See&Do

#MeetSouthAfrica Durban Instawalk

After posting about my Jozi Instawalk last week, there was no way I couldn’t show the city that I consider an-almost-second-home the same attention and post the photos from my Instawalk there too.

When my sister first moved to Durban a few years, I had a pretty bad impression of the city. I even called it Stinky Durban for a long time after she had moved. But spending more time there and getting to know the city more intimately has adjusted my perception of it so drastically that I’m always excited to go back.

Durban has this mad-crazy creative undertone to it. It has the cool of Cape Town in terms of design and art and even music, but not in the snobby way that Cape Town sometimes comes across in. It also has a friendly vibe similar to that of Johannesburg, but enjoys a more relaxed pace. Really, it’s what would happen if Cape Town and Jo’burg had a baby and it ran away to art school and possibly smoked pot behind the school shed.

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Being shown around on an Instawalk to some pretty scungy yet amazing places was such a remarkable thing for me. I’ve never done many tourist things in Durban other than go up the stadium car and hang out on the beach with my pale legs.

After catching the People Mover bus, we headed into the Victoria Street Market to sample some spices and hunt for some great photo opportunities. The colours and the people blend into something singular here for me. These traders have been here for so long, and are so well-known for their particular curry powder blends that travellers return years later to retrieve another sample for their own kitchens.

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Adjacent to the market lies the ethereal Muti Market; a haven for those in search of local Sangomas (witch doctors) or traditional remedies. Sadly, we weren’t able to take pictures as it’s against the customs of the traders here, but I believe there are guided walks where the lucky few are afforded this opportunity. Let me try paint a picture in your imagination here:

The musty smell of uncured animal pelt flows through the stands like an airborne waterfall. Rats, stretched open with wooden crosses, lie alongside the skulls of monkeys and an unfamiliar plant root. A snake skin hangs across the entrance to one of the stalls, inside a macabre assortment of horns tangles between rolls of dried leaves. A stallholder glares warily at our party, telepathically urging us on. We don’t belong here. The gauntlet of traders draws to a bottleneck, the overwhelming stench of rotting flesh restricting sudden movement. As the never-ending short stretch draws to a finish, a relief floods my brain, panic abating. 

In reality, the market stretch is only about 200m at most, but it really is best to go with a guide as the traders do get suspicious of tourists due to the high level of illegal specimens on sale here. The guys who took us in said they’ve seen a gutted honey badger before alongside some fresh monkey brains. All of these are illegal to sell in accordance with South Africa’s wildlife and conservation laws. Nobody cares to stop them though: local police are afraid of the power of the witch doctors.

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After traversing the market spaces, we walked into what must be the complete opposite in every regard: The Emmanuel Catholic Cathedral. A beautiful testimony to religion in South Africa. It reminded me of an Italian duomo in many ways, just on a smaller and not-as-grandiose scale. This oasis of calm is so in contrast to the surrounding markets that you can’t help but enjoy the quiet of this church, no matter what your chosen denomination.

If you want to explore the markets, check out the tours offered by Markets of Warwick. They can tailor a tour to suit your interests and even include the parts of the markets that I never got a chance to see, but I know are there such as the Bovine Market. I personally would not go by myself because it wouldn’t feel safe to me, but if you can find a local to take you, I imagine that would be fine too if you didn’t want to opt for a guided tour.

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Travel & food blogger helping adventurous South Africans find their next escape.

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