Our last morning in Durban began with us watching the sun as it rose over the Indian Ocean.
And watching as the area known as the Golden Mile, Durban‘s popular stretch of beach came to life with vendors, tourists, swimmers, people out for their morning walk and workers cleaning up the beach.
One of the things we wanted to do was dip our toes in the ocean. The sand was almost golden brown and soft under our feet. It was our only time in the water since we had been in South Africa.
We waded in, stepped back and screamed almost at the same time when the water hit our feet. It was a nice, bracing cold. But just wetting our toes wasn’t enough. We walked further in as the water lapped our calves. It felt great.
When we returned to our room, our clothes were wet and flip flops full of sand. Disappointingly, I didn’t get any shells on the beach.
Near the street, a few people had gathered to admire this artist’s rendition of a cheetah
and a lion made from sand.
Durban’s artistic flair.
What’s DSW doing on the side of this garbage receptacle? Sorry, Sandra, it’s not the shoe store.
During our last drive through Durban, we came across these sculptures that I just loved.
Before we left the U.S., I had seen photos of Durban’s rickshas and the drivers online. I knew I had to see and ride in one.
And as Don drove us around, we spotted this one. I was so excited, I started to jump out of the car before he even came to a stop.
The driver obligingly put on his elaborate headgear but we didn’t have time for a ride. I could only take these photos.
Named for a former general secretary of the South Africa Communist Party, Moses Mabhida Stadium, played host to the 2010 FIFA World Cup.
This would be one of my last photos of Durban. It had been a whirlwind three days. We had done a lot, racked up several thousand miles and made friends.
Compassline Africa, our travel agent in Durban, had taken fabulous care of us. If you ever plan a visit, send Tanya or Alison an email. They left us in the capable hands of Don “How’s ya Granny” Botterill who proudly showed off his beautiful province and shared personal and family stories, including the one that a distant relative was one of the first people to open the Sani Pass route through the Drakensberg Mountains to Lesotho.
Our goodbye to Durban was bittersweet – it meant we had just one more night in South Africa.
Goodbye Durban, till next time.
Back to Joburg.
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It wasn’t until I was sitting in the dining room of the Beach Hotel on the morning of our last day in Durban that I finally realized what I’d been missing during the two weeks we traveled around South Africa.
At a table close to ours, a group of nattily attired women in dresses made from African fabric, sat engaged in lively conversation. In this room of business people, young professionals and tourists, they were beautiful and regal and easy to spot.
Nowhere in our travels had we seen a display such as this. Most of the women we had seen had coats on, the others – hotel employees, etc., wore uniforms.
Years ago on my first trip to Africa, as I waited to change planes at the Leopold Senghor Airport in Dakar, I watched, mesmerized, the Senegalese women dressed in riots of colors and patterns – no two women looking alike.
That’s what I missed, I thought to myself.
To me, more than anything else, seeing women in traditional African dress is an unmistakable statement of cultural reference, connection and identity that always makes me feel proud of my African heritage. I didn’t realize how much until then.
I’m still not sure what it is about Durban – I can’t quite put my finger on it exactly. But whatever it is, it creeps under your skin, sneaks up to your chest, grabs hold of your heart and just doesn’t let go.
Could it be the sunrise?
Alison at Compassline Africa had booked us into the Beach Hotel and the room we had gave us front row seats to the most spectacular sunrise we’d seen in a while. And as we watched the sun rise slowly above the horizon, I thought of this version of Bob Marley’s Lively Up Your Self. (Bob would have loved Durban too.)
The thing we looked forward to doing in Durban was to dip our feet into the Indian Ocean. So following the sunrise, we got dressed, had breakfast and went down to the beach.
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When we began planning the Durban leg of our trip, we knew nothing about the rock paintings at Giant’s Castle but once we did, they quickly became a must-see.
Created approximately 5,000 years ago by the first known inhabitants of South Africa, the Bushman or San people, and most of it located in the uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park, they are the largest group of rock paintings to be found south of the Sahara.
We arrived at Giant’s Castle just before the mid-afternoon tour would begin and nearly had to sprint to the Main Cave, about a 30 minute hike from the Visitor Center. We were met by our guide, who told us his name was “Charles, Prince Charles.”
We couldn’t help laughing.
Prince Charles told us the story of the San people and the history of the paintings, as much as had been gathered from research. Signs like this provided additional background.
I had expected that we’d be going to an underground cave to see the drawings. Instead, these were right there on the overhanging rocks and exposed to the elements. However, a barrier now surrounds the rocks to prevent people from getting too close to deface them.
The drawings represent a rich historical record of daily life — some show animals (eland, buffalo, etc.), children, men with spears, groups of women, etc. They were made from a mixture of grounded colored stone which was held together with fat and rubbed onto the rock. But they weren’t done just willy nilly. Specific areas of the rocks were chosen to lend depth and contrast. I was surprised that after so many years, the colors remained so vibrant.
There are 500 known areas of San drawings in the uKhahlamba Drakensburg Park, which UNESCO has declared a World Heritage Site.
At the end of the tour, which lasted about 30 minutes, we spent some time photographing the drawings and learning Zulu words from Prince Charles. An amiable man, he told us he had been a guide at the cave for nearly 30 years and was looking forward to retirement.
I wondered what it was like for Charles being there every day. Between tours, it is a peaceful place, with only the sound of an occasional bird, but I got the sense that there were people all around.
When it was time to return, Prince showed us a different way back. While the route to the cave was a punishing climb over rocks, up inclines, over streams, and a path in some places, just wide enough for one person, the return was a breeze. And the view was breathtaking.
A reminder that this is a Heritage Site.
By the time we returned to the Visitor Center, it was time for a relaxing lunch. We left Giant’s Castle for the 4 hour ride back to Durban. It was our last full day in KwaZulu Natal.
I thought Shakaland would have been touristy and kitschy – it wasn’t.
Located in a beautiful and tranquil area of rolling hills overlooking the Phobane Lake, Shakaland is an authentic Zulu kraal with beehive thatched huts built on the set where the movie, Shaka Zulu was filmed, the same land on which the Zulus fought many battles.
That movie was, I believe, my first introduction to King Shaka, one of Africa’s famous warrior kings and the man credited with uniting the various Nguni people into one large, proud and powerful Zulu nation whose influence can be felt today.
I didn’t watch the movie but the name stuck in my memory.
King Shaka of the Zulus, was born in 1787 and ruled for 10 years. During that time, he established himself as a military genius and a statesman.
Smagna, our guide, explaining the workings of the kraal. The women’s huts were always on the left, the men on the right so that they could protect the women and children from intruders. For that same reason, men would always walk ahead of the women.
Single Zulu women wearing short beaded skirts. Older women wear clothes that cover their bodies.
Almost everyone we spoke to before we left the U.S. said we’d love Durban, although they didn’t say why exactly. The largest city in KwaZulu Natal, Durban is also an important manufacturing hub and port. It boasts a sub-tropical climate and some of South Africa’s best beaches.
I didn’t know much about the city when I decided to plan that leg of our trip. And apart from a visit to Shakaland, a Zulu homestead near Durban, the only things we wanted to do was watch the whales, get some good Indian food and enjoy the city.
Then I received an email out of the blue from an author in Durban who suggested his book for my book club. When I told him of our plans to visit Durban, he suggested quite strongly that we had to visit ‘Drakensberg.’ When I asked what that was, he said he had no idea (he had just moved to Durban from the UK), that I should search online. Once I did, it added a whole new dimension to our trip.
Through a friend, we found a travel agency, Compassline Africa, that took care of the details and Tanya, Alison and Don from Compassline met us on arrival at Durban’s Shaka Zulu International Airport.
Don would be our driver for our three days in Durban and not too long after we arrived, we had loaded up the car and were on our way to our first stop, Shakaland.
Don Botterill was a combination tour guide, driver, loveable uncle and a proud South African who was enthusiastic about showing and sharing his beautiful country with us.
We were driving along to Shakaland when he received a phone call. Instead of saying, hello, he asked, How’s your granny? We looked at each other and burst into a fit of laughter.
Once we heard that, we knew we were in for a treat with Don. And boy, did he deliver!
What is it about seeing the ultimate – highest, longest, deepest, farthest, etc. – that makes some people giddy?
When we decided to add Cape Point and the Cape of Good Hope to our list, I was excited. In fact, I was more excited about that than anything else. Well, almost. I was really, very excited about having a drink in the highest pub in Africa – but that’s for a later post.
So after lunch at Simon’s Town and penguin watching at Boulders Beach, we were on our way to the Cape of Good Hope, the most south western point of the continent. Why is it called Good Hope anyway? That’s not a very common expression. Hope equals good, right? There isn’t such a thing as bad hope.
Did a drunken sailor come up with that name? As it turns out, a king, John II of Portugal did when he changed the name from Cape of Storms.
And why was a Portuguese king naming territory in South Africa? Well, it was simple really. The Portuguese were interested in establishing trade relations with countries in the Far East and the Cape offered an easier way for them to get there.
I’d been hearing about the Cape of Good Hope since high school and always wondered what it was like for sailors who had to sail around it (and Cape Horn – the southern tip of South America). How did they survive days at sea without hallucinating about land? Driving around Hwange National Park looking for game, there were many times when I was sure I saw buildings in the distance – but they were only in my mind.
Thanks to Ian Reinders, our tour guide in Cape Town, we kept to our schedule, somewhat. Ian had our whole day laid out for us. Early start down the coast, lunch in Simon’s Town, see the penguins and head to Cape Point.
But you know about the best laid plans, right? When they coined that phrase, they had us – three women with very Jamaican sensibilities — in mind. I mean, we are on holiday, yah? So no need to rush, man!
And there was something to see around almost every bend. Ian was a good sport, though, he’d nudge, he’d cajole but there were three of us against one of him – no contest. It was hardest for him to get us away from vendors. Especially Judith, the shopper, who in true Libra fashion, would get so dazzled by everything she saw, could not make up her mind about anything.
We arrived in Simon’s Town just at the time we would have had lunch – if we had kept our original schedule. A quaint town, it reminded me of English seaside towns I’ve seen in pictures. The buildings look like those I used to see lining the square in small towns in Jamaica when I was growing up. (That one in the middle reminds me of the old Doric Theatre in my town.)
After being on a schedule for more than a week, we had welcomed a free day to do whatever we wanted in a leisurely way. The good thing about being on a schedule is that we got things done. The bad thing is that once we get off the schedule we became so lax about time, we almost got nothing done.
Today was no different. We slept late, hung around the apartment until near lunchtime then we spent more time than we should have in the African store. Only our stomachs forced us to leave – and caused us to change plans: now it was lunch at Mama Africa, then shopping at Green Market Square after.
Seeing the sign to Mama Africa made us feel like we had discovered an oasis in the desert. We quickened our steps and arrived to its door before we realized it wasn’t open. We could taste our disappointment. Luckily, Cape to Cuba, another restaurant was opened so we went there instead.
Cape to Cuba felt tropical and inviting. Located on the second floor of a three storey building, it opens out to a small balcony with a few tables and chairs. The décor is an interesting mix of Spanish Gothic, beautiful tiles, glass chandeliers, palm trees, murals, the Cuban flag and photos of American celebrities in 1950’s Havana. The wait staff wore Che Guevara’s signature beret and shirts with the Havana Club (Cuban rum) logo. Seeing such an open celebration of Cuba outside of Cuba was surprising until I remembered that the embargo in place against that nation is a U.S.-only construct.
They had probably just opened as, except for a man who was dining alone, we were the only patrons. We selected a table near the balcony and ordered drinks from the bar. While we waited, we checked out the view of Long Street from the balcony.
When our server arrived, Judith and I ordered prawns and rice, Sandra the fish. We watched the bartender mix our drinks as we talked among ourselves. The drinks looked refreshing but when my mojito arrived, it was too tangy so I sent it back and asked him to add more sugar. Judith’s strawberry daiquiri, on the other hand, was perfect.
It seemed like forever before our meals arrived. We joked that the fish was probably still on the plane from Havana. We were dying for some appetizers but had been so focused on the meal that we hadn’t even thought of ordering any so we nursed our drinks hoped our order would come. Every time we noticed someone coming up the stairs, we felt sure it would be our meal, but it wasn’t.
Finally, it arrived but instead of bringing two prawns and a fish, our server brought two fish and a prawn. At first, she insisted the order was correct, then she checked her book and offered a weak apology. The first order had taken so long to arrive, I was tempted to stick with the fish, but it wasn’t what I wanted so I returned it and waited, fingers crossed, for her to bring the other prawn.
Sandra took a taste of the fish and rice and made a face. It was so dry, she asked for butter or gravy to soften it. I know if she hadn’t been so hungry, she would have returned it. We definitely considered it but the prospect of going out and finding another restaurant and starting all over was as appealing as her unsatisfying meal.
We were sure we had been served leftovers from the day before. And when mine arrived, towards the end of Sandra’s and Judith’s meals, it convinced us we were right. Mine was freshly cooked and very tasty. The prawns soft and succulent, the rice smothered in a light sauce. It tasted delicious and it wasn’t because I was hungry. I felt badly that Sandra’s was so inedible – Judith’s was only a little better. Normally, we’d rave about our meal and share but I didn’t have the heart to talk about mine and even though I offered, Sandra was too upset to try anything else. She just wanted to leave.
We complained, of course. The worst part is, no one even offered a dessert or drink to compensate for the lousy meal.
After our server brought our bill, I concluded that she must have been having a bad day — and her luck was not about to change. When I checked, I noticed there was no tax included and pointed it out to her. She insisted it had been but I double-checked and it wasn’t. At that point, I wasn’t about to point out her mistake. We paid the check, sans tip from Sandra, and left.
As we headed back towards the V&A Waterfront, we noticed people going into Mama Africa. Without even a second thought, we followed.
A much bigger restaurant than the one in Victoria Falls but with a different menu and the same African vibe, Mama Africa Cape Town boasts an impressive bar area with an unforgettable painting of a snake wrapped round the edge.
Although there were quite a few empty tables, we decided to sit at the bar. We ordered drinks and appetizers while we chatted with the bartenders. When they found out that we were Jamaicans, one of them offered to take us to Mzoli’s but we weren’t up to it. We had an early start the next day.
I’m not sure how long we were there before the band, Abavuki, took its place and started warming up. A lively group of between nine and eleven musicians, Abavuki plays African Jazz and African and American soul. Their music was so infectious, it made us want to get up and dance and sing along to the American songs we recognized.
At one point, I noticed a nun – a very tall nun – walk through the door but paid no attention. When I returned, the nun was talking to Sandra and Judith – figures, right? Turns out, this was a nun in drag selling tickets for a concert the following day.
Don’t remember how this happened —
By the time we left Mama Africa, it was near 9:00 or 10:00 p.m. Green Market Square had long closed and Long Street was turning into the hot spot that it becomes on weekends. We called for a cab and headed for home.
Originally, we had set aside the second day for Table Mountain but our guide, Ian Reinders, insisted we go that first day following our visit to Robben Island. His reasoning was simple: the weather was good and if we waited, it might change and we wouldn’t get to see the mountain. Since we had only 5 days in Cape Town, we didn’t want to take any chances so we agreed.
When we woke that morning, we were both happy and relieved that we had been flexible and listened to Ian. Clouds covered the city and a light rain fell intermittently.
Even on a cloudy day, it’s hard to escape the almost sterile beauty of Cape Town. Some places look so new, so clean, they feel as if they were just built.
After a late breakfast, we decided to head out and explore the city on our own. Tony, a friend in Cape Town, had sent us a list of places to see and eat and our friend, Lorraine Klaasen had recommended Mzoli’s Place, so food was covered.
We wanted to visit the Slave Lodge, a museum, and go to the Green Market Square, a shopping area we had heard good things about. Everything, it seemed was on or near Long Street – the heart of the city – so we asked directions and headed out on foot.
The streets around the V&A were almost empty, as if everyone had left town. I wondered where they could be, where the residential areas were and how far away the townships – and the action — would be.
Don’t get me wrong: we saw people – at the V&A Waterfront, at Table Mountain and Robben Island, and on the streets. But even during the week, I never saw anything that rivaled the hustle and bustle of Johannesburg.
Nevertheless, Ian kept reminding us to be careful and we’d remind him that we live in New York and also get the same warnings each time we visit Jamaica so we knew how to keep our guards up. The evening before, Judith and I wanted to use an ATM that was inside the mall at the V&A. Ian insisted on accompanying us and warned that we stand guard behind whoever was using the machine. I felt he was being overly protective but I figured it’s his city, he’d know it better.
But apart from a woman with a child who approached us in the mall asking for money — unfortunately, living in a large city like New York, we’ve become inured to people like her and spotted her a mile away — no one bothered us and we felt completely safe.
Along the way, we noticed a cab driver and asked him to take us to Long Street. He told us we were only 10 minutes’ away so if we wanted to, we could walk. He even gave us directions to get there! Okay, we’re definitely not in New York!
Sure enough, after a leisurely walk, we noticed the sign for Long Street. Right away, the energy felt different – still not as bustling as Johannesburg or New York but definitely livelier than before. People were hustling about and there were lots more cars, buses and noise.
It was hard not to miss the first shop we stumbled on. Life sized African figures, wooden carvings and furniture marked the entrance to the small store that was chock full of stuff: jewelry, fabric, sandals, carvings and more decorated the walls and sprouted from either side of the narrow walkway. We had to be careful not to knock anything over but despite that, we ended up spending nearly 2 hours browsing, haggling, and socializing with the Nigerian owner, who told us he was a prince back home (aren’t all Nigerians princes back home, a friend asked me when I related the story) before hunger pushed us to look for lunch.