When I arrived in Durban last Friday, my Uber driver set the tone for the week.
“It’s your first time in South Africa?” he asked. “Well I guarantee you, Durban will warm you up.”
He was right. Durban is hot all the way around.
A lifeguard named Sibu told me a great story. It went like this:
“Last week, a guy asked me to watch his car keys, so I put them here next to me. But then everyone started drowning, and I had to run into the water. When I came back, the keys were gone. It was a bad day.”
I want to pause here and appreciate that the highlight of Sibu’s story was not the bit about “everyone drowning” but that a set of car keys went missing.
“So someone took the keys.” I said. “And then what?”
“Well they stole the car,” he replied. “This is Africa, man!”
When I looked surprised, he added, “Don’t bring anything with you to the beach. Your wallet, your cell phone, your camera. Leave it all at home.”
I followed his advice the next day and showed up with nothing more than an apartment key and the equivalent of $20 in cash. My only regret in packing light is that when Sibu let me ride the rescue ATV down the beach that afternoon, I had no way of taking a picture.
Perhaps I should count my blessings. No one started drowning while I was on patrol.
Durban had a few days of rain while I was in town. To pass the time, I treated myself to leisurely breakfast at a second story café on the end of the pier.
“Do you mind if I sit on the balcony?” I asked the waiter.
“Oh miss,” he said, shaking his head. “No! It’s raining!”
“It’s fine,” I said, sitting down at a table near the door. “I’ll just sit right here.”
“Miss, it’s raining!!” he repeated, pulling me by the arm through the door. “Come inside! Please!”
I might have gone along with the whole thing except that just a few minutes before, when I complained about the weather to my best friend over the phone, she said, “Well it’s supposed to snow here, so you can go fuck yourself.” Everyone needs a friend who can put you in your place in 12 words or less.
“You don’t understand,” I said to the waiter, sitting back down. “Where I’m from, this is a perfectly nice day.”
This is March, man!
After lunch, when it was actually raining, I visited the Durban aquarium.
My timing couldn’t have been any better. I arrived 15 minutes before a dolphin show – not that I was interested in sitting through that, mind you. If you’ve seen one dolphin show, you’ve seen them all.
But as everyone headed off to watch that, I had the rest of the aquarium practically to myself.
“Fuck the dolphins, am I right?” I said to 30-something man who was standing next to me at the stingray tank. “This is way better!”
“I don’t speak English,” he said to me in perfect English.
I wasn’t buying it. If I had any sense I would have said, “See you RAY-ter then,” and waited to see if he rolled his eyes. But I didn’t. Because I was too distracted by this cute little face.
On my last afternoon in Durban, I drank two glasses of wine and handed my change to an Indian woman giving henna tattoos on the promenade. It wasn’t the worst $5 I ever spent.
And, yes, that is my natural hair peaking through five years of chemical treatments. My descent into Bohemia continues.
While I was sad to leave Durban, I was looking forward to my return to Cape Town.
Having the benefit of knowing the city this time around, I rented an apartment on a trendy street in a fancy neighborhood. As I was leaving the airport bathroom, bus pass in hand, I thought to myself, “Hey, I kind of have this down.”
Immediately thereafter, I wheeled my suitcase into a trashcan and knocked it clear off the wall. And because I hadn’t learned my lesson about tempting fate with my internal monologue, I thought, “Well this must happen all the time!” just as the bathroom attendant, in a beautiful African accent said, “Ah! I have never seen someone do this thing before!”
I’m back, Cape Town. Buckle up.