By Ernie Alderete
Ready to beak away from the familiar? Then pack your bags and head for one of the most exotic destinations on our planet.
Durban is exotic even for Mother Africa. It is a city populated with second, third, fourth and beyond generation South Africans descended from immigrants of the Indian sub-continent: India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, even Burma.
As soon as you arrive in Kwazulu-Natal, the new name of the state that encompasses Durban, you feel energized by the vibrant ethnic mix. Dark, handsome faces that answer to names you’ve never heard before in all your travels..
The pristine beach along Durban’s seafront is called the Sugar Coast, because sugar cane has been the principal crop of Kwazulu-Natal, the most populous of South Africa’s nine states, for over a century.
You see tall green waving seas of cane growing alongside, and even in the median strip, of the freeways.
I stayed at the ultra super deluxe Zimbali Forest Lodge, where virtually the entire staff is of South Asian ancestry.
I even got my own personal butler! It was the first time in my life that I had the services of a uniformed manservant. He had the improbable name of “Elvis” but was thoroughly Indian in background. He unpacked my bags, polished my shoes, recommended sights to see, restaurants and shops to visit, made my reservations at the in-house spa, drove me around the grounds in a golf cart, laid out my clothes and ordered my breakfast.
I don’t know how I ever managed without him.
An immaculate strip of sparkling orange tinted sand beach fronts the lodges’ large estate. I’ve seen plenty of beaches in my time, but never one quite like this. The sand seemed to contain tiny particles of crushed crystal that reflect the sun like a million miniscule prisms.
Zimbali Forest Lodge, as the name implies, is situated within a lush, tropical, first-growth forest. Rare Blue Duiker, second smallest deer on earth, the size of a normal house cat, feed in the underbrush, monkeys forage in the canopy.
Sitting on your personal balcony, the warm, moist ocean breezes caress your face almost like a professional facial.
A variety of high-adrenaline activities can be enjoyed: horse back riding right into the gentle ocean, paragliding from a cliff overlooking the waves, sea kayaking bring you up close and personal with people friendly dolphins.
Of course, Indian cuisine in all its varieties, from Kashmiri to Tamil, is a major drawing card.
Curries from mild and fruity to veritable flamethrowers, Tandoori oven-baked chicken and lamb, a thousand vegetarian dishes, it’s all available from humble street stands up to first class restaurants.
But there are many non-Asian culinary influences as well. Peri-Peri Chicken was imported from neighboring Mozambique, and has been adopted into a virtual South African national tradition. Tender chicken parts are marinated in a spicy mix of garlic, tomato sauce and Mexican chili.
Nando’s Peri-Peri Chicken is to South Africa as Colonel Sanders is to Kentucky. www.nandos.co.za
Seafood is another winner in Kwazulu-Natal, including giant Mozambican prawns, crayfish (South African lobster), and plump Knysna oysters.
More than ever English is the primary language of commerce, as well as travel throughout southern Africa.
One native-born South African told me, “Afrikaans is a dead language. You virtually never see signage in it anymore. It survives as a language in the home, but has little impact on public life”. The decline of the former language of oppression has coincided with the rise of the formerly subordinate English, now the language associated with progress and democracy.
Fly South African Airways from their U.S. gateway in New York City. Connecting flights within the United States are available via their partner Delta Airlines.
Nando’s Hot Peri Peri Stir Fry
* 1 bottle Nando’s Hot Peri-Peri Marinade and stirfry sauce.
* 500g deboned chicken breasts
* 100g baby corn
* 1 red onion
* 100g broccoli
* 200g baby button mushrooms
* a handful of cashew nuts
Stir-fry the chicken strips in a little oil, then add the baby corn, chopped red onion, broccoli and button mushrooms and stir-fry for a further 3 mins. Pour over Hot Peri-Peri Marinade & stir-fry sauce and simmer for 5 mins or until the chicken is cooked. Sprinkle over coarsely chopped cashew nuts and serve on a bed of noodles.