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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