Durban, South Africa Calling and Spirit of Comrades

After a fabulous first time visit to South Africa last year, the land lures me back like a lion hungry for its kill. The inspiring video from South Africa Tourism convinced it well – the you that arrives won’t be the you that leaves.

Exciting Durban

Durban reminisces Auckland in New Zealand, where I spent my young adult life – a city for rugby spectators, outdoor enthusiasts and beach lovers. Here is SOTG’s pictorial guide in Durban. Hover over each image for captions and link to the website.

Bambha Iqhaza – Be Part of It

The Comrades Marathon was the primary reason for SOTG trip covering the distance between the capital of the Kwazulu-Natal Province of South Africa, Pietermaritzburg and the coastal city of Durban. Like how it has captured the hearts and minds of millions of South African, it certainly captured mine profoundly.

Happy 90th World Biggest and Oldest Ultramarathon

Started in 1921 (no race from 1941 – 1945 due to Second World War) prompted by a war veteran Vic Clapham who heard of a “Stock exchange Walk” from London to Brighton, a similar distance. He felt that if infantrymen recruited into the armed forces from sedentary jobs, could endure forced marches over great distances, trained athletes could cover the distance between the two cities without great difficulty. The idea withstands the test of time with 90 years of ‘up’ and ‘down’ alternately; up (87km) from Durban to Pietermaritzburg and down (89km) being the reverse. This year is the up-run of 877m longer as the result of road deviation near Pinetown. The number of finishers increased from 16 (out of 34) in 1921 to 13,006 (out of 16,993) in 2015 largely driven by the growing number of ultra-runners and clever marketing efforts from the Comrades official.

My Race Experience

A smooth early morning of last day in May took me to the D seeding pen in no rush. Goosebumps moment from hearing the national anthem, the wonderful sounds of Shosholoza, beautiful strains of Chariots of Fire and cockcrow being played which signal the start of a long day. I enjoyed the initial part of the run especially after meeting group of friends and their family as supporters at Winston Park-clearly lifted my spirit.

Cramp hit left leg near Botha’s Hill. I sat beside the road to stretch with the help of two runners of which one turned out to be my fellow club runner from Dubai Creek Striders. Regular stop to get few massages relieved the pain, though it kept coming back.

A memorable highlight is when I ran passed by children lined up in smart school uniforms on wheelchairs. They were blind I was told later. About 70km mark where I bumped into another fellow club runner – a comforting encouragement and chat kept each other going. We tackled one hill after another till the big Polly Shortts. Finishing the race with another bronze medal is an awesome feeling. A back-to-back medal (for completing both up and down race consecutively) is an added bonus. About 45 minutes in St John tent for leg massage did some justice.

Key takeaways are improving hill running to tackle the “The Big Five” set of hills better, energy-conservation and treating cramp correctly. A day on the Comrades course is never anything short of a great race – no but or if. The endless cheering crowds accompanied by air-filled with braai smell, the camaraderie and Ubuntu spirit are second to none.

WEATHER: Durban is a year-round destination with a sub-tropical climate. The best time to visit if you would like to avoid hot temperature and humidity is March to August.
FLIGHT and GROUND TRANSPORTATION: I flew from Dubai to Durban, South Africa with Emirates – an eight-hour direct flight. King Shaka’s Airport (a new airport built for the 2010 FIFA World Cup) is a 35km drive from the city centre. Approximate fares for Taxi ZAR 450 or Airport Shuttle Service ZAR 290 per person to the centre of Durban. Car rental can be done at the building next to the terminal.
VISA: Depending on nationality, the purpose and duration of visit, tourist visa may not be required. See here for a list of countries exempt and information regarding visa requirement.
SLEEP: We were booked in a stunning self-catering unit (click The Beacon 2nd picture in the gallery above for the link) in the coastal suburb, near Ballito (means little ball in Spanish). I also suggest for beach town called Umhlanga (means Reed Dance in Zulu). Both town are in close proximity to the airport by car with plenty of options for restaurants and shopping malls.

Credit for this trip is largely due to Nic, the mastermind for local expertise in planning and execution. To my fellow South African friends and families – for undivided support and a smooth day race logistic. To Nikki – a friendship that will be cherished. To Tim and my E – thanks for those memorable weekends training run.

South African Food

For a taste of South African fare closer to home, here are some suggestions – Tribes Restaurant in Mall Of Emirates or Dubai Mall, The Meat Co in Souk Al Bahar as well as Madinat Jumeirah, and Tashas in The Galleria. The More Café chains serve classic bobotie. You can try Bunny Chow in The Vida Food Truck opposite Manzil Downtown (though not a permanent dish on the menu SOTG being told) or Dubai Curry Cafe. As for quality fresh meat to cook at home, you may visit Springbok Butcher. Local Spinneys and Waitrose stock ready-made Biltong.

For my cooking and food adventure I bought a packet of free-range biltong, kelp powder, flaxseed, a jar of anchovy paste, and a book The Real Meal Revolution; the fastest-selling cookbook in South African history by Professor Tim Noakes, Sally-Ann Creed, Jonno Proudfoot and David Grier or the so-called ‘Red Bible’.

What is your favourite South African culinary experiences? For Comrades enthusiasts, what keeps your return to the race? Do you prefer a city stay closer to the race starting point or be a bit far away to trade for a beautiful beach surrounding?

Click here for SOTG’s Drakensberg short getaway in nature.

Lekker Dag.

SOTG. xo