Monday, March 29, 2010

spring break in cape town, durban, and joburg

My Spring Break (technically Fall Break) officially began on Friday, March 19 when I got out of class. I didn't leave for my travels until Sunday evening, but spent Friday on the beach and going out to dinner for Max's 21st birthday, Saturday in Kalk Bay, and Sunday at the Equal Education March on Human Rights Day (March 21), which was a part of their campaign for school libraries in every school in South Africa.

On Saturday, I went to the fish market at Kalk Bay and had lunch at Kalky’s, which serves the best fish and chips I’ve ever had. The fish market was, strangely enough, probably one of my favorite places I’ve experienced in Cape Town. It was right on the shore, and the boats would pull right up to the edge, where you can watch the fishermen and fish marketers would pull their product freshly off the boat.

A really fantastic little band was playing outside Kalky’s, similar to the band that performed at Ubuntu in Khayelitsha.

The band provided stunning live music during my meal at Kalky's

On Sunday, I helped out at the Equal Education March, which was a campaign to get school libraries in all schools in South Africa. There was a large concert, featuring HHP (a popular hip hop artist here), and then a march to Parliament. I was unable to participate in the actual march part of it, because I had to leave in order to pack for my trip!

Marchers at the Equal Education March for school libraries on Human Rights Day

Erin, Jonah, Max, and I flew out of Cape Town on Sunday evening, and arrived in Durban. We stayed in a hostel in Warner Beach, a small beach town outside Durban, for the first three nights. The hostel was wonderful, and the beach was beautiful… the ocean was actually a tolerable temperature, unlike the frigid water of the beaches in Cape Town. I also saw the Indian Ocean for the first time! Warner Beach wasn’t the most vibrant beach town... It seemed a little old and lifeless, but we spent some time in neighboring Umkomaas, which had a much more appealing and lively beach-town feel.

We went to Umkomaas to go scuba diving on Tuesday morning. We signed up for a scuba diving session for beginners that includes an instructional component and then dive in the ocean. We got through the pool instruction, despite major facemask issues, and hopped on the boat to head out to sea. The boat ride was fantastic because the ocean was rough that day and the waves were huge and exciting. The first problem arose when the boat slowed down. We got to the stiller water, where the dive would take place, and Jonah began getting severely seasick. By the time we jumped off the boat for the dive, he was too sick to actually scuba dive. On top of that, the conditions were ROUGH, and we all had a difficult time as we attempted to go lower into the water, equalize (we were all sick which made the pressure more painful), and stay together while doing so. Scuba masks do NOT provide deep breathing, and I couldn’t get a full breath of air as I tried to do all the proper steps. I started hyperventilating and couldn’t slow my breathing down enough to complete the dive. So, our scuba diving adventure turned into Max and Erin diving and having a great time, while Jonah threw up off the side of the boat and I sat on the boat trying to breathe and get my head back on straight. Once I was able to calm down, I chatted with the boat driver and watched a beautiful group of about 20 dolphins swim by RIGHT next to, and under, the boat! I wish I’d had my camera. I sure love boats, and I was glad to have my head above water.

On Wednesday, we checked out of the hostel and went to Ushaka Marine World, which is the largest water park/activity center in South Africa. It’s a water park, aquarium, marine center, and who knows what else… all right on the ocean. It was huge and had the cheesy amusement park feel to it, but we had a great time… and rode the tallest water slide in Africa!

We stayed in another hostel in Durban for Wednesday and Thursday nights, and spent Thursday walking around the city all day. As we walked through the middle of the city, I noticed that we were the only white people in the area. From my overall perception of Durban, it seems like the white residents stay in their suburbs. This is not true of Cape Town… certainly the living situations are typically separate by race, but daily life generally involves constant interactions between South Africans of different races, at least on some level.

We walked from our hostel to Victoria Street Market, a well-known market that ended up being pretty disappointing. From there, we went to Wilson’s Wharf and saw the boats, walked around, and had lunch. Our last stop was the BAT Center, which was by far the coolest. It’s an art and culture center in Durban where artists create their works on site, sell their products, have live performances, and more. I bought a painting to bring home for my dad!

View of Durban's city center from Wilson's Wharf. Apparently a nickname for the city is "Durbs by the Sea"

The outside of the BAT Center.

At night we ate on Florida Road, which we were told was THE place to go for nightlife in Durban. It was a five minute walk from our hostel, and had a line of restaurants and a few casual bars. It certainly wasn’t comparable to Long Street for the nightlife scene, but it was a nice place for a variety of dinner options and after dinner drinks. We ate at an excellent Italian restaurant called Spiga D’Oro and Mexican restaurant called Café Zulu.

We flew out of Durban to Johannesburg on Friday afternoon, where we were picked up by Damien, who Erin knows because she will be working with him at a camp in California this summer. He picked us up at the airport (which was about an hour drive from his house), let us stay at his house, drove us into Johannesburg amidst hellish traffic on Saturday, and even drove us to the airport on Sunday morning at 5:00AM… So, needless to say, we were incredibly thankful to him! We spent Friday night around his suburb of Johannesburg, and then spent Saturday in Johannesburg, largely at the Apartheid Museum. The Apartheid Museum was SO long… it was incredible and moving, but after 4 hours I was ready to get out of there. It was set up as a chronological path through the roots of Apartheid, the full fledged horrors of it, and then the aftermath when it ended. One of the most disturbing parts was learning about the AWB, which is the far-right Afrikaaner group (reminiscent of Nazis). I saw videos of AWB leaders speaking, and it was sickening. Here is their website:
The propaganda surrounding Apartheid was also shocking… Verwoerd called Apartheid a system of “good neighborliness.” I was particularly enthralled by one exhibit, based on the writing and photographs in House of Bondage, a book by Ernest Cole about the horrors of Apartheid. The book was banned in South Africa.

We spent the evening in Melville, a lively and fun area of Joburg with restaurants and bars lining one main street, 7th Street. Apparently a famous South African soapie (soap opera) takes place on 7th Street. We ate at a spectacular pizza restaurant with a New York feel for dinner, where we had probably the best meal of the trip. We spent the rest of the night with Damien and his friends back in his suburb, and then woke up bright and early to catch a 7:00AM flight back to Cape Town on Sunday morning.

I had an excellent trip, but was glad to return to Cape Town. Durban, Johannesburg, and Cape Town all have such different personalities! I loved seeing them all and getting a more well-rounded idea of what urban South Africa is like… but in the end, Cape Town is far and above the best of the three. It has much more to offer, a more open culture, and the most beautiful landscape. It’s good to be back.

*Note: My camera battery died, so I didn't get to take any pictures in Joburg. I'm hoping to get some from Erin and plug them back into this post at a later date.

1 comment:

  1. Even if I am your Dad, can I just say: "This is a great blog!" I enjoy reading it so much. It takes me to another place, to wonder about things in another part of the world, and to have holy hopes for a people in another part of the world - a part of the world made special in part because someone really special to me is there.