The Aftermath: KwaZulu-Natal

AAJ Staff By

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For Cape Town Jazz Festival coverage, see these links: Day 1 | Day 2

After visiting Cape Town and taking in its jazz festival, I went on to spend a few days in Durban and outlying areas. Click on the photos below to see larger versions.

The city of Durban, located on the Indian Ocean, is the busiest port in Africa, as well as a local tourist hub with a lovely beach and lots of surfing. The city itself, once you leave the beachfront hotel zone, is a pretty mixed up place with lots of Zulu and South Asian influences. Here a street vendor is selling potatoes and onions near the fish and meat market.

uShaka Marine World is the latest addition to Durban's ongoing effort to revitalize its beachfront area. The R700m ($140m) aquatic theme park is home for a variety of fish, including a massive tank full of sharks and rays. It also offers other attractions like dolphins, water play, and (you guessed it) shopping.

Sabaya, a Zulu village near Durban which is oddly situated near a newly-built casino, features authentic Zulu song and dance, as well as various recreations of traditional lifestyle and activities. A nearby restaurant offers local cuisine. The people at Sabaya were very warm and welcoming.

The main road northeast of Durban runs through rolling hills planted with massive cane fields. Sugar is the area's major agricultural export. Further away, you'll see densely-packed eucalyptus trees planted in geometric syncronization for efficient paper production.

The massive private Phinda game reserve to the northeast of Durban is home for Africa's famous "big five": lion, elephant, buffalo, leopard, and rhino. ("Phinda" means "return" in Zulu. The place's original name was shortened from the Zulu for "return of the animals." It's devoted to preservation of native habitats and ecologically sound conservation activity.) On morning and evening game drives, rangers and trackers take visitors out into the bush to see these animals (and many others) doing their thing in the wild. This mother and child had just finished rolling in the mud. As you can see, they weren't too afraid of our Land Rover, presumably because they've seen vistors like us before. The rhino is the image on the front of the green 10 rand bill.

On our first evening at Phinda, we lucked out and found a cheetah and her two cubs hidden away in the tall grass. They were incredibly difficult to spot because of their camouflage and low profile. But we were able to get fairly close without disturbing them. This photo is pretty far zoomed in.

To see the cats at Phinda, you usually have to get out at night. We found this young male lion and his brother on either side of us on the road. They settled down and after a few minutes had a roaring conversation with each other, with deep, visceral echoes all around. It's hard to describe the eerily intense feeling of this after-hours situation. We had encountered these two males earlier in the afternoon trailing a female lion (presumably to keep an eye on her in case she should hunt up some food). The lion appears prominently on the bright red 50 rand bill.

We saw elephants on several occasions. They actually have been doing so well there that Phinda recently had to sell over thirty to other reserves in order to keep the local population under control and prevent plant life from going under. This guy was part of a crew of four eating by a marsh. We had the rare privilege of seeing him take care of bodily functions in all three phases of matter (solid, liquid, and gas). Amazing stuff.

A joke from the ranger...

Q: Why do elephants have four feet?
A: What did you expect, three inches?

(And he wasn't kidding.)

On our second evening, we found a journey of giraffes, eleven in total, peacefully munching the softer upper leaves of the trees. They have long black tongues which snake in and out of the foliage. You can distinguish the males by virtue of their bald horns (if the other, more obvious part is hidden out of view). Giraffes don't move very fast most of the time.

These strange aloe plants were growing in a few areas around Phinda. The upper leaves eventually die, fall down, and dry out, much like the foliage that accumulates around palm trees that are not groomed. The green leaves are covered with lots of very sharp spikes to keep hungry mouths away.

On our second evening at Phinda, we came across four lion cubs feasting on a fresh nyala kill. The lioness had made the actual kill a few yards away and then dragged it under the cover of the trees for privacy. This particular cub had just finished eating and sat for several minutes in front of the trees with a satisfied, stoned-out stare.

The vervet monkeys near the Phinda mountain lodge stick close. They are quite curious and eager to see what the visitors are up to. While we were there, they broke into the main dining room and found a big pile of apples, only to be chased out and away by staff. There is no fence around the lodge, which means that all the animals can get as close as they want. We saw nyalas in various places snacking on the vegetation, as well as various other antelope-like creatutes slightly further away. At night you must be escorted around the premises by security if you want to walk outside, which everybody thought was a pretty good idea after we saw what was out there in the shadows.

Visit AAJ: South Africa for more on the country's history, culture, and great music.

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