Dolphins, Milkshakes & Midnight Swimming in South Africa

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.

DSC01287 coast
Ballito, South Africa. Hello, Dolphin Coast!!

Right as spring break approached, so did a spontaneous cancellation of classes due to peaceful campus-wide strikes at the University of KwaZulu Natal regarding on-campus housing. This extended my vacation about 9 days.  My first instinct was to get to the coast to see dolphins, breathe in that thick saltwater air and walk for miles along strips of sandy beaches during the early morning, watching as the sun rose higher and higher into the sky, toasting the ground below like marshmallows over a roaring camp fire.  That was when a group of friends and I came to the conclusion we would head to Ballito, a small town on the Dolphin Coast.

A few memories are still sharp in my head and have made an impression not only in my mind, but in my heart too. The Dolphin Coast is National Geographic calendar worthy — vines of yellow, pink, and neon orange  flowers crawl out over the sandy beaches, scattered like veins over the earth. The waves are surf-credible and raging with bubbling energy and anger, crashing to the shore with such aggression that I almost jumped back in fear of being swallowed whole into the great abyss. The sun growled down at us from above and glistened off the sea-glass green waves; as each turned downwards with a crash, the white caps gleamed like whites of a smile, the waves baring their vicious teeth.

flowered vines at Dolphin coast
The flower covered vines that decorated the Dolphin Coast!

I cannot describe to you the amount of milkshakes I consumed. It must have been over ten! Thank you South Africa for your fair share of refreshing, chocolate-enhanced creamy ice cream wonders. The Milo milkshake is infamous in South Africa and is crowned for the shards of dark chocolate in a caramel, chocolatly sauce, drizzled with milky vanilla and icy goodness. The ice cream café “Milk” looked like the Easter Bunny’s haven, covered in pastel colors like J Crew men’s spring trousers (so in right now)! It was this moment where I didn’t feel like I was in South Africa at all but my hometown on the North Shore of Boston at a public beach. South Africa, I realized, might be halfway around the world but still has accommodations and beach front developments that look so similar to the West. This made me a bit sad, considering the South Africa I have seen is rich in preservation, conservation and farmlands, exploding with diverse culture, sinking into its own African roots. I couldn’t see fresh food markets or street sellers here, and trash wasn’t scattering the streets. I missed that South African charm — people of varied backgrounds floating through the crowded streets, the beginning of forming a rainbow nation, a South African vision.

milkshake coma

I felt like Ballito, with all its fancy restaurants and large sky-scraping hotels and resorts, was similar to the West, possessing the development that has cursed our nation with a large waste issue and a sky-rocketing environmental crisis and having little to no self sustainability without our precious imports.  Although I was able to hide away from campus life, dig my toes into the sand, head into my book and my heart into the essence of the place, I couldn’t help but feel like I was in Florida or the Carolinas, a place almost too safe without mystery, culture or clumsy charm.

Nights and early mornings pulled me away from this sensation as I watched the sun set and rise in the same day, looking out over the Indian Ocean. The infinite vision of the sun was a welcoming presence and made me feel grounded again, content with my surroundings and blessed to be in South Africa. The simple things in Ballito were most pleasing to me, like the rounded backs of the dark grey dolphins as they traveled in clichés across the ocean a couple of meters off the coast, lolling up and down amongst the garrulous waves. Ballito also had a long boardwalk that stretched across all the hotels and resorts, connecting people and places in an eco-friendly way. The boardwalk crossed parking lots, rocks, beaches, pools and other developments, coasting along until the very end of the Dolphin Coast. The coffee shops surrounding Ballito were all privately owned, run by proud women who lived in the area. Not only was I excited to see so much women ownership in this patriarchal society, but also to see the gleaming smiles and the assertiveness that came with such a demanding job in the restaurant business.

Collecting shells along the beach front

There was one night, past midnight, where my friends and I headed down to the ocean water and wanted to go swimming in the natural tide pools that were made with cement walls to keep them shallow. We went screaming towards the ocean, looking at the moon with childish delight, grabbing each others’ arms and whooping with laughter. We dove off rocks into the moon-reflected surface of salt water. We swam to the wall right on the open water’s edge and gazed out into the sky across Ballito, searching for shooting stars like little kids hunting for eggs at Easter. Ballito never seemed so close to home as I spotted the Big Dipper, but this urgent bliss that serenaded the night sky was all South Africa’s gift to us, and we all spent the night reminiscing about our favorite memories of this country. Ballito couldn’t have been a better way to spend a couple of days mellowing out, and I can’t wait for another opportunity to get on the road again!


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