Wow, this post is waaay overdue – yes, I got too relaxed and even lazier than I was before if that’s even possible. But seeing as it’s a gloomy day in Toronto, I thought that reliving the warm and sunny days of Africa would cheer me up. So here goes, blog posts from 3 months ago….
I finally landed in South Africa and all I can say is “holy civilization!”. It’s actually the little things that reminded me of how far removed I was from what we call western life. Signs that actually light up in the airport, soap in soap dispensers, paying the amount on price tags or even price tags for that matter and being the most vagrant/hobo-dressed person around. After a brief pit stop in Johannesburg to stock up on amenities like English books, pens and most importantly, activating my BlackBerry messenger (I was literally smiling for the first hour after finally being reconnected), I quickly bought a flight out of there to Durban on the South Coast. Word of advice: exchange all your local currency before leaving that country. I learned this lesson the hard way when I tried to exchange all my random UAE Dirhams, Kenyan Shillings, Tanzanian Shillings and Mozambican Meticais at the money changer and found out 1. no one accepted most of those currencies and 2. for the ones they would accept, it was worth so little that I would have to pay them to exchange it!
Once I landed in Durban, I made a beeline to buy a pair of closed-toe shoes since it’s the beginning of winter in South Africa and everyone on my flight was wearing boots and wool jackets. Here I was, the ignorant Canadian, wearing shorts and a T-shirt thinking that Africa was hot all the time. I was pleasantly surprised when I stepped outside and it was 20C! Clearly, South Africans have not experienced a COLD -30C Canadian winter. Back to shorts and T-shirts! Took a quick cab ride to my hostel in Durban and took in the night time sights – it’s a lot like any other western city except there’s no one walking around on the streets (a common theme in South African cities). The hostel, Gibela Traveler’s Lodge, is the cleanest hostel I’ve ever stayed at hands down. It’s a beautifully decorated Tuscan house with vibrant walls and African artifacts and is immaculately clean! So clean that I walked around barefoot – I don’t know if that can be attributed to the cleanliness of the hostel or the decrease in my hygiene standards. Elmar, who runs the hostel, was very helpful with not just Durban but South Africa in general. For the next few days, I wandered around Durban – had a relaxing afternoon in the Botanical Gardens while trying to avoid hormonal teenaged couples hidden amongst the flora, went shopping (had to satisfy the habit somehow!) and hiked up and down the steep residential streets. Like most major South African cities, all of the houses and buildings have intense security measures. There are barbed and electric fences, alarm systems, pin code entry pads, guard dogs and many signs with skulls and crossbones warning of imminent death if anyone so much as accidentally steps on the property. I heard that crime in South Africa was high but some of the security measures in place probably cost more than the house itself. For dinner, I wandered along Florida Road which has some of the swankier restaurants and settled for a small Indian restaurant for a local Durban dish, bunny chow (curry in a bread bowl). Although Durban has the highest Indian population in all of South Africa, it wasn’t the same as the food in India but I guess I’ve been forever spoiled.
After a very peaceful sleep, I packed up all my stuff and boarded a mini bus to Margate further along the South Coast. When I first heard the words “minibus”, I had a PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) flashback to the horror of the Maputo-Tofo ride in Mozambique but I was ecstatic when I saw this brand new, air conditioned, 1 person per seat minibus pull up. It was so comfortable that I had to keep myself from falling asleep so I could take in the scenery. All along the highway, there were small towns on the right and just miles and miles of beaches to the left. In Margate, a very nice man named Bruce picked me up to drive me to the hostel in Southbroom 20 minutes away. Turned out that Bruce is a friend of Neville, who owns the Southbroom Traveller’s Lodge, and he told me about Southbroom and all the comings and goings. Southbroom is a actually small resort town filled with millionaires and their mansions. There’s even this one ginormous mansion perched on the top of the cliff worth R55 million or $8 million USD. To be able to stay at a backpackers place in this town was so amazing but even better was that Neville runs his backpackers as if it’s like staying at a friend’s house! I had the dorm room to myself and the ensuite bathroom even had a bath tub! The common room was actually the living room stocked with comfy couches, hundreds of DVDs and magazines. Neville, Bruce and I chatted all afternoon and played with the dogs (a bull mastiff mom and her puppies). When dinnertime came around, Bruce made delicious spaghetti bolognese and fettucine alfredo. We all sat down around the dining table so it was like eating dinner with friends. We also had conversations like the ones I would have at home with my own friends – politics, movies and UFO sightings. 🙂
The next day, I pried myself away from the TV (oh how I missed TV) and wandered down to the beach. The beach is amazing – so clean, soft and spotless! I was so amazed that I even sent my engaged sister some photos as a possible wedding destination. I was just so content walking along the beach, hearing the huge waves crash onto the rocks in the distance that I didn’t realize until afterwards that I had not encountered anyone else on the beach for the past 2 hours. After some more walking, sitting and book reading, the sun started setting so I started walking back to the backpackers but because the houses are hidden from the beach behind sand dunes, I actually got lost wandering around on the beach! Who gets lost on a beach?! I finally made it back by following some locals and was greeted by the barking dogs (I don’t know if it was a greeting or more them protecting the property but I took it as a greeting). For dinner, Bruce started a braai (BBQ for us North Americans) and South Africans sure do know their bbq-ing! We had steaks, boerewors (sausages) and lamb chops – compliments of Bruce the chef.
Although many people say South Africa is “fake Africa”, my first glimpse into this country has been unbelievable – such hospitality and beautiful scenery. If this is any indication of what the next 3 weeks will be like, it’ll be difficult to move onto the next country!