Walking back to my room after my first World Cup match of 2010 was an experience in itself: Germany blew the Aussies out of the water (4-0) under the blazing lights and soaring arch of brand-new, multi-billion-rand Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban. But my route to South Africa's third-largest city, known as eThekweni in Zulu, was much longer: I drove all the way from Cape Town, some 1,200 miles. And let's just say they weren't American freeway miles. There is no better way to experience the complexity and beauty that is South Africa than hitting the (sometimes pothole-covered, goat-filled, zig-zagging) road. World Cup fever has gripped everyone, whether it's in the form of flags flying from cars, or vuvuzelas (plastic trumpets) blowing almost 24 hours a day, or enthusiastic predictions on public radio about the South African team's chances. Some people say that Bafana Bafana will go all the way. If they're fueled by passion, it might just happen.
Though the match itself was, for lack of a better word, insane, so was the journey. My route took me through three provinces—the Western Cape, Eastern Cape, and KwaZulu-Natal—and though I barely scratched the surface of areas like the Garden Route and the Wild Coast, I discovered some definite highlights:
-In the town of Wilderness, along the Indian Ocean, don't miss Zucchini restaurant. In summer, they sometimes see 400 people a night, but in the deep rainy darkness of winter, it was quiet and fireplace-cozy. The menu features local meats and veggies in the form of springbok meatballs and buttermash (mashed potatoes), gesondheid uit die grond uit (roasted eggplant, squash, carrots, filo-wrapped veggie "cigars," and sweet fries), and toebroodjies (sandwiches).
-There is a classic hike in Tsitsikamma National Park called the Otter Trail, a 42K, five-day hut-to-hut route from Storms River Mouth to Nature's Valley that hugs the crashing coastline. Though I didn't have time to do the whole trip, I did the next best thing. From Storms River Mouth, it's about 3K out to a shimmering waterfall that drops from the cliffs right into the sea. The trail passes through lush "fynbos" (fine bush), up and down stairs, and over rocks and logs. When (and it's a when, not an if) I return to South Africa, I'm booking the entire Otter. No question.
-The Wild Coast is aptly named: It's remote, rugged, and steep, with pristine beaches and tiny towns. There are few roads connecting them down at the seaside—in fact, the best way to go from village to village is by walking. If you're short on time and want a taste, the descent from the chaotic, dry, dirty Mthatha (on the main N2 freeway between Cape Town and Durban) to the Wild Coast's Port St. Johns on the R61 is one of the most dramatic ear-popping drops in the whole country. Over the course of 60 miles, you'll leave the grassland and its bright thatched huts, enter steep ravines and thick forest, and finally pass through the rocky Gates to a trio of pristine beaches.
-Though Durban has the largest Indian population outside of India, and is known for its curries, the walking route from my guesthouse—the charming Mandulo in the neighborhood of Berea—passed by a tiny and popular Greek spot called Delfi. It's just ten minutes from Moses Mabhida, and it serves up huge souvlaki platters, butterbean stew, and moussaka. Owner Maria Teranes, her sister Doddy, and her nephew Andrew run the place and still live upstairs. On match nights, reservations are recommended (though we squeezed in early, at 5:45 PM, which left us plenty of time to absorb the crazy atmosphere down at the stadium).
Evelyn Spence is a writer, editor, and adventurer based in Brooklyn, New York. A former editor at Skiing and Backpacker, she's the author of Colorado's Classic Mountain Towns (Countryman Press) and a freelancer for Men's Journal, Runner's World, Women's Health, and Outside. She's competed in a half-Ironman triathlon, completed the Bataan Memorial Death March, traversed Slovakia's High Tatra Mountains on skis, and hiked in the Australian Outback. When she's stuck at home, she watches soccer and edits The Brooklyn Review, a literary journal.
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