Monthly Archives: June 2014

SANDBLASTED

P1110144I stood in awe in the doorway, staring at the sand that had swallowed up what must have once been a master bedroom.

“It’s like walking through a Salvador Dahli painting,” I said aloud, Zach agreeing in just as much awe.

“This is awesome,” he said.

We were in Kolmanskop (Coleman’s Hill in German), a small ghost town that had once been a thriving diamond mining community. It had it’s own ice factory, general store, a 200-bed hospital, power station, skittle alley, theater, casino and was the first place in the Southern Hemisphere to have an X-ray machine.P1110159

The town was named after Johnny Coleman who abandoned his ox wagon during a sand storm on the outskirts of Luderitz. In 1909 Zacharias Lewala, a local worker, discovered a diamond in the area. He showed it to his supervisor, a German named August Stauch and thus the diamond rush of the early 20th century began. Back then, diamonds were literally just lying on the surface.

But as with most natural resources, the diamonds were exhausted pretty quickly and by 1954 the town was abandoned like an unwanted newborn. The Namib Desert, one of the oldest and driest deserts on the planet, slowly reclaimed the town as strong winds pushed the sand dunes into the houses, breaking windows, doors and drowning the homes, hospital and anything the sand could get into.

It’s now a major tourist attraction and a great place for photographers seeking that surreal experience. Entrance is $75 Namibian dollars ($7.50) and for an extra $25 ND ($2.50) you can join either the 9 AM or 11 AM tours and refresh yourself with a cool milkshake or whatever beverage fancies you in the old ballroom.

P1110214Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to shower out half the Namib Desert from the crack of my ass.

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

BITTER FONTEIN

IMG_4359Bitter Fontein, named for the brackish water of where it lies, lies just off the N7 Highway in the Western Cape of South Africa. It’s nestled in the narrow Hardeveld valley on the Hardeveld Route in the Namaqualand. If you’re driving the almost 5-hour trip from Cape Town, you’ll pass some majestic mountain ranges such as the Ceres range and the Cederberg range before the landscape changes to a what appears to be a clone of the Australian Outback.

I met Maretha at the Multi-purpose Tourism Centre at the entrance of the village. She operates the tourist centre which also has a restaurant that serves traditional and contemporary food in a surrounding of souvenir trinkets, handcrafted by locals, and brochures on what to do in the area.

“The best time to visit us is during the flower season,” she explains, “August-September. That’s when it gets really busy. Of course, that all depends on the rains.”

Other things to do in the area include treks, visiting spiritual sites, watching traditional dances, listening to the local story tellers and just kicking back, slowing down and appreciating a weekend out of the hustle ‘n’ bustle of the rat race.

In winter it becomes cold enough for snow to hang onto the peaks. And it’s warm in the day but don’t let that fool you. The Outback landscape is a deceiving witch, hot in the day and ice cold when the sun disappears over the hills.

Maretha also owns and operates Maretha’s Guesthouse. Made of clay, this perfectly insulated home away from home is the place to stay when visiting the laid-back region.Image

The guest bedroom consists of three single beds and plenty of space. You’ll receive your own key for the bathroom which has a sink fixed over a pile of stones, plenty of books to choose from and a seductive bath to soak in.

Outside, the cactus garden is greener than a rainforest, really sticking out against the red dirt and brown clay of the house. There’s a fire pit and a lot of old, antique appliances decorating the yard.

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“I like to horde things,” Maretha grins. She points out that on the veranda, “There’s a couple of birds that have made their nests here. At 18:00 I always go to the bar for dinner and at 19:00 watch the news there.”

There’s only one bar in town. It’s also where the only other hotel is located with its own liquor store situated in the centre of town.

 

 

The town was dry of any tourists and I was warmly welcomed to the bar by Ice, the owner. But don’t let his name fool you. He’s friendly and has a warm soul. I played some tunes on my ol’ six string in exchange for a few drinks.

Rugby is the favoured sport as the walls of the bar house framed rugby jerseys. The town also has a service station and the train from the mines ends the line in Bitter Fontein, a great place to slow down and remember that life isn’t always about being a rat in a race.

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

DESERT BIKERS

P1110005“Oh,” moaned Emmanuel, “so hung over.” He stumbled about, holding his head.

We were standing outside the police station under blue skies. The wind had picked up and was a little chilly. I grinned explaining how I don’t suffer from hangovers. After a breakfast of a peanut butter sandwich, I thanked the officers who had welcomed me in the best way possible to Namibia and hit the B4 highway to Luderitz.

Francois, the captain of San Miguel (the boat I spent five months crossing the Indian Ocean) had a friend in Luderitz called Boy (yup, Boy). I was hoping to meet him and crash at his for a few nights. I stood by the highway, reading my book waiting for a vehicle to drive by.

If the road could have been emptier it wouldn’t be regarded a road anymore. I began to wonder of my chances of reaching Luderitz. After about a hundred pages a bukkey pulled over. “Where are you going?” I smiled at the driver and his passenger.

“Luderitz,” he grinned.

“Can I ride with you?” I asked, hoping he wouldn’t bring up a request to get paid.

“Sure, hop in.”

P1110417The driver’s name was Africa (seriously) and his passenger was Gustav. They both worked for a mining company and had two weeks work in Luderitz. And I guess they both love Michael Bolton who was crooning how he couldn’t live without you from the radio. We drove parallel to railway tracks through a forbidding desert.

It then hit me that I just might be in, “Is this the Kalahari Desert?” I asked.

“Yes,” Africa grinned.

 

Awesome.

“Tell me,” Africa said, “who do you think will win the World Cup?”

“I was going for Spain but they got ripped apart by the Dutch. I’m hoping that an African team will win. Ghana is my favourite.”

Africa nodded in agreement as he attempted to break the sound barrier on the empty road. We passed wild ostriches which had me thinking, where could they possibly nest? Within a couple of hours we had zipped past Kolmanskop, an abandoned mining town famous for the desert sands that pour through the empty houses.IMG_4439

Ten minutes later we reached Luderitz, a small coastal town with two main industries, diamond mines and fishing. It rested on the coast of the Atlantic Ocean. I was in awe to see the desert meet the sea.

The houses were brightly painted in blue, green, yellow and red, dotting the barren landscape. Africa and Gustav gave me a quick tour and showed me the harbour and waterfront where I was dropped off.

“When you write a book, make sure you put me in it,” Africa grinned.

“I will,” I grinned back, thanking them. I made my way to a fish ‘n’ chip shop I had spotted.

“Excuse me,” I politely interrupted the conversation between the owner and a customer. “I was wondering if it’s possible to use a phone to call a friend I have in Luderitz?”

The customer offered his. I brought up Boy’s contact details on my phone and showed them to the guy.

“Ah, you are friends with Boy,” he said, punching in the numbers.

“You know Boy?” I said in surprise.

“Yes, he is a very nice man,” the owner joined in. “I went to school with him.”

Boy explained where he lived to the customer. The owner called up a taxi for me. “Don’t pay more than $10,” she said and ten minutes later I was in Boy’s home.

Dreadlocked and tall, Boy, a panel beater by trade, was hung over from the previous night. We sat in his living room watching the highlights of the World Cup in Brazil.

“Should we go see the game at a bar?” I suggested at 16:30.

“Sure,” he said.

IMG_4411 We walked down to the main part of town. A street was closed off and a lot of bikers and spectators were lining the sidewalk, watching some riders doing wheelies and burning rubber.

Literally. One rider shredded his rear tire on his Triumph, smoking up the whole street.

“It’s the annual Luderitz Diamond Rally,” explained Boy. “Bikers from clubs come here from South Africa and Namibia once a year.”

 

“Cool,” I said. I approached the rider that had shredded his rear tire. “That was awesome,” I grinned, offering toIMG_4431 shake his hand. He offered me his index finger, the only remaining finger on his right hand.

I then followed Boy into the bar. It was like a scene from the TV series, Sons of Anarchy. Everybody was drunk, boerwors were being grilled, there was a tattooist on site providing ink, rugby was being watched on the big screen TV in the bar that was dotted with caps and bras hanging from the ceiling. It reminded me of the bar in the Northern Territory of Australia, in a tiny watering hole called Daly Waters. After the rugby game a band hit the stage.

They played incredible covers, some better than the originals including Dire Straits, Money for Nothing (which I’m not a fan of but these guys tore it a new one). I chatted with members of various motorbike clubs including The One Percenters, the Red Devils, The Harley Davidson Group, The Blacklisted, the Desert Hawks and the infamous Hell’s Angels. Everyone was super friendly even though they looked like the kind of people you don’t want to cross paths with.

One guy I met, a Hell’s Angel named Paul, gave me his card. It said that he was a photographer. “I own a bar in Cape Town,” he said after I told him of what I was doing. “If you come down you’ll be my guest.”

“Sweet, man!” I grinned. “Thanks.”

The second band that played were some young guys from Cape Town. The guitarist was Hendrix incarnated. Along with a drunken American kid from Utah and the bartender, I hit the dance floor as we yelled out to the band to play Lynyard Skynyard’s, Freebird. Even the band’s drummer heckled the singer for Freebird.

I pulled out my harmonica and showed it to the band. They threw a mic at me and I wailed to Sweet Home Alabama. They did awesome covers of AC\DC songs and by the end of the night I was smoking a joint with the drummer, watching a huge red-head get into a fight with the bartender who looked like a small figurine compared to the big oak.

I was surprised when the bartender took a swing at him. No fear whatsoever. I don’t know what the fight was about and I stepped back from it when it became physical. I hate violence. Can’t stand that shit. I just don’t understand how people have this urge to get physical with another fellow human. I was standing next to Boy who was also watching the scene as a handful of people tried to break up the fight.

“And yet, marijuana is illegal,” I noted. Boy ‘hmphed’ in agreement.

Boy’s friend drove us home. In the front seat the big red-head sat explaining what had happened in Afrikaans. He turned out to be a nice guy, just misunderstood.

As I lay in my sleeping bag at Boy’s house I couldn’t help but grin at the surrealness of the evenings event. I was watching the World Cup in a biker bar full of Hell’s Angels and other motorbike club members.

In Namibia. In Africa.

Categories: Adventure Travel, Africa, Namibia | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

SOUTH AFRICA TO NAMIBIA

IMG_4314DAY 1

“I’m originally from Springbok,” said Victus who owned a luxury camping tour company with tents that had showers, bathrooms and double beds. He had stopped for me in False Bay where I had said my final ‘goodbyes’ to Nikki, Stacey, her daughter Bella and Nooshka, her 13-year-old Great Dane.

My sign read ‘Malmesbury (pronounced ‘Moms-berry’) and N7, the Cape-Namibia highway that stretched from Cape Town to Namibia. I had 7 days to cross the border before my 3-month South African visa expired.

“Springbok is nice. Cold but nice,” he continued.

I was hoping to reach the tiny town, some 500 K’s north of my position, by the end of the day. Victus was kind enough to take me all the way to the N7 even though it wasn’t on his route. I hopped off at the turn off and hiked down to what seemed to be an appropriate place to try and hitch a ride. Of course, gas stations (known as ‘garages’ in SA) and truck stops would be the best place but when hitching you take what you can get.IMG_4315

It was 10:30 when I reached the N7. I gave myself until 12:30 before I’d hike my way to the nearest garage, wherever that may be.

At 12:30 I was pissed off. Not a single vehicle had stopped. I grabbed my packs and guitar and as I spun around in anger a bukky (ute or pick-up truck, depending which part of the world you’re from) was on the shoulder, waiting for me to approach it.

“We are going as far as Melkbosstrand,” said the driver who was stretching his fishing net over the back of the bukky, the strong smell of fish snaking its way into my nostrils.

“Cool,” I said. “How far is that?”

“Not far,” he shrugged, “20 kilometres. You’ll have a better chance hitching from there.”

“Thank you so much,” I said as I navigated my gear to somehow not lie on the smelly fishing net.

My sponsored 65 litre backpack, supplied by the South African company, North Ridge, didn’t need the extra scent. The passenger side was taken so I hopped in the back of the bukky.

I was dropped off at the intersection of Melkbosstrand and the N7. With rejuvenated energy from getting a long awaited lift, I set up a corner and stuck my thumb out with my sign to Malmesbury. After half an hour, an 80s algae-green VW Golf drove by but kept going.

I continued to try and hitch when after two minutes the VW was back.

“I asked my wife if it would be OK to take you,” explained Glance, a welder by trade.

I couldn’t believe these guys had U-turned just for me. Glance’s wife, Jenny, a nurse, sat in the front so I joined their 7-year-old daughter, Desmond, in the back.

IMG_4319They took me to the outskirts of Malmesbury where I thanked them and set up a corner. Looking at the watch on my phone I saw that it was 14:30.

I looked at the eucalyptus trees across the road and started to ponder whether I could string up my hammock should it come to it, even though the Ceres Mountain Range had snow covered peaks.

I stuck my thumb out and about an hour passed before another bukky stopped for me.

J.J. was heading to Koringberg where he had recently purchased an olive farm. “I own Hillcrest Wineries,” he said.

“Man,” I exclaimed, “you make some good shiraz!”

We talked the whole journey, discussing travels (he’d been to Europe and taught English in Argentina), why I was travelling the way I was and how he was about to launch a social network which would be, “Similar to Facebook except that instead of you telling the world what you had for dinner, this social network will be for charity and NGO organisations. Kind of like Linked In but specifically for those seeking an organisation where they can volunteer.”

“What are you calling it?” I asked.

“E1C – Every One is Connected.”

“Sounds awesome. And just what the internet needs.”

After a couple of hours of driving, with the sun hanging low in the blue sky, J.J. invited me to spend the night at his olive farm. “I live in a 107-year-old manor house. We can hike the mountain behind it and braai for dinner.”

“Dude, that sounds amazing!” I said gratefully as it was getting dark and Springbok was still some 480 K’s away. “I’ll cook and even bake fresh bread for us.”

We stopped in town to buy supplies which included wine, beer, meat, salad stuff and flour and yeast. We reached his beautiful property, a white building filled with old furniture, J.J’s paintings and Charlie, the trophy head of an Eland that J.J. had shot.

“My family has six game farms and we have to cull the animals when there are too many. So I shot this one, named him Charlie after he went down. That was almost 10 years ago.”

“What happens to the rest of the body?” I asked, staring up at the huge trophy head.

“Biltong,” J.J. grinned.

IMG_4326I set my gear down in one of the guest bedrooms and we hiked up the small mountain behind his property. The view was astounding, the majestic Ceres mountains spread out around the valleys of wheat fields, sheep grazing on the grass.

We hiked back to the manor and while J.J. lit the braai fire, I made the dough for the bread, chopped the vegetables for the pomegranate salad and made the honey-mustard dressing while we drank Heinekens, a Darling brew, tequila, wine and jammed on his Fender acoustic pick-up.

The hot water shower had pressure that could have planted you into the ground; water so hot you could melt mercury with it. We ate dinner, drinking wine, discussing the whole god concept, J.J.’s bout with brain cancer (two operations to remove the tumor), women and relationships and books that we liked.

“Take this one,” J.J. gave me Stephen Hawkins book, The Grand Design.

“You sure?” I asked.

“Yeah, take it.”

“Thanks,” I grinned.

It was getting late so I excused myself to bed. I had a long day the morrow and needed to rest up.

DAY 2

At about 09:30 J.J. set us off to Clanwilliam, a small town in the citrus community. He was taking some timeout to relax over the upcoming weekend. The landscape was breathtaking – majestic mountains of the Ceres range and the Cederberg mountain range stood over colourful valleys of fields with citrus orchards and vineyards; a river peacefully flowing towards the Atlantic as we drove north.

We stopped by a lookout where, in the right conditions, para-gliders launch themselves to view the green landscape, spread out like a warm quilt a couple of hundred feet below us.

A few driving hours later we reached Clanwilliam where we parted ways with a man-hug and I proceeded to use my thumb. As traffic was light, I found I had time to read, The Psychopath Test,  by Jon Ronson who wrote The Men Who Stare At Goats (which is also a satirical film starring George Clooney).

The book was all about how to identify a psychopath using a specially devised checklist created by the renowned psychologist, Bob Hare.

After 40 minutes of reading, a blue Daihatsu with a cracked windscreen stopped. In it were three ladies and a 2-year-old boy.

“Almost 3,” said Evelyn, the older of the three ladies.

Rowina, the driver, was an administrator for the ANC party (who were leading the country) and I can’t remember the name of the girl in the passenger seat. They took me about 80 K’s down the road to Claver where I grabbed some lunch at Wimpy’s before heading back to the highway.

It was about 27 degrees, hot enough to pack away my hiking boots that had kept my feet warm and use the Source sandals I was supplied with by Source Outdoor and Hydration Systems, an Israeli-based company that was kind enough to sponsor me. Known internationally as ‘Jesus Sandals’ (I call them ‘Hebrew Sandals’), Source guarantees a lifetime warranty when you purchase a pair as long as the green dot on the sole is visible. They were no stranger to me. I’d had a pair of Source sandals for 12 years.

Yeah. 12 years. But they were stolen in Madagascar. OK, so they weren’t targeted. They were in the wrong place (San Miguel’s dinghy) at the wrong time (late night, we were drunk on rum and forgot to hoist the dinghy to the deck. I hope the thieving bastards get Athletes Foot or some other form of foot fungus. It might be hard though as I don’t suffer from any alignments in the toe department. But still).

With my feet breathing, I thwarted off the beggings of a beggar, claiming he was on his way to Cape Town with 3 girls. I suspected he was full of shit not just because of the smell he emanated, but because to hitch to Cape Town he and the girls needed to be on the other side of the road.

And actually hitching.

A white SUV with a mountain bike on the back pulled up.

“We’re only going a hundred K’s down the road,” said Helen in the passenger side. “We can drop you off in Bitter Fontien.”

“Perfect,” I said as Helen tuned the beggar an earful at his annoying persistence.

Her husband, Greg, is a mountain bike enthusiast. “I’ll be the first biker to complete all 128 passes in the Western Cape,” he said.

We exchanged website details (check out http://www.gregscycletour.co.za/) as we drove through what appeared to be a carbon copy of the Australian Outback.

“This looks exactly like the Outback,” I said in awe. “Except you have no kangaroos and no road kills. Or road trains.”

“You see this bridge up ahead?” Greg played tour guide.

I looked to the horizon. “Yeah?”

“Only one train goes on that bridge. That train is the longest train in Africa. It carries the iron ore from the mines in the east to the ships in Cape Town.” He grinned at me through the rear view mirror. “It’s 3 kilometres long. Two engines in the front, one in the middle and two in the back.”

3 K’s long? “3 K’s long?” I said, dumbstruck. I’ve walked 3 K’s but something that physically moves at that length? “3 K’s long?” I repeated.

Greg and Helen laughed. “Yup.”

IMG_4354I stared in awe at the red earth, the shrubbery spread out like a fungus growth on a two-week old pasta dish left in the sink. Before long we had reached Bitter Fontien (which means Bitter Fountain), named for the brackish water in the region. Greg and Helen knew of a woman who ran a guest house who might be able to help me out for the night.

As we parted ways, Greg shook my hand, slipping me 200 Rand. “Our donation to your travels,” he said warmly. “Good luck.”

I tried to refuse but it was forced on me. I was taken aback as I waved ‘goodbye’ to them.

After explaining my story to Maretha, she was happy to let me spend the night at her guesthouse in exchange for a review.

“There are 41 white people in Bitter Fontein,” she explained as she showed me around. “And about a thousand coloured (The South African population is divided into three categories: Whites, blacks and coloured. All terms are used openly. Coloured basically means folks with light-brown skin who look like islanders from Mauritius and aren’t part of tribes such as Zulu, Tootsie or Xhosa).”

“When’s the best time of year to visit here?” I asked.

“August to September,” she answered. “That’s when the flowers are blooming and the town becomes quite busy.”

We pulled up to a clay house with a healthy looking cactus garden, rusty old fridges and washing machines serving as garden gnomes.

“I like to horde things,” Maretha grinned. “There are also a couple of birds that nest here,” she pointed at the nest hanging above her door. “And a cat that sometimes comes around”.

That evening we went to the local hotel which housed the only bar in the tiny town. There were 5 people in attendance including Ice, the owner. I bartered a few songs on the guitar for a beer and two glasses of something the locals called wine which could have powered a diesel engine.

I played pool against Maretha, losing twice.

“Are you hustling me?” I joked. “You said you weren’t very good.”

“I’m just having a lucky night,” she said, pocketing the black ball for her second win.

We partnered up to play against a nurse (who grew up in Mossel Bay) and her friend who had a 6-month old daughter that, “Loves the sound of the harmonica,” said the mother. So I belted out a tune on the harp as the little toddler stared at me with big wondering eyes.

By 22:00 I was in bed but with an almost full moon and my inability to sleep properly under a full lunar satellite, I was awake by 04:00, waiting for the sun to rise until it dawned on me.

DAY 3

IMG_4366At 07:30 Maretha had placed me back on the N7. We hugged before she drove off to start her day. My goal was to reach Springbok by the evening, just under 400 K’s away. As I waited for vehicles to come round the bend, I read my book.

The rumblings of a truck echoed throughout the valley. I stuck my thumb out for the approaching 18-wheeler. I was excited as I heard the shifting of gears, the driver’s foot getting lighter on the accelerator as he slowed down to pull over.

“Hello,” I smiled at him and his co-pilot. “Are you going to Springbok?”

“Yes,” he eyed me with suspicion. “How much can you pay?”

Pay?

“I don’t have money,” I explained. “That’s why I’m hitching. If I had money I’d take the bus.” I flashed him a smile.

“No money, no ride,” he said bluntly.

“No worries,” I said, shaking his hand. “Thanks for stopping. Safe travels.”

He hit the road and left me to my book as I waited for another opportunity. Not two pages had been read when the rumblings of another 18-wheeler echoed around the valley. I was excited as I heard the shifting of gears, the driver’s foot getting lighter on the accelerator as he slowed down to pull over.

“Hello,” I smiled at him and his co-pilot. “Are you going to Springbok?”

“Yes,” he eyed me with suspicion. “How much can you pay?”

Pay? Was this how it was going to play out?

“I don’t have money,” I explained. “That’s why I’m hitching. If I had money I’d take the bus.” I paused. “Or a train.” I flashed him a smile.

“No money, no ride,” the driver said bluntly.

“No worries,” I said, shaking his hand. “Thanks for stopping. Safe travels.”

He hit the road and I returned to my book, reading patiently, holding out for another opportunity. It wasn’t long before a pick-up truck pulled up.

“Hello,” I smiled at the lone driver. “Are you going to Springbok?”

“Yes,” he eyed me with suspicion. “How much can you pay?”

Really?

“I don’t have money,” I explained. “That’s why I’m hitching. If I had money I’d take the bus. Or a train.” I paused. “Or a taxi.” I flashed him a smile.

“No money, no ride,” he said bluntly.

“No worries,” I said. “Thanks for stopping. Safe travels.”

Evidently, it was going to be on one of those days. The sun had finally risen over the hill top and was heating the blue-skied day as a 6-wheeler pulled up.

“Hello,” I smiled at the driver and his co-pilot. “Are you going to Springbok?”

“Yes,” he eyed me with suspicion. “How much can you pay?”

Sigh. I fought the urge to bang my forehead against his door.

“I don’t have money,” I explained. “That’s why I’m hitching. If I had money I’d take the bus. Or a train. Or a taxi.” I paused. “Or a bike.” I flashed him a smile.

“No money, huh?” the driver seemed curious. He was cuing me to continue so I explained my mode of travel and why I was doing what I was doing.

“Cool,” he said. “Hop on.”

Yes! I internally yelped. I introduced myself and stuck my hand out to shake his.

“James,” he said, offering a limp hand, as though paralysed. His face was completely expressionless with vacant eyes, as though he wasn’t all there.

“Omri,” said Omri from the bunk. He had a firm grip.

“I don’t suppose you’re headed to Namibia?” I asked as we rumbled along.

“Yes,” James said.

“I don’t suppose I can ride with you to Namibia?” I queried hopefully.

“You play guitar?” James asked, ignoring my question as he eyed my baby.

“Yes,” I said.

“Play something for me. It’s my birthday,” he stared at me with those haunting eyes. “But don’t play ‘Happy Birthday.’ I hate that song.”

I nodded in agreement as I pulled out Ol’ Red and jammed in the cab of the rig (a first for me. I had once played guitar in the back of a ‘68 VW Beetle on the way to Cape Town from Mossel Bay). A couple of tunes later I carefully put Red away.

James put on something he called music but I would never honour it with such a title. He played it at a volume that most clubs wouldn’t dare rise too to avoid blowing their speakers. I plugged my left ear with my index finger to save myself from going deaf by the left speaker.

“Do you dance?” he asked, turning down the volume to be heard.

“Yeah…” I said slowly, wondering where this was going.

“Show me how you dance,” he demanded with dead eyes.

OK, I thought. Another first. I moved my shoulders and arms to what I hoped to be some form of interpretive dance.

“What is your surname?” he then asked, satisfied by my moves.

I told him and asked for his.

“Hitler,” he said.

I blinked, trying not to stare.

Hitler? Did he just say Hitler?

“Hitler?” I repeated.

“Hitler.”

Had I already gone deaf? “Hitler?”

“Hitler.” Complete dead-pan, his eyes seemed to lack the ability to convey any emotion. I began to wonder whether James might be a psychopath. According to the book I was reading, he was ticking quite a few boxes on Bob Hare’s checklist.

I glanced over at Omri, asleep on the bunk. A change of subject was needed.

“So can I ride with you to Namibia?” I asked.

“I’ll think about it,” he said turning up the volume as we trundled on and I plugged my left ear again.IMG_4375

The Outback scenery quickly changed to that of a desert, resembling the southern deserts of Israel, completely barren, an alien landscape accompanied by another beautiful day with blue, cloudless skies and a warm sun.

“It’s beautiful here,” I yelled over the music. James looked at me and then at the landscape. And then back at me before focusing his attention to the road. I figured it was best to keep quiet.

The hum of the diesel engine was making me nod off but I didn’t feel comfortable enough to sleep in the cab. But you can’t fight the hum of an engine and I was knocked out within minutes. I awoke just as we sped by Springbok.

Looks like I’m going to Namibia, I grinned to myself.

By half past noon we had made it to the 24-hour border control in Vioolsdrift.

“Thanks,” I said sticking my hand out to shake James’ and Omri’s. James offered another limp hand.

IMG_4385 I gathered my gear and trekked over to the border, waving at the truck drivers that had wanted money from me. I stamped out of South Africa and entered Namibia, crossing the bridge over the Orange River. A 3-month visa was granted at no cost and I sat by the exit gate with Gideon, a chatty police officer who couldn’t believe my story as I shared my last bag of biltong with him.

A car pulled up. “Where are you going?” Gideon asked him.

“Luderitz. But I’m spending the night in Aus,” the Spanish accented driver said.

“Can you take this Aussie with you?”

“Sure.”

 

I thanked Gideon, piled in my gear and introduced myself to Javier who was a supervisor for a Spanish company that installs solar panels in South Africa. I supplied some music off my USB as we hit the C13 highway that snaked through the desert of the Karas region. The road stretched along the Orange River (which wasn’t orange at all), IMG_4382passed by tiny huts made from straw and alongside vast vineyards leading to a national park where the road turned to dirt. The sights were amazing as both Javier and I stared all around us at the rising mountains of rock with strange looking trees sprouting between the cracks.

“There is nothing here,” he said repeatedly, blown away by the vastness. “Nothing like this in Spain.”

I looked around and concluded that deserts and oceans were quite similar. Both are large bodies of vastness, teeming with life that isn’t always visible but you know is there. And when you’re in the middle of either vastness, you feel tiny and realise how remote you are. The major difference being that oceans are wet and blue while deserts are dry and yellow.

Or red.

We spotted red-arsed baboons who did not look friendly and we stopped every few minutes to take photos. By sunset we had added jackals and a small herd of onyx to our animal sightings before we reached Aus.

“Mucho gracias,” I shook hands with Javier who gave me a bottle of water for the road.

I decided to try my luck at the Bafnha Hotel to get a free bed for the night.

“Hi,” I smiled at the receptionist. “I’m an adventure travel writer,” I handed her my card. “I’m bartering my way around the world without flying. I was wondering, if it’s possible, could I perhaps barter my musical talents in exchange for a bed for the night? I’d be happy with floor space as I have a sleeping bag. And of course, I’ll write about the hotel on my website.”

The lady smiled and called Bernard, the manager, to who I repeated my offer.

“Unfortunately, I cannot authorise such a request as I’ve only been here two months,” he said with genuine sadness. “But you can sleep at the police station.” He pointed to the lights on the hill. “And let me help you out with something else.”

He disappeared and returned with a black coffee and a slice of carrot cake in a take away container. I was humbled and firmly shook his hand, thanking him.

“Is it safe to walk around at night?” I asked.

In South Africa, even in small towns like Bitter Fontein it is highly recommended to not walk around at night.

“Very safe,” Bernard said. “This isn’t South Africa.”

IMG_4394Grinning, I set off to the police station accompanied by the full moon rising over the mountains. It was Friday the 13th. The next time there’d be a full moon on the superstitious date would be in 2049.

There were three officers hanging around the front garden of the cop-shop. I introduced myself, shaking hands with Clemence, Emmanuel and Jonas.

“Sure, no problem,” said Clemence when I asked if they could accommodate me for the night. He showed me to a small room with some blankets on the ground to use as a mattress. I set down my gear and, upon request, pulled Ol’ Red out and jammed with the cops for the next few hours.

We shared a Windhoek beer and red wine mixed with cola (I know, right?).

At about 21:30 I was taken to a local bar. Namibians must have bad hearing (and taste in music) because this bar, which was more like an empty living room – white tiles, no furniture except for the pool table and the bar itself resembling a kitchen counter – was trying to break the record for sound volume .A pregnant woman was drunk off her ovaries and dancing around along with a few other drunk locals.

Huh, I thought. That baby’s gonna have some issues.

Every one smiled at me, waved, shaking my hand as Jonas bought me a Windhoek beer. A drunk local urged me to try some sweet liquor called Zombrich (I think) and yet another had bought a bottle of J & B whiskey, offering me a couple of glasses mixed with tonic water and ice.

I danced around; played pool against the station’s commanding officer, losing with thrree balls on the table (I was not having luck with pool games lately). I sat back next to Jonas who showed me an update of the World Cup on his phone.

Spain 1, Holland 5.

“What?!?” I almost screamed. “Spain lost 5-1 to the Dutch?!?”

Jonas laughed as he nodded.

It was a hell of a revenge. Spain had beaten Holland in the 2010 finals of the South African World Cup, losing only one match during that tournament (to the Swiss of all nations). Now it seemed the Dutch were off to a great start.

By 01:00 Jonas drove us back to the station for a peaceful sleep.

I lay down with a smile. Namibia, I thought. Here we go.

Categories: Adventure Travel, Africa, Hitch Hiking, Namibia, South Africa | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

VORTEX

“Back in 2013,” I began my tale around the warm fire of a cold South African morning, “I was at Rainbow Serpent Festival and came across a diablo stick. It was all alone on the ground. People walked past, nobody caring about this poor tossed away stick. So I picked it up and immediately it adopted me and for the next three days of that festival I couldn’t stop spinning and twirling it to the music. I had never twirled anything before that.

Sure, the mushrooms, acid and MDMA may have helped but that stick and I were inseparable.”

It was still a few hours before the Vortex Festival of Fire trance party was set to kick to a stomping start in Riviersonderend, about a two-hour drive west of Mossel Bay. I had arrived the day before, a Friday, with Mari and Tanner. On the way we passed snow-covered peaks of the high mountains.

“It’s gonna be freezing cold,” Mari said as I contemplated my chances of surviving that night in the hammock I was sponsored with by the Indonesian-based company, Ticket to the Moon.

It was dark by the time we found the property where the party was happening. I had volunteered as a Peace Marshall in exchange for a ticket. I was lucky enough to get the Friday shift when there’s nothing to do. That way, I could party for the entire weekend.

I was partnered up with Mark, an ol’ school trancer whose been doing the South African trance circuit for a few years now. He paints geometric shapes in trance format. As we shared our stories of our journey through life we reached a camp site with other Peace Marshall volunteers.

“Anyone heading to Cape Town from here?” I asked. “I’m looking for a ride on Sunday evening or Monday morning.”

Mark looked at me. “Mate, I’m driving to Somerset West on Sunday. I’m alone in the car. You can ride with me.”

“Sold,” I grinned shaking his hand.

Our quiet 6-hour shift ended at midnight where we retired to the main bonfire by the stage. A drum circle had opened up and someone brought a homemade didgeridoo made of what appeared to be a PVC pipe with a bell fitted to the bottom to amplify the sound.

I went back to my camp, set up my hammock in the freezing still of night and returned to the fire with my harmonica. It was my first time jamming at a trance party. I sat with Danielle, a student from Stellenbosch.

“Ah, the town of oaks,” I said, recalling my trip exploring the university town in warmer days.

We chatted for a while until she was summoned to her tent. I sat by the fire for another hour, succumbing to that dreaded thought of getting into a parachute silk hammock when it was about 2 degrees with snow on the mountain peaks behind us.

The hammock had collected dew and was now wet, as was the outside of my sleeping bag.

“Damn it,” I hissed in the dark, being quiet although the thing snoring in one of the nearby tents was keeping any leopards away.

I climbed into my sleeping bag and carefully hopped onto the hammock, shuddering as the bag absorbed the dew. I pulled my warm Chuyo headwear over my eyes, my hoody over my head, zipped my thermal shirt to the top, tucked in my T-shirt and long sleeved shirt into my thermal underwear under my jeans, pulled my neck warmer up to my nose, leaving only my schnoze exposed to breath the ice-pickled air while keeping my hiking boots on over thick woollen socks.

It was so cold the air I breathed out instantly froze and hailed back on me. I slept in 20-minute intervals, like a giraffe. Every time I awoke, shivering, I tried to wrap the hammock around myself.

But parachute silk in the cold feels like your hand sticking to the wall of a walk-in freezer. The only thing that made the torture worthy was seeing the clear night sky dotted with stars.

No one else is seeing this, I thought.

That’s cause no one else is stupid enough to sleep in a hammock with snow on the mountains! my subconscious screamed at me, quickly concluding that hammocks and winter don’t mix.

At 04:00 I could no longer close my eyes for fear of my eyelids freezing over. The temperature was somewhere between sub-Antarctic and a Siberian winter so I headed over to defrost by the fire by the stage.

And it was here, as the sun rose at a painfully slow pace over the snow-peaked mountains, that I was telling my Rainbow story which led me to search for a stick. I made my way over to the Rastafarian’s fire where I met Moses and Juda Crown, two super cool Rastas and there, by Moses’ feet, lay a deserted stick. It was straight, no sharp edges, just the right length. I stared at it and it stared back at me, locking onto my soul. I knew that this stick was ‘The One’.

“Moses,” I turned to the Rasta man, “Can I have this stick?”

He looked at me, puzzled. “Sure.”

I picked it up as though I were Arthur approaching Excalibur, about to pull the sword from the rock that would inaugurate me as king. I balanced it on my fingers and started to spin it.

It was made to be, love at first sight.

“This is it,” I quoted Michael Jackson.

Lise and Casey, two women who had a stall for hair wraps and clothes, sat by the fire. I was so excited about finding ‘The One’ that I repeated my Rainbow story and told them of my nomadic ways.

“Would you like us to wrap your stick? Add some colour to it?” offered Casey.

My eyebrows orbited. “Really?” I couldn’t believe it. “Yes, please!”

I sat with Casey and she wrapped some UV string on the edges, adding some beads I had chosen. I found some purple string and asked for that to be the middle piece and off I went to spin my stick.

At 10:00 I took half a tab of acid called Dolphin as the music began to draw the crowd to the dance floor like the piper of Hamlin. Danielle’s friends had the 12-18:00 shift as Peace Marshalls so we agreed to meet up and hang out at noon, just when the music and the acid kicked in.

We hit the dance floor for a couple of hours. I had dropped the stick I was spinning a few times and the purple string wasn’t taking it lightly. Danielle suggested we go rest for the evening’s dance sesh. Turns out she was camped right under my hammock. On the way we passed by Lise’s stall.

“Casey isn’t here,” Lise said, “but leave the stick and let me do something with it.”

“OK,” I said and headed off to the camp site where I promised Danielle I’d play her some guitar – another first for me at a trance party.

After what felt like half an hour the music picked up and beckoned us to the dance floor. On the way we passed by Lise’s stall to pick up my stick.

“Look what we did,” Lise presented me with a colourfully wrapped staff. Rags and woollen string added to give character to what was once a simple stick.

“Woah!” I gasped. The stick was no longer a stick. “How long was I gone for?” I hugged both Lise and Casey. “This is amazing!” I headed to the dance floor with Danielle, spinning my new customised stick.

Image“I need to name it,” I said to her.

“It’ll come to you,” she said as the music bid us to stomp.

And stomp we did, well into the night. The dolphin acid was strong. By the time the sun set I was peaking. It was warm on the dance floor and the acid helped to detract from the freezing weather. I was also barefoot and the ground slightly muddy and cold.

Gerrie, the Mossel Bay Backpackers manager, made a surprise appearance at the party and after I told him about my freezing conditions in the hammock, he offered the back of his VW Caddy to sleep in.

“Thanks, bro,” I hugged him and hit the sack for a few hours.

As it was so warm in the car, I slept in until 11:00 on the Sunday. The music was drawing me towards it, like a huge magnet in a Looney Tunes cartoon.

I spent the day dancing with Danielle and catching up with friends, saying last ‘goodbyes’ to folks I wouldn’t see for a while as I was heading off to Namibia that week.

The Sunday afternoon session, as is the case at most awesome trance parties, was the best day for music and stomping. And it was here that the stick received its name. I had pondered on it for a little bit before it hit me like the beats exploding from the speakers.

“Vortex,” I told Danielle. “That’s my stick’s name. Vortex.”

I said my last ‘goodbye’ to Mari, who I had worked with at the backpackers for the past month and a half and to Tanner.Image

“We’ll keep in touch,” we all said. “Meet up and travel somewhere in the world.”

Mark’s headlights weren’t working so we camped the extra night. Luckily, he had a spare tent as it began to rain. The next morning, with a free avocado roll from Rosie’s food stall, Mark and I headed out to Strand.

I was Vortexted by this epic weekend. I couldn’t picture a better way to be sent off from South Africa.

Although, it could have been warmer.

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

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