Sardine Run Day 1: Into Africa

I’ve been to Africa a few times now; Kenya, Tanzania, Djibouti and Egypt on many occasions. But this is the first time I’ve been south of the equator. In fact my first time south of the equator ever. Call myself a traveller? I feel inadequate.

But here I am; arriving in Durban yesterday, via the metropolis of Dubai Airport. Emirates Airline has to get a shout out at this point for being great – lots of legroom, new plane, good service, amazing food (even for a restaurant, the lamb curry and chicken biryani would be considered decent grub), free booze, and most of all, on time.

Now, I usually don’t like talking on flights – I’ve had too many where I’ve got talking to the person next to me, and they’ve turned out to be a distant relative to Charles Manson. But the couple next to me struck up conversation, and we traded stories of home towns. From Durban, Sunitha and Sanveer invariably got onto the subject of crime in South Africa. As I thought, Durban isn’t as bad as Johannesburg for hijacking, kidnapping (you know, the stuff you hear about, but are never sure it’s true or just overhyped tourist tales). However, Sunitha was concerned that travelling alone, I should be aware not to walk outside after dark, and be careful when in the car as smash and grab robberies are common, even when the car is moving. She told me a story of how her neighbour got shot and killed after someone tried to take their car from the driveway outside the house. This was only a few weeks ago.

This is all stark contrast to London, where people, in my opinion, and relative to areas like Durban, overhype the knife crime and supposed “gang” culture, but this tale put it into perspective for me. Last year’s riots gave London a bad name, but I still feel perfectly safe walking around most of the city at night – sometimes after far too many sherries, and I think nothing of it. We may have crime in London, but I think we have it easy.

Sunitha must have been concerned that I was travelling alone, because she offered me her phone number and email and told me that if anything happened, I should call her. It never ceases to amaze me that there exist generous and caring people in the world, who would offer help to a stranger after knowing them for an hour. I find I meet more of these people as a single traveller than not.

She needn’t have worried as I was met at the airport by Stuart my driver, and Jamie, the enthusiastic dive guide I’d met last year at the Birmingham Dive show, and the very man who had sold me the Sardine Run. As we drove to the guest house in Balito, Jamie whetted my appetite with stories of last year’s Run, how many humpbacks, he’d seen and how many sharks I can expect (shitloads, apparently),

We arrived at the guest house, where I’d stay for one night; Sak n Pak, strange name, but what a great little place. Comfy, clean, spacious, lovely decor, and cheap enough to wonder how they manage to keep it so. Oh, and its right next to a little bar on the beach with live music and great burgers. Jamie and I wandered down after checking in (and the best shower ever – it’s a bloody long flight). There’s quite a surf crowd here (apparently Balito is on the surf circuit, and has a competition here next week). I can’t believe how cheap the wine is here. £2 a glass. Jamie tells me it’s a pound in Port St Johns. That’s a bad sign.

We talked about the Run over cheap wine and burgers – getting me massively excited. He’s guaranteed me humpbacks – or he’ll pay my bar bill… At a quid a glass he’s on to a winner either way.

The view from my guest house room

This morning I was taken for a walk down on the seafront, a lovely quiet amble, to watch the surfers warm up – and to be honest, I’m not holding out much hope for them winning much…. I didn’t see one wave caught between about five of them. While Jamie and I had a giggle from our vantage point at how much fun it would be to see a shark have a nibble at their board, you could still see the shark nets out at a distance – designed to keep the sharks away from the surfers, but as Jamie said, it keeps everything out – sharks, fish, whales, dolphins. It’s sadly indiscriminate and wasteful.

So, ahead of me today is a five hour drive to Port St Johns to the lodge where I’ll be spending the next week. Jamie is off up north for safari, then will come down to the Run later, but apparently there’s a good band of divers in the group, about 7 of us on the boat, along with some great guides. So I’m looking forward to meeting everyone.

And meeting the sardines, if they decide to come…


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