Meghan and I touched down in Durban, city of my birth, about twenty-four hours ago. We took a drive through the center of town on the way from the airport to the suburb of Umhlanga, about five miles north where we are staying with friends in a stunning beachfront condo. Really what Durban is these days is a bustling African port town. When I grew up here, it was a bustling colonial port town.
Umhlanga is beautiful and we've had the benefit of incredible African hospitality. We have a lot more of it to look forward to. Today is sunny and warmish, but windy. My parents are spending time with old friends and M and I took the opportunity to opt out and have a quiet Sunday afternoon. There is still no sign of my bag from British Airways, so the next couple days will include at least a little shopping. Their lack of communication and organization has been really frustrating. Up until then, I had been having quite a good time with BA.
Our time in Kruger was truly amazing. Watching Meghan react to the game has been the most fun. She said in her previous posting that "wow" has been her most frequent word, but actually, the word she's been using has been "NO!" as if she cannot believe that this is actually a hyena with cubs in front of her eyes.
I was particularly proud of spotting a leopard (no pun) on our fourth day there. The way it works in Kruger is you drive along at about 30 km/h all craning your necks to spot game in the bush. You can see about 5-50 yards from the car, depending on how thick the vegetation is. If Kruger is crowded, though, as it was this past week due to the start of school holidays, most of your game is spotted not by looking for a shape in the brush, but by looking for a mini-traffic jam. Often, you have to roll down your window and ask someone what it is you're supposed to be seeing. So, out of five sightings of something big, maybe one will be an animal you spotted yourself. This is why spotting the leopard at the side of the road, on her way into the thicket, was particularly gratifying. My favorites, though, were the hyena with two cubs on the second to last morning, and the herd of almost forty elephants of all ages that surrounded our van as they moved up from grazing and drinking at the river.
There was so much, though, plenty of lion sightings when we would have been happy with one for the week. Tons of elephant. We watched giraffe drinking at a watering hole a couple days ago. A really fun trip.
One thing that you don't expect is that you get a camping appetite, one that goes along with rising at dawn, trekking out into the wilderness, and coming back victorious with photos. But really, what you're doing is sitting on your butt all day in a car. So you eat as if you were hiking ten miles a day, but you might not walk a mile the entire week. Dangerous.
The food was simple. Lots of boerewors (pronounced BORR-a-vorse) and some lamb and chicken, usually done on the braai, which is just a grill, but which is a South African institution. I concocted a slaw dressing out of chutney, olive oil, lemon juice and salt which will definitely follow us back to the States. Other than that, it's all been pretty basic but very satisfying. M has taken to rusks (basically South African biscotti... but not awful like biscotti usually are) and biltong (like jerky, but again not awful). These are real South African foods, and are also the foods of my childhood. I find that I have a particularly infantile relationship with this country. Most of the time I spent here was under six years old, so I'm more excited about nostalgic candy than about a particular place or food or drink or whatever.
One highlight yesterday was Natal prawn curry at the Oyster Box Hotel in Umhlanga. This is a beautiful old colonial hotel with a deck overlooking the Indian Ocean. Natal used to be the name of this province (now called KwaZulu-Natal or KZN) with a big Anglo, Indian, and Zulu population. My mom has written an article about this curry, so I'll leave the provenance and history and everything out of this post and just talk about the food. A huge plate arrived with a pappadum, rice, a roti (spicy flatbread) and more than a dozen big shrimp swimming in a spicy, oily, tomatoey sauce. The texture is very particular, sort of similar to a really good marinara. It comes with sambal (chopped fresh tomato and onion), chutney, and a spicy relish on the side. This was really a standout dish. I intend to eat many more of them. The lamb variety is a definite must, and prawns are good, but prawns and hard-cooked eggs are better.
OK, must sign off. More to come.