Monday, February 22, 2010

African Chronicles: Everything but Shamu

I've tried to avoid the deadly travelogue. You know the type. I did this, then I did this. Then we did this. Then we went home. The type of thing that could be made into a deadly boring slideshow presentation.

So, I'll try not to do that. But at the same time, I'm on vacation, so I'm not going to try very hard.

On Monday we got out of work early, because this program isn't planned very well. Not that I'm complaining, as this gave me nearly a day of sightseeing. South Africa continues to frustrate with it's bizarre workday. When everything closes at 5, and we don't get out of work until 4 or 5, the only days when we can explore are early days like this. So while some people chose to recover from the weekend, I decided to go to Ushaka.

But first I suppose, we decided to go to Wilson's Wharf and the BAT center. I'm not going to discuss Wilson's Wharf because it was pretty boring. If you read a travel book about Durban it will tell you to go to Wilson's Wharf and I'll just tell you right now that you don't need to. The End. But afterward we walked to to the BAT Center which was actually quite nice. We did get kicked out of a yacht club on the way, but we made it there eventually, and it was quite nice.

Tangent: The first time you go abroad, you think to yourself, “Self, I should bring home a bunch of souvenirs. And I should get a bunch of souvenirs for my family and friends. And look! How convenient it is that these quaint one-of-a-kind souvenirs are available on the street corner.” At least I had some experience similar to this when I went to China. But you soon realize that the vast majority of the stuff isn't quaint it's just mass produced. It may very well say Made in China on the bottom. Which is less of a problem when you're in China, but still negates some value. It's more of a problem when it happens in South Africa, on the “hand-made” pot on the street corner. So you realize that a lot of the shops sell the exact same stuff, which at worst means you don't want it, and at best means you can pick it up whenever you want, whenever you haggle the best price.

So South Africa is the same as most anywhere. A lot of the souvenirs (called curios here) are identical, mass produced, and readily available. So we've made a special effort of finding souvenirs that are actually unique, and preferably from a native artist. The BAT Center was a way to do this. It had a bunch of art exhibits, studios and a cafes. They play jazz there, though not on a Monday afternoon when we went. Some people bought some neat stuff, and I just enjoyed the atmosphere.

We chose to go to this area in the afternoon, because it's also the home of many of the cities homeless. We'd been warned that we could be attacked there at night. But, it's become a common theme that all South Africans feel that we're at risk of being attacked at all times, except when tucked safely in our beds. But when possible we heed their advice and this was one such case. The only thing that attacked us was homeless urine odor. And this was our fault since we cut under a railroad track and walked through a latrine-like tunnel. Those of us in flip-flops were not terribly happy with the decision in retrospect.

After a bit of a walk through town we made it to Ushaka. Now, many of you have been to Sea World. I have not. But from the best of my estimation, Ushaka is the ZA equivalent of Sea World. In fact, some of the signs said Sea World, which could indicate that they are owned by Sea World, or at least steal their signs from Sea World. The waterpark portion of the park was closed, because it was Monday, and of course they close half the park because it's Monday. TIA. But the aquarium portion of the park was open.

The aquarium itself was inside a ship, and was actually quite good, as far as I could tell. It was no where near as large as the Baltimore Aquarium, which is pretty well my only reference point, but the atmosphere of being in a “sunken” ship was a nice touch. And they had eels and sharks and rays and cuttlefish and all manner of things that are neat to see, even if they didn't have all that many of them. The ship also had a number of restaurants in it, but we didn't end up using there facilities.

We went to a couple shows while we were there. The seal show was quite good, as seals are pretty entertaining animals. I kind of feel like just watching seals is a show in and of itself, but these ones clapped and danced and did all manner of things they didn't do when I saw them on Seal Island. The dolphins did a similar song and dance in their show, which was both impressive and painful. Impressive because they're clever things, and painful because the narration of the show was horrid. We skipped the penguin show in favor of watching some of the carnivorous fish get fed. The park also included a mall, so as Americans we felt it was our obligation to scope out the mall. It was full of curios, which I didn't buy.

1 comment:

esodhiambo said...


1--Mondays is a traditional "closed" day for museums, fine restaurants, theatre, and such entertainments. Worldwide. It's to make up for being open all weekend, I guess.

2--Everything in Africa closes at 5 because many people have an hour or two commute to travel back home and want to be there before dark.

3--You really could be attacked at any time. Not to make you paranoid, just that you are more of a target there than you have been elsewhere.

4--You guys should stop going to malls.