Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Urban Durban

In the coming few weeks, I would hopefully be writing a lot more about South Africa. There are just countless places to visit in the country, each more exotic and unique than the other, that I feel spoilt for choice (and lacking in time). Hopefully I will be able to write about a lot of places I visit in the country and the continent. Also, even though most of the posts will be about the places, I expect there to be a lot about what I feel about the country of South Africa as its sometimes so different from anything I have seen before. There are aspects about the country which hit you everywhere you go and I would be looking forward to penning down my experiences and thoughts as I go along.

Ushaka beach
Anyways, I recently spent a weekend away in Durban. Honestly, I had not expected much out of the trip; Durban is supposed to be just another harbour-based modern South African city. But I was pleasantly surprised! It offered all that and much more. Durban is located on the East coast of SA on the Indian Ocean and hence has warm waters for most of the time in the year. Its also has mountainous terrain which provides it a beauty of its own.

Durban offers both lush green remote hills and relaxed beaches and happening spots in town to spend time. And the highlight for me was this itself; the relaxed aspect of the city, offering multiple activities to have a totally fun and relaxed weekend.

The first view I remember of Durban is the view from the flight, a sea of lights spread till where the eye could see. And just based on the lights, you can make out that the city is very openly spread out, with green pockets in between; a mountainous landscape across the city;  and one end of the city limited by the waters of the Indian Ocean. I had tried to click a picture of this view from the flight to be able to explain better what I saw but the picture did not come out well at all:(.

Umhlanga B&B
While in Durban, we stayed in the Umhlanga area, which is located in the north side of the city. It is supposedly an up-market beach area with lesser tourists than the city. We stayed at a backpackers bed and breakfast located right on the beach at the Promenade and it was amazing. Run by the locals, the B&B was completely relaxed and full of people on backpacking trips. And it was so cheap, it was almost unbelievable!

We stayed in Durban for two days. One of the days we drove around the Valley of 1000 hills and in the evening checked out the restaurants on Florida Road. And the second day was spent just relaxing on the beach, first at the B&B and then in Durban city at the Ushaka Promenade.

The Valley of 1000 hills was a surprising find, as no one had mentioned it before when I had asked some local friends for ideas on stuff to do near Durban. The Valley is about 30-45 mins drive from Durban and takes you through a scenic route. We started our exploration from the village of Kloof (where the librarian took out 15 mins of her work to guide us through all there is to see and visit in the area) and then drove through this very serene and green area.

Kloof waterfall
We did a short half an hour trail around the Kloof waterfall and canyon which felt nice as it was all fresh and green around (and there were not many tourists!). The waterfall was actually a series of cascades, some big and some small. They were not much to talk about though but the trail was refreshing. The trail takes you to the bottom of the cascades which might give you a better view. We however did not complete the trail.

Kloof gorge
And then while driving on, we saw this view of the canyon from one of the viewpoints: Who could say this is Africa? This is one of the two Africas that we witnessed throughout our trip; and this was the rich part: Huge holiday homes located on a mountain with a beautiful view.

Christine's eatery
We drove around for a couple of hours in this area, which had many valleys and beautiful views all across. We stopped for lunch at a beautiful eatery, called Christine's eatery somewhere in the middle of the route. This was the view from the Eatery, with its own personal Bird Park below. It was run by a woman, Christine along with her daughter. Her life seemed like such a different life from the one we all live; living a slow relaxed life in the middle of nowhere, running your own wildlife park and restaurant.

Baby crocodiles
After that, we stopped at the Phezulu village on the route. It was another tourist spot offering a game drive, a walk through their crocodile and snake park and a visit to the Zulu visit to see the Zulu dance. (Zulu is the biggest local tribe in this region). The Zulu dance sounded interesting and we decide to see it. And since we had some extra time with us, we walked through the crocodile and snake park too. There were some 400-500 crocodiles bred in this park, all of them kept in separate enclosures based on their age.

50 year old crocodile
Upto 5 years, all kept together; 5-15 years together and so on. It was actually nice to learn a little bit more about crocodiles, especially that they can live for 110 years (I did not know that earlier)! I still find them yucky creatures though!. The photo on the right shows a crocodile who was just sitting there with his mouth open for the whole time and not moving at all. For a long time we wondered if it was a fake one! But it wasn't.

Green Mamba
The snake park was yucky too (as I hate snakes!) but I liked this photograph of the green Mamba. There are many such private wildlife parks in SA, all have their own animals and their own tourist activities. Private individuals just maintain their own parks which serves as a source of income. I wonder how regulated these are?

Zulu village
After the crocodile and snake walk, we were shown around a sample Zulu village, ending with a half an hour Zulu dance performance. The Zulu dancers showed how a courtship happens in Zulu villages; the man proposes to the girl, tries to convince her to marry him, gets a necklace from her as agreement, visits a fortune teller who tells him his future with the girl, and then gets married accompanied by a 3 day long celebration including a lot of dancing.

Zulu man proposing
I enjoyed the whole performance and the acting of all the performers and was impressed with their level of energy during the whole show. But as much as I enjoyed seeing it, I felt weird and sad too, realising how commercialised even cultures have become now. The performers were Zulu but were now living the usual Western lives. They were connecting with their own culture only when performing in front of tourists. Why is the world becoming all the same; the Western American culture. Though I should say, even though I felt sad about it, I was playing a part in the commercialisation. I was paying to see it, how can I complain?

Marriage celebrations

Marriage celebrations

After the trip to the hills, we spent the evening in Florida road, the hip part of town. The whole road was full of restaurants and night clubs and the trip there made me feel again, why is the whole world tending towards the same culture? We had dinner at a Mexican place, called Cubana. Surprisingly, the waitress was from Portugal and she had come to South Africa to work! Reverse brain drain? Food in South Africa is tasty and very cheap. Most places, one person can have a lunch with starter and a drink for only $10-15! Taxis and shopping and tourism is expensive but food is definitely very cheap.

It is very difficult to be in South Africa and not notice the remnants of Apartheid all around you. At times it feels like you are in the Western world, with only whites around you. And even though its not because the local South Africans are not allowed at these place, they just don't have the money to be in the same places as the whites, given the years of segregation and exploitation. The Cubana restaurant  where we had dinner was completely local South Africans and when we stopped at another place called the TacoZulu,  it was completely white! So even though there is no segregation by law anymore, it still exists! We also visited the Umhlanga area at night and went into 'Cotton Fields' on the beach; it felt almost like an Australian club with the live band playing Australian music and only whites in the club.

Durban from Umhlanga
The second day, we just sat in the balcony of our B&B, staring at the sea, hearing its roar and taking in the sun. Finally when I was getting in the vacation mode, it was almost time to head back home! How sad is that?! The beach was completely empty except for the fisherman sitting there and fishing. The water was surprisingly warm and good enough to go for a swim. And you could even see Durban and the football stadium from there.

Ushaka Promenade
The rest of the day, we spent at the Promenande at Ushaka beach which extends for many kms within the city. It did not feel at all that we were in the middle of the city, the beach seemed such a vacation kind of place. The Promenade was lined with cafes playing live music, performers on the street and people surfing and swimming in the water. The whole vibe of this area felt very Carribbean (another word for 'lively and relaxing'). The whole atmosphere was so relaxed, I loved it even though we did not do much that day.

Caribbean music

Durban seemed like a relatively safe city to be in though we still avoided going to deserted places. The houses in many areas were posh and spread out but there were areas you could see were poor. The harbourfront had huge buildings right on the beach. The people were all very friendly and helpful. I enjoyed listening to the South African accent too, it is almost a sing-song accent and sounds good even though sometimes you cant understand it. Driving was quite easy in the city as there were many highways and well marked roads. People drive mostly by the rules which made the transition easier.

There is a reason why SA is called the Rainbow Nation: there people of different backgrounds everywhere. Durban supposedly has a huge Indian community too, and the Indian quarters are supposed to be quite popular with tourists. We did not visit it but am sure would have been fun.

So all in all, I had a relaxing weekend in Durban, almost like a short Caribbean vacation. but what I went back with, was the feeling of being in a place with a very unfair history. I noticed two different worlds at the same place and reading about Aparthied made me feel even worse, questioning how something like that could have existed in the world till 1990s! I think at some point I need to move beyond it, but for now this is something which keeps coming up as I explore more of this country.

No comments:

Post a Comment