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Christmas on Durban's Golden Mile

Perhaps soon Christmas cards will have pictures of an azure sky above a bluer sea, lit up only by the shining sun

Firdose Moonda
Firdose Moonda
The sights along Durban's Golden Mile, Durban, December 25, 2011

The sights along Durban's Golden Mile  •  ESPNcricinfo Ltd

Perhaps soon Christmas cards will have pictures of an azure sky above a bluer sea, lit up only by the shining sun. Instead of a man bundled up in a red coat, the person bearing gifts will wear colourful swimwear and mince pies will be replaced with ice-cream. In Africa, that's how we celebrate the holidays and no place does it better than Durban.
The east coast city markets itself as "the warmest place to be" and besides the steamy temperatures, the end-of-year vibe is at its best here. Last week, more than 2,500 cars passed through one of the major highway toll gates every hour en route from Johannesburg and other up-country destinations to the coast. Guesthouses, bed and breakfasts, hotels and holiday flats are booked out as everyone seeks out the city's best feature - the beach.
Durban's Golden Mile is a five kilometre stretch of hotels and restaurants that has gone from grubby to grand after it was revamped for last year's FIFA World Cup. It starts at the Suncoast casino - an attempt to recreate the art deco style that dominates elsewhere in the city but what is really an ostentatious monstrosity combining many of life's ills, gambling and junk food for example, under one roof. It ends at the African-themed Moyo restaurant, which is located in the uShaka aquarium theme park, where everything from springbok to crocodile is served. In between, there is the regular selection of fast-food joints, the raucous bar Joe Cool's and the trendy café Circus Circus.
The visiting team hotel, the Southern Sun Elangeni, is also along this strip. When subcontinent teams, in particular, are visiting, the lobby of this hotel is filled with fans waiting to catch a glimpse of their heroes, something which does not often happen in South Africa. Durban is said to be the biggest enclave of people of Indian heritage outside of India, which is perhaps one of the reasons for the strong subcontinental support in this area.
The hosts also used to stay in this hotel but, for the last few seasons, have moved 15 kilometres north to the snootier town of Umhlanga. The official reason is that they prefer to be away from the hustle-bustle of the city.
What they miss out on is a chance to experience a place that is known as the country's most African city because of the number of migrants from the continent who choose to make Durban their home. They miss out on the colours and sounds that are unique to this place, like the sand art, the rickshaw-pullers, the skate park, the mini-town, the amphitheatre and public garden and the joy of holiday-time on the friendliest and most accessible coast in the country.
Just after 6am on Boxing Day, the walkways are almost empty. The only people in sight are joggers, getting their early morning exercise. Vervet monkeys lurk in the shade, collecting last night's leftovers and hoping for more scraps of food. They scurry away as the runners pass. It's the day after Christmas in Durban. An African Christmas.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent