Monday, October 5, 2009

On to South Africa... and Development

As we have traveled further and further south in Africa we have noticed a steady improvement in the quality of infrastructure (with just a few exceptions). This change has been especially true when it comes to transportation. We left Mozambique, a place where load limits (and showers) were optional, in a double-decker coach bus. We each had our own seat, no chickens were allowed on board, and there was a restroom on board so stopping in open fields for bathroom breaks was unnecessary.

Our trip to the South African border took less than 2 hours and the crossing was quick, efficient and no attempt was made at extortion. From there we moved past the famed Kruger National Park towards Johannesburg, a place we swore off even before the trip but had to pass through if we hoped to make it to our next destination, Durban. After a surrealy comfortable ride we arrived in what is widely considered the most dangerous city in the world, at 5am. Fortunately the bus station was more like an airport and we were not forced onto the streets for our six hour layover. Whenever we have met a South African during our travels we have asked if there are any redeeming qualities that would make a longer stay in Johannesburg worth while. No one gave us a positive response including a friendly gentlemen in the bus station who told us quite explicitly to stay inside. So we did.

(Early morning arrival in Johannesburg, South Africa)

Six eventless hours later and we were back on a double-decker coach heading out of Jo-burg on our way to the coastal city of Durban.

The scenery along the way helped to confirm that South Africa truly does have incredibly beautiful and diverse terrain. The trip started in flat, but green, farmland. Cattle mixed with antelope and even ostrich on many ranches. Flat-topped peaks reminiscent of the American southwest broke the landscape intermittently.

After a stop at a rest area replete with all the amenities (including a KFC) we dropped off a high plateau into the foothills of the Drankensberg Mountains. It was quite pleasant descending a mountain road that, for once, was not littered with the wreckage of the poorly equipped and inadequately manned vehicles we saw too frequently in East Africa. As the sun began to set we entered coastal rain forests and soon, the city of Durban.

We have now spent five days in Durban, a city that is incalculably more developed than any other place we have visited in Africa. In fact, it took us this long to find an internet cafe because as in the States, most people here have access to internet in their homes and offices.

The city is also incredibly diverse with a large percentage of its population of Indian descent. The juxtaposition of African, European and Asian culture makes Durban a colorful city. However, an incredibly obvious gap between the wealthy and the poor (most of which remains along racial lines) make it a very divided city. The area where our hostel is located could probably pass as a posh southern Californian suburb. The population around the hostel is almost uniformly white. Just a few minutes walk away though, is a dangerous "red zone" known for violence.

Our time here has been relaxing but considerably less exciting than the rest of our trip. It is just far too easy to get a simple ride across town, find drinkable water (tap water is safe!), or even wash our clothes. Staying in a family-style backpackers hostel completes an illusion that makes this part of South Africa feel far closer to the U.S. than the rest of Africa we have experienced.

The highlight of our stay in Durban, to this point, was attending a professional South African rugby game. The tailgating started early with traditional South African boerwors (beef sausage), and tossing a rugby ball around with a young fan who thought we talked funny. The game itself was incredibly entertaining as our general admission tickets put us right on the sideline as massive men mashed each other just a few feet away.

(Pretty decent seats at a Durban pro rugby match)

From here we head south along the coast with our final destination, Cape Town, just days away!

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