Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika
8.12.05. East London, South Africa.
Welcome to South Africa
Massive steaks. Poor quality mega-lagers (like Castle, SA's version of Fosters). The best burger chain in the world (Steers). Some repressed bigotry. Thunderstorms so violent that you fall out of bed and whimper for 10 minutes, shocked at how close you came to soiling yourself. It's all here. The constant question now is "Weren't you worried you were going to get robbed/killed/whatever as you went through Africa?" The answer of course is no, not until I got here.
In reality the only times things have got a little tense even in SA have been when I've been sitting next to a white person in a bar and, after one or two ales, have had to bite my tongue as the racist drivel starts to spew from their poisonous chops.
These people, thankfully, are few and far between. East London seems pretty mixed and people of all flavours chat in the pub. Umtata is 100% black. That feels unusual for a big town in Africa - in Malawi, Kenya or Ghana you'd expect to see the odd white face. The coast south of Durban includes a nearly all-white stretch that reminds me of Eastbourne - B&B's and tea rooms aplenty.
Anyway, the weather's great and the food is meat-heavy, which I like. The backpacker hostels are dens of vice which make you fear for your liver. The Spot in Port Shepstone is a prime example. I arrive at 3pm to be greeted by Evan, the barman, with the words "It's beer day!". As he shuts the bar many, many hours later, I begin to suspect that every day is beer day at The Spot . Evan is an excellent fella from Ireland and happily he's "allowed" to drink while he works. It's a spectacularly debauched night. I wake up and see it's 4.30. I stumble to the toilet thinking it's 4.30am and go back to bed. Imagine my horror when I wake up again at 8.30 and it's dark. I've lost a day. I stumble to the TV room where Evan, wrapped in a blanket and looking like something the dog threw up, gently explains to me that we didn't go to bed until 6am and the first time I woke up it was already the afternoon. Thank God.
No need for that
After a few days at The Spot I need a quiet B&B with a TV and 48 hours of mineral water and orange juice. No problem in Port Edward. Soon I'm battle-ready again and heading for Amapondo in Port St John's. Ed the barman is an even worse influence than Evan. Things are messy even before the mushrooms turn up. I meet Rudi from Holland and we're matching eachother pint for pint. We swap tips on B&B rehab techniques - no man alive could survive several uninterrupted weeks of South African backpacker bars.
Yes - Swaziland is a real place. Very green and rolling. I'd have stayed longer but my documents were expiring.
-My wife's gone to the US. She wanted to stay in Manhattan but it was too expensive.
-This old thing? I've had it for years.
-No, she went in that smelly old tracksuit, the slovenly mare.
Posted by Simon Fitzpatrick at March 02, 2006 04:41 PM GMT
Yes. I did.