Monthly Archives: April 2014

ADVENTURE TIME

“Wait!” Nikki called out as I started walking towards False Bay train station.

My outline was to take the train into Cape Town and then hop onto another train that’ll take me to Van Der Stel station and then walk down to the N2 Highway and begin my hitch hiking from there.

No easy feat with a 90L backpack, a day pack and a guitar.

I gotta cut down on my gear, I mentally noted.

I stopped and turned back to Nikki whoIMG_3960, besides being an awesome human being, runs the pre-school on the first floor of the house where Stacey (another awesome human) hosted me for a week of epic live blues music, mingling with the best blues musos Cape Town had to offer, braai’s and playing with Snowrose, her kitten-turning-to-cat mini lioness that attacked anything that wasn’t attached to the floor.

“My brother can take you to the N2 outside of Somerset West,” she said.

“Sweet,” I grinned. That’ll save me three hours of hopping trains.

Darren showed up an hour and a half later in his blue Buckey (what the South Africans call a ‘Ute’). He took me to the overpass of the N2.

“About two kilometers down there,” he pointed down the highway, “there’s a service station and truck stop. You’ll be sure to get a ride from there.”

I thanked him and his worker, Justin, and trekked off with all my gear to the service station, holding out my sign that read, ‘Mossel Bay’, hoping someone would stop and save me the walk.

They didn’t.IMG_3970

At the truck stop I only had to wait 10 minutes before a double trailer pulled over. There’s nothing more cumbersome than trying to run up to a truck that needs a hundred meters to stop, even if it’s only going 20 K’s an hour, with all your worldly possessions.

“Where ya headed?” I looked up at the barefooted driver that had opened the passenger door.

“Caledon,” he smiled.

“Where’s that?”

“About a hundred K’s.”

“Perfect,” I grinned, passing up my gear and then clambering aboard.

I offered my hand, “Pieter,” he said after I introduced myself.

He was a farmer who had lived in Ireland for a few years driving lorries. “I’m just driving this truck for a friend,” he said. “I’m trying to get some thing out of herding sheep and cattle on my farm.”

The truck was empty but in general it would take oats. We chatted about how screwed up the human species is, defining a person by colour, faith, creed. Coming out of the Apartheid, the people of South Africa were getting along – on the surface. Under the surface, with the upcoming elections and a corrupt government in power, tensions were on the rise.

May 7th will be D-Day.

IMG_3964I was excited to pass through the mountains on the Sir Lowry Drive, a beautiful, green scenic drive. Although the day had turned grey, the low-lying clouds only added to the scenery as they covered the peaks of the mountains.

Fuckin’ Africa, I kept thinking to myself. I’m in fuckin’ Africa.

On the highway outside of Caledon, I hopped off, thanked Pieter and trekked past the intersection. I noticed local people standing by the road waving Rands (South African currency) to try and entice drivers to stop. I grinned and smiled at them as I set up on the shoulder of the highway and held out my sign.

The time on the clock tower of the shopping mall across the highway read 11:30. By 12:30 I was getting hungry and thinking of biting into the chicken, ham and cheese pie that Stacey had not only baked fresh but also packed for my journey.

Nah. It’ll serve as reward for getting to Mossel Bay, still three hours away. It’s a smallish town on the coast, lying exactly halfway between Cape Town to it’s west and Port Elizabeth to its east, some 400 km in either direction. It’s also on the border of the Western and Eastern Cape.

I had decided a new rule for myself now that I’d be land-based, hitch hiking my way to the Middle East. I had to stay in each country I visited for the duration of the visa I was offered. South Africa provided 3 months visa for free as does Namibia and Botswana, my two next destinations. Zambia would cost me about $30 USD also for 3 months and Tanzania provided a 3-month visa for about $40.

Plenty of time to trek Mt Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest peak.

To pass the time in each country I was hoping to be able to volunteer in different wildlife\marine conservation places but the problem is that conservation groups rely heavily on public funding. Funding that comes from it’s volunteers who pay thousands of dollars to work and help protect endangered species.

P1100910Which kind of loses the whole point of volunteering. But I’m a pretty persistent kinda guy and will keep shooting off emails as though I were shooting for the biggest stuffed animal at an amusement park in one of those rigged shooting games (which is how I rescued Animal, my travel buddy).

By 13:00 I was starting to think what would I do if it got too dark when a local sitting on the corner of the intersection called out to me, pointing behind me.

 

I turned around and saw that a white Mitsubishi Outlander had pulled over.

Way down the road.

I grabbed my gear and ran as graceful as a newborn giraffe towards the car that was now reversing.

“Get in,” said the driver.

He appeared to be in his mid-fifties and the car, I noticed, was packed with household items.

Must be moving somewhere.

“Where ya headed?” I grinned.

“Get in,” he repeated, opening the boot for me to pack in my large backpack. “I’m heading to East London. I’m passing Mossel Bay.”

“Perfect!” I almost yelped as I gently placed my guitar in the back beside my pack. Fuckin’ perfect.

That’s what I love about being on the road. You don’t know who you’ll meet and how far they’ll take you but I always believe you meet the people you meet for a reason. Destined to cross your path.

Gary was in a hurry though. He had 12 hours of driving ahead of him and he was pushing the Outlander to its limits. A divorce lawyer by trade he told me about a new small business he started with a friend where they help people quit smoking with some sort of electrical acupuncture technique.

“Works after one session,” he said.

“Are you moving house?” I asked.

“My daughter finished her studies at the Stellenbosch University,” he said. “She’s in the other car with my wife, somewhere up ahead.”

We chatted mostly about surfing as Gary used to be the President of South Africa’s Surfing Association. We stopped at a service station in Heidleberg to fill up and have a bite to eat. I met his wife and daughter as we chowed down on a burger at Wimpy’s, a fast food chain similar to Wendy’s (except they do burgers instead of hot dogs).

I was about to pay for my burger when Gary dismissed my money.

“Thank you so much,” I said appreciatively.

We continued on, his wife calling from ahead to warn of speed traps set up by the police.

“So what are you going to do in Mossel Bay?” Gary asked at one point.

“I found work at the Mossel Bay Backpackers. In exchange for a bed I have to socialise with the guests, jam a bit on the guitar around the fire and sell activities in the adventure center. Basically, just be myself.”

I figured with Gary being in a hurry (otherwise, why else would he be flying us at 140 K’s an hour at low altitude?) he would drop me off on the turnoff to Mossel Bay.

“Find the backpackers on your GPS,” he said. “I’ll take you in.”P1090831

I couldn’t thank him enough as he pulled us up to the entrance of the backpackers. He even waited to see that I was sorted out with a room and that everything was actually happening.

“If you’re ever in East London, drop us a line,” he said, handing me his card as I handed him mine.

It was now adventure time at the adventure center.

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Categories: Adventure Travel, Africa, South Africa | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

THE BREAK UP

P1090459Cape Town, how could you? How could you do this to me? First off, we’re rounding the Cape of Good Hope and what do I see? Table Mountain and Lion’s Head in all their fine glory just looking out at us with a welcoming smile.

And then, if that wasn’t enough, low clouds roll in over the top to create what your locals call, ‘Table Cloth’. How am I supposed to handle such a sight? Huh?

Or what about the hundreds of sea lions that swam with the boat, each one sticking it’s cute head up and watching us, some even waving. What is that about? Huh? Waving seals?

Entering the harbour you are entirely spread out before us, Table Mountain watching over like some guardian angel, Lion’s Head making sure that Table Mountain isn’t falling asleep on watch. I mean, really, you expect me to be unhappy at such a majestic sight?IMG_3832

And don’t get even get me started with your smiling people everywhere, willing to help without want of financial gratification. Your quiet city streets don’t even make it feel like a city. The awesome bars along colourful Long St, your buildings dating back to the 1700s, all painted and renovated, your street art that makes you stop and look and not just walk by even if you’re in a hurry to get somewhere.

And who the hell is in a hurry in your fine city?

Nobody! Where’s the pressure pot of city life? What’s with all the laid backness? Do you want me to stay forever? Cause you’re going about it the right way.

If that’s not enough you then have me introduced to some awesome people like Theo, my first couch surfing host who not only knows everything about South Africa and could work as a tour guide if he ever lost his lecturing job at the Stellenbosch University, he also knows the best surf spots.

IMG_3784And then he takes me surfing. It’s been 4 months since my last surf in Sri Lanka, somewhere in the vicinity of December, 2013. Sure, as soon as we were about to hit the cold waters of the Atlantic some surfers come out running and say,

“Saw a very large dark shadow in the water.”

“Dark shadow?” I repeated. “A shark?”

“Could be,” he looked out at the water. “Could be a seal.”

Well which one is it, damn it! Man’s gotta surf! I wanted to yell at him, shake him out of his laid back state.

“It’s a seal,” a surfer coming out last confirmed.

“You’re sure?” I asked.

“Yup,” he said.

“What’s chasing it?” I grinned as Theo led the way to the water and I duck-dived, the Atlantic not as cold as I thought it might be. My balls where even OK with the temperature.

So that was my introduction to your waters, Cape Town. How dare you provide me with a great morning for surf?

Theo said it was the best he had ever seen Strand Pipe work.IMG_3740

And if Strand wasn’t enough, Theo takes me to Stellenbosch, the university town on your outskirts, Cape Town. What, you couldn’t have a town with small grey ugly buildings? You couldn’t have dirty streets with graffiti everywhere? Countless beggars? Street cats? Something that might disappoint me?

No, you had to go and have a lovely little university town, big enough to walk around in a day, provide a beautiful botanical garden with a restaurant that served epic food, squirrels that are rummaging everywhere for nuts under the big oak trees giving the town the nickname ‘Town of Oaks’ with art galleries, quaint little café’s, leafy streets, buildings dating back to the late 1600s, a Dutch Reform church with a bible showcased in a glass case because it’s from 1722.

1722!

IMG_3738I’ve never seen a book that old and here you go just presenting one on display in a church where half of the space is dedicated to the Titanic-sized organ a woman was playing.

Then you introduce me to False Bay on my first weekend in your fair city.

What were you thinking, Cape?

That your long stretch of clean, sandy beaches, surfable waves, sunny-blue-skied weather, small town vibe in the big city would somehow put me off?

On contrer, Cape Town. You sucked me right in.

 

 

How dare you have epic people like Stacey living within your city limits? How dare you provide a house, a home with her 6-year-old daughter who likes to climb all over you, a 12-year-old Great Dane that only wants attention and a kitten-turning-cat that thinks your legs and arms are scratching posts?

IMG_3957How very dare you provide me with introductions to some awesome people like Nikki who runs the pre-school downstairs and just happens to live in an awesome place called Scarborough?

How dare you have Stacey take me to a private invite-only live music upstairs in an underground venue aptly named ‘The G-Spot’ (cause it’s so hard to find) and then, while there, enjoying the live sounds of the likes of Tim Parr, John Pain (guitars), David Goldberg (keyboards) and Richard Prowse (flute) and the owners Caroline and Greg and being introduced to rip-fucking awesome people like the above mentioned along with Edna, her pal Al, Christian, Greg, Peter.

Where does it all end, Cape Town?

IMG_3818

Oh, it doesn’t because if that Friday night wasn’t enough, on the Saturday I meet up with Theo who takes me to my first South African braai for his brother’s birthday. I thought we knew how to barbecue in Australia but then you just bring out the works, aye?

Lamp chops and boerwors (beef sausages) piled high, drinks, local brandy, potato bake and a peppermint cream cake.

A peppermint cream cake!

Think the torture ends there? No, no, dear Cape Town. You then throw me on top of Mt Hedleberg out in the Hedleberg Nature Reserve.P1090582

Do you feel good about yourself, Cape Town? Hmm? Letting me climb 1006 meters with Theo while being warily eyed by a troop of baboons to overlook the entire Cape Peninsula and if that weren’t enough, you had to provide us with a perfect fucking day where you could see all the way to Australia?

And then what do you do? You take me (via Theo) down Clarence Drive (which is just like driving down the Great Ocean Road minus the gum trees lining the road from the Otway Rainforest) where we stop at Koleg Bay for a surf in glassy water, so clear you could see the fish the seabirds were diving for.

IMG_3823Waves that were 2-4 foot and barreling and if the perfect conditions weren’t enough some baboons the size of my surfboard were in the car park destroying what used to be a packet of chips. And then big papa baboon comes trotting along the road.

“There’s a baboon crossing the road,” I tell Theo.

“They don’t cross the road here,” he grins. “They walk it.”

Why don’t you throw a lion and an elephant into the mix, Cape Town, really make my stay a nightmare.

And then it’s another braai for that evening with my famous potato salad and a garden salad. You liked that one didn’t ya, Cape Town? So what do you throw at me in return?

A week of 30-degrees, blue skies, train rides where for 80 cents you not only get a train ticket (verified by the verification staff) but you get Evangelical preachers screaming about the good word of JC, you have an a Capella group with a djembe drummer come into the carriage to try and save the people from the preacher but he can’t be outdone and then some Zulu dancers in full costume just stroll by, looking for a quieter carriage to entertain the crowds.

And then I’m back in False Bay at Stacey’s house where I find three jobs at three different backpackers, I get taken to a food market with Rochelle who is a chef and I find myself in food haven in a place bustling with good vibes and amazing food and then Stacey takes me to the Mercury with Richard to see The Bootleggers (led by Terry Porter) with special guests Doc John Morstet (lead singer of The Boulevard Blues band), Margarita Free, Monica Englebrecht and Katey Lewis on vocals, Guy Collins on guitar and Vince Connel on harmonica.DSC08949

Did it end there with the ep-fucking-tastic blues music? No, Cape Town. I had to walk out, cross the street to the caravan food stall where the owner, an old hippy was sitting playing the blues on his guitar.

I had me three boerwors hot dogs with tomato relish and fried onions and while he cooked I played! On the street!

And that was just Thursday. Friday I’m taken to another braai where my backpack gets stitched up by the lovely Shani in exchange for some of the music and movies I have on my hard drive.

Could you be more helpful, Cape Town?

DSC08980And then what happens on the Saturday? A drive down to Scarborough for another braai at Nikki’s place where I meet her awesome husband, Richard, who just happens to be a very talented artist and the day is so hot, the waves on the Atlantic look as though they’ve been photo-shopped and we all go down for a swim and I find myself body-surfing in 3-foot glassy waves with a sunset that would have anyone’s balls tingling (or ovaries. I’m guessing here, I don’t know the effects of sunsets on a woman’s body).

P1090511

 

And my last Sunday, Cape Town? What do you provide? An open air market with heaps of food and a live band on a 34-degree day that couldn’t be any more perfect. Even the three hours it took me to get from Somerset West to False Bay was accompanied by a sunset of the likes that only St Kilda beach (Melbourne, Australia) could provide.

You just can’t let go, can you Cape Town? You just rope us unsuspecting visiting souls in and before we know it, you’ve grabbed us by the balls (or ovaries).

Categories: Adventure Travel, Africa, South Africa | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CHANNEL CROSSING

_IGP4174“Safe travels, mon frerr,” I hugged Manu before he boarded the San Miguel dinghy for the last time after sailing with Captain Francois for the last 17 months.

With almost five months of traveling together, we split ways in Toliara, Madagascar. He was heading to the French-owned Renuion Island, just east of Madagascar while Francois, myself and our newly joined crew – Alex (Gallitheian – Spain) and Carven (Australian), a couple making their way to Spain without flying – were to head to Cape Town, South Africa.

It would include the treacherous crossing of the Cape of Good Hope – one of the most dangerous regions for any seaward vessel in the world.

Especially in cyclone season – the very season we were in.

The predicted 8 days to cross the Mozambique Channel had, as was custom on San Miguel, turned to 12 days of battling 12-foot waves (against us) in 25 knot winds. The waves were so big that as they grew and approached the boat I thought they would attempt to jump on board and hitch a ride.

They didn’t. But they did manage to throw me from port-side to starboard-side as I sat minding my own business in the cockpit. Luckily, the table broke my fall (and my shin bone). But with only my ego bruised and my shin grazed, I promptly sat on the lower part of the bench as Francois internally tsk-tsk-tsked me (for all those concerned, the table was unscathed).

That night I sat with Carven and Alex under the canopy of a clear, star-filled night. As we chatted something flew from the water from starboard.

Alex was scratching his newly Carven-made dreadlocks as the flying object deflected off his hand towards me. I too was scratching my sea-made dreadlocks when the object deflected off my hand and over my shoulder back into the water.

It was a flying fish that had almost re-enacted Fabio’s goose-in-the-face incident some years back with me playing Fabio.

P1090329On day 12 we entered the marina of Richard’s Bay, the first port of call on the eastern side of South Africa. A major industrial port, we saw a cargo ship at the entrance of the channel that led into the safety of the marina.

Only, just its bow was breaching the shallow waters. The rest of it was sunk.

 

 

“It sunk about eight months ago,” a local Afrikaans relayed the story as François and I hitch-hiked into town a day after we had been cleared by immigration. “Got caught on a sand bar in a huge storm. The tide was going out and that left the stern without support so it broke off. They dragged it out to deep waters and sunk it. There still salvaging the bow.”

Shit.

“And where is the town?” François asked.

“I’ll take you to the shopping centre,” the driver said. “That’s the only good part of town.”

After almost six months of exploring villages and remote locations, the last thing either of us wanted to see or experience was a shopping centre. We were dropped off in the car park of a very Westernised mall where Angel and her Dutch boyfriend Renee had taken me to get some Rand, the South African currency, just a few days before.

“We’re going to drink tonight and see who the weakest link is,” Angel had declared.

I grinned. Usually, people who declare said statements are the ones to fall first and Angel was no exception. She’s a Zulu who works on cruise ships in the Mediterranean and was currently on vacation. Her sister, Veronica, a coal train driver, had joined us as did their brother, Mossie, a waiter at Dros Bar and Restaurant, just a few feet from where we had tied the boat in the waterfront.

All were smashed by 02:00. I was drunk but not the weakest link, representing the Aussie drinker with pride.

At 03:00 I headed back to the boat.

Fuck, I thought. Where is it? I was standing on the dock but all I could see was the mast. I looked down. The tide had dropped by two meters and San Miguel floated way below. To get to the boat meant climbing awkwardly in my drunken stupor to the deck below.

The next morning François was woken by a troop of Vervet monkeys who had climbed onto the boat.

“You must close all your hatches,” informed Hert, the security guard that had greeted us when we had docked. “There are thieving monkeys and they can open hatches and steal anything.”

“And where is the town?” François had asked him.

“There’s a shopping centre but it’s far. You need a car,” Hert had said.

And so we had hitch-hiked to town, being dropped off at the shopping centre. We stopped a local walking by.

“Excuse me,” François approached him. “Where is the town? I mean, is there a downtown with side streets, bars, alleyways?”

“No,” the local said. “Just the shopping centre.”

“Can’t be,” François said as I thought the same.

“This is the town,” the local said with sadness as he seemed to realise that that was all his town had to offer.

In the car park we encountered another local.

“Where is the town?” François asked him.

“Go through the shopping centre,” he smiled. “Many shops.”

“But there must be a downtown with side streets, bars, alleyways?” Francois said.

“Yes,” the local widened his smile. “Go through the shopping centre. Many shops.”

We sighed.

“Looks like they’ve built a shopping centre around the town,” I said, staring at the concrete, modern building housing fake air, fake smiles and fake food. I shuddered at the thought.

I’ll skip to Wednesday when Angel, Renee and Veronica picked Francois and myself from the boat to go to Shakaland, the most touristy place I’d ever been too (and hopefully the last).

P1090201It was an hour’s drive through rolling sugarcane fields, lush green mountain ranges and toothpick-thin gumtree plantations used to make paper. Shakaland is where the TV series of the same name was filmed. The place had gone from a small Zulu village explaining the cultural significance of the famed tribe to a full on lodge and resort complete with pool and buffet hotel western food.

Hanging above the entrance was a large gazelle skull with twisted antlers while inside the complex, besides the stunning views of what appeared to be man-made Phoebe Lake surrounded by lush forests, were the restaurant and souvenir shop.

Angel had taught me some basic Zulu and I was saying “Saau Bone Kunjani,” (‘Hello, how are you?)” to every Zulu I met who seemed to be impressed.

P1090236

 

We witnessed traditional Zulu dancing by warriors of the Zulu tribe, all dressed in traditional loin clothes made of cow skin, lion mane and leopard skin. Halfway through the dance I was asked to volunteer for the hunting dance.

“Just follow the leader,” explained the host in the domed air-conditioned hut (yup, air-conditioned) where the chief sat upon his throne flanked by his two wives.

Above him the skull and tusks of an African elephant shaded them while the dancers danced to the beat of the drums the drummers were beating high up on the platform above them.

I attempted to kick as high as the leader who had no qualms of raising his legs well above his ear lobes.

Should have stretched first, I thought.

“You need more practice,” said the host as he thanked Renee, myself and a very enthusiastic Russian for volunteering.

They told the story of the Anglo-Zulu war of 1879 where the Zulu, armed with nothing but spears, shields and ferocity had beaten the musk-armed British.

“I’d shit myself if I were a British soldier encountering a Zulu warrior in the bush,” I whispered to Francois. You know you don’t mess with a tribe that can defeat armed forces with spears.

Lunch was an all-you-can-eat buffet for 165 Rand ($16.5 AUD). It was good food but not along the lines of the traditional foods of the Zulu that the website had advertised.

“And the Zulu beer?” I asked one of the waiters.

“You should have asked for some at the dance hall,” she said and sent someone down to fetch a pitcher of the clay pot brewed stuff.

“You know it’s only 1% alcohol,” said an Afrikaans at the next table as I was served with a milky looking product.

I poured a little into my glass and took a sip, immediately regretting it. “Wow,” I winced. “Tastes like sour milk.” I offered some to Francois.

“Tastes like shit,” he spluttered the obvious.

I added some brown sugar at the recommendation of the waiter and although the taste was easier for consumption, let’s just say that, like wrestling a crocodile, you should only try it once.

From Shakaland we drove over to a small town called Eshowe (pronounced ‘E-shower’) where we stopped by the aerial boardwalk in the Dlinze forest. A 20 Rand entry fee was paid ($2 AUD) as we declined the offer of a guide to lead us through the bush. Angel was worried about not having the right footwear for the hike so I offered her my flip-flops ($3 in Toliara, Madagascar) while I hiked barefoot, my favourite form of footwear.

P1090286We reached a short platform of wooden planks that had been built over the tree canopies ending in a 20-meter tower that we climbed. It was a smaller version of the Otways’ Tree Top walk ($24 AUD) near Apollo Bay on the southern coast of Victoria, Australia.

We rested at the top of the tower, enjoying the bushland views of our first African nature park. The sky had darkened with grey clouds pushed along by strong winds. We climbed back down and took a track leading into the woods.

 

We passed tangled vines hanging from trees that had killed other trees in a ferocious competition to reach sunlight, dense shrubbery and a trickling creek. The track wound its way down to a grassy clearing with picnic tables and the ‘Bishop’s Seat’ where a bishop would conduct his sermons.

“We should U-turn and try the other path to get back to the car park,” suggested Francois.

I agreed and we back-tracked to make a left at a forest intersection when we were surrounded by three Mouse Deer with tiny antlers and feet. And a face that would have made a mother mouse proud (but a mother deer disappointed). They ran around us in circles as we continued down the path. We should have taken it as a sign to turn back as we became lost in the forest.

“Should have taken the ranger’s offer of a guide,” I muttered as the clock ticked towards sunset and the temperature dropped. We were 500 meters above sea level and losing light, going around in circles.

“OK,” Francois took the lead. “We’ll backtrack to the intersection and climb back to the car park. It’s the only safest way. I don’t plan to spend the night here.”

We walked briskly and after an hour made it back to the car park in the dying rays of daylight. The rangers had shut up shop and left, thinking we’d make it out on our own.

We drove back to town and picked up a few beers to celebrate our finding the way back only to get lost in town, driving around in circles. Even the GPS couldn’t figure out how to get us back on to the R66 Richard’s Bay-Durban highway as the main road was half-closed due to construction work.

After an hour and asking four different people we managed to escape the clutches of Eshowe and made our way back to the waterfront for an evening of pizza, beers and watching England’s Manchester United beat Greece’s Olympyakos 3-0 in the Champions League coming back from a 2-0 aggregate to Olympyakos’ advantage (Dutchman van Pearce scoring a hat-trick).

The next afternoon we sailed out to cheers from the waiters of Dros who we had befriended and some boats whose captain and crew were out on deck and blew horns as we motored out of the marina towards the Indian Ocean. With Richard’s Bay being a busy industrial port, cargo ships, tankers and super tankers were anchored all around. It was like riding a push-bike through a shopping centre’s car park on Boxing Day. Only we were on a 47-foot sloop and sailing.

“Try not to get too close,” directed Francois as I took first watch.

No shit, I thought. Last thing I wanted was too collide with a metallic cargo ship the size of Tasmania.

Still, it might have been better than battling the 14-foot waves in 40 knot winds that hit us the next day.

Categories: Adventure Travel, Africa, Sailing, South Africa | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

BAREFOOT HOOPS

There are some things that will forever remain a mystery of the universe. Like how Tony Abbott ever become Prime Minister of Australia or George W. Bush serving two administrations. These events can be brought down to human error (or a lack of fight from the people for the people since voting is just a stage show to bring in the puppets).

But one of life’s greatest mysteries that boggle my mind is how is it that out of all the toes on the human foot, we’ll systematically stub the smallest? I mean, the big toe is a big toe, hence the scientific name behind it. The pinkie, smallest of the toe family, should never be the one to get stubbed. Physically, it just doesn’t make sense. It’s right at the end of the foot and is shorter than the rest of its team yet it seems to take multiple hits for the group.

So when I walked along the beach of Andavadoaka, a remote, beach-side fishing village, and smashed my left pinkie toe into the sand-covered rock, I sucked in all available oxygen in my vicinity to not scream out as some locals were watching.

Like it wasn’t enough that on the approach to the beach I had slipped on the deck of San Miguel and, to catch my fall, I managed to sprain my pinkie on my right hand.

Now, I was diagonally pinkie challenged.

P1090081 P1090085I limped past wooden huts with flimsy fences built straight into the sand, admiring the graffiti art of an artist named Cortez who is a resident of Reunion Island. He comes by every few months to paint a new mural on a building. He also buys the old sails off the fishermen. He paints on the old sails and with the money he makes selling them, buys the fishermen new sails.

We passed the two schools where the kids had just finished their day of studies and ran up to greet the white man that had come to visit them, yelling out ‘Salama’ and giggling and hiding from Francois and myself.

But it was when we came across the basketball court that I could go no further. I stopped, stood and watched as kids of all ages gathered by the court, ready to play in flip-flops or barefoot a game which I love. But I haven’t hit the courts for almost two years.

“You want to go play hoops?” Francois asked, sensing that I indeed, wanted to go play hoops.

“Yes,” I replied wishfully.

“I’ll see you at the bar then, when you’re done.”

P1090092I walked over to the court and said, “Bonjour.”

There was a bit of an awkward silence. I didn’t speak French and no one spoke English. I watched the first game, learning tell-tale moves of the players. I was allowed to join a team that gave me a look of, ‘Why are we stuck with this fool?’

I felt like Woody Harelson in White Men Can’t Jump when he firsts hustles Wesley Snipes’s character. Except I was hitting the court barefoot.

 

I knew I would pay for it the following day. I always returned a broken man from the courts. Especially barefoot.

Especially with a smashed pinkie toe.

The first time the ball was passed to me the crowd laughed and hooted like I was the biggest joke around. And perhaps I was. I wondered if these kids had ever seen a white man play ball. I was no NBA draft contender, but I was never picked last for any basketball team once my abilities were known.

And after I ran an offensive that lead to a basket the laughing was substituted for jaws dropping in awe and respect. I held our team in for three games before my feet begged me to stop. My lungs were supporting my feets decision and I thanked the kids as I tried my best not to limp off towards the beach-side bar.

I had landed quite badly after a lay-up.

The next day the San Miguel crew returned to the village and split up. Manu went to do his laundry, Francois hiked 18 K’s to see some Baobab trees while I hung around the Coco Beach Hotel listening to Madison’s explanation of the Blue Ventures project in the village.P1090151

Blue Ventures is a UK-based not-for-profit organisation that has some projects running around the world. The ‘volunteers’ that pay 5,000 Euros for the six week program in Madagascar help collect scientific data of the marine life, teach the locals not to over fish, allowing the fish and octopus to grow to their full size before harvesting them.

They also run a sea cucumber farm that fetches quite the penny in the Asian market. They supply employment opportunities for the locals and teach English at the school on Saturdays while during the week they’ll do morning dives (those that aren’t certified can get certified through the program).

It’s a great program and the village has benefited immensely from it. Francois and I had lunch at the hotel (there weren’t many options for places to eat in the village) and had a beer at the bar on the beach as we waited for Lisa and Bill, a husband and wife team that are contracted for a year with Blue Ventures.

They had been invited to see the boat as they were thinking of joining San Miguel from Namibia as their contract ended in May.

By the time evening hit, Manu and I raised the storm anchor, made dinner and sailed through the night as we headed south to the last major city on Madagascar – Tulear where we were too spend 3-4 days stocking up on supplies, saying ‘Au revoir’ to Manu and meeting and collecting an Aussie girl and her Spanish partner for the crossing of the Mozambique Channel to South Africa.

Categories: Adventure Travel, Africa, Madagascar, Sailing | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

STORMY WATERS

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There are two types of sun sets: one with clouds that give off the impression that Salvador Dali has taken every hallucinating drug ever known to man and has been painting from the heavens for our benefit.

 

 

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The other is when the horizon is cloudless. There’s a perfect layering and fading of warm colours from bright yellow that fades to a pinkish orange mid-sky until it wraps up with into a deep purple and blue. The sun hangs like an illuminated basketball from the sky, dropping down like a slow motion half-court shot at the buzzer.

On the other side a huge, fluffy, cute-as-a-bunny cloud, white on top with the red-pink reflection of the setting sun on the bottom rises up over the horizon, giving off the inviting look of an orthopedic mattress in a show room.

Until you see the ‘No sleeping’ sign.

As the cloud moves in, you realise that its innocent, fluffy, cute-as-a-bunny look was just an illusion. A hepatitis yellow-grey colouration on its underside revealing its true purpose – seek and destroy anything in its path.

Especially a lone sailing boat in the Mozambique Channel.

I could see it was approaching fast and yet, like the waters we were on, I was calm. I headed below deck to my quarters and began watching ‘Tron Legacy’ on my laptop while Manu began dinner preparations. I was immersed in the film but when I had to turn up the volume to 60 (I usually had the volume at 8-10) and still had trouble hearing it, I realised it was because of what had erupted outside. I hit pause and clambered up to the cockpit.

The great fluffy, cute-as-a-bunny cloud had turned into a mutated Bugs Bunny with teeth in the black of night. It swallowed us up like The Nothing in The Neverending Story. The starry night had turned into a Greek Gods arena, as though Zeus and Poseidon were at war for the love of Venus. I stood in awe, shading my eyes from the flashes of lightning that were so close they seemed to light up the entire planet.

We were no longer sailing.

We were flying, skimming across the surface of the water like a hovercraft at a 55° angle. Meanwhile, below deck, a wave had forced a hatch open and we had taken in half of the Mozambique Channel.

While Francois battled against the 48 knot winds blasting us like an ‘In your face’ slam dunk, the storm threatened to pick us up and put us in the land of Oz. Manu and I held off dinner plans to start bailing out water. To add to the fun, the bilge pump shat itself so I found myself ladling out the equivalent of 5,000 servings of soup, tonight’s special – Mozambique Channel with a hint of storm.

After almost three hours of raging winds and lightning with surprisingly little rain, we had bailed most of the water out. Just when the bilge pump decided to join the party, fashionably late. By 22:30 we were back to safe conditions.

I was surprised that I had remained completely calm. Everyone was. No screaming orders about, no panic in our voices. Francois even seemed to have a slight grin as he controlled the helm. I had absolute no fear whatsoever – unlike the storms we had encountered on the passage to Sri Lanka where I thought I would shit bricks, then using those bricks, build a safe house and hide in it. And this storm was a lot more violent than anything we had encountered in the Indian Ocean.

“This is a good experience for you,” Manu said before I retired to bed, prior to my midnight watch. “Because nobody sails these waters this time of year, you are experiencing the extreme side of sailing.”

No shit. A renewed confidence settled within me, like the moment one has when blocking a slam dunk about to be driven into you by the greatest basketball player ever. I needed it, too. We are to sail to South Africa during the infamous cyclone season that plagues the Cape of Good Hope this time of year.

Alli-oop.

Categories: Adventure Travel, Africa, Madagascar, Sailing | Tags: , , , , | 4 Comments

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