Compromise is a necessary part of life … especially living aboard a boat. There are always chores to be done and, after this last difficult passage from Mauritius, more than our usual share of repairs to effect. That said … all work and no play … you know the old saying. I employed my best negotiating skills ( aka bribery) on my workaholic Captain and quickly came to terms freeing up a couple of afternoons for exploration and play. It didn’t take me long to fill up the time with scheduled nearby walks and at 12:01 pm on our first appointed day, I was ready to head down the dock.
I still had my trusty, dog-eared Lonely Planet Southern Africa from our last visit in 2007. Things have changed since then, of course, but it was easy to verify what was and wasn’t available. Our Maps With Me iPad app gave us a great layout of Durban, especially when used in tandem with the city map the marina had supplied.
We were heading to City Hall, which in addition to administrative offices, houses the Durban Natural Science Museum. City Hall is a massive, modern Renaissance style building that takes up the whole city block. I’m glad I’d confirmed that the museum was inside, because nowhere did we see a sign for it. We asked for directions several times and finally found the entrance door.
We weren’t expecting much, but something about the mosaic-rhinestone-and-sequin studded rhino in the entry foyer gave us hope.
We climbed the red-carpeted marble stairs to the second floor and entered a world of African animals. We’re not usually high on taxidermied critters, but the displays were so well done, we got caught up in the spirit of the place and quite enjoyed it. We encountered animals we’d never seen or heard of before like pangolins and civets.
Many of the displays were behind glass, but others were above us, hanging from the ceiling and it was easy to imagine them in their natural habitat. Informational placards described the animals, their habitat, and environmental status (endangered, vulnerable, etc). In the case of rhinos, for instance, a display was dedicated to the increase of rhino deaths due to poachers removing rhino horns specifically for export to Viet Nam where rhino horn powder sells for $4,000/lb … twice the cost of gold.
One room was dedicated to African mammals, while another concentrated on South Africa’s birdlife. Approximately 900 bird species are found in South Africa, which represents 10% of the worlds total bird species. A large T-Rex loomed above the displays reminding us that the South Africa’s Karoo region is home to some of the world’s best dinosaur fossils.
Another gallery offered a look at the diverse world of insects in South Africa. The butterfly display was beautiful. Dung beetles (which are protected, by the way), giant beetles and cockroaches did not impress me all that much. Yet another room was dedicated to herpetology, reptiles that is, where spitting cobras, puff adders and green mambas were staring back at us. I could feel the hair on my arms standing at attention.
I’d read that an art gallery was also housed at City Hall. Once again, we had to ask where it was and if we could visit. The woman pointed up another flight of stairs. There was four rooms of exhibits by local artists, well-presented with good natural light from the huge rotunda windows overhead.
One gallery focused on a local Zulu wood carver, Joel Mbuyisa, who concentrated on local tribal themes created in local woods.
Jean Powell’s work spanned six decades and was particularly diverse in media from silk printing, to enamel on metal, to gorgeous botanical illustrations.
We particularly enjoyed a group exhibition by three local art prizewinners.
As I stared over the bannister, looking down the several flights of stairs we’d climbed to the lobby, I couldn’t help thinking of an M.C.Escher print. All those black and white floor tiles in intricate patterns were dizzying.
All in all, a most enjoyable afternoon away from the boat and away from the chores … indulging in just a bit of play.