5.11.05. Tete, Mozambique.
Not much money
Just before the bridge over the mighty Zambesi, there's a campsite called "Jesus e Bom"; "Jesus is Good" in Portuguese. Now then, Jesus may well be very good indeed - who am I to judge - but his campsite is a shithole, so I decide to check into the air-conditioned $20 magnificence of the "Hotel Zambesi" instead.
I need it, honest; it's mad hot here. Going berserk hot. It's finally-snapping-over-the-breakfast-table-and-bludgeoning-your-spouse-into-redcurrant-jelly hot. So just imagine how ice-cold 2M ('Dois M") goes down, served in a frosty glass. Ooooohhhh that's good.
I meet the driver of this truck today. He's fine, thanks for caring, although he may be looking for a job shortly. He explained to me that this unfortunate incident happened because "the engine suddenly stopped working". I'm not convinced. I think the engine may have been working a little bit too well.
6.11.05. Chimoio, Mozambique.
Love Mozambique so far.
1. The waving bystanders are back! They thinned out a bit when I got to East Africa, but here it's thumbs-ups and both single- and double-handed waving, the latter meaning "relax - I am not concealing a firearm", popularized during the war.
2. So far, the Portuguese influence means nice food, especially bread. (Ex-British colonies serve sub-Mother's Pride stodge.)
3. Despite all the Portuguese stuff, they drive on the correct side of the road.
8.11.05. Vilankulo, Mozambique.
Only quite nice, Vilankulo, partly because the weather's a bit gloomy and partly because it's all a bit over-priced. Light relief, incorporating lager abuse, is provided by Andrei and Teren from South Africa and a funny fella from England whose name I forget. He makes me smoke marijuana, which I've gone right off.
14/11/05. Tofo, Mozambique.
The quality of the road goes downhill fast after Vilankulo. New sections alternate with works in progress, which mean sandy tracks alongside the bit that will one day be a road. Sometimes it's possible to haul the bike up onto the section that's being worked on, which is usually better (if frowned on by the road-builders).
Once I hit some deep sand and go flying, but execute a perfect forward roll on impact and jump to my feet, giggling like a schoolgirl, without a scratch. Some people on a truck see it all and stop to help, but are amazed to see me jigging about like a spring lamb to demonstrate my lack of injury.
Fatima's Nest is a backpackers place on the beach. The beach is perfect, the 2M is icy cold and the food is exceptional. Suddenly I find I've been here a week. On the first night I meet a nice lady from Swaziland. There's a certain amount of hoo-ha later on. On the second night I slip into the role of comedy pimp and stroll down to Dino's with four really quite good-looking women for a right boozy do. But no hoo-ha.
Days are spent just mucking about in the sea. Occasionally a wave rolls up that's big enough to make me blurt an obscenity, but then I'm not a surfer.
How can it be the middle of November? I've got my shorts on and I'm yet to see a plastic Father Xmas. Sometimes when you're not sure of the day, date or month, it's important to step back for a moment and make a plan for the day, to provide a bit of focus. As I paddled in the shallows at mid-day today, I did just that.
"Shall I go to the internet cafe today?" I wondered.
"No", came the answer, as if from mighty Neptune himself. Or maybe Poseidon, the other fella that lives in the sea. "Today you should go to the bar and drink beer".
Having structured the day thus, I set the plan in motion, and all was well. Sometimes it may help to write your plan down on a piece of paper, in order to refer to it later on if events overtake you. In this case I judged it was unnecessary. *BUURRRRP*
17.11.05. Quissico, Mozambique.
When you're in Africa and something goes a bit wrong, simply sit in the dirt looking glum for ten minutes and everything will be fine. Today I get my first African puncture and no, I don't really want to arse around for three hours fixing it myself thanks, so I wait for the specified amount of time, and pull the required face. Shortly it is revealed that I have chosen to get a puncture opposite a tyre-fixing man, who will do the job for £4.
Later I end up getting a soaking and then find myself in the dark, miles down a sandy track. At the top of the track was a sign advertising a hotel; it appears to have been some kind of ghoulish prank. Much later, back in the main town, I gratefully accept the keys to the third most disgusting hotel room in Africa (redeemed from a possible silver medal by having a half decent bar). Otherwise the day trots along quite merrily.
Not nice at all
18.11.05. Maputo, Mozambique.
The Mozambique version of "Pop Idol"* is called "Fama Show". The theme, ah, tune, goes "Farmer Show! Farmer Show!", which is good because one or two of the contestants have something of the barnyard about them. A human barrel with a Groucho moustache, and a habit of falling to her knees during the shouty bits and being unable to get up again, is first for the elbow.
On comes a girl with a face like a good-sized boat, and eyes that, were they to belong to a pig, would result in self-esteem issues so ingrained by taunting from its trough-mates that it would never leave the sty. Then there's a quite good bloke; then a magnificently untalented loon with history's stupidest hair, suggestive of Timmy Mallett trying to revive his career by auditioning for Luxembourg's Eurovision selectors.
Why are these people allowed on TV? The streets of Maputo are swollen with girls so slinky and lush that I want to run at them, trousers down, and fall to my knees coughing, burping and sobbing, mucus bubbling from every hole in my face, in an attempt to communicate my feelings. (Remember I can't speak Portuguese).
*or "American Idol", if you must
21/11/05. Maputo, Mozambique.
I'm starting to think I might be a natural city boy. Roughing it in the countryside is all well and good for short periods, and the beach is great as long as you've got something to read, but looking back, the best times I've had on this trip have been in capital cities.
Maputo is stuffed with amenities. For the last three nights I've been in the Africa Bar watching live jazz and it's been a hoot. The first night's entertainment was "Nanando"; the most technically accomplished guitarist I've ever seen or heard. How do they do that, as Des Lynam would say if he wasn't sulking. Made me want to go back to the hotel and throw my guitar out of the window.
Some forgettable stuff from some guys I've forgotten on the second night, and then last night the loose, Afro-Cuban-All-Stars-during-a-lost-weekend stylings of Luis Fernandes. A mix of Portuguese, African, American Maudlin and The Beatles. The only genuinely moving version of "Yesterday" I've ever heard (including the original). One of the three or four singers is The Mozambique Tom Waits. He's fantastic and very intoxicated. The band play the intro to "No Woman No Cry" and he starts singing "My Way". An obvious error. Superb.
Swaziland tomorrow. Can it be a real place? Or is it going to be full of confused looking, sweaty white men trying to sell me cuckoo clocks?
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.
Yes. I did.
18.12.05. Swellendam, South Africa.
After it survived over a year of being carted across the worst roads in the world, keeping me entertained in the ghastliest, most joy-sucking rat-pits on the planet, some piss-swilling, dog-faced, son-of-a-thruppenny-strumpet, thieving, pig-arsed, cat-wanking shit-sucker has stolen my bloody guitar. Sod and bastard. ("At last we are free!" - African music lovers).
Of course it's my fault. Morocco to Swaziland - zero crimes against property or person. I became blase. Last night I left the instrument outside the tent. Now it's gone. *seethe*
SA lager report; most of it is rubbish. Windhoek is excellent but it's from Namibia.
The worst drivers in Africa live here. It's the combination of perfect roads, expensive SUV's and, I suspect, buckets and buckets of lager. With all the luggage on, the best I can do (with a tail wind) is 64 mph.
I've lost count of the number of times some nurk in an Isuzu Trooper has overtaken me with 1 cm to spare, an event which occurred exactly once in the previous 20,000 miles.
That's enough SA-bashing. The people - even the bloody bastard bigots - are far more open and friendly* than Europeans. (Too open in the case of the BBB's). The weather, from about East London westwards, is like a perfect Southern European spring. The scenery is constantly changing. The food, and here I'm talking largely about meat, is world-class and often served in near-USA portions. You can drink the tap water, there's no malaria and there are ATM's everywhere.
HOWEVER! It's quite easy to forget it's now a democracy in a place like Knysna. The centre of town is all waterfront restaurants and upscale retail outlets; but a three minute ride up the hill reveals a sprawling shanty town where - would you credit it? - only black people live.
*er... if you're white...
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