Note: This is the third in a series of posts about my experiences at the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa. You can read the first post, Twenty Days in South Africa for the World Cup, to get an overview of what we did while we were there and the second post is about the soccer. This post is about our travels in and around Durban.
Durban is located on the east coast of South Africa on the Indian Ocean. It has a warm, tropical climate and although it was winter, it was about 75 degrees during the day the entire time we were there. We were told it gets to be 100+ in the summer, so spring and fall is the best time to visit. It was a welcome change of pace from Guateng, the province of Pretoria and Johannesburg. Durban seemed much safer than Joburg and the rest of Guateng, as there was much less razor wire and almost no electric fences. Durban was full of natural beauty. The city has some of the best beaches in the world for swimming and surfing, and right nearby, you’ll see some of the most beautiful coastline in the world.
We drove from Rustenburg down to Durban, without a place to stay. We kept calling places, but everyone was booked. We finally started to ask for recommendations and were told to call Florette, who had rooms to rent in her house. The price was reasonable and the area was nice, so we booked. Her house was in Umgeni Heights in Durban North, which is just north of the Umgeni river. Her neighborhood was located on the top of some hills and provided picture-perfect views of the ocean and Moses Mabhida stadium about 5k to the south.
We didn’t really have a plan, but luckily Florette had us covered. Not only was she a great host, but she also was a lecturer at the local university teaching tourism. Florette and her daughter Melissa helped plan out the best places for us to go for the time we were in Durban. Each morning, we ate a homecooked breakfast and then went out for the day. We saw two matches in Durban and like I said earlier, Moses Mabhida stadium is the most beautiful stadium I’ve ever been in.
Our first full day, we drove inland to PheZulu to learn about Zulu history. The drive to PheZulu was beautiful. We went up winding roads to high mountains that had great views of the valleys below. Once we got to PheZulu, we learned about Zulu culture and ate a Zulu meal of Pojtie, which is like a stew. We also were introduced to Biltong, which is sort of like South African beef jerky, but with real flavor. It’s sold all over South Africa and we ate a bunch of it during our stay.
We decided to take the scenic route back toward Durban and drove through areas of extreme poverty, right next to 3 story houses. It’s amazing to see people living in shacks right next to 5000 square foot luxury houses. It was important to venture off of the main highways because as one guy put it “if you’re driving on the toll roads, you might as well be in America.” He was right. We saw a whole different side of South Africa when we went off the main roads, but we never once felt threatened or in any danger.
That night, we decided to go to an Indian restaurant for dinner. Durban has a huge Indian population of many well to do merchants and business owners. We at at Vintage on the recommendation of a guy working at an internet cafe and it didn’t disappoint. The tandoori fish was the highlight of the meal, but everything was great. Although they seemed to have raised their prices for the world cup, it was worth it since everything we were buying was so inexpensive compared to home.
The next day, Florette was nice enough to take us around to her favorite spots in Durban. First, we went to the Sharks Board, the people who are in charge of making sure that there are no shark attacks at Durban beaches. In the past, there were frequent shark attacks, with many being fatal. In the 1950s the Sharks Board started to put nets a few hundred meters off shore to deter the sharks. Since the nets have gone in, there has not been an attack on a netted beach. The Sharks Board museum was really interesting and included a shark dissection of a shark that had been caught off the Durban coast (decided not to post the shark pic).
Next, Florette took us up the coast to Ballito, where we looked at some huge waves on beautiful beaches. We were told that last summer when the moon, earth and sun were in a line, the tides were huge and washed out much of the road we were driving on. I could definitely see it happening, since the waves were huge, probably 12-15 feet. Its no wonder that Durban is one of the stops on the pro surfing tour. We went further up to Salt Rock and Shaka’s Rock, the place where Shaka Zulu, the great warrior leader of the Zulus, would plan his military strategies. He was a great tactician and used the attack of a buffalo as the model for his army. He was one interesting guy and if you like history, I’d suggest checking out some of his background.
We drove back down the coast back toward Durban to sample Durban’s famous cuisine: bunny chow. I have no idea where it got its name, but bunny chow is delicious. It’s a half loaf of bread, hollowed out, then filled with hot, spicy curry. We went to Some Like It Hot and shared mutton (why don’t we have more mutton here? It’s great if you cook it right), prawn, chicken and veggie bunnies. You’re supposed to eat them with your hands, but we had to use forks and knives since we weren’t experts yet. I think bunny chow would really catch on as a foodcart in the United States.
Speaking of free business ideas, we ate a ton of pies in South Africa. Not apple pies, but savory pies with flavors like curry, feta and spinach, mincemeat and veggies and tons of others. They cost about $1 and you can find them pretty much everywhere. I think pies would do extremely well in the US as fast food or snacks. They’re cheap and taste really good. The other import I’d like to bring back is the chili sauce that goes on Boerswoers, or South African sausage. We had ton of these, but the sweet chili sauce was great. I can’t find anything that tastes like it in the US and think it could take off. It’s spicy, yet sweet, sort of like sweet and sour sauce, but more spicy. After the Spain/Switzerland match, I’d convinced a street vendor to start importing to the US, but I’m not sure he’s going to follow through!
The next morning, we drove over to uShaka, which is sort of like the Wisconsin Dells of Durban. It’s a bunch of tourist attractions that really weren’t our cup of tea, but the beaches on the other side were beautiful. They’re huge sand beaches that are protected by the shark nets and offer great views of Durban and the stadium. We walked along the boardwalk, up to the fanfest and then relaxed in the warm sunshine until we were ready to go to the game later that day. We intended to go to the Victoria Street Market, but we couldn’t organize a tour that worked for us. If I go back, I’d like to check out the Market and old part of the city with a guided tour.
The next morning, we had to say goodbye to Durban so we could drive back up to Joburg to see the US play Slovenia. We decided that if we had to do the trip over again, we would have made Durban our home base and done trips from there, since the weather was so nice and the city had much more to offer. Overall, we had a great time in Durban. It was one of our favorite spots and it was even better because we had a local who was willing to show us around. Florette’s guest house was a great place to stay in Durban. Although the areas around the stadium weren’t amazing, if you have a car, there’s a ton to explore in Durban. It’s a place I’d like to come back to at some point in my life.