African Wildlife, Colorful Markets Mark My Return to the Continent

Days 101 and 103, 2024 Grand World Voyage

Saturday and Monday, April 13 and 15, 2024; Maputo, Mozambique, and Durban, South Africa.

I’m back in two African ports that I really never saw last year, when our overland safari departed from Maputo, Mozambique, and returned to Durban, South Africa. In Maputo we saw the highway out of town, and in Durban the road from the airport to the ship.

This year it’s been a challenge to build excitement for our unplanned return to Africa. In part it is disappointment that we are missing the Middle East and the Mediterranean Sea, but missile attacks in the Red Sea left cruise lines with no choice but to reroute around Africa. I am determined to explore our ports in one way or another and have been pleasantly surprised in doing so.

I chose not to join my sisters in splurging on another overland safari, so instead I joined a ship’s excursion today from Durban to the Tala Game Reserve in South Africa. We spent two hours in open four-wheel-drive vehicles bouncing along the rutted roads, seeing more wildlife than I expected in the middle of the day.

As we crested the first hill, we saw zebras and impalas. Next was a herd of wildebeest and then a group of huge rhinoceroses, all missing their center horns. Sadly, it’s a conservation measure against poachers and must be repeated every few years, as the horns grow back like our fingernails.

Most of the tour groups saw giraffes, but they had moved on by the time we arrived. Still, it was fun to see the ostriches, stretching their necks high to study us before going back to grazing, and birds such as eagles and geese.

The short visit at Tala Reserve is a decent alternative if a day is all you have. It is nothing like taking multiple drives over three or four days in a large national park such as Kruger. But then again, at just over $200, the Tala trip won’t set your budget back as much, either.

Our first stop on the African continent was yesterday in Maputo, Mozambique, chosen mostly I believe as a departure port for those going on overnight safaris. I first booked an arts and spices tour, only to cancel it for a walking tour of the city near the pier. At the last minute, I canceled that tour, too, and just took the ship shuttle to the Feima Market. This open-air market in a park features locally made paintings, jewelry, sculptures, clothes and decorative items.

Fellow cruiser (and KC Chiefs fan) Deb and I would have enjoyed wandering alone to admire the local handiwork, but vendors were overly eager to make a sale. They tried to indiscriminately hand us items and even were bidding against themselves in lowering the prices. I felt bad for them, as they were just trying to make some money and I was just not interested in spending. Since I sold my house almost 10 years ago, I’m not in the market for purchases, as interesting as they are. But I usually enjoy looking.

We left the market to walk a couple of blocks to the five-star Polana Serena Hotel. Once through the marble lobby, we walked out to a terrace overlooking a crystal pool surrounded by a green lawn, with the ocean just beyond. The terrace was set up for a wedding, but none of the many staff seemed to mind our explorations. I considered sitting at the pool grill to enjoy a drink and watch the sailing regatta off shore, but instead walked around looking for a good spot to sketch.

I’m still trying to develop a good sense of composition – an interesting subject, not too detailed, but representative of my visit. As much as the market would have offered a great opportunity, I knew the hawkers would hound me too much. So I settled on a small ledge in the shade of the hotel.

The members of the Shades of Africa musical group joined us at dinner that evening. With their fusion of traditional South African music with timeless classics and storytelling, they have become a popular fixture of Holland America’s Africa voyages.

Christof van der Berg, Zine Gwija and Nhoza Sitsholwana all speak several languages (as do many in South Africa), including Xhosa, a Bantu language that features three distinct clicking sounds. As much as she tried, Nhoza couldn’t quite teach me to replicate them. But we had some great laughs around the table as we clicked away.

In my memory, Maputo will be a study in contrasts between the gritty city streets and the quiet luxury behind the walls. And the beautiful sunset as we sailed away.