Africa · South Africa · South Africa travel · Travel

Durban recap

After all those posts on Cape Town a while back, Durban deserves at least one more post of its own, given the good times I had there. I wrote about Durban while there, including a World Cup protest during the tournament and a visit to the Ohlange historic region in Phoenix township north of Durban, plus visiting Tzu Chi’s rural project in Umbumbulu, south of Durban. This time, let me just wrap up and reiterate what’s so nice about the laidback coastal city.

Durban is on the other side of South Africa (in the East) from Cape Town, facing the Indian Ocean. Before I went there in June, the only thing I knew about it was that it was mentioned in the classic King Solomon’s Mines. Now, I know it as a bustling port city with great weather and a fine beachfront right on its doorstep, elegant Victorian buildings in the city center, and the bunny chow, its famous dish composed of not rabbits, but curry meat, beans and potatoes tucked into a half-loaf of bread. Its most famous landmark may very well be its newest, the Moses Mabhida Stadium, newly built for the World Cup, and which I took countless pictures of. The structure itself is attractive, with its brilliant white exterior and arch that soars across from one end to the other, but people can also take a ride to the top of the arch, or walk, and enjoy a sweeping view of the city and the coastline. This is according to what people told me though, because I didn’t do it but I did enjoy many views of the stadium including from the inside during 2 World Cup matches.

The beach or Golden Mile, it should be obvious why it’s called that, is nice to walk along. Besides swimming, surfing or enjoying the sights, there are crafts vendors, bars and an aquarium and marine park near the harbor, which is the largest in Africa.
The city centre has a reputation for being a bit shoddy and even dangerous. While nothing untoward ever happened to me there, parts of it are kind of rundown, with abandoned storefronts and old facades, and caution should always be taken. But parts of it are splendid as well, with the City Hall and the area around it that boasts fine Victorian structures that exemplify the city’s British colonial heritage. City Hall itself has two museums inside as well as a music hall with one of the world’s largest organs, which I got to see thanks to some kind staff members who let us in even though it was closed.
Durban is also home to one of, if not the largest Indian populations outside of India (about 1 million) so it doesn’t come as a surprise that curry dishes, rotis, and samosas are popular, easy to find and great to taste (really miss the 3 rand (.40US$) samosas at Spar).
One of the city’s most well-known attractions is the Victoria Street Indian Market. I thought it was a street market, but it’s actually a mall with lots of curry vendors and African crafts stores. And yes, some of these crafts stores are run by Indians. Nearby is a fish market but there’re also vendors selling “smileys” – goat’s heads that have a slight trace of a smile on their dead faces – that brave souls, not me, can try a bite of. Near the market is the Juma Masjid, which is said to be the largest mosque in the Southern Hemisphere. It didn’t seem that impressive though, because it was smack in the middle of a shopping district and itself had many stores along the first floor of its exterior facing the street.

Durban may not have the beauty of Cape Town or the hustle and bustle of Johannesburg (which is actually a good thing), but it is a great place to relax and to enjoy cultural diversity different from the rest of South Africa. It’s also a good point to set off towards the Drakensbergs or St. Lucia Wetland Park, both World Heritage Sites, as well as the Zulu lands in the Land of a Thousand Hills. Beaches run both north and south from Durban, with the north being more upscale. The new airport (King Shaka Zulu, just opened May 2010) is also up north and flying into it gives you a good view of some of these really upscale beachfront homes.

City Hall.

Durban beachfront, looking towards the city center.

Vervet monkeys running wild in the neighborhood, with the 2 on the right being kind enough to tolerate me taking their picture.

Seems like no matter where you look at the city from, the World Cup Stadium stands out, and in a good way.

A band performs at Burn, a Durban rock mainstay that’s seen better days but is still a decent place to hang out, especially the rooftop lounge. Still, the pitifully short free-drinks period on “free drinks” night (another night) was pathetic.

uShaka (yes, that’s how it’s spelled) aquarium.

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