“Too often. . .I would hear men boast of the miles covered that day, rarely of what they had seen.” – Louis L’Amour

Welcome! Please follow along as I write about my travels in Dubai and South Africa. I will be sharing stories of my adventures, things I've learned, the places I visited, and the people I've met. Thanks for visiting!

Latest

Day 10 On Our Own

Tina had to leave us this morning around 5am. Her transport arrived early, so we only got the briefest of goodbyes before she had to dash out of the door. What were we going to do without her levelheadedness to get us around Africa? Cory and I were probably going to strangle each other before the end of the road trip. With those thoughts in mind, I went back to sleep.

When we finally roused ourselves out of bed, Cory and I decided to head back to Mugg & Bean for breakfast. It was certainly different if not quiet without Tina around. She was the morning person of our trio. So, Cory and I just eyeballed each other in our drowsy silence. Naturally, breakfast at Mugg & Bean did not disappoint. I ordered the huevos rancheros, and it was divine tasting. I wish we had a Mugg & Bean in The States. Mugg & Bean was doing an excellent job of fondly reminding me of home. During our meal we got slightly nostalgic that Tina wasn’t there to eat Cory’s roasted tomato. We had learned each other’s quirks, likes, and dislikes so well that we would immediately start shifting food around from plate to plate once food arrived.

Cory and I were going to head back to the beach after breakfast. It was our last day in Durban, and thus, our last chance to swim in the wondrously warm Indian Ocean. We spoke with Dean at our hostel’s front desk, who advised us on the best way to get to and from the beach. Sometimes minibuses only headed to certain locations and could only be found on specific streets. He told us to take a minibus to The Workshop, and from there, we could walk to the beach or take another minibus. We chose to walk, not so much because we wanted to take in the sights (it was definitely a rundown area), but it would save us the fare and many stops along the way. Our walk took us through the large handwritten “Caution” areas on the map that Dean gave us. It was marked mostly to point out the area where pickpockets were the worst. Walking through the area, you could tell that that side of town was a little bit rough. There were “viewing booths”, sketchy looking bars, rundown mini-convenience stores, etc. We truly didn’t have any trouble, and we didn’t feel uneasy in the slightest. To us it was just another area in South Africa, where you couldn’t take the appearance at face value. That’s not to say that we weren’t cautious, but there was no need to be scared.

When we finally made it to the beach, the area was still looking dodgy, so we walked a ways along the coast back towards uShaka Marine World. Since it was a Sunday, the beach was packed, and the area in the ocean between the safety flags was jam packed with people. We set our things down on the sand and made our way into the water. The waves were fairly rough, and just outside the left boundary flag, a rip tide (my first) was present. The current was strong, and when I was making my way into deeper waters, I could feel the incredible pull of the water on my left side. The lifeguards were continuously dashing into the ocean to rescue kids that wandered too close to the edge of the safe zone and lost the ability to beat the current. There was one boy who tried to grab my arm before he got swept away, and the next thing I heard was the pounding of feet in the water followed by a powerful splash of a lifeguard. It was so unlike anything I ever experienced – trying to swim against a forceful current and feeling yourself losing the battle. I managed to plant my feet in a rise of sand and make my way diagonally towards shore to find a safer area to head deeper out. There were a lot of surfers and boogie boarders present, but most of them weren’t too successful at catching a wave.

The ocean was incredibly fun, but it was certainly something to be taken seriously. There were probably about ten lifeguards present for the minuscule flagged-off area, which emphasized how intense the current was that day. Every so often, you would hear their whistles, trying to communicate with the people who had wandered outside the flags. Other times, there would be a moment where one lifeguard would go sprinting into the ocean, and a couple others would quickly follow. I had never been on a beach where the lifeguards actually had to be utilized, and it was eye-opening to see how quickly they responded as well as how carefully they kept an eye on things. Cory and I were discussing how contrary to belief, a drowning person wouldn’t be flailing and screaming for help. It was when they became calm and floated or started to sink that revealed when they had exhausted their energy.

The African sun was hot as always, but it was a great day to be outside. We spent some time on the sand before making a final trip into the ocean. By this time, the waves had gotten even more rough, and the water was reaching further inland. We contemplated taking a minibus back to The Workshop but decided to walk again. Somewhere along the way, Cory wanted to grab the People Mover bus, so we rode that until we reached City Hall. As we walked around City Hall, we saw that they had the area fenced off from the public. Turns out, there was filming in progress with equipment trucks and people prepping on set. I’m still not sure what movie they were filming. It looked like something incredibly cheesy with a Hawaiian theme.

We finally got to the area of the minibuses that could take us to the Musgrave Center, which was two blocks away from The Workshop. I was seated in the front of the minibus, but luckily, I didn’t have to keep track of the money from everyone, which was the job of the person in the seat next to the driver. When we arrived at the Musgrave Center, I didn’t recognize it, since we had come from the opposite end. The driver said, “Musgrave Center,” but I couldn’t tell if he was confirming that was where I wanted to go or telling me that was where it was. He pointed ahead of him, and I assumed that he was going to drive us closer, but nothing happened. So, feeling like a dumb American, I asked, “Do I get out?” “Yes, get out,” he responded. Oh.

Cory and I stepped into the Pick ‘n Pay before heading back to Nomads Backpackers because we were dying of thirst. Sunburnt and tired, we were pretty much done for the day. I ate my take away leftovers for dinner, and Cory ordered his usual Hawaiian pizza at Debonairs, which was equivalent to Pizza Hut.

Day 9.5 Our Adventure Getting to The Gateway in Durban

We left Nomads Backpackers and caught a minibus to The Workshop and another one to The Gateway Theatre of Shopping, which offered a combination of shopping and entertainment. The minibus driver said he could take us most of the way there, but he would have to drop us off at the robots (the street light), since he was not able to go past them. We pretty much got dropped off on the shoulder of the freeway with the center in sight. However, from our location, we couldn’t tell how to actually get into the area. We could go up the freeway or down the freeway.

We chose down the freeway, which to sum it up, was wrong. However, instead of turning around, Cory was determined to keep walking that way with the possibility of hopping the fence. The big deal to him about finding a “shortcut,” I’ll never understand. Cory and Tina wandered their way along the fence until Cory saw a steep path in the dirt in a broken portion of the fence. I waited down by the shoulder of the freeway and seriously considered hitchhiking the opposite way to the entrance. When Cory gave the thumbs up at the top, Tina made her way up as well. With a huge sigh, I reluctantly followed them. The incline was short and easy, but halfway up, you had to hold onto the fence to help pull yourself up as well as to keep from sliding down. When I was kid, I would have loved that kind of thing, but I was feeling to old for that type of adventure.

At the top, we found ourselves in a trendy, metropolitan housing area. We walked several blocks uphill past new-looking townhouses and high-end salons. A little ways past the housing area, we found the parking lot and garage leading to the center. The Gateway was quite a large mall. There were several levels, the world’s tallest indoor rock wall, an IMAX, cinema, expensive jewelry stores, and the clientele were predominately white. Near the rock wall section of the mall, there was a whole area dedicated to the surfing and punk crowd. That section had dimmed lighting and a completely different theme distinguishing it from the rest of the mall. I spotted a Fego next to Exclusive Books, so we went there again for lunch. Our waiter was pretty terrible. He kept disappearing for periods of time, and Tina had to repeatedly ask him for more water, even going to find him with our glasses in hand. We went our own ways after lunch with the plan to meet for coffee in an hour and a half. I moseyed around the mall, but I spent the most time in the bookstore discovering new books that I wanted to read. I asked one of the sales associates if the African books could be found in the States, since I didn’t want to lug a bunch of books back home. He advised me to check out Amazon.com because they had just opened a business in Cape Town. I found my companions in the store with me because we all enjoyed reading.

In the outdoor courtyard of The Gateway, there were several restaurants available. We went to Circus Circus, and instead of ordering coffee, I ended up ordering a yummy chocolate, caramel cake with a Flake Bar on top. Afterward, we took the minibus back to The Workshop, and with the help of a nice girl on our minibus, we got onto another minibus that could take us to Berea Center. The clouds started to roll in during our trip, and it started to rain. We got dropped off in the rain, and to give us a moment to regroup and figure out where exactly we were, we hurried inside the Berea Center. During that time, it started to rain much harder. Looking at our map, our hostel looked not too far away- a little down the freeway and down the street that it was located on. The walk took us longer than expected, and we were drenched by the time we got to Nomads.

Tina wanted to go to dinner for her last night in Durban, so we milled around before walking to the Musgrave Center just down the road. It was naturally raining again, but we sacrificed for our friend. Tina had chosen the Mustang Spur for her final meal, and I was lamenting on the fact that I didn’t take photos of each of the Spurs where we had eaten. We had entered the center from a different location than we had the previous day, so we were surprised to discover that the place was much larger than we had originally thought. We found a Mugg & Bean restaurant/coffee shop, and upon taking a look at the menu, Tina decided to eat there instead. The service was quite good, and the food wholly satisfying. I chose the chicken mushroom pot pie, and it happily reminded me of home.

Day 9 Getting to Durban’s Essenwood Market

My travel companions and I woke up early in hopes of catching a bus to take us into town, so that we could catch another bus to transfer us to the next hostel. Our plan was to go to Durban Backpackers, which according to Coast to Coast, was supposed to be nearer to the airport. We had been fortunate thus far on our trip to have available accommodation at each place that we called. We decided to call Durban Backpackers before heading into town just to make sure they had space before we were stuck halfway there with our bags on us. It was a good thing that we called because they were booked, as were the next four or five places that we checked. We considered splitting up, since Tina would be leaving us to go back home, but we decided to call Nomads Backpackers to check their prices, which weren’t listed in Coast to Coast or Alternative Route. They said that they did have three dorm beds available for R130. It’s the most that we would pay so far, but it was our cheapest option. Note for the future: book Saturday accommodations in advance.

Now that we had our reservations, we hoisted our bags onto our backs and trekked up to the main road. Along the way, a guy on a bicycle passed us, turned around, and yelled, “Good Luck!” Apparently, with our giant duffle bags on our back, we looked like we had a long battle to go to get up the hill. When we got to the main road, Marine Drive, we weren’t sure where the bus stop was, so we picked a direction to start walking. We quickly ran into a local woman who was kind enough to ask where we were going and then, point us in the correct (ie. opposite) direction. She not only assisted us in getting from one minibus to another, but she even helped hold onto and carry a bag of ours. We got a minibus to The Workshop, and then, we hopped onto another one to take us to Berea. Our driver said he would take us directly to our door for R130. However, the guy had trouble locating our street. We circled around forever and even asked several people along the road. When we finally located Nomads Backpackers, it turned out that we had already driven past it once before.


After getting settled in, we walked down the street to the Essenwood Market. The craft market contained items from jewelry, clothing, art, food, and various trinkets. There were lots of delicious looking foods; one stall had delicious Greek basil pesto dip. It reminded me of home a little bit. There were two guys who were performing whenever someone drooped money into a tin, and they were quite entertaining as they stomped, clapped, and sang. There was a fruit stall that was selling the most wonderful smelling mangos. Tina had recently introduced me to the wonder of eating mangos with the peel. The mangos that are yellow/orange have a peel that isn’t nearly as bitter as the ones that we have back in the States. Cory and I split a bag of three mangos, which we would realize later that we left them at the hostel as we left to go back to Cape Town.

Day 8 Durban Continued . . .

I woke up to a beautiful morning in Durban to see monkeys all around the hostel. They ran across the buildings, hopped between the trees and the benches, and they quickly ate whatever food was available. I made a point to shut our cabin door as I headed down for breakfast. The family of monkeys lurking around our hostel had several females with babies. The babies would run on their own or get carried against their mothers’ stomachs and chests. I, also, saw two monkeys, who were perched up by someone’s window, and it looked as if they were plotting a way to get inside. I rushed to grab my camera in order to photograph some of their antics. At one point, I was standing on the stairs, accidentally blocking the path that they wanted to take. The alpha female of the group appeared unconcerned by my presence as she slowly made her way around me. The rest of the clan seemed quite troubled on how to follow her without getting to close to me. Once I went down a few more steps, all of the monkeys quickly made their way to their final destination.

Our itinerary for the day was to go to the Victoria Street Market in central Durban. A fellow backpacker at the hostel was kind enough to drive us part of the way there to The Workshop. We explored The Workshop for a bit and walked through the area with all of the vendors and stalls. After a while, we decided to roam the streets. That part of Durban had a definite Chinatown meets Times Square (New York) feel to it. There were so many people, stores, and street-side tables that it was extremely congested. We were told numerous times to be wary and watch our things. I tried to get cash at one point and some man pushed his way towards me trying to “help”. All of the ATMs say on their screens to not accept help from anyone, and we had heard several stories of people getting robbed at ATMs from people trying to help. I was adamant that I had it taken care of, but the man kept saying “new procedure” as he tried to push buttons. After I got him to back off, I entered my pin number, and he came up again trying to help and push buttons. I kept trying to push his hands away, and finally, I managed to press cancel, took my card, and called down to Cory. I was pretty rattled by the event, and I asked Cory to watch my back. He suggested going somewhere else, so we left the area and headed to another ATM. The ATM we went to was set indoors, and there was actually a security guy regulating the line as well as an armed guard with a huge machine gun. It was the first gun I had seen in Africa, and it sure wasn’t a wimpy one. Most of the security people I had seen only carried batons. Apparently, however, there was money truck just outside.

After getting the money, I was done with the area, and so, we all hopped onto the People Mover bus. On the bus, we could pay R4 for a single trip or R10 for a full day. The day pass turned out to be the better choice, since we hopped around from place to place. While we were on the bus, we didn’t really know where we wanted to go. The driver offered to help us, and he asked where we were trying to go. We told him, “We don’t know! We just want lunch.” He finally gave us some suggestions on what bus to take, and we made our way to the beach. We ate lunch at a place called Zack’s where I got spaghetti bolognaise on the kiddie menu. Cory ended up getting the Durban-famous “bunny chow,” which was a bread bowl filled with chicken curry. The filling was spicy, but with good flavor. The bread was made with coriander and was light and soft.

After lunch we jumped back onto the People Mover bus and headed back into the city center. We couldn’t locate the bus route map, so we (as usual) had to guess when we would need to get off of the bus. Once off of the bus, we grabbed a minibus to head to the Pavilion. The Pavilion Shopping Centre was just ten minutes outside of the city and complete with boutiques, clothing stores, music, and bookshops, as well as cafes and restaurants. During our ride along the minibus (ie. taxi or African taxi), Cory and Tina commented on how they had missed riding them. Our time in Cape Town was the last time we had been in one. It was surprising how helpful the local people could be when it came to riding the minibus. If we didn’t know which taxi to take to where we were going, we could just ask, and people would direct you to the correct one. People on the bus were also helpful. They would tell us where we needed to get off, how to get to our next destination, and how much the fare cost.

At the Pavilion, we got coffee at Fego, which was connected to Exclusive Books. We then split up for a while to wonder the mall on our own. The mall was basically like any other mall, and we each went to Checker’s, a grocery store, to pick up food for dinner. I, also, roamed around Game, which I had been seeing in several locations. Game was a type of store that would be a cross between Target and Home Depot.

We left the Pavilion close to late afternoon instead of the evening, when the minibuses wouldn’t be as frequent. The minibus took us back to town, where we caught another minibus to take us back to Ansteys. That evening we watched Slumdog Millionaire, which was quite an interesting movie.

Day 7 Impress Me Durban

The next day in Durban, we decided to visit uShaka Marine World. The girls at the reception desk of The Happy Hippo told us that it would be okay for us to leave our bags in the alcove in the entry way, since we had to check out of our rooms that morning. The ease at which they said, “Yes,” made it seem as if it was a common request.

After serious debate at the entryway of uShaka Marine World, we decided to pay admission to the Sea World portion of the park only and not the water park. There was a supposedly “famous” aquarium in Sea World, which we wanted to see. The aquarium was partially built into an old tanker ship, which was a creative design feature.

There was a typical range of creatures for people to view at the aquarium such as sharks, miscellaneous fish, brightly colored fish, a Nemo exhibit, jellyfish, crustaceans, coral, eels, seahorses, etc. There were floating cages in the shark tank that people could pay to dive in as well as an ocean walker activity with an oxygen helmet. I spent a fair amount of time trying to capture some cool pictures, especially of the sharks. I was pleased with my attempt at photographing moving animals behind a glass wall, but I really do need to invest in a DSLR.

When I was done playing photographer, I went and found my two companions who were both starving for lunch. We headed out of the aquarium and strolled over to Java Cafe, which had a delightful array of coffees, sandwiches, and salads. They also had TVs posted for people to watch the cricket game occurring at the time. We finished our lunches and went back into Sea World to explore the rest of the park. Disappointingly, there wasn’t too much else to see. They had a penguin, dolphin, and seal exhibit area, but they weren’t available for viewing, unless there was a show taking place.

We left Sea World to go walk around the shops for an hour or so, but eventually, we decided that it was time for us to head to our next hostel called Ansteys. Ansteys was located in The Bluff area of Durban, and we would need a taxi to get over there. We walked back to The Happy Hippo to grab our bags, and with everything piled on our backs, we walked back toward the uShaka roundabout to meet our taxi. We were sure missing the flexibility of our rental car by this time.

Our taxi dropped us off on Marine Drive, which was the street listed as the address for Ansteys. However, we had to lug our things a ways down that road, followed by a walk downhill towards the beach. Just before the beach we turned onto Foreshore, which was where the actual entrance of Ansteys was located. We walked some more. The driveway to the hostel was unfortunately uphill, so we gritted our teeth and trekked upward about 100 meters. We were the only guests checking in for the night, so the place was going to be wonderfully quiet. Ansteys was located in the wealthier portion of Durban, and it had a very suburban feel to it.

After we dropped our things off in our room, which was also further uphill from the front desk, we asked about renting some boogie boards. The owner, however, advised against taking any boogie boards or surf boards out at the moment because the waves were extremely rough at the time. Since we already had our swim gear on, we went to check out the beach, which was just a couple minutes away. We discovered that the owner wasn’t kidding; the waves were serious. Most of the people were staying very close to shore, if not on the shore. The lifeguard on duty kept having to remind people to stay between the posted flags. The current was incredibly strong, and we were getting tossed and pulled off our feet each time the water rolled past us. Because it wasn’t safe to go very far out, all of the water was diffused with rocks and sand from the shore. The water was rough and abrasive every time it rushed across our skin. Eventually, we got tired of getting rocky sand everywhere, so we made us of the public pool that was nearby.

That evening, we walked to the nearest public area to get some groceries and pizza for dinner. Marine Drive, the street that we were walking along, was populated with several giant homes. The affluence was certainly unlike many of the areas of South Africa that we had seen so far.

Day 6 Our Travel Through Port Elizabeth to Durban

The next morning in Port Elizabeth, my friends and I decided to explore around the area. We were mostly looking for a good breakfast place in the central portion of Port Elizabeth. While driving around, the place reminded me of Chinatown, minus the asian culture. There were stores cluttered all around, people hustling to their destinations on the sidewalks, and items to buy all over the place. We found ourselves a mall thanks to a map that we had, so we figured that we should head there to find the food court. Naturally, there was another Dulce Cafe, so we ate there. This location had different menu items, and the prices were a little bit cheaper. I enjoyed a delicious chocolate cappuccino. After breakfast we didn’t stay at the mall for too long as there wasn’t very much to look at there. I made a quick stop at the ATM to pull some more cash, which I seemed to find myself doing almost every day.

From the mall, we drove to the Port Elizabeth airport and dropped off our beloved rental car. I’ve noticed that security in other countries, particularly when traveling within the same country, is very lax compared to the United States, which is no surprise. No shoes or liquids need to be taken out or sent through in a special manner. The x-ray for carry-ons came before the boarding pass and ID check. When I was having my boarding pass checked by the security guy, I asked him if he needed to see my passport. He smirked at me and said, “No, this isn’t the States. ‘You’re not in Kansas anymore’.” I felt like I should have been offended, but it wasn’t a big deal. Other international airports that I had been to had asked to see my boarding pass as well as my ID, which was why I asked him. The flight on Kalula wasn’t too bad: two sections with three seats per row layout. It took about an hour and a half to get to Durban from Port Elizabeth.

Our hostel in Durban was The Happy Hippo. The place wasn’t anything fancy, and it had the look of a converted warehouse. To our dismay, none of the electrical outlets worked, which the front desk people weren’t overly helpful about. The rooms were also extremely hot. We found ourselves bunking with two Swiss guys, who we assumed hadn’t had much experience with dorm living based on their loud conversation when we were all trying to sleep. The Happy Hippo was a short walk from the uShaka Marine World, which encompassed a Sea World and a Wet ‘n Wild water park. The uShaka Marine World was near several shops and restaurants as well as the beach.

The beach had red flags posted to mark the “safe zones” for people to swim, which was the first time I had seen those while in South Africa. The beach was a great enjoyment, and the Indian Ocean was wonderfully warm. We went and played in the waves for a while, and I was certainly having a great time up until a wave rolled me twice and caused me to inhale and swallow a glorious amount of sea water.

After leaving the beach, we all got cleaned up before heading to the local Spur to grab dinner. By this time, my friends and I had decided that no matter where we were, if we found a coffee shop and a Spur, we would be okay. Coffee and food was all we needed to “survive”.

Day 5.5 Welcome to Port Elizabeth

After we left our secluded waterfall/zip-line fun in Jeffreys Bay, we headed for Port Elizabeth. Port Elizabeth wasn’t too far of a drive, and upon arriving in the city, we went and found the information center. Once again, it’s always a good idea to check out the information center in a new city. The guys who worked there said that most of the hostels listed in Coast to Coast were about the same in quality and features. The hostel that was best for us just depended on the location that we wanted.

The information center was located at the Nelson Mandela Bay Boardwalk, which had a Vegas/San Francisco vibe to it. Several restaurants, shops, and even a cinema could be found there. There was entertainment for the kids in the form of carnival rides, Putt-Putt golf, and bumper boats. We exited the info center and stepped into a place called Dulce Cafe, which was positioned by the water for a mid-day meal. Their menu boasted a wide range of food from sandwiches, all-day breakfast, pasta, pizza, dessert, smoothies, and coffee. We liked the place so much, we would end up going back there two more times.

We explored the boardwalk a little more after our meal before heading to our hostel, The 99 Mile Beach Lodge, which was described by Coast to Coast as “a flashy place for flashpackers.” The place looked like it used to be a wealthy, white South African’s home at one point. There were huge living areas, a very large kitchen, a master bedroom (where the host of the hostel slept), a giant pool in a giant backyard, a courtyard with a jacuzzi that separated the kitchen from the bedrooms, and a huge bathroom with a glass shower and separate tub. We got cleaned up and relaxed for a while at the hostel. Our plan was to go back to the boardwalk to go see Tangled at the NuMetro Cinema. Back at the boardwalk, we walked out to Shark Rock Pier for some pictures and then, went back to Dulce Cafe for dinner.

The few movie theaters I went to in South Africa had surprisingly comfortable seats, which all had the movable armrests. Tangled turned out to be a cute movie, and we happened to be the only three people in the theater. Tina was so excited about this fact that she did something she had “always wanted to do,” which was a handstand at the front-center of the theater. It was a nice Kodak moment.