Wednesday, March 19, 2014



We abseiled down the Eastern Cape’s sumptuous coast. There's no passable roads along the seafront, not even with BRC. We'd drive inland along the many broken gravel roads until we found a tarred one going our direction. Then we'd turn off onto the next broken gravel road that led to our next destination on the sea's edge.
Always many hours to drive a handful of kilometres but oh! the places we've been!
Port St John’s, Mdumbi, Hole in the Wall, Bulungula, Morgan Bay, Chintsa. That’s a happy handful of samples of what this part of South Africa’s altogether ASTOUNDING coastline has on offer. 
Fates permitting, Mdumbi, Hole in the Wall and Chintsa are places I’d like again to be.

Outside Coffee Bay

Hole in the wall is God's garden

Our campsite at Chintsa was down below, at the lagoon

Far as the eye can see, spectacular. Click to enlarge

Morgan Bay was, well, a downer. Not the locale, with its moody lagoon sanding to a warm halt at an edge of the sweep of blond beaches where you can walk as far as your legs can carry you, tangled green mountain slopes framing it all equally endless and seductive.
Our walk to Kei Mouth was The Thing. The bowling green at Kei Mouth town seemed to be its biggest development and community hub. Eastern Cape towns all have bowling clubs and tournaments.

Rusting pipe brackets along the beach to Kei Mouth

And the campsite – down the hill from Morgan Bay Hotel – was mos alright. The shade may have been little, but the green grass where we set up was just wow. Not too thin, yet not too thick and muddy. 
There was a powerpoint to plug in BRC, the lavs and showers were just fine (though slightly stench), a very pleasant bar/restaurant was not far at all from our berth in the event of persistent drizzle and wind. Picca was in her latest snuffle heaven.
Only drawback – and there’s always at least one – was the fact that the campsite was about the size of a very moderate landkerchief, and the individual spaces designated for each camper only just sufficient for an awning and tent/caravan.
Our weekend in this campsite was Creche Central, with leagues of children speeding their bikes around the wee campsite’s grounds. 10 paces divided our nifty fold-up camping chairs from our neighbour’s nifty fold-up camping chairs. Mostly we angled the chairs the better to pretend not to be keeping an eye on each other. 
During the week the budget pensioners descended. But if you looked between the caravans and all their campers' bumpff you can content yourself with the fact that you are, indeed, in the throat of a lagoon’s beachy beauty.

No complaints about the lagoon

There’s just something about this particular kind of campers/caravan scene that makes me feel a bit lonely. These just aren’t quite my kin, this set – and I fear lowly streaks of snobbery in me is what makes the whole cohabitation thing with them feel a bit, well, tacky. And pecodduliar.
My sense of being at peculiar odds with the caravanning set is but a whimsy next to that Michael the Outsider must feel. We met him at the restaurant of Morgan Bay Hotel where we'd come for a welcome refuge from inclement weather and a bite of mos kos.
You don’t actually need to talk to Michael to know he’s scribbled in the margins of the marginalised. Matted white dreads, teeth numbered, a tatty jersey and baggy-bashed tracksuit pants hanging off his skinny 60-year-old frame, he hangs out in the corners of the room. 
He has a peculiar way of walking on his dirty bare-feet as if he were an eavesdropping fairy – peculiar maybe just because he’s creaky with life now. Probably when he walked like that as a younger hippy, he looked like an elf.
He talked very softly, and it was harder to hear him because I couldn’t move too close, his sour pong emphasized by the grime-foul half-moons of his fingernails.
But what I could hear was very interesting. And above the sheer crevices of his wrinkles, his blue eyes clear. Speaking English with a Natal accent, such thoughtful words, such care with what he has to say. 
About the soil and the sands; the protea belt stretching the way he’s wandered most, from Cape Town to the Drakensburg; the head-shaking shame of it that modern architects don’t stand up to the challenge.
Michael sucked his remaining teeth and described himself as a man who’s been pulped by South African society – warned by his granddad when he was a just a little boy that these boers would one day put him jail (and somehow they did). 
He seemed to be somehow condemned to remain in these parts, although he hates it. He is regularly intimidated, robbed, brought back badly to square one. He is the one the roff ouens will single out for a bit of humouress mockery and a bit of less funny hammering when they’re in that mood.
Prancing on his tip-toes as he started to walk away from me, he asked, “Do you believe the universe is random; you know, arbitary?”
“Yes,” I said, and paused. Though curiously ordered. 
Michael kind of sucked his remaining teeth into a smile and, raising his eyebrows, said, “I wouldn’t know how to answer that question either.” And creak-pranced out.
I realised I was similarly dressed to Michael in my overstretched camp-beaten jersey and holey tracksuit pants, my hair a scruffy skullcap instead of mucky dreadlocks. Is that why Michael and I clicked and enjoyed a conversation – because we recognise the outsider in each other? In that case, is Michael my pulped, hollowed out future? 
Oi vey. Please no. I’m not tough enough for that.

Not the worst place to land after you've been pulped by life

Then there was the bicycle crash. We were walking away from the Morgan Bay Hotel on a brighter day towards our campsite. A tarred road coming down the hill petered out to gravel at a sharp curve at the bottom. We had just walking past the point where the roads met when we heard some kind of whizzzzzz sound of light rubber on tar.
Two young men – one side-sitting on the handlebars – careened down the hill so fast they were almost sliding around the corner. I just caught a glimpse of their mostly thrilled, somewhat terrified faces as they zoomed past me.
And then the tar ended and the gravel began.
I chose not to watch the whole unfolding horror, but I did turn around to see the result in that eerie frozen time after an accident. When the sound of crashing has stopped and no other sound has started up to replace it. 
The youngster who had been steering was standing, smiling in a most strange way, gradually realising that his leg was actually fucking sore. But the handlebar boy. The poor guy had landed face down in the gravel and stripped half his cheek off. And that was the only visible damage.
Don’t you just hate that about life: that there is usually so little forewarning that this day, this moment, is going to be dreadfully and drastically and definingly different from the apparently ordinary moments that had preceded it. 
That, unbeknownst to you when you awoke that morning, this day will be the day when you start beginning sentences with “That was before the accident…” and “After the accident…”. Just so often out of the ordinary blue. Hate that.
The hotel staff came rushing, cellphones at the ready to summons trained first aiders and later an ambulance. 
I thought of the Handlebar Boy again today, wondered how his face is healing, if his smile will ever be quite the same as before the accident. Then I turned my attention back to the lush dripping Hogsback forest in which I walked. 
Admire the way my hiking boots handle the squelch and the ooze of the mud-‘n-mulch forest paths. Admire Picca’s turbo-boost of thrill as she scampers and darts and forages and sprints for all the hours of our many different walks. Admire Rehana’s hiking stride, her face almost dopey with content. Admire my lucky good fortunate fate. 
Long may it last.


3 May 2014

After Julia and Rehana left me behind in Durban, when they left on a very long going in their going machine, it took me ages to learn how to live like a dog. Ever since I was adopted as a teeny pup by my humans I’ve been led to believe I’m a small furry human myself, going far and wide with them, fed fine foods, sleeping soft in our bed.
Suddenly, without any warning, I was expected to stay with other humans and hang out with their dogs … outside!
I was so miserable at first in my new home it was too much effort to perk my ears up, wag my tail or eat. I had to live with Bruno, Bart and that terrible young ridgeback bitch Ginger. But over the months I got into being a Durban dog. Even the winter was ok. They have monkeys in the trees, right here! And my new humans kept showering me with love, although I couldn’t forget Julia and Rehana and missed them something bad.
So I was shocked – horrified – amazed – when one hot summer’s day I heard an unforgettable sound. It was a roaring engine that I knew immediately was my humans’ going machine, right outside my Durban house. I was so taken aback I hid away. Were they coming to just say hello – and then leave me behind again while they went on their goings?
The other dogs all barked and went to greet Julia and Rehana but I waited anxiously with my ears drooping with heartfreeze. Then I caught the sight and sound and smell of my dearest loved ones and my heart melted all over again. Of course, I shouted and shouted and shouted and shouted and shouted and shouted and shouted and shouted at them. How could you have made me stay when you were going?! And don’t you bluddy dare do it again, ok?!
Then Julia said my magic words: “Do you want to go for a walk, Picca?”, and I stopped shouting and rushed to the gate.

Last day at my Durban house

For a long time afterwards I could almost have been in heaven. I was with my favourite humans and they were taking me to see the world. And what a world! I’ve never much loved the beach but there were cliff walks with rocks and grasses and trees and monkeys and cows and I ran for hours and hours and hours and hours snuffling everything. I did everything my humans did, even went for a boat ride.
But it wasn’t always heavenly. We stayed in a place with a donkey who kept wanting to play with me. I ask you! This huge stinky furry thing with big yellow teeth and clumsy paws wanting a game of snout-snout-paw-paw with me?! I constantly dashed for cover.

Then there was the time at the rock pools and waterfall that my humans and I had been exploring. There were a few young humans there. One of my superpowers is that I know instantly, no thinking needed, all that is to be known about how humans (and all living things) are feeling all of the time. I wasn’t that worried about the young human men at first but I got it instantly when their mood changed. They were threatening my humans.
I let them know that I had noticed and plain didn’t like it. I bristled the hairs on my neck, put my voice in lower alto, made myself as long and dangerous-looking as I could. That’s one of my other superpowers. I’m only 40cm long and 20cm high, but I can make myself look really big and fierce if I need to. The silly young humans got the message.

Went on long walks every day

I absolutely love going in a going machine. Most of the time I just flop on one of my human’s laps and that’s when they call me “I-lean” (or maybe it’s spelt “Eileen”). They have so many names for me. Sometimes they call me “Chicken stew” or “Imbly head” or “Stonkies”.
The only time I got into trouble was in a forest in a place up and down with mountains in a place I think they call Hogsback. I didn’t see any hogs but woooo-ooooo did I see baboons. 
When I see monkeys or baboons I can’t help myself – I transform into the Arch Hunter and sprint to catch them. This is another of my superpowers. I care for nothing as I race towards them, not thorns or rocks or deep dangerous holes or even their bared teeth. I want to moer them – I MUST! But my humans don’t seem to like it, and once I got a taai klap from Rehana on my bum when I chased a whole settlement of baboons.

Admiring a waterfall at Hosgback

And another one

We also stayed in a place I’d been to before, that they call Grahamstown. It was the house of Rehana’s sister where that strange dog Joey lives. The first time I stayed there, me and Joey had a peeing contest all over the inside of the house. I would pee in a corner to show that it was mine and the bluddy stingy Joey would pee over my pee to show that it was not. Infuriating! But then Shireen, the human sister, got all pissed off at our pissing contest and told my humans I wasn’t welcome to visit again.
But here I was, visiting again! This time I decided not to pee so much inside (although with Joey it’s always tempting) and anyway I had plenty to snuffle at and investigate. The house has a huge garden with loads of moles. I scramble head-down through the heaps of sand they leave behind. I’m so happy that angels smile and play their harps.
I pride myself on my vast understanding of humans and their ways but still I find they can be unpredictable. So I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect next but I had set my hopes on an infinity of walks in more of the world’s many many parks. 
Imagine my surprise when we left Joey’s house and the next day we arrived in a place I know so well – my very own home in what I think they call Joey’sburg (is Joey the boss of this big city? I wonder. Just as well I didn’t pee so much in his house)!!!
There was the front door and the tree the evil cat 00Pink likes to lie in and the window I like to dash out of into the back garden and that particular paving stone on the top step of the steps that go from he patio down to the grass which gives me a great view of my garden kingdom. And then there was a sight that made me whimper: my very own bed, the one I had always shared with my humans.
I was very glad to be home but it wasn’t the home I was used to. All the humans seemed stressed and very busy packing or unpacking. But now it’s just us again at home – my humans and the wicked cat 00Pink. But I don’t mind his cunning tricks too much. 
Plus, now that we’re back in Joey’sburg, I’ll be going for lots of walks in all my old parks.

Look what we found on the road to Grahamstown! We did get there, near the end


4 May 2014


1.     Since my childhood, I have not spent as much time outdoors as I have in the past year. I can camp! I love camping! Especially in my Big Red Car, with my rooftop tent cocoon, fridge, stove, coffee pot, solar shower, plastic jug for lugging water from faraway taps, blue tub for washing dishes, wet wipes, mosquito coil, comfy camp chairs, groundsheet keeping beach sand in check, kindle, playlist on my ipod, cellphones and laptop, the huge selection of medication (much used and much expanded), very wide comfortable seats in the Big Red Car, padded lockbox beneath my elbow, wide tyres that grip the road and surf across rocks in dry riverbeds, the engine that roars over gravel and purrs on tar.
When you have a long list of countries you want to visit, a long time to linger there and a limited budget, camping’s the only way to feed your greed. You get to camp right on the beach instead of being in a lodge at the top of a hill (mzungu like to cower away from the mozzies and the cowshit and the locals, but not us).

2.     What an outside it was! Warm seas, icy mountains, volcanoes, lakes, rivers, lagoons, reefs, islands, beaches, forests, hot springs, semi-desert, sunsets, bunches of tropical clouds, kaleidoscopic thunderstorms, seawater striated with every shade of blue, multicoloured reefs swarming with multicoloured fishies, ancient baobab, ancient cities, grassland, wetland, sandland, volcanic rock strewn land, badlands, wonderlands. A zebra migration, feisty elephants blocking our roads, giraffes staring at us, lion roaming our campsite, monkey and baboon raids, swimming with crocodiles, snakes swirling up trees, bugs and bees and bites from things unseen. And tsetse flies and flies of all other kinds, everywhere and in Julia’s nostrils and ears.  And many, many long walks and swims.

Dusty scrub

Long, warm beaches

Red Colobus monkeys in a Zanzibar forest

Summer storms at sunset

3.     We were safe. Safer than we’d been in years. Had to come home to South Africa for our first attempted mugging. Our one and only theft was partly our fault, we had stopped locking the car. And we weren’t asked for one single bribe by any of the many officials we dealt with. Not one. For a lot of the time there was only a zip between us and the world. Many nights in the solid darkness, the only light was our torch and the white apple on my laptop. Most nights, askaris with AKs slung across their shoulders sat watchfully near our tent. At Kikha Guesthouse in Tunduru a wizened man with a long bow and a quiver of arrows sat up all night and guarded our car. For the longest time, every single adult male we encountered carried either an AK47, rifles of indeterminable age, pistols, machetes, bows, arrows, spears, axes, knives, knobkieries. But we were safe, and we felt safe most places. Except in Rwanda and at the Magwa falls outside Lusikisiki.

This one's taken near the Somali border

4.     We are bourgeois bitches. It’s not our fault, we learned it from Pikachu. We had terrible experiences with toilets, one so gruesome you would have nightmares if I had the strength to write it here. Vegetarianism was an absolute necessity. We are late sleepers, by the time we reached the market the half-flayed goats, the chickens and the piles of dried fish were covered in clouds of flies, zizzying lazily in the heat. We weren’t complete snobs, we did our shopping in those markets, finding the sweetest small bananas, paw-paw, avocados, limes and watermelon. We always found tomatoes, onions, green pepper, Irish potatoes, aubergines and green beans. Chickpeas, lentils and dried beans were in abundant supply, came in every shape and colour. Spices were remarkable in places, we even found frankincense and myrrh. Fresh dhania, chillies, ginger and garlic were found in most places. The bourgeois bitches spent many a night sleeping alongside septic tanks in local lodges frequented by long-distance truckdrivers, with foul eastern toilets and lived to tell the tale. We deserved our swagger when we strode dustily into the few city malls we visited to swipe our plastic. We sought out Indian restaurants in the smallest towns for grilled tilapia and palak paneer with garlic naan. No matter what ordeal we had faced on the road, an Indian restaurant always brought comfort. In every country the coffee was astoundingly delicious and affordable. The choice was huge. We never ran out of coffee.

Food in abundance, most places we went

The bag in the foreground is filled with frankincense

The local butchery

5.     We went to visit people. Most we met were either those employed in the tourism industry or those who hung out in local bars with pool tables. Which meant we met mostly men. Yet, only once was I hit on, by officials in a customs office, and they were pathetic and easily pleased with my promise of a date and the false cellphone number I left behind.
In almost every country we visited, we were incensed by the burdens women carry. Literally. Beasts of burden they are, lugging tons of wood and kilolitres of water every day across Africa. And tilling the soil, harvesting the crops and caring for their families. In Ethiopia men were beasts of burden as well, tilling fields with heavy wooden ploughs they had lugged there. In Ethiopia some horses, donkeys, and bulls we encountered were drained with exhaustion, festering on their flanks.

Many rivers we crossed had women and girls washing clothing, themselves and their children

We met beautiful, brilliant people. The variety we passed by was astounding. In northern Kenya, Uganda and most of Ethiopia you need only drive a few kilometres to find yourself surrounded by people dressed differently, sporting different hairstyles, draped in a different cloth in a different style, wearing different coloured Wellington boots. We met pierced people, draped in beads and jewellry people, bearded turbaned people, short Brinjal-coloured people, a village where everyone dressed in skins, people prancing in skinny jeans clutching iPhones, wise people, educated people, people with big dreams, everyone complaining about the hyena political class that preys on them and robs them of their futures.

Dixon, our host at Njaya, Malawi

The children we romped with in South Horr

Dr Yimer Ali in Dessie, Ethiopia

South Africa is not exempt from this problem, but tribal divisions were sharper and more sinister to the north. Ancient customs that bind people together still endure, and are a vital support base in a harsh land. But the coming-of-age rituals, where young men have to prove their worth by raiding neighbours of different cloth and piercings, have turned sinister. Guns and ammunition floating across borders like Somalia and the Congo have added a layer of tragedy to the bitter feuding over cattle and access to water. And voters who make their choices along ethnic lines admit that it backfires when their group loses and they disappear off the country’s development plans, but they persist to this day. The horror that these divisions can bring down on the heads of people are on display in many a memorial site in Rwanda, a place where you’re constantly filled with the fear of another genocidal outrage. What we felt there must be what it feels like for a Somalian in Johannesburg.

Samburu men in South Horr

Bushmen and Bushwomen in the Makgadigadi Pans

6.     For a year we wandered, buffeted by political developments (we didn’t reach Alexandria because there was a coup and a curfew), enraptured by the places people suggested that hadn’t occurred to us when we so carefully planned our route.  We drove through landscapes that blew our minds and made us fervently vow to return. For 12 months, we woke up every day and, unless we were totally knackered (which happened often) we’d decide what beautiful place we’d visit. Or sit and plot our route to the next beautiful place. More often that we would like, our next beautiful place was far from our current one, and we’d have to overnight in a small village or town or campsite that offered less than standard comfort. We estimate – we did our best to record how long we spent driving – that our total driving time was two-and-half months. That’s not a bad ratio, considering that we drove three-quarters of the way up Africa and then back home again in 12 months.  
We went to 125 destinations, some were only overnighters, but this averages out at three nights at every place. Some countries were lavished with our attention, we spent 23 days in tiny Malawi, 63 days going up and back down Tanzania, 48 days in two visits to Kenya (17 days the second time in Nairobi waiting for an alternator from South Africa), 44 days in Ethiopia (only 11 immobilised by illness) and 29 days in Uganda. We camped for 171 nights and had rooms for 190 (I was sick for two months, camping was impossible). My biggest regret is that we didn’t linger much longer in so many fantastic places – I could easily have spent another three months in Stone Town, another week at the flamingo-soaked Lake Magadi (there was no campsite, there were many roaming huge hyenas) more time in Loiyangalani, in Malawi, in Ethiopia, in Uganda, almost everywhere we stopped except for every city and Rwanda.

One day, hopefully soon, I'll be back in Stone Town

7. A few thoughts about having a serious illness on the road. In South Africa, Tuberculosis is the biggest killer. Were were expecting malaria, bilharzia, bites, blisters and bugs but not TB. When I was down and out and on the road I collapsed on Julia. I collapsed for a few days on a hospital bed and then I collapsed on Julia again. If you’ve ever been to a teambuilding weekend you’ll know that ice-breaking exercise where you are asked to fall back into a colleague’s arms. You kinda grip your heels into the ground lean back and spring away quickly after your colleague braces her hands on your shoulders. When I got TB I couldn’t grip my heels into the ground. I fell onto Julia, left it all up to her for at least two months and she did it all. We weren’t irresponsible. We followed the advice of the excellent Dr Yimer Ali, checked in at many district hospitals and two huge private ones and shopped at pharmacists in every town and city. Our medical evacuation covered by Outsurance would have gotten us home should the need have arisen, but it didn’t. Being the weakest I’ve ever been in my life put me – and Julia – at the mercy of total strangers. And for the rest of my life I will be grateful for the mercy they showed us.