So from the Swaziland border with our med school student friend/driver, we set off for Durban.
We drove through a fantastic thunderstorm as we neared the coast and then we saw the neon lights of Miami, I mean, Durban.
We checked into the Happy Hippo Backpackers Lodge, which was huge, much bigger than any other place we had stayed in, probably because they built up instead of out. It was so nice, it felt as nice (if not nicer than most) a hotel.
The next morning we went exploring and running errands. The public transport in Durban was unmatched anywhere else we had been. The main bus we took was so easy to follow and it was called the People Mover, an apt name indeed. We didn’t have a lot on our list of tourist attractions except for the Moses Mabhida Stadium and the Victoria Street Market. But Ben had to wire some money to a friend and we figured we could try to exchange our Malawian kwacha, as well as register our South African SIM cards.
That was one frustrating thing about South Africa being more developed infrastructure-wise compared to the other southern African countries we visited. Just about everywhere else, it is very easy to get a SIM card and airtime, costing no more than $2 US for the SIM. But South Africa had to be a bit difficult. Luckily, while we were in Bloemfontein after Lesotho, the guys at the MTN store helped us out and then we were on our merry way.
OK I realize this is a bit tough to follow, but just bear with me. As we tried to find someone who would exchange our poor, poor Malawian kwacha, we had no luck. Every time we tried, people looked at us, bewildered and perplexed. Some even laughed right in our faces. Basically, since Malawian kwacha is a soft currency, for the most part, it isn’t available outside of Malawi. Our fate was sealed; we were stuck with over $100 US worth of Malawian kwacha.
No matter, we weren’t going to let this proverbial rain cloud hang above us while the Durban summer sun was upon us. We set off to the Victoria Street Market, famous for its local Indian influences.
I am not kidding, you could smell the market from several blocks away! The market was vibrant and filled with all sorts of spices: curry powders, garlic powders, peppercorns, coriander, cumin, chilies and more.
Smelling all of the fragrant spices made our stomachs grumble and mouths water, so we had to sample the most-talked about and sometimes most-confusing Durban dish: Bunny chow. Bunny chow is neither food for bunnies, nor food made from bunnies (thank goodness). Instead, it’s a delectable snack/lunch item where you get a hollowed-out hunk of white bread and have a delicious curry poured inside, kind of like the soup and bread bowl from Panera.
You don’t need any silverware for this street food. Just be sure to use your RIGHT HAND ONLY. According to Indian customs, you must never use your left hand for eating or handling food since that is reserved for bathroom use.
After we filled up on bunny chow, we explored some more of the market’s various stalls. At the persistent insistence of one older Indian shopkeeper, we stopped inside for a look. I noticed that most of the curios were very familiar, featuring Masai warriors. I asked the shopkeeper why this was and he said it was because South Africa does not produce most of the curios they sell…they import them from Kenya, Tanzania, etc.! Or if people from those countries move to South Africa, they make them and sell them. I couldn’t believe it.
We left Victoria Street Market a bit later than we had intended and we were racing against the clock for the start of the Moses Mabhida Stadium tour. We arrived 10 minutes after the tour was listed to start and asked if we could catch up to the tour. They said no, even after we made the joke that we were “running on African time.” Clearly South Africa doesn’t run on African time because the ticket man didn’t even giggle and said we could not join up with the tour.
I admit, I felt a bit crushed. If I’m in South Africa, I have to see at least one World Cup stadium; it’s my duty as a sports journalist and sports fan. I was not going to give up that easily.
We walked around the huge complex, which neighbors Durban’s rugby stadium, for a few minutes and stumbled upon a cable car. We asked if it was still open and the operators said yes, we just had to purchase tickets. We got tickets to ride the cable car to the top of the stadium for 360-degree views of Durban and the Indian Ocean.
Although I didn’t get to see the field, I was able to see stunning views of Durban as the sun was setting. After Ben and I took enough solo shots at the top, we headed back into town for some fish and chips—we’re at the beach, gotta have it.
After dinner we were able to take public transport back to a stop near our lodge. There is this cool park nearby that is kind of like Sea World. We strolled through and walked down to the boardwalk to see Durban at night on the beach. We also met two local sand artists who made stunning sandcastles.
I was sad to leave warm, sunny, spicy Durban. Durban is a very diverse and vibrant city, full of interesting history, friendly people and delicious foods.
The next morning we were off for Bloemfontein, a very long bus ride but on a very nice coach. From Bloemfontein we explored Lesotho. But the next post is all about Cape Town!