When in Durban, Do as the Durbs Do

We woke up Wednesday and rolled out of our six-sleeper dorm room, refreshed and ready to go. We decided to forego the trip to Lesotho, even though our passports were practically begging for another stamp. After a simple breakfast consisting of my new favorite morning staple, yoghurt and muesli, we switched rooms to accommodate our seventh group member, Howard, who was scheduled to arrive later that night. Ali and I moved into a private room on the second floor of the hostel. Elmar warned us to keep the 4 locks secured, because burglaries were common in those parts.

We suited up and decided to take the “25 minute stroll” to the beach. Over 45 minutes later, we ended our life-threatening walk down an interstate highway and wound up at the absolutely deserted beachfront. I suppose that during the summer, the boardwalk might be poppin’, but we were greeted by a ghost town, littered by a few bleary-eyed locals struggling to be hospitable in the wake of World Cup.  Disheartened, we walked another 30 minutes to Joe Cools, which we heard was the most happening place in all of Durban. I don’t know what the Durbs think Americans are interested in, but Joe Cools was a 1987 throwback, complete with disco ball and peel-and-stick laminate dance floor.

Fabienne and I left the rest of the crew at their picnic table and sought Indian take-away. Just across the boardwalk – bingo. Bunny chow. I ordered chicken, she ordered veg (did I mention that when I come back to the states, avocado and vegetables will now be referred to solely as avo and veg, respectively?). We took our parcels back to Joe Cools and unwrapped them with the ferocity of a six year old on Christmas morning. Bunny chow did not disappoint. It was a quarter loaf of white bread, hollowed out and stuffed with spicy curry. The bread soaked up the sauce and all remaining deliciousness. This was a recipe I will most definitely take back to the states – definitely worth the ravenous quest.

From what I understand, bunny chow came to being during apartheid, when black people were not able to indulge in delicious Indian foods at restaurants. Indian restaurant workers were only allowed to serve blacks plain bread. As a sign of commiseration, the restaurateurs began hollowing out loaves of bread and stuffing them with bean or veg curry, so the black customers could sneak it out of the restaurant and enjoy a tasty meal. I love that it’s a symbol of the enduring compassion that prevailed even through the horrors of apartheid. What a beautiful story and what a lovely dish!

After chowing down more like rabid beasts than bunnies, we walked for another 30 minutes on the beach walk, stopping at the craft market to buy more beaded bracelets from the local Zulu women. Later, a bartender informed us that this is Zulu country, whereas Cape Town is home to the Xhosa peoples (Nelson Mandela is Xhosa). The boardwalk ended at the uShaka Marina, one of the five largest in the world. It was off-season, so the marina wasn’t open, but we did a little shopping. I found a purple paisley pashmina, which certainly came in handy in the icy chill of the late afternoon. Ready for a drink, we walked down a long pier to Moyo, the traditional restaurant Cape Town locals said we definitely had to try at Spier Winery. I was supposed to check it out with Laura, but we ran out of time.

The Durban outpost of Moyo was even nicer, with 360-degree views of the ocean. It felt like we were in the middle of the ocean, and the décor was incredible. The group shared a couple bottles of wine while the nefarious Jordan sipped tequila on the rocks (what a champ!). We were told the return route to Gibela get very dangerous after sunset, so we decided to cab it home. Durban has a reputation for being very unsafe, and we weren’t willing to take any chances. Gone are the days of Cape Town, where we lived off our false sense of security.

We arrived back at Gibela, showered, and walked a couple of blocks to Green Mango, a sushi and Thai joint. We sake bombed, chanting everything from Durban Durban Durban Bomb to Laka Laka Laka Bomb (lake means cool) to Tiger Tiger Tiger Bomb. In good spirits and ready to conquer the night, we decided to walk Florida Road, the main drag, in search of entertainment. I only got as far as a Mexican place called Taco Zulu before I decided to turn in for the night and leave the rest of the party animals to explore the darker corners of Durban. Ali came with me, and we arrived home to find a snarky note from Elmar sticky-tacked to our door. It said, in all caps, KEEP THE GATE LOCKED ALI AND BETHANY!!!! If Elmar hadn’t offered to let us store our luggage for a few hours after checkout, I would have politely but firmly laid into him about his presumptiveness and my meticulous concern for my own safety and wellbeing, but I decided to keep my mouth shut because he cut us a deal on the private room. Ali and I chatted ourselves to sleep, and awoke anxious to explore the world outside of Durban. Next stop: Johannesburg.

Beautiful Durban

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