The venue was like nothing I had seen before. For one it was very
difficult to find, set an hour out in the bush from Nelspruit. The
stage was placed amphitheatre style facing an exposed section of
hillside and was framed by boulders and bush and the kind of sky one
lies under in search of falling stars. Photogenic is how I would put
it. Pity I didn't have a camera, save the attempt at one on my cell
"What happens if it rains?" I asked once we had found a place to sit
and I could appreciate the whole scene.
"You get wet," she shrugged.
It made sense so I left it at that, sitting, silent and content.
I had had doubts about coming. I didn't know the bands or the couple
we were to go with. As for her, we had only met once in Jeffrey's Bay
a few months earlier. I remembered her as cute and congenial and so
had agreed to meet for the evening on my way out of South Africa on
another visa run. But even if my memory had not been so favorable I
think I still would have gone. I find it good to say yes as often as
possible, it keeps things moving and real decisions down to a minimum.
We sat and listened to the music and talked about nothing in
particular while her friend went to get some drinks, and when he
returned and we each had ours and our foursome was again, she leaned
over and told me she didn't think she wanted to finish school.
"I just want to keep traveling and never to finish," she said. "Home
is too much the same and I don't want to get stuck there. If I finish
I'll have to work and to specialize. If I don't work when I finish
then no one will want to hire me later. But I don't want to get stuck
"You could be a GP," I said ignorantly.
"I would still have to specialize. I never want to specialize."
I thought it odd for her to say that because earlier she had told me
that she was in Nelspruit to work with a friend with whom she could
practice 'catching babies.' She had said she thought she wanted to be
a gynecologist. Instead of mentioning it though I let the conversation
end there and relaxed into my drink and the music and my good fortune
that had brought me to this place.
I enjoyed the music as much as the scenery even though the sound had
been poorly handled. Upon questioning I admitted I really did like the
headlining band, the Parlatones, even though I'd never heard them
before. Afterward we drove for what seemed like a very long time to
where she and her friends were staying, which was a very Afrikaans
looking, smallish but well manicured, series of thatch roofed block
rooms - two twin beds and a bathroom each - set off from a main house.
It was peaceful there and when we were alone in her room on our beds,
she sitting on hers and I lying on mine, I told her I thought it was
cute how she had said 'catching babies' and that it made it sound as
though they were tossing them about back there.
"They practically are." She said, "Everything is so sloppy there,
people coming in and out of the delivery rooms. And the women are
naked and sweaty and have to lean against each others' backs, and they
have to go to the bathroom in a bucket by themselves! in labor!" And
she looked at me and then told me that it was also the only place she
could get any real experience. "Back home they don't let interns do
anything, but here I can check whatever I want."
She told me about a baby that she had caught. It had gone for some
minutes without breathing after delivery and no one would help her.
When they finally got it breathing and the overseeing nurse returned
she was told to write less time. She had pleaded the truth but the
nurse said that it would get her in trouble if she wrote the real
number and to just put what she told her. She said that those few
minutes would affect the rest of that child's life.
We sat in silence for a time after that and I watched her profile
while she stared at the wall. I was reminded of a friend who was told,
while interning in Ghana, not to try and bring his white man's
medicine there, along with everything that that meant.
She broke the silence and we talked about the show and her friends for
a bit before climbing into our beds. The air was cool and I could just
see the thatched ceiling through the moonlight from the window above
the nightstand. My eyes adjusting I thought about what she had said
about not specializing and being the perpetual student, forever
postponing graduation, traveling and avoiding home. Even though I am
no longer a student - rather between studies ostensibly - I knew that
feeling. That desire to put an ocean or a continent between you and
everything you know, for as long and as often as possible, for fear of
what future that physical stasis could bring, for fear of? something
real, I'm not sure exactly, stability maybe, or a career. Normalcy
even. Those answers make it seem like an irrational fear though. Maybe
it is. Those are goals not pitfalls.
"My feet are cold," her voice drew me from my thoughts.
"My bed is warm, you're welcome to come over here if you'd like."
"Why don't you come over here?"
I raised my head to try and see her through the darkness. "I don't
have a problem with that."
As I crawled out of my bed I didn't know that I was not only not going
to make it to Swaziland the next day, as I had hoped, but that I was
also going to meet a young Zimbabwean entrepreneur on the bus to
Mozambique who was going to show me what we were running from.
Settling into sleep on a small bed in Africa I had no idea he was
going to tell me he was twenty-seven, had a wife and was starting a
satellite college in Nelspruit; And that in life, as one gets older,
what one does becomes ten percent of what one wanted to do, that when
one enters the world of compromise - which is a career and a family -
one trades their freedom of youth.
I didn't know any of this, but I was content to be next to someone
confused as I was, someone running just as fast.
18th Jul 2008, 18:12
Tom's terrible smoothies taste as awesome as blended ginger, lemon
(with rind), grapefruit, grape juice, garlic, cucumber and whatever
other scraps he finds can possibly taste. But they're also a very kind
gesture and I haven't the heart to decline their morning foulness.
Plus anything that tastes that bad has to be healthy, right?
8th Jul 2008, 19:10
Between the 11th, the day my visa expired, and 20th we hitchhiked and
took minibuses South toward Durban. Sodwana Bay turned out to be a
national park with some of the best diving in the world, that and a
fast hollow right. We had lots of barrels; I had one of the best of my
life. I also got a stomach bug. Luckily Nicola had a medical kit. The
guys at Blue Juice Diving had a laugh when he showed up at the beach
"Where's the other guy?"
"He stomach, he fall down. I give him pill, he still fall down. Today,
no surf for him."
We had a lot of fireside conversations like that.
Me: "So what should we do for dinner?"
N: "Yea I like-a to cook dinner in my home country."
Me: "but what should we do?"
N: "I don' know, make a da fire, read, go to bed."
He also always pronounced backpackers as 'backspackage.' There were a
lot of conversations to each other but with ourselves.
A few days later we headed to St. Lucia where a hippo came chomping
past the tent during one night. I shit a car. As a bonus some fish juice
had leaked onto my bag during the ride down and I constantly smelled
like crotch-rot and beef jerky. Then Nicola had an emergency back home
and we headed to Durban where he caught a flight out and I went up to
Joburg to visit my sister.
It was nice to sleep in a bed for once.
The niece and me on a go-carting adventure.
27th Jun 2008, 22:19
Nicola made it back to the tent around 6 am. He said they had gone
back to her place and there were some guys passed out on the floor.
We got decent waves at a secret spot around some cliffs off a reef
point that day. Had some coffee later with an Israeli friend I'd met
in J-Bay who had turned up in Ponta the day before.
That evening as Nicola and I were walking through the market to Mama's
barraca we saw Linda. I'm not sure he even recognized her. She was
drunk and very happy to see us. We sat together while waiting for food
with another local woman who didn't seem to like Linda. Linda was
obnoxious, but that could have been drink. I doubt it though. I
remember she had very rough hands.
She said she came to Ponta with nothing and needed food. She went to a
barraca to work and sleep and eat. Then she met a man who wanted to
sleep with her. She said sure but he had to give her something. This
is how she bought her pots and pans, she said, how she built her
house. A white South African comes and gives her a thousand Rand for
sex, 'nothing for him' she says. So now if a man wants her and she
likes him she takes him to her place.
I ask Nicola if he paid. "No, I don'ta have money."
(As it turned out drink put him down before any mistakes were made.)
27th Jun 2008, 22:01
The night of the ninth we decided to play some pool. We had tipo and
coke with dinner and were lead to a pool hall by a really friendly guy
with a lazy eye. Everyone was sharing 40 ounces, we finished our tipo
tinto (a local rum) and I hung my bag on the leg of an overturned
The guy with the lazy eye put a two rand coin down for a game. Nicola
and I played against the last guys for the table, we won. We traded
partners among me, Nicola and the lazy eyed guy. Nicola disappeared
somewhere during the 3rd game. I was on a roll, unstoppable. I lost my
5th game, I was ready to go, I was shit-canned. Angola man and friends
waved me goodbye as I grabbed my bag and stumbled out to find Nicola.
It didn't take much wandering the barracas to find him; he was with a
local girl just down the alley from the pool hall. He looked more
pissed than me.
The girl's name was Linda and she said we should go to the back room.
Yea, the back room, what a great idea let's all go to the back room. I
don't know what the back room is. The lazy eyed guy turned up and came
with us. He took it upon himself to find me a girl.
We were led into a walk-in closet sized room with a bare black light
hanging from the roof. It had a small window to the alley and adjacent
was a larger room with a table, people very drunk, and the entrance.
There was a lot of inebriated talking, shouting really. Nicola was
having an in depth conversation with Linda. I couldn't understand what
they were saying, I don't thing they could either. A fat hooker had my
knee in a vagina vice lock between her legs. I elbowed Nicola and said
that we had to get out of there. No luck, we were both pinned down. We
all made small talk in a mix of English, Spanish, Italian, and
Portuguese, each speaking in non sequitors. More tower of Babel.
My escape came; the hooker got up and unpinned my leg. I stood and
told Nicola we had to leave now and that I was going. I could see the
fat hooker in the next room. My escape window was closing. I left
Nicola smiling and waving. I sacrificed him to the wolves in
27th Jun 2008, 21:58
Nicola and I were waiting in front of a friend's bungalow when we had
the idea to climb the massive dune at the point of Ponta, a brilliant
plan considering the massive sign prohibiting such expeditions.
We got to the top, explored a bit and I shot some video (my still
camera at this point had completely crapped out). On our way down we
ran into a uniformed man with an ancient six-shooter at his hip. He
said we weren't allowed to be there because of erosion, I asked him
why he'd climbed half way up himself to tell us that. He just looked
at me, and then replied that we should follow him to the police
station. We were in 'very big trouble,' he said.
We were marched, wearing just our baggies, through the camp ground and
to the police station. It was an airy two-storey building with some
guys lounging on the porch smoking cigarettes and a few more in the
back playing cards. When we entered a man behind a large wooden desk
shouted something and everyone stiffened up a bit, it was official
We were sat down on a long wooden bench in front of the man's desk
while the arresting officer and he talked a bit. I heard the word
'fumar' and interrupted. "Um, sorry, fumar? We weren't smoking up
there." The big man behind the desk smiled and opened his hands, "oh,
you understand Portuguese? So you know how much trouble you're in?"
"um, no, but I do know that word, and we weren't smoking." I knew
where this was going. People go to jail for a good while for marijuana
in Mozambique and the charge is great leverage for extortion.
(Actually a couple months later when I randomly ran into Tom again in
Durban he was with a French guy who had been living in Ponta. The
French guy said he'd seen us being escorted to the police station and
later told us how his boss there had been imprisoned for two months
for giving someone a joint.)
After the officer who had brought us left the real fun began. The big
man at the desk told us again that we were in 'big trouble' but that
he could help us if we would just tell him what happened. I said we'd
climbed the dune, we knew it was wrong but we did it anyway, and
whatever fine or penalty came with that we'd gladly pay for it. He
shook his head, said that we were in 'very big trouble' again, and
that he wanted to help us but we had to help him to help us.
We played this game a few more times, Nicola and I taking turns
explaining that we certainly did break the law Ã¯Â¿Â½ by climbing the dune.
I dumped out the contents of my bag, held it up for him to smell it.
There was no smoking going on. But each time we got to the smoking
part he would just shake his head like he was giving up.
"I guess you boys don't need my help," he said, "without my help you
will go to jail for a long time. So what can we do?"
We shrugged. We had no money and plenty of time.
The big man sat us down outside and told us to wait while he called
for the officer who had brought us. We waited, the big man coming to
check on us every once and a while. After about an hour we noticed it
had gotten very quite at the police station. No one, including the big
man was around. I said to Nicola that we could really just walk out of
here if we wanted to. He said, "no, no. They want that. Then they come
get us later and we really go to jail. Ha ha."
"You sneaky Italian bastard you're right!" I said, and sure enough
about fifteen minutes later I saw the big man's head peaking at us
from behind the station. When I noticed him he jerked as if to hide
before resuming his official air and walking up to us. He told us that
it would take too long for the other officer to get there and that we
should figure something out. "So what can we do?" he said.
We sat in silence for a while before he asked us where we were
staying. We said we were staying at 'Mama's' house, the cook in the
He started to laugh and asked why we hadn't told him that sooner. He
shook our hands and told us to leave and to say hi to Lucia for him.
27th Jun 2008, 21:57
Nicola and I left Tom at the border and headed to Ponta. He said we
should go on and that he would get to the closest South African town
to get his truck fixed, after that we'd get back on the road. Who
knows, it might still happen.
We rode to Ponta in the bed of a rusty blue truck with a few other
hitchhikers and some bags of cement. It rained. No one cared.
At Ponta we discover that there are no backpacker's, just a few villas
and a campground for rich South Africans. We show up at the campground
on foot with our packs and boards and very dirty. Past the entrance
pike there is a city of decked out campervans and portable house-like
tents, boats, jet skis, and the kind of assholes you expect to see on
the Jersey shore. Awesome. We talk to the guy in the front office next
to the gate. 80 Rand per night (250 Meticais). No community kitchen,
no potable water, one shitty bathroom. Awesomer.
Even though we have very little Meticais between us and no Rands left
we decide this is what it will have to be for the night. We'll figure
something else out in the morning. So we walk into the middle of the
grounds, pick a spot under a big tree and pitch Nicola's Bushwhacker
II, boardbags for mattresses, bags laid end to end in the middle;
nice, there is just enough room for us to sleep uncomfortably. Save
the cost neither of us mind, we made it, and the swell is just
Now the problem of sustenance. As we walk down the one dirt road back
to town we notice that all the restaurants are priced for wealthy
South Africans instead of surf bums. This is a problem. We figure that
between the campground and food we can last a day. I have four days left on my visa and neither of us wants to miss this wave. New plan,
we head back to the local market where the rusty blue truck dropped us
off. Around dusk we wander into the maze of makeshift market stalls,
music pumping from various pool halls and bars made of spare wood and
Between Nicola's Italian, my Spanish and fantastic charades we get
across to a random passerby that we need food. He leads us to a large
woman cooking halves of chicken over a small grill. We negotiate a
price for half a chicken, papa and salad each. The large woman gives
the guy some instructions and he takes us to a small room with a
plastic table covered with a red coca-cola tablecloth.
The guy tells us his name is Vos. He says he's 30 but he looks late
teens. He works construction for a South African white man who pays
him 40 Rand a day, he is proud of his job and says his boss is a good
man to work for. He also tells us he is from Maputo. He is drunk.
While eating we mention that we need a place to stay and another man
at the table says he can help. He leaves the room and returns with the
lady who cooked for us, explaining our situation. She watches us while
he is talking and when he finishes nods and tells us to come back
April 8 2008 11:ish am: 'we scored great waves at Ponta this morning.
No barrels but long rights coming off the point. When we went back to
the market another woman took us to "Mama's" house. We sleep there
tonight. 150 Meticais ($6 USD)gets us dinner and a place to put Nicola's
April 8 2008 6:15 pm: 'Nicola and I sitting at the restaurant of
"Mama" in the market, we're with her son and the waitress who sleeps
on a mattress in the next room. I'm trying to get food and a beer Ã¯Â¿Â½
Nicola says it is like the tower of Babel. He is right."
April 8 2008 late pm: 'Just learned we are at a "barraca", like just a
place with a roof that serves food.'
26th Jun 2008, 23:11
After three weeks of life spent in orbit around surf, sleep and food -
with the occasional surf lesson for rum money - I met an Australian
guy with a 4x4 named Tom. Max and I had been sitting out at Tofino
when this blond guy with zinc across his nose and 70s style short
baggies carrying a retro twin fin came walking unsurely out onto the
reef. We had a laugh between us and decided to watch the show. He
obviously didn't know where to jump from and stood waiting and
watching for a couple of sets before Gal the Israeli showed up beside
him. We had another laugh because we knew where this was heading. Gal
was not known for his reserve or thoughts of safety. Gal motioned for
the Tom to follow and they walked along the reef around the edge of
the overlooking cliff to where the reef is perpendicular to the
oncoming waves, a place where most people don't jump from, including
Max and myself. They stood on a raised part of the reef while a large
set came exploding in front of them, the look of fear on Tom's face
and in his actions was priceless. Max and I shook our heads. When the
set died they both jumped in, Tom following Gal, disappearing for a
moment in the suck of the current along the reef.
Tom had come from north having dropped off his friends and was looking
for people to travel with. A day later he came over for beers and the
next day we left. We packed up and pulled out of Tofo with Coco, Saray
and Daniel waving us farewell. Saray said that was always how one
should leave, with friends waving as you drive away. I can't think of
The trip was to be the great surf journey, Tom, Nicola and myself
finding hidden surf spots and adventure on the north coast of South
Africa. We brought Max the German with us for the ride to Maputo, he
had a bus to catch back to Joburg so he would make his flight to
Germany. We laughed and talked and ate peanut-butter banana sandwiches
for the six hour drive.
One thing about Maputo: don't have a car, especially if you are white.
We were pulled over three times for making 'big mistakes' two of which
we talked our way out of, one of which we paid. The transaction had to
be discrete, no obvious display of money lest the policeman's
superiors would want a cut, if not all of it. I should also note here
that the policemen of Mozambique are, for the most part, very young
men with uniforms, AK-47s and free reign to do as they please. Very
comforting. After we dropped off Max we headed to a backpacker's where
we could stay for the night. A few blocks before we got there we were
signaled to stop by a policeman. He didn't have any transportation so
we just didn't stop (Much later a friend of a friend did a similar
thing and was shot at, but that's another post).
April 6th 9:49 PM: 'Fatima's isn't worth the cash – we drive to Ponta'
Our map and the lack of road signs turned out to be navigationally
troublesome. I made estimations on distance so we could know about
where we were through the night. They looked like this: ~20k Maubo,
~27k Henrique, ~33k Bela, ~13k Salamanga, ~38k Zitundu. The next
entry in my notebook, with an arrow pointing to my estimations, is
'Doesn't mean shit. We ran without oil for a bit. Damaged a cylinder
and burned it all. 2 am we set up camp on the side of the road. 6 am
we wake to Nicola talking to a guy to get us oil. We buy 5 litres for
150 Meticais per litre. We put three in and an hour later burned it
all. We wait in the road, eat Wheat Bix with water and sugar and play
We sat there playing cards and eating and watching women carry large
jugs of water on there heads pumped from a small well a short distance
off the road. On the other side in the distance a woman was stoking
large mounds of dirt with drifts of smoke coming from many small
holes. We saw a group South African park rangers heading South so we
flagged them down. The man driving said he could take one of us to the
next town where someone would be able to tow us. Tom went, later
telling us that they were out there because an elephant had escaped
the night before and killed a local man. No wonder he seemed irritable
when we had spoken with him.
Then it was just Nicola and me, a small prelude to the large amounts
of time we would soon be spending together with only each other for
company. We read for a couple hours before a man stopped and offered
to take us to his house for brunch, it was just across the road. His
name was David, he drove a minibus from Ponta to Maputo. The family
was very hospitable, the epitome of what rural Mozambiquans are like.
His kids watched us curiously while his wife cooked breakfast. We sat
in his small living room and watched a bootleg dvd of American
wrestling that his children had put on for us. I'm not sure why but it
is apparently very big there, South Africa too from what I've seen. Go
Tom showed up just as the omelets were ready with a couple of local
farmers. One of them owned the only two tractors in the area and told
us that most of the work they did wasn't actually farming, it was
towing people out of various situations. We soon found out why. Most
of the roads while not paved were decently kept, that is until south
of Salamanga. From there to the border it is just a weave of two rut
paths snaking southward. I couldn't imagine doing it without a guide.
It took us three and a half hours to make it to the border. 3 1/2
wonderful hours of jerking and bouncing while we all felt like the
chassis or the chain holding us to the tractor would break. Eventually
the chain did break. The guy driving the tractor didn't notice. The
three of us looked at each other then at the slowly disappearing
tractor before jumping out and shouting. I ran after him to get within
earshot. I don't think he heard any of us but he did eventually look
back to notice he was only dragging a broken chain. He looked
surprised then laughed. We were close and not in a deep sandy spot, it
26th Jun 2008, 23:08