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Archive for the ‘AFRICA’ Category

16 Mar 2005: Pietermaritzburg, South Africa

Pietermaritzburg is not the birthplace of Bunny Chow, a South African fast food consisting of a hollowed out loaf of bread filled with curry. But this was the place where we were introduced to this dish originally created in Durban, the home to a large community of Indians in South Africa.

The true origins of Bunny Chow remain disputed but it was commonly believed that the dish was developed during the apartheid period.  During the apartheid regime, Indian workers were not allowed into certain shops and cafes. The shop owner of a restaurant in Durban’s Grey Street  (run by the Banias, an Indian caste) thought of an effective way to serve these people through the shop’s back windows. He created Bunny Chow by scooping out the centre portion of the bread and filled it up with curry dish as take-aways.

And my colleague Matt was excited to try out his first Bunny Chow (ps: with a can of chilled Coke beside him to save him from burning tongue). 

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12 Mar 2005: Robben Island, Cape Town

 
I have walked that long road to freedom. I have tried not to falter; I have made missteps along the way. But I have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb. I have taken a moment here to rest, to steal a view of the glorious vista that surrounds me, to look back on the distance I have come. But I can only rest for a moment, for with freedom come responsibilities, and I dare not linger, for my long walk is not ended.” ~ Nelson Mandela.
 
These were the great words from Nelson Mandela, the former president of South Africa. Nelson Mandela was an anti-apartheid activist and was subsequently convicted by the South African courts. He served 27 years in prison from 1963 – 1990 and was imprisoned on Robben Island for 18 years. Today, I am visiting Robben Island to gain insights of this great Nobel Peace Prize recipient and his struggles on the long road to freedom. 
 
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The prison conditions on Robben Island were very basic.  Prisoners were separated by their ethnicity and each group (A, B, C or D) received different meal plans and different items of clothing. The political prisoners were kept away from ordinary criminals and received the least privileges. As a D-group prisoner (the lowest classification), Nelson Mandela was only allowed to see one visitor and receive one letter every six months.
 
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And this was Nelson Mandela’s prison cell, measured only at two-square-metre – it is unimaginable that any soul could endure a 18-years locked up in such small and confined area!

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Robben Island was previously used as a place of banishment for sending exiles and slaves to dig out the white lime stones. The only time Nelson Mandela and his comrades were allowed out of the prison was to go work at the lime quarry. Initially, they were only supposed to dig rock for 8 months, but the hard labour was extended to nearly 13 years.

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Nelson Mandela’s view of the world was a desolate courtyard without any vegetation and boxed-up by tall, cold concrete walls, laced with barred wires. In 1978, he finally convinced the prison officials to allow him to start a garden in the courtyard. The garden was a release of the depressing routine of prison life. But more importantly, it provided Mandela with a place to hide the manuscript of his autobiography (” The Long Road to Freedom”) which he scratched out on whatever paper scraps he could find.

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Robben Island signifies the African’s strength and will to resist oppression. Ironically, the island has a scenic view of the beautiful Table Mountain. Perhaps, it was this view which kept Nelson Mandela and his fellow inmates living in hope and never gave up in their fight for freedom.

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19-20 Mar 2005: Port Elizabeth, South Africa

Claiming to have the best climate and more sunshine than any other coastal resort in South Africa, Port Elizabeth is a popular holiday destination with beautiful coastline and long sandy beaches. The warmth of its people has earned the well deserved reputation as “The Friendly City”.

Commonly acknowledged as Africa’s water sport capital, this “Windy City” boasted 40 km of unspoilt, golden beaches, with a perfect combination of warm water and sunny skies. I arrived at Port Elizabeth in the late morning and stayed at Holiday Inn Garden Court, PE. The hotel overlooks the Indian Ocean and is just a stone throw from the magnificent Kings Beach.

The Boardwalk

 Port Elizabeth is a small but lively city. One of its central of attractions is The Boardwalk. This beach front complex is owned by the same company who built the Sun City in Jo’burg.

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 In the central of the Boardwalk, there is a man-made lake area with an oriental village. With plenty of time on hand, I had lunch (and my ice-cream desert!) and spent the afternoon exploring the complex. It was here I bought Linda Goodman’s astrology best-seller, Sun Signs.

 

 

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Armed with my walkman and camera, I went for a jog along the King’s Beach in the evening. The weather was so cool and windy that it quickly relaxed the tensed mind… 

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Half-Ironman South Africa Triathlon

On Sunday, I was curious to see a larger-than-usual crowd at the beach front. The local told me that Port Elizabeth is holding the Half-Ironman South Africa Triathlon today.  The race involved a 3.8 km swim, followed by a 180 km bike ride and ending with a 42.2 km run. The fastest participant takes more than 9 hours to complete the full race!

This is the first Ironman race I had ever seen on live. The beaches were filled with screams and cheers from the onlooker and tourists, as the athletes pushed themselves to the edge of human tolerance. At the end of the day, I had a good tan and simply enjoyed it by soaking myself among these high-spirited crowds.

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16 Mar 2005: Umtata, South Africa

Nelson Mandela was born in the nearby town of Umtata called Mvezo. This former stateman spent his childhood in Qunu and today the Nelson Mandela Museum is a main attraction in Umtata.

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This was the memory of my one-day trip to this town. Aley owned a bed and breakfast hotel called Stellar Blue. “Life is pretty quiet and simple here,” she chatted while sending off to the airport, “but it is far away from the hustle and bustle city life. You develop a clear mind here.”  

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I think there are many people like Aley who long for a peaceful and quiet life. However, few are like her, who are willing to forgo the beautiful temptations of the luxurious, cosmopolitan city and remain frustrated with their lives and with themselves.

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Planning the South Africa Trip

JL and I have always longed for an exotic holiday. The idea begins to crystalise when I was given an assignment in South Africa! Like other travels, we have many itneraries to cover within a short time. As this is our first trip to this part of the world, the logistics for each leg of the journey is painstakingly looked into to ensure it goes well. But broadly, our 10-day journey is something like this:

  • 13 – 14 Jan: Fly to the Kruger National Park and stayed 2 days at the Skukuza Camp
  • 15-16 Jan: Spend 2 days in Johannesburg
  • 17-21 Jan: I work on an assignment while JL explores Durban
  • 22-23 Jan: Fly to Cape Town to spend our weekends
  • 24 Jan: JL flies back to S’pore while I continue my assignments in Durban

13 Jan 2005: Kruger National Park (I)

JL and I took the “red-eye” flight to Johannesburg. At 1 am, we checked in at Changi Airport Terminal 2 and by purely testing our luck, I requested for JL to be upgraded to business class. The counter staff frankly told us that several passengers had already asked for such upgrades, but readily agreed to take in our request. Thanks to my PPS status, SIA surprisingly upgraded JL to a business class seat. It was a 10-hours flight of good food and service; most of all, we had enough comfort to catch some rest.

At 6.30 am, we arrived at Johannesburg  Airport. To our amazement, this is a pretty decent airport with clean facility and clear signage. We transited to the domestic airport to board South African Airways for Kruger Mpumalanga (or commonly known as “Nelspruit”).  Our first stop was the Kruger National Park, the largest game reserve in South Africa. I guessed the adventure really started after realising that we were taking a propeller-driven aircraft. This airplane had only 3 seats per row and the engine noise drowned most of our conversations. Fortunately, it was only an hour flight.

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kruger airport (nelpruit)

Skukuza Restcamp

I had reserved a 2-nights accommodation in a bungalow at the Skukuza Restcamp. Skukuza Restcamp is the Kruger National Park’s largest rest camp, situated on the southern banks of the Sabie River. Unfortunately, there were no public transport from Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport to Skukuza Restcamp. We had to hire a car at the airport and paid the exorbitant fare of 1,000 rands (or almost S$300) for the one-hour journey. After some bargains, the driver promised to drive us back to the airport at 800 rands.

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The bungalow in Skukuza is a round-walled, single-room African style units with thatched roofs. Each unit is equipped with 2 beds and a shower room. We kickstarted our Safari adventure with an evening game drive.

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Skukuza Restcamp is one of the camps that are situated in the midst of Big 5 territory, which means the chances of seeing the Big 5 (namely Lion, Leopard, Elephant, Buffalo & Rhino) in the vicinity of the camp are very high. The trained field guide drove the jeep-looking truck into the wild, hunting down the tracks of these animals. Lady luck was on our side and we managed to see four of the Big 5 on that trips. We were told that it is most difficult to see the leopards as they are nocturnal and well camouflaged animals. Tourist can spend days or even weeks in the camp before encountering all the Big 5.

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This was the first time we had such close encounter with the wild animals. Just imagine our excitement as the jeep moved so near to a lion and she did not even take any notice of us. We were told that the wild animal never attack a human being as long as he remains on the jeep. However if he gets off the jeep, the lion will almost certain to pounce on him for dinner. I am not sure whether there is a logical explanation for this phenomenal but it seems that the lions have accepted jeeps as an object out of sphere of their interests.

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 It was a fruitful drive. On the way, we sighted a few more giraffes

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… deers and kudus…

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and even a laughing hyena, who seemed to have lost his way…

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 After a quick dinner at the cafe, we tucked into the bed early. As the night fell, we were swallowed in absolute darkness. While dozing off, we would hear the insects and animals outside the bungalow, blasting the silence liked a concerted orchestra…Zzz…

14 Jan 2005: Kruger National Park (II)

It was a beautiful, sunny morning. JL and I decided to relax and explore the camp site. We saw a few interesting botany like this cactus-like tree, commonly planted in the compound.

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We took our brunch at the cafeteria, next to the Sabie river. I had the BBQ chicken with South African pap, a somewhat-like “crumbly porridge” made by cooking rice with very little water, giving it a dry and crumbly texture. Half-way through the meal, I happened to look up at the shelter’s ceiling and got a shock of my life. Hanging precariously on the roof (and above our heads) were dozens and dozens of bat! Yaks!!!

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Skukuza is home to a large variety of bird life. There is a lookout terrace in front of the camp’s restaurant. As we walked along the Sabie river, we caught sight of a tawny eagle on a bald tree.

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In the camp itself, there are populations of Warthog and Vervet monkeys. The monkeys seemed to be a lot more comfortable with us, while in contrast, the warthog was shy and scrambled into the bush before I could click on the camera. Somehow, it stopped among the bushes and turned back to stare back at us!

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For the afternoon, we signed up for a guided walk. Yes, we are exploring the bush on foot in search of the Big 5…well, accompanied by two, well qualified armed field guides. Hiking in a single file, the experience is like National Geographic channel coming alive. The best scene we had was watching in awe as a herd of zebras galloped across the wilderness, leaving behind a visible trail of yellow dust.

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 It was also an enriching botany lesson … for example, the poison wood below looked totally harmless but can easily cause skin irritation to passer-by.

 timble trees (poisonous)

After the afternoon hiking, we were famished at dinner. To pamper our stomach, we ventured out from our usual cafeteria to have a decent dinner at a dine-in restaurant. At dinner, we met Marcus and Ginnie with their 3 beautiful daughters. We joined our newly-founded friends and excitedly exchanged our adventures during the game drives. Ginnie strongly recommended that we had Rooibos tea after the meal. This South African red tea ,made from a herbal plant, is very refreshing and pleasant. No wonder it has gained very popular in Southern Africa.

While leaving the restaurant, we realised that the campsite was badly lit after dark (probably for wildlife and nature protection and reservation) and it was almost impossible for JL and I to find the way back to our bungalow. Fortunately, Marcus was kind enough to give us a ride back.

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15 Jan 2005: Kruger National Park (III)

It was barely 3 .30 am. JL and I were already out of bed to join the morning game drive! The meeting point was a distance away from our bungalow and we did not have a torch to light the way. Relying on the dim beam from my mobile phone, we almost crawled our way to the meeting area. JL was clinging on to me tightly and it was literally ” the blind leading the blind”!

The morning drive was done almost before dusk. The truck was armed with powerful spotlight to track the animal trails. The drive was not as fruitful as before but we did manage to see the White Rhino and a couple of small animals. After 6 am, the sun broke the darkness and we witnessed an amazingly beautiful sunrise.

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 Finally, we saw a few hippo while crossing a river …before we ended the morning drive at 7.30 am.

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 At 9 am, our driver picked us up from the bungalow. He was driving an older car with a lady friend in traditional costume. JL and I suspected that the driver borrowed the car from this lady friend to earn the extra cash for the weekend. That’s probably the reason why he could give us a fare discount.  JL was pretty fascinated with the lady’s friend’s dress (why on earth would she wear this attire under the hot weather) and grabbed an opportunity to snap a picture with her.

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 At 11.30 am, we boarded the plane and headed back to Johannesburg.

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15 Jan 2005: Jo’burg

Not traditionally known as a top tourist destination, Johannesburg is usually regarded as a transit point for connecting flights to Cape Town, Durban, and the Kruger National Park. This largest city in South Africa housed 6 million people and is notorious for its high crime rates. In densely populated area like Hillbrow, many landlords actually abandoned their buildings and moved to safe areas in the suburbs. The top three safe areas in Johanesburg are: Sandton City, East Gate and Rosebank. We chose to stay at Rosebank as there is a weekend flea market at Rose bank roof-top every week.

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Soweto

We landed in Jo’burg International Airport at 1 pm and was picked-up by a tour guide from TK Tours. We had joined a 3-hrs sightseeing tour to see Soweto. Soweto is an acronym for “South Western Township”, a home to 2 -3 millions people living in squatters with no electricity and toilets. In 1880, gold was discovered in mineral-rich Witwatersrand hills and triggered a “gold rush”. Soweto was then formed from a collection of settlements on the outskirts of Johannesburg,  populated mostly by these native African workers working in the gold mining industry.

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When we  reached the slum, we were first welcomed with a local “hand shake” and shown the facility within the compound.

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For instance, this worn-down blue house was actually a kindergarten!

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Life in the squatters is very basic and we had an opportunity to visit one house. As a city dweller, it is unimaginable to live in a home without electricity, refrigerator, TV or computer. Yet, I could see that they are probably much happy than many Singaporeans that I knew, who possessed a lot more monies and material indulgences. Perhaps, this is what they meant by “less is more”.

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Hector Peterson Museum

Our next stop is at the Hector Peterson Museum, which was set up to commemorates the 566 people who died in the student uprising that followed the events of 16 June 1976.  The museum is named for Hector Peterson, a 12-year-old boy who was the first person shot dead by police on that day. A memorial is set up at the place where he was shot to his death.

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16 June 1976 was a historical turning point for many Africans. The students staged a protest on 16 June 1976 against the introduction of Afrikaans as the medium to be taught in the Black school. At that time, South Africa was under the firm grip of apartheid. The protest initially started off peacefully in Soweto but turned into a chaos when the police opened fire at unarmed protesting children.

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Khotso Seatlholo, one of the pioneers of the 1976 student who died during the clash, summed it up in these few powerful words: Liberation is a noble cause without which I have no reason to live if I cannot fight to attain it.

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Vilakazi Street – The “Nobel” Street

Following this, our guide drove us around the Soweto area.  Vilakazi Street is the most famous street in Soweto for this is the only street in the world where two Nobel Prize winners lived: Nelson Mandela & Desmond Tutu.

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Nelson Mandela’shouse has been converted into a museum and the house has been preserved in exactly the same state was it was when the Mandelas lived in it in the 1960s. This former President of South Africa was an anti-apartheid activist and was made a political convict for 27 years, spending many of these years on Robben Island. If time permits, I plan to visit Robben Island while I am in Cape Town. 

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Across the street from the Mandelas’ is the Tutu’s house, which is still used as a normal home by the Tutu family. Desmond Tutu is a South African cleric and activist who rose to worldwide fame during the 1980s as an opponent of apartheid.  He is the second South African to receive the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984.

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Soweto is a self-contained community and a colourful melting pot. Here were some other interesting shots taken in Soweto:

Goats put up for sale…

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Street barbers waiting for customer…

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And street artist displaying his vibrant works to us…

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This Soweto tour really opened our eyes, but most of all, it was our hearts. We were filled with gratitude that we are blessed with a nice and comfortable home to live in, and a safe and democratic country that we can be proud of.

Rosebank

After the tour, we checked into the Courtyard Rosebank. The Courtyard Rosebank is a gracious and elegant hotel, situated in the heart of the upmarket suburb of Rosebank. Major shopping centres, restaurants, as well as the famed Sunday Rosebank Flea Market, are all within walking distance. We were delighted with the clean and spacious room, which came with a kitchen and cook area.

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A relatively unbelievable fact: The water in South Africa are safe for drinking, straight from the tap!

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16 Jan 2005: Jo’burg

Rosebank Weekend Market

Today is a Sunday and there is a high profile Rooftop Market (opened from 9 am to 5 pm) with over 600 stalls offering quality clothing, ceramics, arts and crafts, handcrafted items from all over Africa; furniture and jewellery, plus a wide array of culinary delights in the International Food Court and Deli section. Established in 1993, this premier market is a paradise for shopping and leisure for local and tourists alike.  JL and I spent a couple of hours here and even had a head & shoulder massage by two Chinese physicians!

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For two days in a row, we had grilled chicken wings at Nando’s. This Portuguese-themed, casual dine-in restaurant originated from Johannesburg in 1987 and now operates in more than 25 countries.  Nando’s specializes in chicken with lemon and herbs, complimented with its famed spicy peri-peri marinades. Commonly known as African red devil, peri-peri is a small and extremely spicy member of the capsicum. In plain words, this is the “chillie padi” of South Africa. JL and I enjoyed the spicy kicks so much that we brought a few bottles home.

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In the evening, we flew out from Johannesburg and headed toward the next destination, Duban.

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  17 -21 Jan 2005: Durban

Durban is the largest city in the KwaZulu-Natal. The modern history of Durban started in 1824 when British Lieutenant F. G. Farewell and an adventurer Henry Fynn arrived. Henry Fynn helped Zulu King Shaka to recover from a stab wound he suffered in battle. As a token of Shaka’s gratitude, he authorised them to establish a trading station. In 1835, the town was named “Durban” after the Cape Governor of the time, Sir Benjamin D’Urban. Most Durban residents speak Zulu at home and we were quick to pick a couple of useful phrases, such as Ngiyabonga (pronounced “Lee-a-bon-ga”), which means “thank you” in Zulu.

Umgeni River Bird Park

As we arrived here very late in the evening yesterday, we decided to relax our pace today. The first stop was at the Umgeni River Bird Park.

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This park has many walk-through aviaries with birds out on perches, where you can get up close and personal with the hornbills, macaws, kookaburra and toucans. There is a free bird show featuring endangered species like the Wattled Crane and Cape Vulture to emphasize  on wildlife conservation.

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Although this is a far cry compared to the Kruger National Park, we still enjoyed it…

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 Durban South Beach

Located along the warm Indian Ocean coastline, Durban is famous as Africa’s busiest port. But more importantly, it is a mecca for all beach lovers. Warm subtropical climate, white sands, fantastic waves and plenty of warm sun makes Durban a popular South African beach destination. 

On the return trip, we stopped by the South Beach. The South Beach is part of Durban’s world famous ‘Golden Mile’. It is purely an enjoyment to just relax in the powerful westerly winds and watch the large waves covering the shore.

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Seafood

A relatively big community of Indians live in Durban. Therefore, two things are naturally great here – Seafood and Indian cuisine. The local recommended a superb seafood restaurant located at the Point Waterfront, called The Famous Fish Company. Situated at the entrance to the harbour, the restaurant provides a wonderful view of the ocean liners and the passing ships. If you are lucky enough, you might even see a school of dolphins frolicking in the sunset. JL and I shared the famous fish platter. The shell seafood and linefish were very fresh and the service was excellent. It was a good recommendation.

Another interesting eatery is the marine-themed The Cargo Hold @ uShaka Marine World. This restaurant is unique because it is located in a ship that stands at Ushaka. There is a huge shark tank in the centre of the restaurant. So if you book early, you can get a table right next to shark tank! I had a grilled kingklip fillet, napped with mussels poached in a passion fruit and Bourbon cream sauce accompanied by crushed potatoes and seasonal vegetables. YUMMY!

Durban Ricksha Bus Tour

Initially, JL had some reservations about venturing out alone in Durban. After all, here is South Africa and there is an overpour of fear from Jo’burg crime rate. But after two days of imprisonment at the Hilton Durban, she quited the mandane life to join the Durban Risksha Bus tour in exploring Durban Central.

The Town Hall is the most prominent building and this was the second town hall to be built in Durban. This 1910 Edwardian neo-Baroque architecture was deigned by Stanley G. Hudson, who was inspired by the City Hall of Belfast in Northern Ireland and replicated it. 

 

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The original town hall has become the Durban Post Office

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The Emmanuel Cathedral has just celebrated its centenary establishment. This Roman Catholic Church opened its door in 1904 and has made it through the South African Apartheid Era. A beautiful architectural feature of this church is its cross, carved out of Carrara marble from Italy and was a gift from the Empress Eugenie, wife of Napoleon III of France.

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Another fascinating architecture is the Juma Mosque. Built in 1904, it is the largest mosque in the Southern hemisphere. It strangely dominates Durban’s central Indian district, especially with its two gilt-domed minarets towers. Around the mosque is Grey Street where there are many Indian food outlets offering Durban’s unique “Bunny Chow”  (half a loaf of bread scooped out and filled with curry).  On Victoria Street Market, there is a huge bazaar selling incense, henna tattoos and spices.

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city notorious area

The Old Station Building was built in 1892 as the main railway station house in the city centre. The most peculiar feature of this station is its roof which was designed to support 5m of snow. The design was from an English architect, who sent the Toronto Station roof plan to Durban in error. Toronto got the Durban plans and their station collapsed during the first bad winter. Another person linked to this station is Gandhi, who bought a first-class train ticket to Johannesburg in June 1893. On the way to Pietermaritzburg, someone on the train complained that there was a non-white in the first class section. Gandhi was thrown out of the train at Pietermaritzburg. He got separated from his luggage and spent a very cold night in a shed. It is said that this is where he formulated his philosophies on Satyagraha or passive resistance.

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JL related her “hair-raising” experience while she was on the way from the hotel to the near-by supermarket. As she crossed a park filled with Africans, she felt they stopped doing what they were doing and “stared” at her (” Of course lah, it is not common to see an Asian lady here mah,” I assured her).  Besides,  the park was fully used by the local for trading and retails. There was even a household telephone (not a booth) set up for use at a charge. But the panick button was turned on when an African lady suddenly appeared in front of JL, asking for something. She totally forgotten what the lady said and quickly took to her heels, hurrying back to the hotel. To be frank, I was also uncomfortable walking alone through that park.

Gateway Shopping Mall

When JL and I discovered Gateway, we were very elated to see this “Theatre of Shopping”. It is situated at Umhlanga Ridge New Town Centre, which was 30-45 min drive from Hilton Durban. This complex is 150,000m² big with more than 280 stores! It has a Surf and Extreme Sports Centre Wavehouse, which you can surf inside the shopping mall. For the adrenaline junkies, it has the world’s tallest indoor climbing wall standing at 24m high!

Strangely, we picked our dinner at the Cape Town Fish Market (which we are going to spend the weekend in Cape Town). The decor predominately makes use of stainless steel throughout the restaurant, which give an emphasis on cleanliness. Here we had some sushi and sakae sashimi (the salmon belly and seared tuna sashimi were one of the best that I had tasted!).

After dinner, we went to the IMAX  theatre. We enjoyed the first show Everest so much that we continued with the second show, which talked about Adrenaline Rush: The Science of Risk.

Although our stay in Durban was 5-days long, we did not explore much as, most of the time, I was occupied by my work assignment here. The biggest regret was missing a trip to Drakensberg to see the Giant’s Castle World Heritage Site and its Bushmen rock art in the ancient caves.  Nonetheless, we looked forward to the weekend stay in Cape Town.

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