans to move on from Durban.  But before I did I spent as much time as I could hanging at the beach when the weather was good, people watching , catching up on my blogs and meeting fellow travellers at the Happy Hippo; especially a girl who had crazy TIA stories about buying her South African cell phone from a guy who runs an Indian restaurant and convincing a guy in a shoe store to let her buy the CD of South African house music that he was playing because she loved it.

Durban was a much need break and while at times near the end I found myself saying to myself “I’m bored” I knew that I needed this downtime to catch my breath. 
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JoJo on

I laughed my ass off when the traditional healer had to take her daughter to the doctor!!!

Bunny Chow sounds yummy... all i could think about was the Suicide Powder your college made with all those home grown chillies... which i still enjoy... even this day as i am eating it with Ketchup!!

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