By Lillian Gaitho
The winds blow to the north, as if pushing the docking ships out of the harbor. A few meters above the ship roars a helicopter carrying the captains expected to dock the ship into Durban Harbor. Quite interesting, is the fact that foreign pilots are not allowed to dock in the vessels; you see the horizon of the approaching port, nurse down your sea sickness, curl back and vacate the cabin for the tough guys of Durban Port to guide the ship in. The morning is bright, the shiny sand seem to be calling, with such an allure you have to muster inner strengths to say no, and turn left through the gate to the mighty uShaka Marine Park. This park is Life, at least where the marine ecosystem is concerned.
Once in, my greatest interest is the shark tank, but before I get myself down to the reptilia underworld, my friend and I are lured by a signboard claiming to take any wandering souls to the bottom of the ocean. Now, if you grew up listening to the stupefying tales of samaki binti, you will not resist the promise to catch a glimpse of this mythical being. A wooden rack leads down a humid tunnel, with a menacing skeleton of a shark floating precariously from the roof; as if counting down to its resurrection and break of doomsday. An entrepreneurial lady suggests that we take a picture on the grounds that we won’t have to pay, I quickly process the conversion rate and settle for the unfailing ingenuity of my smartphone.
Down the labyrinth are massive tanks that as the guide explains, house more than 350 species of fish and marine animals, strange looking creatures that could be cross breeds of long extinct species. One particular big boy seems to enjoy the human attention; he slides in and out of whatever his cave is made of with alfa strides, takes in his surrounding and sniffs the air around, he then takes a quick glance at his imaginary Cartier, and confidently waves to the wishful bevy along his path.
Checking my watch, which is no Cartier (amazingly they all show the same time), I quickly walk through the penguin rookery hoping for a rerun of 05’ Happy Feet experience. The little birdies seem to be having a bad day, as they are all crowded in a corner of their shed. I decide not to be the fool who wakes up sleeping dogs and head down to the dolphin show.
From the way they twist and coil, these four girls must have escaped from some shores off the Jamaican Islands! You know the way you spot a foursome of ladies and effortlessly pick the one who’s blessing you need before you can reach your target? Khanya stands out like a lighthouse in a storm; bright, gracious, attention hogging, yet beyond your reach. The fact that age is but a number is affirmed by Khanya, as she manages to draw all attention, despite her being one of the youngest. Good ol’ Gambit still dazzles, despite having celebrated his 46th birthday recently- surrounded by his children and grandchildren.
The seal show is a memory to behold, and a consolation to the fact that fit doesn’t necessarily have to be lean! The Amphitheatre is filled with children; in all their beautiful pink and blues, checkered tunic and plain cardigans, anxious teachers panting hard to keep up with the young energies, and minders looking over their shoulders every time an over-excited teenager shouts above the PA system. The seal aquarium is built around a pirate themed set, making the experience even more real.
Unfortunately, by the time I am done with the dolphins and the seals; it’s too late to go to the shark world. A second look at the sign board candidly states “no feed today”. I am not sure if their minders are reacting to the tough financial times, or are on detox like half the women population in Nairobi.
Ushaka Marine Park is divided into five parts; uShaka Wet n’ Wild which comprises of giant water slides, light-speed racers, bubble tornado rides and pools, worth of mention is the adrenalin pumping kamikaze and the eighteen-meter free plunge pool which is the continent’s highest. uShaka sea world consists of the shipwrecks with a great display of sea life, that includes rare fish, flora and fauna while uShaka Village shelters the dangerous creatures and numerous shopping boutiques. If you have fun loving kids aching for lifetime adventures, head straight to the uShaka Kids World.
Armed with new bragging points and with a fulfilling sense of one more score off my bucket list, I join the rest of the group for an earlier reserved lunch at the Cargo Hold restaurant, housed at the entrance of the Phantom shipwreck. The Phantom is said to have showed up at the Durban Coastline at the turn of the 19th Century, haggard and restless, deprived of the sun, and hit hard by the perilous waves of the South. The great vessel re-emerged on the shoreline after losing sight for a week, but without a name or a flag – a stealth shadow with no identity, and thus became the Phantom. The artistic impression of the setup invokes the feel of wonder and intrigue.
The ceiling an intricate craft of rustic metallic piping, wooden framing and well thought out trinkets that remind me of Pirates of the Caribbean. The ambiance is spectacular, with the views of the ocean and shark tank taking all our attention from the well detailed menu. A couple of selfies later, I skip the starters and settle right into my main course; a platter of grilled prawns, served with peri-peri and an array of lemon butter sauces.
We were a group of journalists from Kenya, Angola, Congo, Namibia, and Botswana hosted by the South African Tourism Board, during the inaugural Essence Festival Week. The Essence Festival is an empowerment programme especially designed for women – it’s a replicate of the New Orleans Festival; Durban and New Orleans are sister cities. Throughout the week were workshops and seminars with a keynote address by talk show and business mogul Steve Harvey, business lunches and musical performances by the likes of soul sensation, Neyo, Wiz Kid, Burna Boy and gospel households as well as Yolanda Williams and the Black American duo of MaryMary.