After a life changing week in Johannesburg, I headed to Durban for a couple of days. I had been dreaming about the day I would travel to South Africa, so when the moment finally came, I was determined to see as much of the country as I could in a span of 2 weeks. I didn't all that much (South Africa is HUGE), but it gives me a reason to go back.
My Airbnb hosts told me that I could take a shuttle for 80 rand (about $6) to a hotel and the would pick me up from there, just a few minutes from their home. I put my bags in the back of the van and took a seat. A man - we'll call him Joe - sat next to me and asked if I was coming back home. I told him I had never been here before. He wasn't convinced. Joe said to me that he had traveled a long way to get to Durban, about two days. So did I. He was very secretive about his own life but was very curious about mine. He was from another African country, but had gone to college in Durban. He moved back home after college and got a well paying job. He was on vacation and decided to spend a month in Durban catching up with some old friends.
We were the last two people on the shuttle. The shuttle drove through the city, passengers played drums and sang all through the ride. Before Joe got off, he looked at me and hesitated. "I wasn't sure I was going to say this to you, but you are incredibly brave. For an American girl to travel all this way by herself in a foreign place. I am very impressed." Joe said he was going to spend the next two days sleeping, but he wished I would have stayed a little longer because he would have loved to show me around with his friends.
To be honest, I was not impressed with Durban at first. Coming from Johannesburg, it was a very drastic change. The people in Durban were a lot more laid back than in Johannesburg. Durban is a beach city and the mellow vibes were all over the city. It was definitely a slower pace than I was expecting.
My Airbnb hosts were wonderful. I stayed in a 1 bed cottage behind their house. It was the size of a decent sized apartment. When I arrived, I was surprised by all of the greenery. They had a massive garden and grew a lot of what they ate. When I was settling in, I read a summary of the cottage that they had left out. I read up to the point where it said "Beware of monkeys" and I was ready to leave. I did not travel 10,000 miles away from home to have my face ripped off by monkeys. I wanted to get out before I saw a monkey because if I did see one, I would lose my mind. I went out for dinner close by. When I got back, I called the airline and tried to change my flight out to first thing in the morning. That's how committed I was to not seeing a monkey.
I spent all night and all morning trying to change my flight. I was told to try to head to the airport to do it in person. I wasn't going to lug my heavy suitcase to the airport without a guaranteed flight, so I sucked it up and decided to stay. It was only a couple of days. Instead, I called an uber. When he arrived, I asked him to take me to the beach. He took me to the starting point of the beach - uShaka Marine World (equivalent to SeaWorld). South Beach is a 3 mile stretch of beach. I decided to walk down the boardwalk. There are a lot of stores and places to shop at uShaka before heading to the boardwalk. I stopped in to check out some of the handmade clothing (skirts, dresses, shirts, jewelry). I bought some fabrics to have made later. At the other end of the boardwalk is a casino. In between there was so much to see and do. There was a skateboard park, amusement park rides, restaurants, and local vendors. When I walked to the end of the boardwalk, I saw the monkeys that I was so convinced would rip my face off. I couldn't help but laugh at myself for being afraid of squirrel sized monkeys. They were adorable.
Durban is home to the Zulu tribe, so everyone assumed I was Zulu until they noticed I couldn't respond to anything they said. Again the question would come up, what is an American woman doing in Durban by herself? Most of the time, the follow up was an offer into their homes for dinner if I was staying a little longer. I was welcomed with open arms everywhere that I went.
My last night in Durban, there was a heavy downpour of rain. I texted my Airbnb host and asked if she knew of any restaurants that would deliver. Her response was "you can just google it. Or . . . join me and my husband for dinner instead. The only requirement is that you drink some wine with us and share some stories." I got ready and headed next door. They handed me a glass of wine while they prepared dinner and we chatted the night away. Her husband prepared Egyptian falafel and she made a delicious salad to go with it. These were the best falafel I have ever had. I still think about how good they were. They host a lot of people through different companies and one of the things they ask for in exchange for a room can be a home cooked meal. So they've stored a ton of authentic recipes to the list.
My favorite thing about being in Durban (aside from the friendly people) was seeing all of the families at the beach. The weather was nice, so the boardwalk was flooded with families spending time together. I loved seeing so many black families spending time together. It reminded me of my own family. It was lovely to see carefree parents playing with their kids in the sand. It was also pretty cool to be looking at the Indian Ocean. I had never been this far east. I was not going into the water though because it is definitely shark infested. People are pretty calm about it. If a lifeguard sees a shark, there will be a warning and everyone will get out, but I am a coward and won't risk being the one to see the shark.
Durban is a beautiful African city. The people are warm and inviting. The city is relaxed and laid back. I was able to clear my mind and do some deep soul-searching while I was there.