African Christmas

As the days ticked closer to Christmas, things got quiet at work. We had an end of year lunch at a restaurant by the beach which was really fun as I got to know everyone a little better and (finally) stick my toe into the Indian Ocean. I had seen the other side of this water body when I was staying in Perth, Australia and I remember thinking to myself at the time that Africa was ‘just on the other side’. And now here I was, looking back toward Australia. I was actually shooed away from the water after a few minutes by the staff though as I think they were concerned about my safety. I suppose this is a fair issue if you are serving alcohol beside the ocean, but I was still rather annoyed.

As one would expect with any office space, once everyone was out of the air-conditioned environs of the WGS office, I got to know my co-workers much better. Natasha, the office manager, surprised me with her preference for tequila, which I indulged (of course!) and all of us had a great time just chilling on the sand for a while. I have this theory that everyone you meet in life should be re-encountered near the ocean. If they don’t look out contemplatively to sea a couple times, then they are probably not very fun people. Everyone sitting on the sand that day look out to the horizon.

I also got to visit a predatory bird sanctuary with my good friend Michelle’s former co-worker and boss (Kira and Carl). They were having a grand re-opening so I got to see some rather rare predators in action. Vultures will ever be my enemy though- I have seen the animated Disney version of Robin Hood too much to trust those bastards.

Once the office was closed for Christmas, I had a couple days to wander around the province so I took a drive to a few waterfalls in the area (Howick and Kranskloof Falls) and just enjoyed doing a bit of wandering on my own. With all the warnings of carjackings and crime, there are actually some really nice roads in KwaZulu-Natal. Lots of green forest and rolling hills. It helps to be on the rainy side of the country. I imagine Cape Town is not so green just now with their horrible drought. Sorry for the lack of photos but the uploading capabilities of Word Press seem to be angry with my phone today. I might be able to work it out later with my laptop so stand by for updates if you are awaiting waterfall pics with bated breath. They were nice but not sell-your-kidneys nice.

One thing I love about the Southern Hemisphere is the fact that Christmas and New Year turn into sunny, warm holidays. Rather than being holed up next to a fire with ugly sweaters on, people get to sit outside or go to the beach. I was warned rather emphatically that Durban beachfront becomes a post-apocalyptic hellhole of traffic and humanity during Christmas so I spent the week with Michelle’s family in the Midlands. Their home is perched atop a steep driveway surrounded by lush trees with a beautiful view of the neighbouring valley.

We showed up with a hatchback full of gifts and food and I was adopted by her parents almost immediately. Peter is a well known botanist and Gyslane taught French at varsity, and is originally from Mauritius (a very small island in the Indian Ocean). Their friend Bernice from Benin was there as well, who was working on her PhD in biology. Opening of presents is done on Christmas Eve in their family, so everyone gathered around the Christmas tree in the afternoon of December 24th and sang carols- very old school and pretty sweet.

Along with her lovely sister, niece, and brother-in-law, I got to meet several member’s of Michelle’s extended family. It was so nice to be around a close group like that over the holidays, even if it wasn’t my own crazy relatives (you know who you are!). Much to my surprise, I had a small pile of gifts to open. I got a little choked up about this because while I am not religious in the slightest, generally there is nothing more isolating than a Christmas with strangers and the Dye family made me feel like I was one of them. This, above all else, was the best gift of all.


Mid-Month Meanderings

When I found out I was going to stay in South Africa, I was told I was going to the coastal city of Durban. In fact, I am actually staying in a suburb called Hillcrest, about 30 minutes inland. This is fine, since the humidity tends to decrease as you move away from the sea and gain elevation. The downside is that the morning beach excursions I had imagined I would be doing became logistically impossible with the morning rush hour being what it is.

Last weekend I resolved that I would be finally be going to the beach! Easier said than done. I got up early to beat the heat and loaded up my car with some snacks and grabbed my towel. I got all the way to the parking lot at the beach and as I drove past the sign listing the hourly rates, I realized I had forgotten my wallet. Goddamn it. I made a U-turn and headed back to Hillcrest. I pushed the button to open the security gate when I got home and as I rolled into the driveway, the two dachshunds that reside there (Chloe and Dexter) came running up to the car. I was terrified of running over the little things so I inched my way forward. Apparently, I moved a bit too slowly, as the gate began to shut when I was only half-way through. Suddenly a loud bang told me that my rental car was no longer in pristine condition. To add insult to injury, the gate then tried to shut again and bumped off it’s rail after a second impact to the car door. I got out to assess the damage as the dogs lay on the pavement looking at me as if to say “don’t look at us, this is your problem”. There was a large black patch of black from where the paint scraped off the gate, some scratches and a small dent along the door panel. At that point I decided I was done for the day and just parked the car. I did manage to get the gate back onto it’s railing but I didn’t want to chance any more bad luck for the day so I gave up on the beach and instead started reading my rental car insurance policy. Ugh.

The next weekend turned out much better. Michelle had invited me to the Midlands to meet her family and hang out for a couple days. The Midlands are a lovely area half-way between the Drakensburg mountains and the coast. With narrow, winding roads leading to small shops, cafes and restaurants, it is very reminiscent of the countryside in England. Collectively, the various small roads are known as the Midlands Meander.

When we got to her family home, I was greeted by Michelle’s mom Gyslaine and her father Peter. Originally from Mauritius, Gyslaine asked hopefully if I spoke French. I’m asked this on a fairly regular basis when I travel- it makes me feel like a bad Canadian. It’s shocking how few people are monolingual once you get out in the world. This is particularly evident in South Africa where there are ELEVEN official languages. Along with English and Afrikaans, you have Zulu, Xhosa, Southern Sotho, Tswana, Northern Sotho, Venda, Tsonga, Swati, and Ndebele. Suddenly the argument about signage rules in Quebec seem a bit quaint.

Despite the grim overcast sky and slight chill in the air, we decided to take a drive on the Meander, (‘we’ being Michelle, her mom, and their friend Bernice from Benin, who also spoke French). It was a nice ladies’ day out, with Gyslaine and Bernice chatting away in French in the back seat while Michelle and I sat in front, picking out interesting stops from the little tourist map we brought along. We ended up going to a Greek cheese shop, a craft brewery and the Mandela capture site, along with a lunch stop at the Nottingham Road Hotel. The capture site is the spot on the highway where Nelson Mandela was finally captured by police in 1962. There is a museum and a long path to a beautiful monument on the side of the road. The path represents the ‘Long Walk to Freedom”, also the title of his autobiography.

The Nottingham Road Brewing Company ( has a great English pub on site and we of course decided to partake in a sample or two. As I was the only serious beer drinker in the group, we decided to get a double flight and share. We were given a menu that described the various beers and the things we were supposed to be tasting in each variety. After we went about half way through, I realized that the bartender had not poured the beers in the order listed. There was no mango flavour in what was supposed to be my Swinging Samango Mango Ale, nor any citrus notes in the Tipsy Tiger IPA. Scandalous! Rather than demand a refund, I was given the unenviable task of sorting the beers in the correct order, since I was the ‘beer expert’. Ha. It basically just meant that I got day drunk while the ladies complimented my impressive pallet. I blame my sister Jody for turning me into a beer snob, but it is nice to know my skills are appreciated!


The cheese place was called The Gourmet Greek ( and you got to try a sampler plate of over a dozen types. Between the beers and cheeses, I have ingested this weekend, I may need some new pants, and it’s not even Christmas yet. On the topic of Christmas, I had grand plans to drive down to Cape Town for the holidays, but so many people told me not to that I began to second guess my itinerary. Days of driving, inflated prices and the prospect of spending a week by myself eventually convinced me to try make other plans. Gyslaine invited me to come back to the Midlands and I really think I will go. Even though I’m not with my own family, it seems a very cozy place to hide from the hustle and bustle for a few days.