Sitting on the Chasing Horizons bus, with a holographic barbie cup full of wine and coke, the setting sun still shinning though the windows and George next to me, happy as a little kid at Christmas. Durban is on every one of the 11 passengers minds; the beach, new bars, a whole city of new places to explore. I’m just waiting to get to the border, where I can let out a heavy sigh of relief- my organizing job will be over then and only then- I will be confident the trip is finally a success.
Two months ago I started planning. Two months of gathering up information, picking the destination, convincing people to go, hustling for a few extra bucks to bring. It was all bad timing really. Everyone seems to be feeling the pinch of tight budgets these days, SD is not in a finical uproar of even the most modest kind. I had a hiccup or two before the trip too. My (dear, sweet, loving, awesome, amazing, kind, generous) sister loaned me some loot a few days before vacation. Unfortunately, it happened to be the same day my debt card expired. A new card had been ordered, and was expected to arrive anytime, however it was set to the wrong address- go figure. I carried on, hustling a few late invoices to my clients and getting enough dough to get by.
The ride to Durban is about 5 hours from Mbabane. We spent the first half of the trip listening to loud dance music, cracking jokes and drinking in the back of the sprinter. Then slowly, one by one, the rows of seats began to settle, and everyone eventually fell asleep (except for me, who hovered over a bucket by the open window. Wine and long road trips don’t do much for motion sickness…).
We arrived at Tekweni Backpackers at 1am. Just enough time to find our second wind and head to the bar. We tossed our bags in our room, fitted with 5 bunk beds, and headed to the main strip of Florida rd, where a series of bars awaited us. We arrived at the first bar just in time for one beer and to hear the ringing of the last call bell. We carried on up the hill, looking for something still open. No one really knew where we were going, and there were theories from the group about which way to turn, or rumors they had heard about a place to visit. I, however, was distracted. Hearing all the mumbling from inside a bubble. As we walked I passed building after building of sushi bars, taco cantinas, frozen yogurt shops, thai cuisine… more sushi! In two blocks I saw a wider (more amazing) display of food choices then I had seen in the whole of SD. I think, for a second, I sincerely thought I died and went to heaven. I made mental lists as we walked; all the places I would eat the next day, including breakfast, lunch and dinner, as well as a mid morning snack and late afternoon bite and maybe even a late night munchies cure. I brought enough elastic pants to insure the plan.
In the morning we awoke to the repetitive beeping of Ben’s cell phone alarm. In a room filled to the brim with people, it was bound to happen. But, it was welcome- we were all awake, and ready for the new day. I was so excited to have a real cup of coffee in a to-go cup, I could barely stand it. I threw out the day’s plan for anyone in earshot to catch, and then sprinted out the door to the nearest cafe.
Seeing Florida rd in the daylight made it look completely different then the night before. A line of cute little spanish style building fronts, tables with big colorful umbrellas lined the sidewalk in front, big neon signs on the facade depicting professionally designed logos, and herds of white people. It seems odd, but this was actually the most disorienting part of the day. They were everywhere! And not just white people, white people with bright red lipstick, aqua-netted hair, fleece zip up jumpers, and litters of little toe-headed children following behind. I felt like somewhere in the 5 hour drive, we had somehow picked up speed, grew wings, crossed the Atlantic Ocean and ended up in South Beach. I could’ve been easily persuaded that we were actually IN Florida, not just ON Florida rd.
A small group, walked in the opposite direction of last nights adventure and stumbled upon a small Italian cafe. The waiter greeted us, and welcomed us to Durban. I was suddenly reminded of when I worked in Chicago were the tourist were endless, and I could easily distinguish the out-of-townees from the locals. We were definitely tourists- and not just from out-of-town, we were from small-town. Like seeing someone from Gary indiana in downtown Chicago. I was staring wide-eyed at everything, taking pictures on the sidewalk of random signs, and posing in front of busy intersections. It was an uneasy feeling at first, but then someone walked by with a rack of sunglasses and awesome hats that said “ I heart South Africa” along the brim. What the heck… I want one! I proudly wore my awesome tourist hat for the rest of the day.
After breakfast we piled back into the bus and headed to the beach. There was a slight chill in the air, and the water was still freezing, but it was warm enough for us to enjoy our one day at the beach. We fully indulged. The group split and George and I spent the day alone, sitting in the sand, walking along the markets near the beach front and ending with a plate of nachos at Joe Cools, just a few feet from the crashing waves. The rest of the group eventually found us there, including an old friend of ours who had moved to Durban months ago. We listened to the DJ and ordered drinks at happy hour prices; dancing, taking photos and smiling endlessly. What an amazing day!
By the time we left the beach the sun had almost completely set, and everyone was buzzing. We piled in the sprinter again, and headed for the backpackers. A few miles from our destination the van started to lose power and the dreaded engine light came on. We drove the rest of the way at half speed, with all the boys onboard giving their theories of what was wrong. We made a few calls to get a few more theories, but in the end we were all preparing to be “stranded” in Durban ( I could think of worse places).
Despite the slight pull of worry about how we would get home, we were all preparing for our night out. We waited for hot showers, applied lip gloss, all of us dressed to a T, and left again. We walked, and walked, looking for somewhere worthy of our good-looking group, but eventually ended up at the same bar as the night before. I didn’t mind, I was across the street from the frozen yogurt shop, which was still open. When George and I met up with the group later, we found them all sitting in the smoking section, drinking bottles of water, with the visible look of self-pep-talks running through their heads. I laughed out loud at the sight, and recommended we head back to our Durban home, where the booze were free and bed was just a few steps away- we had nothing to prove.
The next morning, while waiting for the mechanic, George and I set out in search of breakfast. I had past a large Mr. Price Home-store on the way in, so I subtly walked in that direction. It was like IKEA! Cheap, but awesome furniture. I put it on my list for reasons to come back to Durban (that red, modern, sectional will be mine). When we returned to the group, it was decided that we would risk the journey back and hope for the best. I lit a cigarette and said a little prayer. The ride back was somehow shorter, and definitely calmer or maybe it was the Mcdonalds stop on the way back that just made it amazing.
In the end, we didn’t party too hard, in fact I expected about 100 times worse. It ended up being a grown up birthday adventure. Everyone was all smiles, enjoying a weekend of no plans, no deadlines, no working cellphones- it was the perfect vacation.