Meandering In South Africa: Livin’ Large!

Meghan Gaucher is a student at Hobart and William Smith Colleges and a Classmates Connecting Cultures Blogger corresponding with a writing class at HWS. Meghan is currently studying abroad with Interstudy in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa.

Below are the top ten things I have seen so far & enjoyed the most! It was hard to sift through a month of travel and studying, but I think I’ve narrowed it down. One thing that has to be understood is I’m a total adrenaline junkie and get a thrill out of being outdoors, so this list might be crowded with hiking, concerts, jumps, and other crazy experiences that have made my trip that much better!

Sunset at World's View: capturing the essence of SA!
Sunset at World’s View: capturing the essence of SA!

1. 300 year-old Khoisan Rock Art in the Drakensburg Mountains

In the Drakensburg Mountains, a beautiful stretch of green rolling mountains, fresh water rivers, baboons, elands, king proteas and other biodiversity, there are traces of the Khoisan remains-rock art! The rock art is found on various moving stones and cave walls in red dye. The Khoisan were a group of nomads who survived the harsh climate of the Drakensburg for hundreds of years before they died or were killed off. The remains of Khoisan culture and daily lives is depicted by the rock art, which has caused a theoretical revision of history and insight into their beliefs, traditions, and overall lifestyle. Images depict a Khoikhoi traditional dance, called the trance dance, as well as the myths and stories that have been passed down from nomad to nomad amongst the Khoisan people. Khoisans have a great appreciation and connection to nature, including large animals like antelope and elands, which are considered to have carry spirits on the earth that can predict tensions amongst different people, weather, and other deeper connections with nature.

2. City Center Durban

After touring through Durban townships, seeing South Africa in its raw form, we entered the city of Durban where the clear, blue sky, met the hot, urban streets in one of South Africa’s major cities. In the city there was an unbroken spirit amongst the people and place, a deeper connection to home-such energy! We engaged in photographs in front of city hall; looking at a particular street sign that pointed in different directions to different major seaports around the world. The sign wasn’t the biggest or most famous monument in Durban, but it stirred my insides as a I realized how far away from home I was and how connected Durban felt to the rest of the world: central to our food system with its variety of fish and sea life.

Moses Mabhida Stadium: Taking a Leap of Faith-jumping into other cultures.
Moses Mabhida Stadium: Taking a Leap of Faith-jumping into other cultures.

3. Moses Mabhida Stadium

Ahhh- the thrill of jumping 106 meters into the 2010 world cup stadium! If I could do something over and over again it would be free-falling into the Durban soccer stadium, an open-air turf field with room for thousands of people. Landing with a woosh after falling through the air just feet from the turf floor was such an incredible feeling. Soon the rush is over and I could collect myself, taking in the sweet sight of the 2010 World Cup, where so many famous athletes broke into a sweat, fighting for their country! As I was raised up 106 meters again in the harness, I looked out of the open air stadium out over the east coast onto the Indian Ocean (another check off the bucket list!).  The entire city of Durban is visible from the top of the stadium, about 500 plus steps above the ground on top of the stadium.

4. Greeting People- South African style!

Is there anywhere in the world where people have so many different ways of greeting people? Welcome to South Africa! The down up down handshake and down-up-snap-down handshake has been a pleasure to experience. You feel that sense of Ubuntu (oneness), that sense of inclusiveness, the building of unity! I cannot express how much I enjoy making friends here and having the ability to interact with them like another South African. The handshake is less formal and business-like than the typical American shake of the hand. It has the feeling of camaraderie that is embedded in this dexterity and creativity.

5.  Saakie: Traditional Afrikaans Dancing

Saakie was truly an enlightening experience; the traditional South African dance that is a combination of ballroom and step-dancing. We learned traditional dances  and combined them with modern music-which made it an interesting, exciting experience! I loved the enthusiasm in the room and the sweaty working that accompanied the laughter. All the locals dropped their jaws as we Americans whipped out our dance culture- shocker!

6. Dark Chocolate Croissants from Braai and Bake

My goodness. Right in downtown Pietermaritzburg there is a café and bakery that  is filled with delicious desserts, breads, breakfast items, and ice cream. What’s the worst part of the miraculous discovery? It’s so cheap! I have been only a handful of time- when I feel I deserve a nice treat-but the dark chocolate and the white chocolate croissants are to die for! They cost just 8 rand (a little under $1USD)- what a bargain! In the States croissants this scrumptious would cost around 6 to 7 dollars! The melted chocolate on the insides of the flaky croissant seeps into the layers of the bread, making a warm, mouth-watering dish. The bakery also has 3 rand soft serve ice cream-  a great  idea in such a hot climate on the way to the market!

Oribi Gorge, Southern Coast: I walked to the edge of the cliff like a pirate walks to the plank!
Oribi Gorge, Southern Coast: I walked to the edge of the cliff like a pirate walks to the plank!

7.  Oribi Gorge, Southern Coast

Dropping 106 meters was scary enough, but Oribi Gorge reached new heights- about 55 stories! Oribi Gorge is located on the South Coast of Africa, near Mantis and Moon, the hostile I stayed at on Umzumbe Beach. The excursion was a spontaneous one-but more than worth jumping into a deep gorge to overlook a massive waterfall. In a harness, I jumped off the edge of a cliff, in free fall for about 5 seconds. I swung out above the treeline as the rope tightened, looking down at the white paint outline of a fallen body-yikes!

Mantis and Moon Monkeys: Ah, now I'm in South Africa!
Mantis and Moon Monkeys: Ah, now I’m in South Africa!

8. Wandering Monkeys at Mantis and Moon

While staying at Mantis and Moon, a laid-back hostel embedded in thick jungle on the Southern Coast, I encountered my first monkeys! The monkeys sat on the roofs of the hostel and the overwhelming sea-green canopy full of bamboo and fruit. Grey monkeys with white and black faces swung with might from tree to tree above my head, staring back at me as I curiously watched them play and scavenge for food. Although monkeys in South Africa are like squirrels in the United States- nothing exciting and very abundant- this was one of the moments where I thought to myself: This is Africa!

9. Thistle and Whistle Karaoke Bar

Belting “Love on Top” by Beyoncé with a group of four girls, I enjoyed the Wednesday night food and drink specials accompanied with stand–up karaoke; a new experience for me! The bar, Thistle and Whistle, was relaxed and social, as people mingled amongst each other and watched their friends step up to the microphone, singing along to their favorite songs. This was one of the first times I was able to really socialize with locals and hear different perspectives from South Africans about culture and post-Apartheid life. I also got to try a Black Label-  a cheap, strong beer that most men drink here.  I needed to get out of my comfort zone to sing in front of people I didn’t know, which was more embarrassing because of the different types of music Americans enjoy. There was a lot of Afrikaans, country, and techno songs at Thistle and Whistle. Overall a really interesting, exciting adventure!

Ushaka Beach: Beachin' it!
Ushaka Beach: Beachin’ it!

10. Ushaka Beach, Durban

During my weekend stay in Durban I went to Ushaka, a large surfer beach with large, rolling blue waves and pale orange, sand. The beach was crowded with swimmer, boarders, and surfers; a prime people watching area! Ushaka Beach is located along the Durban coast. One side is piled with bars and seaside restaurants while the other is on the Indian Ocean. The water was so warm, like a bath compared to the North Shore Boston Atlantic Ocean. The rip tide was pretty strong so I didn’t go too deep, but I swam around for about 2 hours, loving the view over the water that included sailboats, fishing boats, and large yachts.

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