02 January 2014

27. - 2 Jan.: Drive to Durban and flight to Port Elizabeth

Very unusual breakfast with chicken liver and omelette. Good and hearty, enough proteins to carry me through to dinner time. My trip mates look at me with a mixture of disgust and disquiet. Yes it's not what Italians are used to eat for breakfast, but the strangeness of it all and their a priori rejection of anything new makes the food more tasty and the whole experience, if one can call a breakfast an experience, more satisfying.

At about 10:00 am we hit the road toward Durban, which unfortunately we won't have time to visit. Our friendly driver drops us off at the airport, and probably sighs of relief as he managed to complete his tour without driving into any black township. Maybe he is right. Again the disturbing sight of everyone wrapping their checked-in bags in plastic. Just after I spend 60 Rand on mine I read a sign that our airline would have provided this service for free. Apparently it costs them less to pay for the wrap than to follow up on complaints from passengers about nags being pifered by the handlers.

Uneventful flight along the Indian ocean coast of South Africa. Looks beautiful from up here, too bad we don't have time to drive along it. It's apparently very lush and not yet invaded by mass tourism operations or luxury hotels. So it must be quite enjoyable for those willing to accept some lack of comfort in exchange for a more direct contact with the people and nature of South Africa. Maybe next time...

In Port Elizabeth we are picked up by Petrus, an outsize Afrikaan with a warm and direct personality. Drop our bags at the hotel and off to the beach. I've been here a few weeks ago but it's a great pleasure to have a chance to walk along the beach in the late afternoon, waiting for the sun to settle. Best for pictures anyway.

I ask to be dropped off at the far Western edge of town, by the water. It is here that a long walkway starts, all wooden planks and railings. It is like a long snake, several kilometers long, and it zig-zags up and down the dunes that separate the ocean from the town of Port Elizabeth. Just inland of the walkway, by the first road that runs parallel to the water, not a few groups of friends and families have set up temporary camps and braai. It's not really a camping site, though it does look like quite a few people spent a night or two here. I ask a friendly guy who wanted to share a beer and he said they are just here for the holidays. I suppose they are sufficiently well off to afford a trip from their township and meat on the grill, but not so well off to patronize hotels and restaurants in town.

It's still holiday time, and thousands of people crowd the beach. On the western side, away from town, the holiday makers are all black. They are all, as usual, quite friendly and in an excellent holiday mood. Again a few new Facebook "friends" are added to my list and this time it's quieter than at the St Lucia beach so I can actually make contact on my phone and exchange pics very smoothly. One big guy of Indian origins is fishing with a rod that must be six meters long, and explains the trick is to drop the bait into a hole that's about forty meters offshore, let it sink, and wait. A group of three ladies has had one too many to drink but they do love to pose anyway.

 As I move east, toward the commercial center of town, it gets more mixed. Almost all the whites seem to stick to the more central part, just a stone throw from the Boardwalk. Same beach, same setting sun. But somehow the atmosphere is not the same. As the color of the skin of the sunbathers becomes fairer, so the warmth and smiles cool down and die out. Funny isn't it?

Dinner is at the Boardwalk, a Disneyland-type melee of casinos, restaurants, sound-and-lights displays, shops and pubs.

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