Monday, August 9, 2010

Durban, South Africa

Drove along the coast, rather than take the fast toll road, to Durban. Just a couple of streets back from the main beach roads there are villages of rondavels in which the locals live along dusty unsealed roads. There were simple street stalls set up at intersections where they were selling bags of oranges.

The main beach roads had large houses with security fences and many looked like they were only used as holiday homes.

We were lucky enough to find a map lying around a hostel that gave us a lot of up to date detail about the roads we would need to get to Durban and onto our hostel near The Point. The hostel was a huge converted warehouse building not far from the CBD, the beach, and uShaka Marine Park. It had a huge parking garage at street level so we were able to leave the car there for no extra charge. The main common area was enormous and rather impersonal but very clean and tastefully decorated. On the rooftop was an outdoor area to overlook the harbour and a bar and TV area. There were signs everywhere telling guests to conserve water and electricity. We washed some laundry but couldn't find any where to hang it and when I asked at reception they told me to put it in the dryer. I couldn't let that pass by telling the receptionist that the sunshine could dry it for free. I couldn't understand why there was nowhere to hang washing in the sun when the country is in a drought.

In the evening we wanted to go to an Indian restaurant for Lil's birthday dinner but it was blowing a gale and the wind was very cold and the only Indian eating places at nearby uShaka were outside. We were keen to try the Bunny Chow, a loaf of bread filled with curry, that Durban is famous for. We had to settle on a fish place that overlooked the harbour and served a seafood potjie, a stew served in a black cast iron three legged pot. It was very tasty.

Someone told us that the sardines were running along the coast so we contacted the sardine hot- line, a local radio station with a recorded message, but the weather was too windy and rough and no sardines were being washed up. When they do run, the whales, dolphins, and the sharks chase the sardines up onto the beach. The locals catch the sardines in large crates and sometimes there are thousands and thousands of them. They can beach anywhere along the coast at this time and unfortunately we couldn't see it happen.

We did a bus tour of Durban in an open air double-decker bus. It was good value and showed us lots of the interesting sights that we could visit later. The soccer stadium was pretty impressive with its sky bridge over the top. You could walk up the bridge, bungy from it, or take the sky car up to the top. It was a pretty hazy when we saw it so decided against any of those options.

In Durban, 60% of the population is Black African, 30% Indian, and 10% Coloured and White, making up the 4 million residents.

In 1994, the new government brought in a policy of Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) to redress the inequalities of apartheid by giving previously disadvantaged groups; Black South Africans, Coloureds, Indians, and Chinese, economic opportunities that they hadn't had before. This means that businesses have to consider the ethnic background of job applicants instead of their qualifications and experience. This has contributed to the 'brain drain' of South Africans.

Durban July is a big horse racing event and we saw many people dressed in brightly coloured extravagant race day attire. Some of the young people at the hostel decided to go to the races too. They were told the day had a floral theme so they were off to find some flowers to feel a part of the festival.

We contacted Karen who is a friend of our South African friends in Canada and NZ. Karen picked us up and took us to Phezulu Safari Park and Cultural Centre. She drove us by the One Thousand Hills Valley which was very smoky as the grass was being burnt on the hillsides. We were able to see the Montsee (I think that's how it is spelt) cliffs where our South African friends did their rock climbing apprenticeships. We saw a Zulu group dance, a demonstration of how the fortune teller/healer worked with bones and herbs, visited a traditionally made house and were told about the protocols, tasted sorghum beer, and were shown how they smoked marijuana through a cow's horn in the olden days (it is illegal now). We also saw dozens of crocodiles and lots of the local snakes, including the mambas and spitting cobras, in the reptile area. For lunch we had springbok and wildebeest salad.

Traditional healer

There is a really good bus service about the city from uShaka Park called The People Mover so we caught a bus in to town and visited the herb (mutti market) market. This market has stalls full of bulbs, leaves, bark, snake skins, bones, feathers, dried fish, baboon feet, and dozens of parts of unrecognisable animal parts that are used for traditional healing. Photos were not allowed so we didn't take any so as not to upset anyone. It was pretty noisy as there were lots of men using heavy pipes to crush bits of wood and bark inside steel bowls. Women were chopping and dicing all kinds of plants getting them ready to sell.

We spent some time at the Kwa Muhle Museum which has a large display on apartheid and showed how the Black peoples' movements were controlled by the use of an identification book called a Pass. Exhibitions on how the Blacks were treated in the United States was also included.

We could see that a lot of work had been done on the beach promenade area especially for the World Cup soccer games and has left the city with a wonderful asset. We were told that the area where our hostel is used to be full of brothels and drug dealers, but now it is a safe, well lit and busy area leading to the tourist complex at uShaka.