Posts Tagged With: idiocy

Near misses and Great White shark encounters

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The Jo’burg – Delhi Express

The adventures of young men discovering the world
Chapter Five

A few people we’d met in South Africa had recommended Knysna to us, claiming it to be a charming little town with plenty of activities to keep a person entertained for a few days. Understandably then, with all the positive comments received, we were very much looking forward to paying the place a visit.

Unfortunately, despite the rave reviews, we were to be disappointed. Knysna and its surrounding areas were undoubtedly quaint, but really not worth all the hype. Or not in my opinion anyway. I imagine if you were an affluent visitor then it would be a great little place to have a summer home or go sailing on the lagoon. But for a group of rag arsed, lazy backpackers Knysna really didn’t seem up to much at all.

Monica’s chum Adrian left us in Knysna to return to her studies in Johannesburg – so it wasn’t all doom and gloom. Adrian wasn’t a bad girl as such; her heart was definitely in the right place. Yet the incessant attempts at jokey flirtation had driven us lads insane. Danny was one innuendo away from breaking her nose it seemed. Plus, we didn’t want to share our talisman Monica anymore, so frankly it was good riddance to the gobby Canadian.

The three of us lads and Monica decided on the first day in Knysna that our budgets couldn’t justify a trip to the nearby attractions, purely because they didn’t appeal sufficiently.

Instead, we strolled the pretty town’s heart and beside the attractive quay before holing ourselves up in our little hostel watching premier league football. Liverpool were playing and Dean was determined to watch them. And I was just as eager to watch Arsenal who were scheduled to play later in the afternoon.

From the ensuing results we wished we hadn’t bothered. Liverpool managed to fluke a draw having played terribly. Whereas Arsenal weren’t quite so lucky, losing to a poor Sunderland side after performing in a similar vein.

I know travelling half way across the world to watch football is a bit silly. But if you are passionate about something then why should your location dictate whether you enjoy it or not? In saying that, I can’t actually claim to have enjoyed viewing Arsenal play like a troop of paraplegics, and by the final whistle I was in a foul mood.

We’d learnt of terrible floods sweeping across many parts of Cumbria – our home county – at this juncture in the trip. Flood water had seeped its way into the homes of both Danny’s mother and sister and this had understandably upset him. He was now in a similarly pissed off mood to both Dean and I, except his reasons were more justifiable than ours regarding the poor football results.

“I don’t know about you lads but I’m going for a beer.” said Dan looking fed up.

“Bollocks to this no drinking lark,” replied Dean, referring to our latest attempts at sobriety. “I’m well up for getting smashed after watching that shite.”

“Jord’, are you game?”

“Hmm,” I uttered, not really feeling it. “I dunno if I can be arsed.”

“I’m only having a couple. I’m just going out dressed in this,” said Danny pointing to his shorts and t-shirt.

“Go on then. So long as it is only a couple. I really don’t wanna be feeling ropey for the bus tomorrow.”

Danny, Dean, Monica and I set off towards the swanky quayside area in search of a decent looking bar. We made the error of taking a shortcut past the local markets. Here, gangs of dreadlocked men were plying all manner of rotten looking root vegetables spread upon equally foul looking rags. It soon transpired that these manky vegetables were just a cover up for a less legal plant based product they wished to sell. Although by the looks on their bleary eyed, docile faces I wouldn’t have been surprised if they’d smoked most of their stash already.

Escaping the shortcut weed free and still with all our belongings, we arrived at an inviting looking Irish bar and made our way to a free table.   The beer flowed fantastically within. It always does when you’re trying hard to avoid the stuff. And before long the decision was made that we couldn’t just have ‘a couple’. That would’ve meant two people escaped getting a round in and that’s just not on. Plus Monica had annoyingly ordered one of the most expensive drinks available so we were keen for the fussy cow to delve into her purse and splash her cash a little too.

Four beers, or four double clementine vodkas later depending on one’s tastes, and we were all well on our way to being tipsy. Little Monica was especially drunk, having consumed the equivalent of eight shots. Sitting there all red faced, grinning and content, the happy Canadian looked like a stoned tomato. She would’ve fitted right in sat on a mucky rug at the shifty market we ventured through an hour earlier.

“Who’s up for a shot of Stroh rum?” asked Dean.

“Not me. That stuff nearly killed me last time.”

“What is it Deano?” quizzed Danny.

“It’s this shot they made us take when we were at Black Mamba’s. It’s killer stuff like. It separates the men from the boys.”

“I’m in then. Jord’?”

“Nope, I’ll leave you two men to it. Me and Mon’ will remain with the boys.”

“Monica’s having one, aren’t you Mon’?”

“Sure.” she replied mid hiccup.

“She is fuck. It’ll knock her right on her arse,” I said concerned. “I’ll do one if I have to, but you shouldn’t make her.”

“Ah, she’ll be alright off just one shot.” confidently added Danny. “I’ll go half’s with you Dean. Get four and if Monica doesn’t drink hers then Jord’ can have it.”

The smell of the Stroh alone was enough to make me want to vomit. I was pretty determined Monica wasn’t going to have one as I felt it would have knocked her out cold. And I really didn’t fancy carrying her stout arse all the way back to the hostel if it did.

Reluctantly I took the shot the boys had got me, just so as to not look like a complete tart. Unfortunately I then had to have Monica’s shot, seeing as though I’d stupidly taken on the role of her temporary guardian. I managed to get half of the noxious rum in my mouth before she grabbed the glass from me and threw it down the hatch.

Stumbling from the Irish pub, we set out in the direction of our accommodation, stopping off at a bar called Zanzibar along the way.

The large and colourful pub was relatively busy considering it was still early. Various groups sat around tall tables sipping at beers or playing pool in the main room.

Within minutes of arriving Dean and Danny were socialising with a group of good looking Scandinavian chicks by the pool tables. The Stroh had obviously had a positive effect on them as they appeared to ooze charm and wit from every pore.

Conversely, Monica and I weren’t so buoyant. The Stroh shots had transformed us into a couple of slobbering introverts and the concept of mixing with others seemed a feat well out of our grasp. Avoiding the boys and the group of giggling Swedes, we sat in a quiet corner slurring amongst ourselves.

It was decided – mainly by Dean and Danny – that seeing as the alcohol ban had already been broken we may as well continue drinking and have a big one. Had I been the one getting stuck into a bevy of attractive girls then my enthusiasm may have been a tad grander. Yet as I had the charm of a soiled toilet brush that eve, my readiness to carry on was minimal to say the least.

“What’s up with you mate?” asked Dean as we hurried back to the hostel to spruce ourselves up a touch.

“Fuck all.” I snapped, not wanting to explain that I wasn’t feeling up for a session on the beer.

“I was only asking. Jesus.”

“I’m fine.”

“You’ve clearly seen your arse so I’ll leave you to it.”

“Aye. Nice one.” I responded, getting Dean’s back up and causing an all-out slanging match to ensue.

Admittedly, I was in a foul mood on the way home and no doubt had a face like a slapped arse. I don’t know why for certain. Perhaps it was jealousy because I hadn’t been talking to any women. Or maybe my melancholia was due to Danny and Dean getting along so well and I felt a little left out. Whatever the reason though, it caused Dean and I to share our first crossed words of the trip as we drunkenly meandered the now darkened streets of Knysna.

In a lot of ways Dean and I were very similar. We could both be extremely awkward when we wanted to be. Stubbornness was a commonality too, and also the fact that each of us had a frustrating level of pride to the point of being very unreasonable. All of the above traits could prove volatile when spending prolonged periods of time together and very few people who knew us both had faith that we would remain friends throughout the trip.

Both Dean and I had been abroad a lot since our late teens; Dean working in bars across Europe, whilst I’d been lucky enough to independently travel a fair bit of the world in recent years. Deep down I think there was a tinge of jealousy between Dean and I regarding what the other had seen, done and achieved. I admired him greatly for the courage shown to up and leave our small town at seventeen like he did, and I think he respected what I had done also. Idiotically though, we proceeded to slag one another off during this first spat over the very things we found admirable in the other, until eventually we exhausted the argument completely and brooded home in silence.

It soon dawned on me that our falling out had stemmed from me being petulant. Right from the very start of our travels we’d discussed how difficult it was inevitably going to be living in each other’s pockets. But if the adventure was to be a success we’d agreed to be open with one another and not hold any grudges.

Five minutes after the crossed words I swallowed my pride and asked him how he had got on with the girls in the previous bar. Appreciating the gesture Dean shook my hand, acknowledging it was my awkward way of saying I was sorry. We both then apologised properly for our parts in the argument before Dean went on to say how he would have loved to bang the lot of them.

Our quick shower and change managed to disturb the entire hostel – an easy feat when the only other guest was a peculiar Frenchman who slept in the attic above the bathroom

We were back in Zanzibar in no time. With clean clothes and my quiff fully erect I had a renewed sense of vigour. I still didn’t have the balls to go and chat up the still drinking Scandinavians like the other two lads, but I was happy enough in myself to avoid becoming the introverted freak once again.

As well as my occasional shyness, another excuse for being unsociable and not joining the group was that they were playing pool. Pool is a pastime I have detested ever since my Dad would wipe the floor with me every time we went for a family bar meal growing up. Leaving the group to their confidence destroying billiards, I sat watching on a small set of steps nearby.

It wasn’t long before I began chatting to a fellow traveller named Tanveer. He was from the Bronx and had a similar view to pool as my own. Tanveer looked massively familiar and I was sure I’d seen him somewhere before. It bugged me that I couldn’t quite place the guy, so I did my best to put it to the back of my mind.

I soon learned that the pleasant Tanveer was of Bangladeshi ancestry. I hoped to visit Bangladesh in the months ahead and I really enjoyed talking to him about the country. We spoke for ages about his roots and where his family originated before moving onto the subject of past travels and our experiences thus far in South Africa.

As discourse flowed onto his home city of New York, it finally dawned on me where I thought I knew Tanveer from.

Flight of the Conchords.

Tanveer was the spitting image of the xenophobic fruit vendor who doesn’t sell to ‘New Zealandies’. His cool, good looking girlfriend only added to my suspicions that he was a TV personality of sorts, yet I didn’t dare ask the guy in case he took offence. I generally try and avoid ‘we don’t all look the same’ situations if I can.

Sitting on the steps, waiting for my new mate to return from the bar, I was approached by one of the Scandinavian girls who asked if I wanted to play doubles with them. Thanking her, I declined the offer and expected her to walk away insulted at the rebuffing.

“So why don’t you play pool? Think you’re a bit too cool for it?” asked the girl sarcastically.

“Not in the least. I’m just shit at it, so I’d rather not bother.”

“It doesn’t matter if your good or not, you should come and join in.”

“I’ve been quite happy getting to know this guy” I said pointing towards the possible fruit vendor who was walking towards us, “He’s a really interesting dude.”

“Your rubbish.” replied the Scando.

“Thanks,” I said offering her my hand. “But I’m actually Jordan.”

“I’m Pariah,” she answered, shaking my mitt. “You’re English like the other two boys, right?”

“I sure am.”

“You don’t really look English.”

“And you don’t look particularly Swedish.”

“You’re right. I was born in Persia,” Pariah said, looking confused. “How did you know I was Swedish anyway?”

“I asked Dean about you before. Persian eh, that sounds wonderfully exotic. How is Iran nowadays?”

“Ah, so you know the difference?” she answered, smiling, “I’m impressed. Normally the Persian thing fools people.”

“Not me dear. I really want to go there someday. I think Esfahan and Shiraz sound amazing. I don’t know why people are ashamed to say Iran – everybody I’ve met with Iranian roots says they’re from bloody Persia.”

“Persia just sounds more exciting,” replied Pariah. “And a lot less terroristy.”

I couldn’t believe my luck. I was being chatted up by a tidy Middle Eastern/Scandinavian. At least I assumed I was being chatted up. We were certainly chatting, and she had since sat on a lower step looking up at me, so in a literal sense, I was definitely being chatted up.

Discussing a country I’d been fascinated with for years was brilliant. I don’t believe there was a western man alive as thankful for Mahmud Ahmadinejad’s existence as I was that night after name dropping the Iranian leader a few times for extra impetus.

Pariah and I stayed together from then onwards. I was enthralled with the stories of Iran she shared. Her family had left during the war with Iraq in the early nineties. And dodgy visits back to the country where she was held up at gun point by the psychotic religious police kept me entertained for ages. The girl really intrigued me and I was very happy to have met her.

The others had continued playing pool until the staff at Zanzibar kicked everybody out. Dean and Danny were getting on great with two young Danish girls and the four followed me and Pariah, plus her friend Denise and a pissed up Monica, towards another club across town.

The distant nightspot was absolutely dead when we arrived and showed no signs of getting any better. Three people danced lethargically while the rest of the room gathered at the sides watching in quiet embarrassment.

Having poked their heads around the door Dean and Danny hadn’t bothered paying to enter. Instead they had offered to walk their new Danish pals back to their hostel. Unlucky in their pursuit of a quick bit of romance, the boys then stumbled home, amusing themselves along the way by each having a dump on the pavement of Knysna’s main street.

The dirty bastards.

While they were defacing pavements with their bowel based graffiti, I continued to flirt with Pariah. I was very keen on her. And from the amount I dropped her home nation into conversation, she couldn’t help but be smitten back too, surely? Working on the presumption that incessant chatter about a volatile Middle Eastern state had won her affection, I went in for the kiss. And thankfully I wasn’t rejected.

Regardless of our delicious smooch, the terrible nightclub soon depressed us both. Pariah asked if I wanted to join her at her hostel for a drink and I eagerly agreed. Walking a dribbling Monica safely home, we then traipsed across town again to Pariah’s domain.

The hostel was as quiet as a mouse upon our arrival. It was three o’clock in the morning so there was little wonder the place was so eerily still.

Getting the proposed drink seemed impossible without waking other residents. The only other option was to head straight to bed. Praying I wasn’t going to be asked to leave, the invitation towards the small room Pariah shared with her friend soon arrived.

Whispered chit chatting proved too noisy to be maintained without disturbing Denise curled up on the top bunk. Instead then, the two of us communicated directly with our tongues, sharing a passionate kiss and semi clothed fumble before falling into a cosy slumber.

The next morning I said farewell to Pariah on the pavement outside her accommodation. I was a little sad saying goodbye considering we got along so well. But hasty partings are one of the few downsides to travelling. Life goes on, and so must you – onwards and upwards hopefully. In my case it was onwards and westwards however. I had a bus to catch leaving in half an hour’s time.

Giving Pariah one last kiss I then sprinted back to the hostel to throw my shit together.

*

The ride from Knysna to Hermanus began just as pleasantly as all the other South African bus journeys had. Surprisingly, I wasn’t hungover from the night before, and the drive through the unspoilt countryside and juxtaposed ragged townships proved a joy to behold.

The colourful inhabitants of these downtrodden townships were an interesting bunch. Having driven through a number of impoverished areas in South Africa I now know where the second-hand clothing of the first world goes before its days are numbered.

The local populaces all appeared to sport a funky mix of forgotten trends from the west. From shell suits to tweed blazers, old school uniforms and outdated military wear, all were enjoying one last shot at adornment in these quiet South African settlements.

Everybody I came across on this particular day sported a bizarre cocktail of styles, shapes and sizes. I appreciate it would be a little unfair to expect some of the poorest people in the world to be well and truly in vogue. But a little bit of fashion sense wouldn’t go amiss surely? High heels, for example, should at least be the same colour when worn with a pair of half-mast army issue cargo pants. Just as purple shell suit jackets designed for thirty stone Americans are not a child’s full length dress. And rugby socks should be on the feet rather than worn as long, dangly hats.

A gentleman who looked a lot like Seal particularly tickled me that morning. Not the flipper clapping, ball balancing kind of seal obviously. I mean the musical, punching well above his weight by impregnating Heidi Klum regularly Seal. Not only did this guy look like a celebrity with a semi aquatic mammal for an alias, he too appeared to be all set for a prolonged period spent out at sea.

His attire was exactly like that of Captain Birdseye: sailors cap, long pea coat, white roll neck – the works. The fact we were nowhere near the coast and it was a red hot day hadn’t put off this nautical aficionado whatsoever. His confident swagger outside a TV repair shop was certainly akin to a man who had just returned from a daring voyage across the seven seas. Either that or he was simply off his head.

Pulling into the small town of George for a quick lunch break I couldn’t help but gawp at another band of ill-fated beings. I don’t usually make a habit of ogling people less fortunate than myself – it’s a most unbecoming pastime I know. On this particular day however, I simply couldn’t help it.

This latest group of sombre looking souls were stood outside the gates of a sinister looking hospital. Every one of the miserable posse were puffing greedily on cigarettes. Not the wisest of pursuits when you’re hardly the picture of health, but this lot seemingly didn’t give a hoot.

Sick people damaging themselves further with lung blackening fags are omnipresent throughout the world and not overly entertaining. It is certainly idiotic, but not particularly amusing to see. What got me though was that each one had a different part of their body bandaged up. One man’s left arm was in a cast, as was another guy’s right. A broken left leg on one puffing woman was matched by that of a broken right on somebody else. A gent’s skull was wrapped up, Jacob Marley style, while a lady had her neck in a thick brace. And the last poor addict kept himself upright by holding onto a portable drip.

Put all their ailments on one person and they would’ve been wrapped up tighter than Tutankhamen’s mummy. The melancholic scene was like something out of the Beano.

However ill the group of morose smokers had looked, they appeared a lot better off than the next dude I saw in George. He was lying face down and spread eagled in the middle of a grassy park. God only knows if he was dead or just drunk – he certainly didn’t appear overly alive to me with his face buried in the grass. This kind of scene must have been a regular occurrence in George as nobody on the streets appeared to give a shit about the poor bloke. They all just continued to amble by regardless.

The Baz Bus pulled into a McDonalds’ car park and ground to halt outside the front door. Disembarking, the bus load of hungry travellers raced inside the popular restaurant. Once filled with delicious junk food, everybody hopped back onto the bus, eager to reach the next destination.

I had pigged out in McDonalds and regretted it the moment I sat back in my seat. Karma, that good old friend of the Hindus and Buddhists, came swooping down from the heavens and delivered me a solid and possibly well-deserved kick in the stomach.

“That will teach you to find amusement in the deprived you massive streak of piss” it would have said, had karma had vocal chords and colloquial diction. The vindictive bastard.

Hot flushes rushed through my body and I could feel myself turning green. The McDonalds I’d gone over the top on, although absolutely delightful, did not agree with the alcohol in my belly on this rare occasion and had sent my guts into spasm. Cold sweats intermittently replaced the hot bursts and I was gripped with nausea.

Within ten minutes of departing George I gained the terrible knowledge that I was one speed bump away from filling my underpants with McSlurry.

Not far from George was the coastal town of Mossel Bay. It was with good grace that the bus stopped here to pick up a group of backpackers from a beachside hostel. As soon as we pulled over I jumped out and sprinted off to do my business in the lavatory of a rather fancy restaurant.

Returning to the bus I felt drained but very relieved. Setting off to another hostel across town however, I became aware that my relief was premature. My guts began going bananas once again, and as we returned back to my original place of defecation to pick up a couple of late passengers I almost crapped myself for a second time in ten minutes.

There was no way I could continue the journey to Hermanus. Not without severe embarrassment anyway. Consequently, I meekly asked the driver to find my bag in the hold.

“Are you alright Jord?” quizzed Danny.

“No mate. I’m fucked. My guts are going mental.”

“Are you gonna spend the night here then?”

“Yeah I think so. I can’t stay on the bus man, I’ll end up shitting myself for definite.”

“We’ll all stop then,” replied Danny. “It would be best if we all stick together.”

“You’re alright mate, honestly. You lot go and do that whale kayaking thing. I don’t fancy that so I’ll catch you up tomorrow if I’m better.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yeah. Cheers though. I should be ok soon. I’ll see you at Hermanus Backpackers right?”

After an answer in the affirmative I entered the reception of the hostel we’d pulled up outside and prayed they had a spare dorm bed for me. As it happened they had plenty of dorm beds free, largely due to the place being completely empty of guests.

The peculiar hostel was set within an old, stationary train. The dormitory was a converted carriage with creaking bunk beds lining each side of the grotty aisle where seats had once lived.

Once checked into this strange form of accommodation, safe in the knowledge that I had no more travelling to do that day, I suddenly felt fantastic. The belly ache had gone, and the feeling that I could shit through the eye of a needle was nothing but a distant, stinking memory.

Realising Mossel Bay was a relatively pretty but rather boring place to be when alone, I made haste to get myself out of there as soon as possible. While in reception waiting to use the phone I listened into the conversation of an erratic Belgian girl as she shouted at whoever was on the other end of the line. The Belgian was moaning about how she and her friend had been deserted in Mossel Bay by the Baz Bus. I knew this not to be true. The driver had in fact gone out of his way to collect these girls twice, hence my own personal alighting on his second trip to pick them up. They’d failed to show up on both occasions, so he had quite rightly buggered off without them.

When the girl finished on the phone I smiled politely and said hello.

“All ok?” I asked, knowing fine well all was not.

“No,” she replied predictably. “The fucking Baz Bus has gone without us again.”

“Again?”

“This happened yesterday.”

“And again today? Weren’t you here on time for it?”

“Yes we were here on time,” she barked back. “But they didn’t wait for us.”

“The bastards,” I said hypocritically.

“Exactly! They are bastards. I’ve just complained about the driver.”

“That’s not very nice of him,” I replied, giving Karma another excuse to pay me a visit. The driver had been very kind to me when I told him how rotten I felt and this was how I repaid him – turning on the guy to side with two people who had absolutely no concept of being on time, purely because they possessed vaginas. What an utterly shit human being I am.

The girls, a Belgian and her more reserved German pal (who clearly hadn’t been informed of her nation’s stereotypical timekeeping) subsequently checked back into the dormitory carriage.

Whilst rebooking my Baz Bus seat to Hermanus for the following day I received a spot of bad news. I was told by the booking office that my ticket had expired that day and I’d have to stump up a further £35 for another.

I was gutted. This unforeseen expense made the stomach wrenching experience earlier all the more harder to bear. Not only had it been one of the most painful and potentially embarrassing episodes in a long while, it had now become the most expensive dump I’d ever undertaken.

My one night in Mossel Bay was rubbish. Sitting alone in an expensive beachside restaurant I ordered a chicken sandwich which only became edible once I’d scraped all the chicken out of it. I’d hoped the two girls from earlier would show their faces and I would be able to tempt them into an impromptu drinking session, but that never happened. Instead, the girls returned back to the dorm well after I had gone to bed and rattled around until the wee hours repacking their bags.

I’d felt miserable and also pretty scared in the dark train carriage before the tardy women had returned. The place felt incredibly exposed. Earlier that day I’d caught a very shifty looking black guy dressed in a dark green parka jacket rummaging around in the dorm room fridge. Terrified, I confronted him, and was soon made to feel an idiot when he told me he was the hostel’s security guard. Turning the tables, the guy then proceeded to make me prove who I was by flashing my passport.

It was nice to know there was some sort of security, even if it did go around stealing food. A prepped and ready Swiss army knife was under my pillow for most of the night nonetheless.

I wasn’t being picked up until mid-afternoon the following day, meaning I had practically a full day to kill in Mossel Bay. The idea of catching a few rays didn’t seem like such a terrible one. Yet ten minutes of sunbathing on the windy beach felt like I was being sand blasted, so I ditched the towel and decided to explore the town instead.

There really wasn’t much to see it transpired – the highlight being a museum depicting the arrival of the first Portuguese explorers to the bay in the 15th century. The most enjoyable part of my day came when I ate a cheese and ham sandwich and two packets of crisps sat beside a giant whale skull in the museum gardens.

I stayed in these gardens a while, reading my book and writing my diary before heading back to the train cum hostel. Having packed my belongings I then collapsed in a wicker chair at reception and fell asleep for an hour whilst cuddling my backpack. I had a packet of biscuits in there and didn’t fancy my chances of keeping hold of them with that sticky fingered bastard in the parka flitting around.

On their third day of attempting to leave the town, the two moaning girls were actually on time when the Baz Bus arrived. We all set off together, leaving the relatively dull, yet also quite attractive Mossel Bay behind us and drove westward in the direction of Cape Town.

The bus dropped me off at a small motel a few miles from the coastal town of Hermanus. Danny, Dean and Monica were all waiting for me here and an amiable member of staff from Hermanus Backpackers hostel – who looked like a handsome version of Sideshow Bob – arrived shortly after to pick me up.

Upon reaching the hostel I was met by Danny and Dean in the car park. They told me they were just heading out for dinner with Monica and three American girls they’d been chatting to earlier that morning.

“There’s even a tonga for you Jord’.”

“A tonga?” I said, momentarily confused before remembering they were being lovably racist. “An Asian chick? Tidy. Where from?”

“Christ knows. China or something maybe? She’s bonny though, you’ll like her. Hurry up and get ready, we’re heading to the restaurant ASAP.”

We arrived at the small African themed restaurant and made our way over to the table where Monica sat with the three girls. The boys had been right – I most certainly was attracted to the Asian girl amongst them. But then I’m pretty much attracted to any Asian girl providing she is legal and under thirteen stone.

This girl was undeniably pretty, as were her other two Caucasian friends. Slipping into my most agreeable persona I offered warm salutations and began to smooth the path for a spot of casual wooing.

“So Jordan,” said Monica, trying to suppress a grin, “How’s your stomach today? You’re not planning on shitting yourself at the table are you?”

“No Monica, I feel fine now thank you.” I replied before mouthing the words ‘gobby twat’ at her over the table.

“So, what was wrong with you?” asked Rio, the good looking Asian girl.

“I had a McDonalds and it didn’t agree with me too well.”

“Monica said you had to rush off the bus or something.”

“Did she now?” I said, giving Monica another look. “That was good of her. Yes, if I hadn’t then I would most definitely have crapped in my pants.”

“Nice.”

“Not really,” I replied honestly, knowing that my chances of pulling her were now none existent. “But you did ask.”

Sitting there pondering which peculiar African animal we should devour from the menu seemed to take an eternity. I was starving, and the women were doing my head in with their indecisiveness.

Eventually a doddering, geriatric waiter came and finally took our order. He was a sweet old guy, but was dressed – I am afraid to say – very much like he styled himself on the images found on the underside of Robertson’s jam lids. Before they became politically incorrect that is. His oversized corduroy suit, big collared shirt and jazzy red tie were possibly de-rigueur for employment in a restaurant which served warthog ribs. But the man’s outfit didn’t half make him look like he’d have been more at home on the mantelpiece of a moderately racist conserve enthusiast from the early 80’s.

As we waited for our food to arrive, a large group of African men dressed in loin cloths and not much else walked into the restaurant and congregated at the foot of our table. The guy who appeared to be in charge of the troop began leading the men in traditional song, dancing and miming energetically as he went.

The group of local musicians were fantastic. It was like having a personal concert performed by Lady Blacksmith Mambaza. Their five minute show was far more enjoyable than attempting to pull a girl who thinks you have irritable bowel syndrome. Even if I didn’t have a clue what they were hollering about at the time.

It turned out that the men were singing of health and crime issues. Their aim was to educate the local populace and better society as a whole. The group’s animated passion was quite moving, and the spectacle as a whole was very enjoyable. Their noble crusade was appreciated wholeheartedly throughout the restaurant and rewarded justly. Even I was happy to part with a few Rand from my usually tight wallet.

The African meal was a novel experience and the warthog I ordered was really quite tasty. The conversation and night as a whole, however, was actually rather drab. Apart from the unexpected local singers, we all returned to the hostel having had a very average evening indeed.

Rio and her friend Kat stayed with us for a quick drink at the hostel’s honesty bar before heading to bed. The academic women had a strict revision schedule planned for the following morning and weren’t willing to break it. Their American chum Amanda on the other hand remained with us for a few more beers and turned out to be witty and enjoyable company.

It wasn’t long before we all decided to call it a night too. A docile young Swedish girl had joined us and proceeded to bore the tits off Dean and me by asking the same drunken questions over and over again. It would have been nice to stay up late and get to know a few more people in the hostel, but we had bigger fish to fry in the morning. And a hangover apiece would no doubt have made a very uncomfortable experience decidedly worse.

At 11:00am Danny, Dean, Monica and I were picked up at the hostel by a balding, middle aged South African named Geoff and his Jack Russell terrier. Cramming our wide selves into his not so wide car, we then set off on the forty minute drive towards the tiny fishing village of Gansbaai.

“So, how are you all feeling today?” asked Geoff, looking at us in his rear view mirror.

“Nervous.”

“Ha. Good. That’s to be expected. Any of you guys ever swum with Great Whites before?” he quizzed as if it was the most natural thing in the world.

“Surprisingly, no,” I said. “We’re all novices.”

“Ah, you will love it,” Geoff replied, setting us at ease slightly with his confident retort.

“How many times have you done it Geoff?”

“Well, I haven’t actually done it myself.”

“Why not?”

“I just don’t fancy it. Those things are bloody massive.”

“Good to know. Cheers.”

Our fear stricken group soon arrived at the Great White Shark Diving Company main office. Here we were shown a brief video of the tiny boat that would take us to the dive site, followed by some petrifying shark footage. Geoff and his yappy little dog then walked us down to the harbour and introduced us to the captain.

A Frenchman and his daughter, plus a quiet South African couple were to join us on the diminutive vessel. All aboard, the boat set sail for shark alley – a location just off the coast notorious for its heavy population of Great Whites.

“Will there be many sharks today do you think?” asked the nervous looking French guy.

“There should be,” answered the captain. “We left the cage out there a few hours ago with a load of bait strapped to it, so I would expect a few big ones feeding off it by now.”

The thought of a cage bobbing in the middle of the ocean as giant sharks swarmed around it, tearing chunks of fish from its sides intensified my fear tenfold. I was scared out of my wits as sharks had been one of my biggest fears since childhood.

Reaching the cage, the captain proceeded to attach the flimsy metal structure to the port side of the boat. One of the captain’s assistants, a quiet man who had been laboriously smashing up frozen fish heads with a blood covered spade, threw a bucket load of his meaty stew into the ocean. Within thirty seconds a graceful shadow swam beside the cage as we looked on from the viewing deck above.

“Right, who’s up first?” asked the ponytailed captain. “I need four of you to suit up and meet me downstairs.”

“Us! We will!” screeched Monica, raising her hand and accompanying it with a little jig.

“Shut up you cock.” I urged. “Let someone else go first.”

“Don’t be such a wuss. It’ll be awesome!”

“Right, you four,” said the captain, responding to Monica’s enthusiasm. “Get your wetsuits on and let’s get you into the cage.”

“Shit a brick,” whimpered Dean peering over the edge of the boat as a giant beast eased by, “Look at the size of that bastard!”

The ocean was absolutely freezing when all four of us slipped into the compact cage. The icy chill numbing our brains was the least of our worries at this particular moment mind. The waves which had looked minimal from above felt like small tsunamis at sea level, sweeping our limbs around uncontrollably.

“Where do I put my legs?” shouted Dean, panicked.

“Good question,” I replied before my gob filled up with icy salt water. “I think mine are hanging out the back. I don’t like this one bit.”

“Rest your arse against the back lads,” said Danny, all calm and collected. “Then put your feet on the grey bar half way down.”

Finding the grey bar we did as instructed. Now it felt as if our ankles were going to get nibbled as they teetered out of the back of the cage. Once we were all comfortable, or as comfortable as a person possibly can be when a ton of instinctive killer is in close proximity, the long haired Afrikaans captain barked out our orders.

“When I shout ‘down’ you take your feet off the bar and push on the blue foam roll with your hands until your head is underwater. I will shout the direction to look before shouting ‘down’. If anybody decides to reach through the bars and attempt to touch the shark then I will turn the boat around and we all go home. Understand?”

He was giving us a little more credit on the bravery front than we deserved I think. Who in their right mind would intentionally put their arm in the path of a hungry Great White? We all nodded anyway to say we promised to resist the temptation and he told his crew to begin luring the sharks in.

The guy making the fish head soup tossed in another bucket load of his bloody mixture. When a shark was spotted another crew member threw a big fish head connected to a piece of yellow rope in its general direction. None of us could see any of what was going on above or below. We simply bobbed around in terrified anticipation, trying our best to keep all our limbs out of open water.

“Look left, down!” cried the captain and we all took a deep breath before forcing ourselves underwater. Through the slightly murky sea the grey torpedo like shape of a great white gently glided in front of the cage.

Resurfacing, we sat back on our little ledge, trying to get our breath back. It wasn’t long before the unwanted cry of “look right, down” was hollered from above.

Getting my left and rights mixed up for a second I submerged to see Danny looking at me. Even through his goggles I understood the other way dickhead look in his eyes and quickly turned around.

This time the shark came much closer. The rows of serrated teeth set in gnarled, pink tissue clearly visible as it effortlessly swam towards the bait. Making a lunge for the fish head, the shark missed and disappeared into the darkened depths below.

It was an incredible sight to behold so close. Underpants filling yes, but utterly beautiful at the same time.

Bobbing up and down in the deep blue sea the four of us chatted nervously. A couple of minutes passed and since none of us had been mauled to death yet we each grew in confidence.

“Straight ahead! Down!” screamed the captain as the tip of a fin sliced its way slowly through the rippling water, shattering our premature sense of comfort.

The yellow rope with the fish head attached was a few metres in front of us and just visible from underwater. The huge shark made a grab for the bait with its colossal open jaws. Clamping down on the head and rope, the Great White attempted to twist away with its prize. The guy on the other end of the rope wasn’t going to give it quite such an easy ride however. Fighting with the beast in a tug of war style contest he hauled the writhing shark back towards our cage.

The shark – now within touching distance if you were mental – thrashed and pulled at the fish head before slamming itself into the front of the cage. Its head was first to collide and the beasts eerie black eyes seemingly stared into my own. In a flash the beast quickly contorted its body – all the while battering the thin cage precariously with its bulk – until it was vertical. Massive sections of fin and tail slipped through the wide gaps in the cage, swiping at our legs as we all forced ourselves as far away from the shark as possible. The brilliant white underbelly, almost a meter in width, lay flat for a moment pressed against the thin metal strips a few inches in front of us. The shark’s scarred and battered torso writhed with one last violent yank and its razor sharp jaws sliced through the rope before swimming away with its snack.

It was a lot of effort exerted for a little fish head. Had I been the Great White I don’t think I would’ve been quite so focussed. But then I’m not really a big seafood fan.

Once it became clear the sharks weren’t interested in eating us, we relaxed a bit and began to really enjoy the close contact with these incredible fish. I say we, but I mean Danny, Monica and myself. Dean on the other hand wasn’t quite so content. Blaming his distaste for sea water, he got out of the freezing ocean after twenty minutes and stayed out. Not before ruining the group video with one of his “fuck” filled tirades following a particularly fierce encounter with a four metre long beast.

Most of us had our fair share of time in and out of the cage. But it was the little trooper Monica that made us lads all look like wimps. She left the cage once in the entire time we were at the dive site, and that was only because the captain asked her to. For well over an hour she floated in the bitterly cold sea having the time of her life.

That evening, having returned to Hermanus after a day conquering childhood fears, we signed up to a barbeque being hosted by the hostel owners. The food put on was absolutely amazing – another testament to the wonderful produce available in South Africa.

Unfortunately, the atmosphere within our little group wasn’t quite as fantastic as the food. I had begun to feel a bit jaded since returning to the hostel. The only thing I could put my dejectedness down to was having experienced such an amazing high at the shark cage diving, returning to relative normality again felt a bit crap. Separating myself slightly from the others I sat and read my book in silence. I may have come across rude or moody, but I hadn’t intended to. I just wanted to be alone with my thoughts. However I came across though, I don’t think it bode too well with the lads.

Before departing for the shark dive a bit of indecision had arisen as to whether or not to pay a cheaper price and go with a less reputable company. A few minor words had been crossed when we couldn’t come to a conclusion, but it was soon sorted out. Everything seemed to have been swept under the carpet with all the excitement during the dive. Yet upon returning to the hostel the tension had seemed to reappear also.

Nothing was said that evening and I kept well out of both Danny and Dean’s way. They were talking to three young English girls we’d seen on the Baz Bus in the communal living room and seemed happy enough doing so without me.

After a while Monica and I left them to it and ventured to our dorm for a bit of a heart to heart. She too was feeling down that night, possibly for the same reasons as me. Uncertainty regarding our respective futures was an issue that concerned us both also. Why the self-doubt and worry had reared its ugly head on this particular evening I don’t know. But whatever the reason, it made both Monica and I a little forlorn and in need of space from the revelry downstairs.

Categories: Chapter 5, humour, The Jo-burg - Delhi Express, travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Surf meccas and jumping off bridges

 The Jo’burg – Delhi Express

Chapter Four

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Dean, Monica, Ella and I departed Durban heading westwards in the direction of South Africa’s Sunshine Coast. Our ultimate destination was Jeffery’s Bay, a quaint little town popular with surfers.

The distance to Jeffery’s Bay was too vast for the Baz Buz to make in one fell swoop, so it was necessary we break up the journey by staying the night in the city of Port Elizabeth.

Monica was in buoyant spirits on the day of our departure. Her friend Adrian, who was studying in Johannesburg at the time, had met us all in Durban and was to travel with Monica for the next week or so.

Adrian seemed a pleasant girl on first encounters; very outgoing and unashamedly flirtatious. But within an hour of enduring her ceaseless innuendo’s and that’s what she said’s the girl began to grate a little. Had Adrian been more attractive and willing to go through with the filth she alluded to then the she would have made a wonderful addition to our newly formed group. As it happened, she was a bit of a munter, and the thought of slipping her one did nothing for Dean and me whatsoever.

Leaving the state of Kwazulu-Natal and entering the Eastern Cape, the rolling hills of South Africa’s vast countryside flowed as spectacularly as ever. I really hadn’t expected the country to be so picturesque, but it really was an amazingly beautiful location.

The random spotting of giant wildlife by the roadside was incredible also. For me however, the most memorable fauna based sighting of this particular bus trip wasn’t a lion or a giraffe or anything else unique to the African savannahs. It came in the form of a simple, run of the mill donkey. Or two donkeys should I say.

There wasn’t anything hugely exciting going on – one was just raping the other a little bit.

It was obvious that the recipient in this heinous act wasn’t keen on housing such a massive piece of equipment. Yet despite its reluctance, the female donkey did very little to fend off the horny aggressor. Yes, it ran a tad, and maybe offered a bit of a headbutt. Nevertheless, I’m sure it could have done far more to help itself from the inevitable fanny pummelling.

If I was about to get that dripping member crammed into my hole I would have kicked the dirty fucker in his oversized teeth. Buckaroo wouldn’t have been the victim of such sexy antics either. That techy bastard objected to even wearing a saddle at times, never mind a fireman’s hose of a cock.

I couldn’t take my eye off the scene unfolding outside my window. I was enraptured. Thus proving there’s nothing like a spot of ass rape to break up the tedium of a long bus journey.

We were expecting to be reunited with Danny on the Baz Bus that day. As none of us had heard anything from him of late, we’d speculated during the early stages of the drive as to why. From a recent facebook post of his we knew he wasn’t dead. All we could put Danny’s lack of correspondence down to then was either he’d had limited internet access, or he was annoyed with Dean and me for covering his clothes in dog hairs when we were drunk.

When the bus arrived in Chintsa, the small town where he was booked to join us, we were informed that Danny had cancelled his bus ticket the day before. Speculation restarted tenfold at this revelation. As did mine and Dean’s belief that he was more than likely very pissed off at us.

Worrying about how Danny felt soon got boring. Coming to the conclusion that if he wanted to sulk about something so trivial as a few dog hairs then he was welcome to do so. We certainly hadn’t meant any offence by our actions.

The lot of us soon grew fed up with sitting on the Baz Bus with no entertainment also. With a long way left to travel that day, Dean took it upon himself to see what he could do to remedy the situation.

“Here, mate,” he shouted towards the driver, poking his head over the front seats. “Do you know where we can get some drink?”

“You want alcohol?”

“Yeah. Is that allowed?”

“Hmm, not really,” answered the driver dubiously. “Does everybody in the back want some?”

“Yeah, we’re all travelling together.” I replied, looking around the otherwise empty bus.

“You should have said something before we left the city of East London. We could have got you some beers there. There isn’t a town now for miles.”

“Ah, shit. Never mind, cheers anyway pal,” replied Dean before turning back to us. “Well that’s fucked that plan. I’m all out of ideas.”

Nobody had any other suggestions how to pass the time either. And soon we reverted back to spreading ourselves all over the empty seats, trying to find some degree of comfort for our increasingly numb arses.

Quarter of an hour later the bus came to a grinding halt, sending us semiconscious travellers flying into the seats in front.

“Sorry about that,” shouted the driver over his shoulder. “Are you guys still wanting some beers? If so, follow me.”

Leaving the Baz Bus parked at the side of a quiet road – emergency lights blinking into an eerie darkness – the driver led Dean, Monica and Ella towards a dimly lit hut a few hundred metres away.

I held the fort with Adrian, trying to share a spot of dialogue with her that couldn’t be turned into a sexual innuendo. I quite enjoy the occasional conversation about sex and filth now and again. I find it adorable in fact. Adrian’s perpetual efforts at flirtation were just too much though, even for a mucky pup like me. The constant rubbish she spouted, hinting at something lewd with every retort, simply made me want to be sick.

The others returned after ten minutes. The kindly driver had guided them to a ramshackle bar along a dirt path. Frequented predominantly by the black communities, these rustic watering holes were known locally as shebeens.

They’d gone slightly overboard on the drink, it has to be said. All three of them were laden with carrier bags filled with vodka, beer and wine. There was enough alcohol in the back of the Baz Bus now to keep even the deftest of piss artists happily inebriated for a week.

We wasted no time in getting stuck into the booze, cracking open bottles and throwing it down our necks with gusto. It was great fun drinking in the bus, and made the journey far more amusing… for all of ten minutes, anyway.

The dark, bumpy roads did nothing positive whatsoever for my beer filled guts. Jolting and winding through the Eastern Cape, it wasn’t long before I began feeling really sick. Not being the most comfortable passenger on public transport at the best of times, I was forced to leave my share of the beers and wine for Dean and Ella. They weren’t affected negatively by the alcohol in the least – the two of them becoming steadily merrier by the minute.

Dean and Ella had grown increasingly close since meeting on the journey to Durban four days previously. She was a lovely girl, very attractive and also very down to earth with it. Ella absorbed Dean’s abuse with good humour, giving him almost as much in return, and I could tell he loved this about her.

I had never seen a girl evoke the softer side to Dean before. Back home he wasn’t one to integrate both friends and relationships, so it was nice to witness this affectionate element of his personality.

When we finally arrived into Port Elizabeth I was a beaten man. I’d hoped alighting the bus would give me a second wind to drink the beers I’d paid for, but it proved a fruitless desire. Dean and Ella stayed up late drinking a terrible bottle of red wine, whereas I threw in the towel and retired hastily to the dormitory.

Unable to fall asleep straight away, I sat up chatting to an amiable British guy called Gordon. Gordon and I talked for a long time that evening. He was easy to get along with and seemed like a genuinely good person. We spoke predominantly about both of our forthcoming adventures and what each of us did back home. Gordon also knew Ella from a previous hostel up the coast.

“So, do you think your mate will have any luck with Ella?”

“I’m not sure really. She likes him I think. Well, I assume she does as I saw her arse hanging out of his dorm bed yesterday morning.”

“It sounds like he’s in then,” replied Gordon, “although she seems quite a classy bird. So whether or not he gets his end away is a different ball game altogether.”

“Time will tell I suppose. Although if she keeps downing that horrible wine we may not have to wait long to find out.”

It was only a short hop along the coast from Port Elizabeth to Jeffrey’s Bay. The Baz Bus picked us up early in the morning and within an hour we were driving through the funky settlement’s centre.

Dean and I, plus the three girls, got dropped off at Island Vibe Backpackers at the far end of town. I then left them all to check into the hostel while I waited outside the main gate. I’d planned to spend the next few days with a South African friend who was on her way to collect me.

“Have a guess who’s in there?” said Dean, strolling out of reception with a bemused look on his face.

“Danny?”

“The one and only. He’s just walked right past me without saying a word.”

“Jesus,” I said. “What’s up with him? He didn’t say anything at all?”

“He nodded, but that was it. Just stand out here and see if he says anything to you.”

Acquiescing, I stood leaning against a wooden fence leading towards the dormitories. Sure enough, Danny came out of reception a few minutes later with two quite tasty looking girls in tow. He didn’t even acknowledge me. Not even a similar nod to what Dean received.

‘I’m not going to make an effort to speak either then’, I thought, ‘if Danny doesn’t want to talk then he can suit himself. It’s a bloody long way travelling to Nairobi on your own.’

Ten minutes after seeing Danny my pal Kalinka pulled up in her Dad’s fancy 4×4. A quick hug and kiss later, I said farewell to the gang and the two of us sped off towards her parent’s household in the suburbs. My mind was racing about the Danny situation and I probably seemed a bit of a miserable prick during that short journey to Kalinka’s home, although I quickly snapped out of it when we pulled into her large, paved driveway.

The house Kalinka’s parents owned was stunning. It was like something off MTV’s Cribs. Kalinka’s Dad had made the family home himself – being a building contractor by trade – and her mother had decorated the interior beautifully.

I didn’t dare touch a thing when Kalinka gave me the run of the place whilst she went back to work for a few hours. To prevent myself from destroying anything of value, I sat outside by the pool in hopes of damaging my skin cells instead – a feat I achieved extensively within half an hour.

Whilst sat around the pool cremating my face I’d been joined by Kalinka’s brother, Rikus. He was a switched on young man, far more mature than his eighteen years would lead a person to believe.

Rikus made for great company. We chatted about South Africa mainly, and he explained his cultural background and how they interconnected with other social groups in the country.

Kalinka’s family were Afrikaners – descendants of the Dutch settlers who arrived in Southern Africa during the 17th century, who commonly became known as the Boers.

Rikus’s pride of being Afrikaans was extraordinary to me. Being someone who couldn’t give a shit about patriotism, it was interesting to witness so much passion from a boy of his age. When I was eighteen all I cared about was how my hair looked and who would let me see their boobs next. Not Rikus. His heritage meant the world to him and he wore his heart on his sleeve when it came to the Boers.

In a country with so many different ethnic groups and prejudices, it was natural for a South African to be protective of their roots. Most people – myself included before talking to people on this trip – think South Africa’s problems are quite literally black and white. As it happens, they aren’t. It is way more complicated than just an issue of colour.

The white residents of South Africa are divided between the descendants of the Afrikaners – the Dutch settlers – and those of English lineage, whose ancestors arrived after the Dutch and took the Cape of Good Hope from them in 1806.

Difference in opinion with regards to slavery and land ownership caused a rocky relationship between these two groups of white settlers, resulting in the Anglo-Boer war at the end of the 19th century. The English won the war and therefore took control of the country. And ever since then, relations between the two groups have been less than rosy.

The black communities within South Africa are also split because of ancestry – the predominant Xhosa and Zulu tribes being just two of the many conflicting groups in the region. All retain strong tribal roots and old vendettas between various clans exist to this day, often causing extreme tension within the community.

People of mixed race, or coloureds as they are known in Southern Africa, are a separate group entirely. Classed as neither white nor black, the people of mixed heritage have a history of being shunned from both races. I was informed that coloureds have a tendency to shy away from the black side of their heritage a lot more than the white. But as I never had an opportunity to chat with anyone of this particular ethnic origin I don’t know how much truth was in the claim.

Until recently, the whites – whether they be of British or Dutch descent – had always been the people with money, power and control. With these obvious advantages, the whites had consequently classed themselves higher than those in the black communities. This feeling of appalling racial superiority was displayed during the apartheid era.

Apartheid was a dark period of South Africa’s history where black people were forcibly separated from the whites within society. Those of European ancestry were automatically given a far better hand in life, whether they deserved it or not, and the blacks were looked on as second class citizens or worse. The white government even took away all political power from those of non-European origin for a while and violently cracked down on any form of protest regarding such.

From 1948, apartheid prevailed as an official policy throughout South Africa. It was abolished in 1990, the same year Nelson Mandela was released from his long imprisonment on Robben Island. A black government – the ANC – has come to power since the ridding of apartheid and continues to preside over the country.

Although a step in the right direction towards equality, the opinion of many is that the ANC have since begun a reversed racial policy by making things difficult for the whites now, as opposed to making opportunities the same for all.

From what I could gather off Rikus, the situation with racial equality was getting better, despite the seemingly unhelpful government. A lot of people from the black communities were now making good money and could subsequently afford to send their children to better schools – the very schools which at one point were exclusively for whites. Many of the younger generations do not solely select their friends by the colour of their skin or ancestry anymore. They do it by who they get along with best, resulting in far more people having a less blinkered view on life.

In a few years, hopefully the racial problems in South Africa will be greatly reduced with the youth mixing more freely. But whether it will eventually eradicate ethnic division in the country remains to be seen. What still, and will probably always exist though is the divide between the rich and the poor.

The majority of violent crime is committed by the destitute within South African society. As those who fall into that category are predominantly black still, despite the parliamentary shift, this can cause a lot of negative generalisations against the black community as a whole. As long as South Africa has such a big economic gap between the affluent and the deprived it will always have its scary crime statistics. Unfortunately, this in turn will maintain the tarnished view of good people whose only commonality with the criminals is the colour of their skin.

As well as the issue of race, Rikus went into quite a lot of detail about the passion he shares with his father and many other Afrikaans men: Game hunting.

Rikus had kindly let me use his bedroom while I was staying with the family. The room was filled with all manner of intimidating weaponry – rifles, bow and arrows, truncheons, catapults, knives, plus bullets and cartridges of all shapes and sizes.

“Why do you love hunting so much?” I asked Rikus as we sat baking beside the pool.

“It’s my heritage man. The Boers are farmers and hunters.”

“Fair enough. But don’t you feel a bit shitty killing an animal? I don’t think I could do it.”

“Why not? You aren’t a fucking vegetarian are you?”

“No.”

“Well then, if you eat animals you should be prepared to kill them also. Everything we kill, we eat. Have you tried biltong?” quizzed Rikus, referring to the dried, salted meat beloved by many South Africans.

“That’s that jerky like stuff isn’t it? Yeah, it was alright. Nothing special though.”

“You must have just tried the supermarket shit then. Me and my Dad make the best biltong. It’s a shame that you can’t come on a hunt with us. We could have made some out of what we shot.”

“That would have been pretty cool.” I lied, glad that I didn’t have to slaughter anything.

“Honestly,” encouraged the young South African. “It’s great fun. Have you heard what you must do after your first kill?”

“Nope, enlighten me.”

“It’s fantastic man. You have to gut the animal and cover yourself from head to toe in its blood.”

“That does sound fantastic.” I replied, trying not to be overly sarcastic.

“And then you eat a part of the animal’s liver and one of its testicles. Then we get smashed on brandy.”

“Nice.”

“Do you have Klip Drift brandy in England?”

“God knows. I can’t drink that shite, it hurts my throat. I’m a beer, vodka or cider man.”

“Cider? That’s fucking sletsa-piss? You know what sletsa-piss means?”

“No, but I have a pretty good idea it’s something to do with urine.”

“Sluts piss. That’s what we call all girly drinks. Ask Kalinka when she gets home if she enjoys sletsa-piss.”

I’d met Kalinka during the period I had lived in Leeds a year or so previous to the trip. She was a university friend of a girl I’d become pals with in South East Asia on my very first set of travels. We didn’t really know each other very well, but when I mentioned I was travelling to South Africa shortly, Kalinka very kindly invited me to stay with her for a few days or so. Originally, we were meant to meet in Cape Town. Her job contract had recently expired however, so she was temporarily living with her parents back in Jeffrey’s Bay.

When Kalinka returned from working at her dad’s office I felt it best not to ask whether she drank sluts piss. The two of us left Rikus to hide the evidence of the pistols he’d had me shooting in the garage and took a drive to see all the nearby sights.

Jeffrey’s bay – or J-bay as it is known to the locals – is the surfing Mecca of South Africa. It is home to some of the best right hand breaks in the world apparently. But as I had no idea what a right hand break was exactly I couldn’t have given a cat’s cock.

I’m not overly keen on surfing myself, as you would have probably gathered from that last comment. This aversion comes from the fact I simply cannot do it. I’d half expected to be a bit of a natural at the sport when I first tried surfing in Australia – what with being blonde and all. Having managed to rub off the majority of my left nipple on the rough board whilst not standing up on it once, I consequently gave up the sport for life.

Showing me the location where the town hosts a huge surfing tournament each year, Kalinka tried to explain what was meant by Supertubes for which the event is famous. Still confused at all the hype over a big wave, yet nodding enthusiastically all the same, we then went and had a nice cup of tea with some of her friends.

Sitting like the shy social spastic I am when meeting groups of new people sober, the two of us later returned to Island Vibe Backpackers in hopes of meeting up with Dean, Monica, Ella and Adrian.

There was no sign of any of them when we arrived. As Kalinka and I were leaving I saw Danny and the same two girls he was with earlier that day. Adrenaline pumping, I came to the conclusion enough was enough and began trying to grab his attention.

Initially he was reluctant to respond, but as I stood there hollering “Dan!” like a poor man’s Alan Partridge, he eventually conceded and came over.

“What’s wrong mate?” I asked. “Why have you not been bothering with me or Dean?”

“You know what’s wrong,” he answered sullenly.

“Obviously I don’t or I wouldn’t be asking. It doesn’t make sense. What have we done?”

“It’s pretty clear that you two don’t want me around,” said Danny looking quite hurt, “so I’m leaving you both to it.”

“Where have you got that idea from? It’s you that wanted to do Chintsa and wherever else on your own?”

“I did them on my own because I didn’t want to be constantly on the piss like you two,” he replied before looking at the bottle of cider in his hand and smiling, “although you would never tell.”

“We didn’t mind the fact you wanted to do them alone, I wanna go off on my own at some point too. But why do you think we don’t want you with us? We’ve all been getting along I thought. You and Dean have gotten on brilliantly – far better than either of you have with me, so I just don’t get it.”

“It’s what you two had said to that Mandy woman that’s pissed me off. It’s made me not want to be anywhere near you both. Why would I if you don’t want me travelling with you?”

“What the hell did she say?” I asked, sensing something fishy was afoot.

“She said that you two had told her I was a miserable old twat, that you didn’t want to travel with me and that you weren’t really my mate.”

“She was off her head man!” I exclaimed, starting to see why Danny may have been upset, “She was a full on mentalist. Tease had to kick her out of the hostel for being a con artist! Why didn’t you say something to either of us?”

“I couldn’t. You were both leathered and had them lasses draped all over you. Plus I was that mad I would have ended up filling you both in.”

“Filling us in? Over the past summer me and you have become pretty much best mates. I practically invited you into my family and stuff. But you would still believe the word of some thick bitch who we have just met over mine? That’s pretty shitty mate.”

“Imagine how I felt being told all that lot. I didn’t know she was lying.”

“Look mate, I’m sorry for whatever me and Dean did to piss you off, but I can guarantee we said nothing whatsoever to that crazy cow about you. So we can either forget this little spat or just fuck it off and do our own thing. But I really hope we can sort it out.”

“I hope so too.” replied Danny.

“Sound,” I said, giving him a man hug, “we’re all hopefully going for a pizza tonight so make sure you come with us.”

That evening Dean and Ella joined Kalinka and me, plus a group of her friends, for a meal at a local pizza joint. Having already done damage to a few bottles of red wine beforehand, we were already quite giddy by the time we arrived at the popular restaurant. Danny hadn’t made it because he was having a farewell meal with the two girls we had spotted him with earlier. Although he was very keen to meet up in the morning according to Dean, so I was happy about that.

The pizza was fantastic, as had been pretty much every other meal we’d had in South Africa up to this point. Once finished everybody except Dean and I got up and headed outside for a cigarette on the open air veranda. Their fags must have been the length of cricket stumps as they were gone for an absolute age. Dean and I found this a tad rude, sitting there twiddling our thumbs at the table until the other five decided to re-join us. Eventually we thought ‘fuck this’, and buggered off on our own for half an hour to a nearby bar in hopes of getting our annoyance across.

I was exhausted by the time we’d finally paid the bill and left the restaurant. Falling asleep at the table of the next bar we went to, Kalinka then drove me home and put me to bed. After a quick chat she quietly snuck back out again to meet an Australian guy she had just started seeing called Justin. He worked as a physiotherapist for the Delhi Devils, an Indian Premier League cricket team who had recently been on tour in the region.

It was quite convenient that Kalinka and Justin were enjoying a bit of a fling during my stay with her and her family. It stopped me from making a tit of myself and drunkenly trying it on. Had I succeeded, I shudder to think which weapon from his vast arsenal the proud brother Rikus would have used had he caught me in bed with his sister.

If the weather wasn’t great in J-bay, and you’re not an avid surfer, then there’s not a great deal to do in the town.

“Get him on the cane.” suggested Rikus as the three of us sat having lunch the following day.

“No Rikus, Jordan won’t want to drink again. We need to think of something better to do.”

“I’m up for cane, whatever it is.” I said, “We can see what the rest of my mates want to do, but getting tanked up sounds like a plan to me.”

“Really babe?” asked Kalinka. “Ok, well we’ll go to the surf museum first to say that we at least tried to do something cultural. And then me and you can go and get drunk with your friends if you want. You’re doing revision though Rikus, so don’t you get any ideas.”

“I’ve done it already.”

“Really?” said Kalinka doubtfully, “I don’t think Mum and Dad will be too pleased if you spend the day getting drunk with your exams coming up.”

“I don’t think Mum and Dad would be overly happy with you disappearing out in the middle of the night to meet boys either, so it needn’t get brought up?” responded Rikus, referring to his sister’s late night soiree with Justin.

“Shit. Do they know about that Rikus?”

“You’re hardly fucking Splinter Cell Kalinka. The whole house must have heard you.”

“Ah well, I will just say I was with Jordan and they’ll be cool. Come on you two, let’s get this museum over with.”

The museum wasn’t bad considering I haven’t an interest in surfing in the slightest. The documented shark attacks appealed to the macabre in me, while the semi naked Polynesian girls piqued my perverted curiosity too. Yet there wasn’t enough gory death or firm, brown titties to keep Rikus and me happy for long.

We soon departed the surf museum to meet my friends in a nearby bar. I was glad to see Danny amongst the group. He seemed in good spirits and determined to put all the recent crap behind him also.

After a quick beer, the lot of us went to a local liquor store. We bought two large bottles of cane liquor and a supply of foul looking green cream soda, which, according to Rikus, the supposed non sletsa-piss drinker, is canes best accompaniment.            Back at Island Vibe hostel the eight of us piled down to the kitchen cum dining room adjacent to Danny’s dorm. The cane and cream soda bottles were cracked open and we tackled them with zeal, downing teacup after teacup of the sickly, snot coloured mix until we were all firmly on our way.

Adrian, Monica’s Canadian friend, was up to her old tricks again by overtly flirting and dropping in a sexual connotation at every opportunity she could. She rapidly got on the wicks of both Danny and me. We managed to temporarily shut her up by grabbing a breast apiece when she had suggested holding them for a photo. It did feel a little bit cruel as she hadn’t expected us to actually do it, but with all the filthy proposals she regularly spouted she definitely had it coming. I’m just glad she hadn’t suggested we grab her gusset.

We also thought it a grand idea to take a few pleasant pictures for Adrian on her camera when it was doing the rounds. However, the close up moony Danny took of my parted bum cheeks revealed far more than I was willing to release into public viewing.

It really was a hideous sight.

I don’t know what I’d expected to achieve from the bottom shot – perhaps some neat and tidy porn star affair of an anus. The reality was far from it. Instead, I was appalled to realise my sphincter looked as if it had 70’s style mutton chop sideboards. It was the hairiest arse crack I’d ever seen. Not that I went around looking at hairy arses much, but I certainly didn’t expect my ring to resemble Noddy Holder with pursed lips.

“Don’t delete it,” said Danny as I tried to find out how to get rid of the disgusting photograph, “If that doesn’t stop her flirting with you then nothing will.”

“Bollocks to that man,” I replied, hoping it wasn’t stored to an internal memory as well, “That photo was upsetting. I can’t risk that bastard getting put on facebook! I would actually like to get a girlfriend one day you know.”

After a fantastic afternoon on the cane, Dean, Danny and I got a lift with Kalinka and her brother back to their abode where her kind parents cooked us all up an amazing meal. It was the best barbecued chicken I had ever tasted, and their genial hospitality to us drunken gobshites was second to none. It was the perfect finale to a lovely couple of days spent in J-bay.

*

Leaving my friend Kalinka’s parent’s place, the lads and I, accompanied by our new mascot Monica and her increasingly annoying pal Adrian, all set out on the Baz Bus to the tiny inland town of Storms River.

Storms River is a quaint little hamlet located within attractive countryside on the outskirts of the dramatic Tsitsikamma National Park.

Despite the scenery around Storms River being magnificent, we weren’t really there to enjoy it. The stunning setting was merely an added bonus. Our small group was in the area for another reason entirely.

We were there to hurl ourselves over the edge of the highest bridge in Africa.

Arriving at the Tube ’n’ Axe hostel, we hurriedly threw our bags into our shared dorm before taking a taxi to the Bloukrans Bridge, home of the world’s highest bungee jump at the time. This assertiveness wasn’t because we were all adrenaline junkies eager for the next thrill. Far from it in fact. We were acting purely on the premise that if we sat around procrastinating then some of us would end up psyching ourselves out of the jump.

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Having dropped off two Swedish girls at the gateway to the National Park, we finally arrived at the bungee site. I’d had serious butterflies in my stomach all morning and couldn’t keep still. I don’t know how much of my erratic behaviour was due to nerves, or the strange little packet of de-stressing adrenaline pills Rikus had given me before I’d left Jeffrey’s Bay. Either way, it wasn’t a very nice feeling.

Danny was buzzing too, just in a far more positive sense. If the thought of throwing himself off a massive bridge fazed him at all then he hid it incredibly well.

Monica shared a similar outlook to Danny it seemed. Eyes shut, laying back in her favourite Tina Turner T-shirt, she was the picture of serenity during the drive out to the bridge. Monica looked like this most of the time though. The girl either didn’t particularly give a shit about anything, or was simply too numb to contemplate the consequences. Personally I think it was the former, but with Monica you never could really tell.

Dean, on the other hand, was a different story altogether. I had never seen him in such a state before. The boy was absolutely terrified. His face was a similar shade of green to the stretched, ill-fitting hoodie I was sporting. To avoid throwing up he’d sat back in the car like the tranquil Monica and tightly closed his eyes all the way to the jump site.

Paying Face Adrenalin their well-priced fee for the privilege of throwing ourselves off a 216metre high ledge, Dean and I walked towards a viewing platform for our first proper glimpse of the bridge.

The Bloukrans River Bridge connects two mountain roads dissected by a steep, high valley. A thin, brown river slowly slithers along the bottom of the chasm, sourcing from rolling green hills to the north and emptying into the shimmering sea visible to the south.

“Bugger me,” said Dean as a huge truck crossed the bridge looking like a match box with wheels, “it’s frigging massive! Remind me why we wanna jump off that?”

“I have absolutely no idea mate.”

“I don’t know if I can do it man. I am absolutely shitting it.”

“It’ll be alright, try not to worry about it so much. It’s got to be safe or they wouldn’t let people jump.” I replied, trying to convince myself at the same time.

“I honestly can’t see myself being able to jump. Do you reckon they’ll push me if I ask them?”

“Maybe, but once you have seen me and Danny go you will be fine.”

“I’ll have to do it if you twats jump. I’d never live it down otherwise.”

Danny and Monica joined us on the viewing deck, followed by Adrian who wasn’t jumping but had paid to walk out with us onto the bungee platform to offer moral support.

We could see a bit of commotion on a tiny rectangular section in the centre of the bridge and determined that somebody was about to go. It was that vast in stature, the people looked like ants scurrying along the edge of the massive bridge.

A few seconds later, one of the tiny shapes flopped over the edge and began hurtling towards the rocks below. The free fall was immense. It looked as if they were never going to stop plummeting. Eventually the rubber cord tightened, slowing the person down beside a set of yellow distance flags, before springing them back to about 80% of the bridge’s original height. Hovering for a moment they then began careering towards the rocky earth once again.

“Come on you guys!” cried Monica with typical North American enthusiasm, “Let’s go do this thing!”

“How are you feeling now Deano?” asked Danny with a beaming grin.

“Not good.” was the reply uttered from Dean’s mouth, before putting his head down and shuffling off with the rest of us to get harnessed in.

The actual walk out to the bungee platform was scary in itself. We passed through a snake infested trail before inching our way along a thin metal walkway located behind the bridge’s supporting columns. All that separated us from falling a very long way to our deaths was flimsy looking grated flooring not much thicker than chicken wire.

The jumping area was a hive of activity, although only two other paying customers were present. About fifteen Face Adrenalin employees made up the rest of the posse, dancing around and having a laugh with everybody whilst doing their best to put people at ease.

House music played loudly over the sound system and we all nervously began nodding along to the beat.

“Right, Monica. You’re up first,” shouted the guy who had collected us from the car park. “Dean, you’re second. Make your way over to where Monica’s heading and get buckled in.”

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As Dean sat anxiously getting his feet tied into the bungee cord, two guys hopped an ever smiling Monica towards the verge. There was no chit chat it seemed, no words of advice, just a quick “five, four, three, two, one, bungee” and over she went.

Monica’s departure from terra firma was hardly graceful. It was more of a reluctant belly flop than elegant swan dive. She didn’t show any signs of hesitancy though. The emitting of a blood curdling scream which didn’t stop until she’d ceased bouncing gave some indication that she wasn’t quite as cool as her demeanour would indicate, yet on the whole Monica faced the world’s highest bungee jump with admirable balls of steel.

I’d been summoned to go and get ready at this point. A big dude who seemed more interested in dancing to Kid Cudi’s Day ‘n’ Night loosely wrapped red padding around my ankles before attaching carabineers to it and my waist.

“This thing around my ankle isn’t tight at all mate,” I said in wide eyed panic.

“Don’t worry bro, you’ll be fine.”

“Yeah, but this bits not tight, wont my feet slip out?”

“No problems bro,” he repeated in a thick South African accent before starting his merry dance again.

I was utterly terrified at this point. The herbal highs Rikus had plied me with had worn off and my stomach was churning like a cement mixer. Dean had since bounced to the edge, and with similar haste to Monica managed to fling himself into the abyss with a perfect dive.

It was my turn to go and I was scared stiff. It wasn’t the thought of the jump itself that affected me most as I hobbled to the edge. I was more petrified that the procession of little farts that had since begun to drop uncontrollably from my dilated bottom were soon going to turn into an actual poo.

Crapping myself in front of all them dancing blokes was a far greater worry than the bungee. When I panic I think I need to dump. Therefore I pointlessly began troubling myself trying to work out which way the shit would fly if I did end up defecating during free-fall. Would it shoot straight down my trouser leg, or right up my back I mused? Either direction wasn’t an overly pleasant prospect.

Two of the happy local lads supported me as I teetered on the narrow ledge. Focusing on not looking down I set my sights on a hill in the distance that looked like a big, brown boob. ‘Please don’t shit, please don’t shit’ I repeated to myself as I stared at the mound, shuffling my toes nervously over the rim.

And then came the countdown.

“Five, four, three, two, one, bungee…….”

The natural urge to not contradict your ingrained survival instincts was incredible. All I wanted to do was lie down and grasp the concrete floor of the bridge. However, the voice inside my head that said ‘you will get the piss ripped out of you for the rest of this trip, now move it soft arse’ was far more imposing. Fighting the terror I closed my eyes, thought sod it and dived out as far and as gracefully as I possibly could.

A huge surge of blood crashed into my cranium as I careened head first towards the rock strewn trickle of brown water below. The wind ripped into my ears like a cacophony of screaming banshees and my internal organs felt as if they were relocating towards my throat.

After a mind boggling descent I finally came to a halt. Pausing in mid-air for a brief second as the elastic tightened I was then hurled at breakneck speed back towards the bridge. On my second descent I was even more disorientated than the first. My arms began instinctively flailing around all over the place, trying to grab onto something solid.

After a while I calmed down a touch, and the brief periods I almost knew where I was were exhilarating. Almost enjoyable even. And since I had managed to keep the loose load well within my intestine, the buzz that successively raced its way around my system was incredible.

Finally grinding to a complete stop I hung halfway between the bridge and the sharp rocks below. Panic gripped me all over again at this stage as I could feel my feet slipping out from the red padding wrapped around my shins. I was positive they were going to come free.

For five minutes I dangled there worrying, my toes curling upwards like a pair of Aladdin’s slippers, until a young guy in a harness descended to where I swung. Wrapping his legs around me and attaching my carabineers to a winch, he then gave the signal for us to be hauled up and onto the bridge.

The relief to be back on solid ground was immense. Only then, when I didn’t feel as if my eyes were making their best efforts to pop out from their sockets, did the joy and excitement of jumping the world’s highest bungee truly hit home.

I felt amazing.

Danny had since leaped and was abuzz with adrenaline too. So much so he wanted to do it again. It was a wonderful unifier and we all felt enormously close as we hopped about the platform in a group hug.

From all of our ecstatic grins Adrian had begun to feel like she was missing out. In recent days she had really got on my nerves, yet to see her harness up and throw herself off that insanely high bridge was massively commendable. She shot up in all our estimations from this bold move and I developed a new, quite large amount of respect for the girl.

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Upon returning to the hostel we decided to celebrate our nerve-wracking feat by nipping into the backwards little town centre and procure food for a festive barbecue.

There was hardly anything fresh available in the one tiny supermarket it soon transpired. Instead we were forced to grab random lumps of meat from a freezer and hope for the best. These pot-luck chunks ended up tasting fine once I’d barbequed the arse out of them, even if they did look as if they’d been scraped off the side of the road.

Joining us at the barbeque facilities was a confident young German guy who asked if we minded him cooking his sausage at the same time. He was a sociable enough lad, but very sure of himself and a definite smart arse. Personally I didn’t mind the brash German so much, yet Dean took a real dislike to the guy.

“I’m gonna smack that prick if he comes over here again,” said Dean, staring at the smarmy kraut. “The cheeky twat stuck his dirty German fingers all over our sausages and started slagging ‘em off.”

“Why did he do that?”

“I don’t know. He just picked one up, inspected it, and then began criticising it. He better hadn’t fucking touch my sausage again or he’ll get one on the chin.”

As well as the frankfurter inspector, a really nice couple from Manchester joined us for food that evening. As did the two Swedish girls we had dropped off at the National Park a few hours earlier.

The Mancunian lass was very funny, and rather fit to boot. As she was with her man she escaped the drunken sleaze tactics and instead it got directed at one of the Swedes who’d scrubbed up surprisingly well.

“Go and get her chatted up Blair!” encouraged Dean.

“Aye, fuck it. I’ll have a pop.” I replied in my inebriated haze, before staggering around the bonfire and parking myself up next to her.

In the past I’d been lucky enough to have a reasonable amount of success with Scandinavian ladies met on my travels – Swedes in particular for that matter. On this particular occasion however, I would, to quote Dean, have had more luck trying to plait piss.

The attractive blonde wasn’t interested in my jocular bullshit in the slightest. I soon gave up trying and went back to ogling the attractive Brit at the other side of the bonfire. Dean, on the other hand, got along with the Swede and her friend like a house on fire. Ella had left a day earlier and it hadn’t taken him long to regain his top form.

I’m not sure where I went wrong, but Dean ended up spending the remainder of the evening with the Swedish girls whilst I dejectedly sloped off to bed.

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Swaziland

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The Jo’burg – Delhi Express

Chapter Two

Although South Africa is an English speaking country with a wonderful climate, it is a nation remarkably less traversed by the backpacking masses. This could be due to an ignorance of the country’s inspiring natural beauty and fantastic travel opportunities. Or it could be a continued negativity towards the terrible apartheid era and well documented social inequality. I’m not sure of the exact reason as to why South Africa isn’t just as popular to travel as Australia, New Zealand or the USA. But for the semi-adventurous who do decide to frequent this misconstrued part of the world, a popular way for them to get around is by using what’s called the Baz Bus.

The Baz Bus is basically a hop on, hop off bus service along a variety of routes throughout Southern Africa. The simple accommodation pick up and drop off concept eliminates the ever present dangers of dodgy bus terminals and untrustworthy taxi drivers, whilst adding ease and efficiency to an individual’s trip.

The route of the Baz Bus is chiefly directed between Johannesburg and Cape Town, stopping at most towns and places of interest along the way. Passengers also have the option of going via the gorgeous Drakensberg mountains, or alternatively, follow the path we chose and venture through the leafy Kingdom of Swaziland.

Danny, Dean and I had all purchased a two week Baz Bus pass back in the UK. Having said goodbye to our amazing hosts Trigger and Kerryn, we initiated these passes by departing the uneventful city of Nelspruit and set out for the verdant Ezulwini valley, located deep within the green hills of Swaziland.

It truly was a gorgeous drive. The views as we rose from the dry low lands of South Africa towards the mountainous border control were stunning. Undulating grassy valleys rolled over one another as far as the eye could see. And random bush fires on the horizon sent plumes of smoke spiralling into the sky, forming a dusky haze over the afternoon sun.

“Dean,” I said, reaching behind me and tapping him on the thigh.

“What?”

“Over there look, on that second hill.”

“What am I looking at? The bush fires?”

“No, to the left a bit. Just on the top of that big mound, can you see the two massive giraffes?”

“Where at?” asked Dean dubiously. “There’s sod all there pal.”

“Not this first hill, that second one,” I added, hoping my spotting skills would impress. “Next to that big plume of smoke. One of the giraffes is bending over and the other one’s just dipping its head slightly.”

“That’s two JCB diggers, you daft prick.” replied Dean annoyed I had disturbed him.

“Is it? Oh…bugger. Never mind then.”

Foiled by my shitty eyesight once again.

Arriving at our first border crossing of the trip I expected the usual frontier hassles. Exit forms, entry forms, passport stamping, visa purchasing and money changing, plus the usual procession of conniving border conmen to deal with. However, I was pleasantly surprised when the driver of the Baz Bus took control of the situation and made the whole process remarkably stress free.

While waiting for a customs official to stamp me into Swaziland I noticed a small dispenser a few counters along. It was offering little blue packets that people were readily snapping up for free. On closer inspection I realised they were packets of condoms and optimistically shoved a handful into my jacket pocket also.

I was spotted on this prophylactic pilfering by a wizened old Canadian woman who looked like an extra from the film Labyrinth. The little goblin bound over to where I stood, grabbed a packet for herself and studied it with interest.

            “Sweet,” she cooed. “Are these candies?”

“Yep,” I answered coyly, unsure whether she was being sarcastic or not. I assumed the big, red AIDS ribbon would have been a bit of a giveaway, but perhaps she just though the sweets were 100% HIV free like all good treats should be.

“Neat. Are you sure they’re free?”

“They certainly are. You might have a hard time chewing them, but get stuck in.”

Once she realised they were only fit to enter a mouth if a person’s trade included giving blowjobs, the gobby Canadian became rather annoyed at me. Scowling from thereon in, she muttered something in my direction before storming back onto the bus.

It was a murky, humid evening when the Baz Bus arrived in the Ezulwini Valley. Dropped off at our respective accommodation choices, the three of us checked into Legends – the so called party hostel of Swaziland.

The morgue like atmosphere within was hardly striking of carnival tones. Yet in fairness to Legends, you can hardly expect an Ibiza style reception when there’s only one other guest staying there. Sucking up our disappointment at the quietness, we handed our money over and hoped to make the best of it regardless.

The aforementioned other guest came in the form a tall young German girl named Klara. Klara had been sat in the dining area quietly reading a magazine when we all piled through the door. Spotting her straight away, she instantly became the recipient of a good old chatting up. Not just by me specifically, but by the three of as a whole. A horny, desperate trio of sleaze.

By no means was Klara a beauty. But she was single, friendly and most importantly female, so she ticked all the boxes. As I was working through the usual boring questions a traveller instinctively seems to churn out on a first meeting, a late arrival off the Baz Bus barged over and cut in. Offering her hand to Klara, the uncouth girl then sat down at the table, completely ignoring us males as if we didn’t exist.

“I’m Monica,” she said to Klara. “So what’s your story?”

“Excuse me?” replied Klara, rather caught off guard.

“Why are you here? Are you travelling, working, studying or what?” asked this stout little enigma, still without acknowledging me or the other lads.

“Erm, I’m studying for a semester at Stellanbosch University. But now I’m on vacation. And you?”

“I’m here visiting a friend who’s studying in Johannesburg. We’re travelling to Cape Town on the Baz Bus,” answered Monica, “I’m meeting her in Durban though as she has classes right now.”

At this point we left the two of them to it, not particularly inspired by the thought of conversing with the strange girl in the Tina Turner T-shirt who’d interrupted our charm offensive.

Once showered, we asked what there was to do at night in the area, to which the skinny guy on reception answered “very little.” Not overly enamoured by this response, we then quizzed whether there was anywhere we could buy alcohol. His response was a little more positive this time, telling us that if we hurried we may still make it to the Pick ’n’ Pay supermarket before it closed.

Upon hearing this, Monica – the peculiar Canadian girl who had ignored us half an hour previously – finally deemed us worthy to talk to and asked whether she could join us on the walk to the shops. Not being petty for a change we acquiesced, and the four of us set out in the humid darkness towards the quiet supermarket.

The Ezulwini Valley is located within an elevated region of Swaziland. The quiet settlement has a very small population and a limited infrastructure to match. Streetlights were wanting in most areas of town and it was pitch black out, even on the busy main road. To prevent breaking a limb, each of us had our torches on illuminating the mud strewn path we coursed.

Ambling towards a set of flickering lights in the distance, we were like the three wise men carrying a Canadian curio as an offering. Once we neared the distant lights it was necessary to cross a dark, grassy patch of wasteland. The route was like a bog in parts due to a heavy rain shower which had decided to fall a few minutes after we’d set off. Tip-toeing our way around the filthy puddles we heard rapid footsteps closely behind and all began to panic.

“Get your weapon out Dan!” I squeaked, referring to the non-euphemistic knife he kept in his trousers.

“It’s out lad, don’t worry.” said Danny looking back into the darkness.

“Good. Let me get behind you then.”

The footsteps got closer and closer until out of the shadows strode a lithe, athletic black guy drenched to the bone in just a basketball vest and shorts.

“Hey guys. Do you mind if I join you?” he said in a strange Americanised accent.

“Where are you off mate?”

“Same as you, to the Pick ‘n’ Pay.”

“How do you know that’s where we are going?”

“I checked into Legends after you folks, remember? The guy on reception assumed you were heading that way.”

“Oh aye, that was you was it? We thought you were coming to mug us just now.” I said upon recognising him from the hostel.

“No, it’s all good. I’ve just come to grab some beers. I’m Anusa by the way. Nice to meet y’all.”

Having stocked up on plenty of alcohol we all slowly made our way uphill and back towards the hostel. The common room at Legends was basically an unused car garage. It contained a TV, a few musty old sofas, and when we burst in it had the addition of a half asleep security guard wielding a big stick.

Once he’d calmed down from being caught sleeping on the job, the guard became quite chatty. His English deteriorated rapidly when we requested he turn whatever rubbish he was watching on TV off and put on some music, yet became strangely fluent again when asked if he fancied a beer.

Klara, the young German girl from earlier joined us in the morbid little outhouse and began downing glass after glass of Dean’s wine. He didn’t seem to mind though, and it wasn’t long before her hands were wrapped around his broad shoulders giving him a vigorous massage in return.

At this juncture in the evening I’d drunk a couple of beers and a little wine. Instead of being giddy like everybody else I felt really fed up. I was tired, and the lack of excitement in the hostel had made me morose.

Leaving the rest of my wine with Monica – who’d opened up a lot more since our first meeting and was beginning to show her true character – I then moped off to bed in an inexplicable sulk.

I had warned Dean and Danny many times before setting off that I regularly get pissed off at myself for no apparent reason. I’m almost positive that somewhere deep inside my abdomen dwell two quasi obsolete ovaries which release a little bit of oestrogen into my system every so often. I hate the fact I can change into a menstrual, miserable mess in the blink of an eye. It not only negatively affects my day, but it disturbs the dynamic of those close to me also.

Having travelled with other people beforehand and realising that when I get this way I can be a real obnoxious tit, I made sure that the other lads were aware of its inevitability and to not take offence when it happened. I told them to ignore me and just leave me to it. I love my own space at the best of times – not really being a great people person as such – and when I begin to feel a bit low, solitude is often my only real comfort.

On that first night in Swaziland I thought it best to just hide away in the empty dorm and sleep off my depression. If I took my pouting face away from the action then hopefully I wouldn’t drag anybody else down with me.

Waking up the next morning I felt fresh and full of the joys of spring. Or, more likely, I was enjoying the temporary loveliness from atop my bipolar based peak. But whatever it was, I was in grand spirits and set about waking up the other lads.

“What’s up with you?” I said to Danny as he growled at me from his pillow. “You look like a slapped arse. Feeling a tad rough this morn?”

“No, I’m not rough,” he answered groggily. “I just got no bloody sleep.”

“Why not?”

“Ask lady killer over there,” replied Danny, to which a snigger came from underneath Dean’s duvet.

“Has one been shagging sir?”

“No mate. I don’t know what he’s on about.”

“Care to elaborate then Danny?”

“He knows fine well what I’m talking about. That tall German bird was in here until god knows what time. I don’t know how you slept through it all.”

“Was he bonking her then?” I asked good humouredly, trying to disguise a tinge of jealousy.

“I don’t know if he got there in the end but he was giving it a good go. All I could hear was her saying ‘nein, nein, your friends vill see!’ and him going ‘will they buggery lass, now get thee bloody bra off!’ It seemed to go on all sodding night.”

“Good work brother, did she give in then?” I said to Dean.

“No mate,” he replied, finally emerging from his bed sheets with a big grin on his face. “I told her to do one in the end. She did my head in. She supped all my wine and wouldn’t even get the old nipples out. It was rubbish.”

Sufficiently enlightened to the previous evening’s events, I went and inquired at reception as to what we could do to amuse ourselves around the valley that day. Handed a leaflet, I browsed the options in the sunny garden. A myriad of activities were listed, from quad biking to kayaking and everything adventuresome in between. Although great sounding, all of it far exceeded our daily budget. So I threw the leaflet away and began looking for some penny pinching inspiration.

While waiting for the other lads to get ready I spotted a giant peak in the distance. I found out from the rotund lady on reception that this particular mountain was called Executioner’s Peak, due to the forced leaping of criminals in the not so distant past. When Dean and Danny were dressed and joined me in the garden we unanimously decided to try and climb it.

After a quick change of apparel, slipping from casual shorts and flip flops into our idiotic looking hiking gear – a swap that would consequently make us stand out even more in the predominantly black community – we then set out towards the mountain.

It wasn’t long before we lost sight of Executioner’s Peak. A mass of thick cloud had descended and our hapless wandering landed us deep inside a ramshackle village. Initially we felt ill at ease in the impoverished settlement. Had this been South Africa, we would no doubt have been in grave danger being the only white faces in such a destitute community. But here in Swaziland it turned out that attitudes were considerably different.

We had nothing to offer any of the lovely people who greeted us that morning. And they wanted nothing in return besides a happy salutation or a shared smile.

Everybody we met in the village was amazingly friendly – especially the happy children. One little girl walking with her mother in particular made us all feel wonderful. The toddler waved continuously until we were out of sight, hollering ‘hello’ and ‘bye-bye’ as her little pink palm wagged jerkily from side to side. It was very touching, and I think we were all uncharacteristically moved by the gesture.

Children are definitely one of the most heart-warming and rewarding things a person can experience whilst away travelling. To share a few words with a kid and to make them smile or laugh is enjoyable in itself back home. But to do this with a child from an entirely different cultural background to your own brings a real warmth that you don’t get from many other experiences in life.

Young kids are generally unaware of racism and social difference. Their minds have only the natural curiosity we are all born with and are yet to be poisoned by the prejudices and delusions that humankind seems to adopt with age. This in turn makes them a joy to be around – providing they’re not snot encrusted, spoilt little brats that is.

With regards to personal safety, I’d admittedly been a little concerned about Swaziland, and black Africa as a whole for that matter. Being brought up in a working class, predominantly white rural environment, I’d never really mixed amongst the black communities much. Through my lack of exposure a slight ignorance had formed, followed closely by ignorance’s sibling emotion: Fear.

My Dad had made great efforts in bringing up my sister and me as non-racists. And in this zealous effort he had possibly raised black people to a higher pedestal than was necessary. It was like living with Malcolm X at times, especially when rifling through his soul records on a Sunday afternoon or John Barnes was on the telly.

This well-intended perception of black people being as good as, if not better than whites in the majority of areas produced a sense of awe and slight intimidation in me. If I ever came across a black opponent whilst competing in a judo competition in my youth for example, I would automatically assume they were better than me and go into the bout having lost in my mind already. The same applied with football matches and school rugby.

This minor sense of inferiority – coupled with the media’s negative reflection of Southern Africa’s black communities – had put me on real tenterhooks entering Swaziland. Yet I ended up loving that morning’s stroll around the run-down little village. Even though we’d got lost and never made it anywhere near Executioner’s Peak, I felt as if the experience had broken down a few barriers of apprehension within me that needn’t have ever existed.

After the unsuccessful summiting, we made our way back towards the centre of town. Walking past a fearsome looking troop of machete wielding prisoners on grass cutting duty, we then ventured into the mausoleum of King Sobhuza II.

Not knowing a great deal about the former king made the visit a rather dull one in fairness. And apart from a giant portrait of the former leader which looked like the annoying West Indian guy who moaned incessantly on the TV show Desmonds, there wasn’t much else we could relate to.

The three of us had a quick peek in the National Swazi Museum next, but like King Sobhuza’s mausoleum we really weren’t in the mood for it. Danny, who wasn’t quite so uninterested, learned a few snippets of information and kindly passed them on to us philistines. The most interesting being how a Swazi King must go out into the wilds and kill a lion to prove he has the courage to lead his country before a coronation.

In most people’s book this would be deemed a quite charming fact, and it did coax a raised eyebrow or two between Dean and me for a split second. But while our mature friend was further educating himself on the ins and outs of the Swazi Kingdom, Dean and I were more interested in locating local head-dresses we could put on and prance around in.

Unsuccessful in our pursuit, the museum failed to provide the stimulation required for visitors of our mental capacity, so we pissed off back to the nearby supermarket instead.

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            Purchasing a single piece of steak weighing in at an impressive 2.3kgs, we sauntered back to Legends in order to light the hostel’s barbecue. Monica, who we had now fully warmed to having initially thought she was a freak, joined us for the early afternoon garden party. As did Anusa, the American sounding Malawian guy we’d met in the muddy field the eve before.

To our quarter of a cow Anusa literally added a five foot beef sausage. The thing was massive, and proved an excellent allegory for his more than probable giant knob.

Is assuming a black guy would have a mammoth penis racist? Possibly, but I don’t think it’s a generalisation that would upset too many people so I’ll stick with it.

Vegetarian Monica also supplemented the feast. Her generous offering was a two day old peanut butter and jam sandwich which she said we were all welcome to indulge in if we saw fit.

A wonderful meat filled afternoon of barbequing ensued. A troop of monkeys who repeatedly attempted to steal our food added mirth to the affair. Especially when Dean chased one around the garden with a plank of wood after it grabbed a handful of Doritos.

Shortly after we’d all eaten our fill, the dense clouds that had covered Executioner’s Peak began slamming paintball sized hail stones down to earth. When the painful hail subsided heavy rains came, producing one of the strongest storms I had seen in a long time.

Not being the cleverest bunch of travellers in the world we chose this tempestuous period as the most opportune moment to set off on foot to the local hot springs. Why wait for it to pass like the big woman on reception had suggested when we can walk in bitter winds and torrential rain? It would make it all the more rewarding when we got there, we concluded.

What a bunch of dickheads.

The supposed twenty minute stroll to the hot springs was more like an hour long power walk beside what seemed like the busiest road in the country. The rains were absolutely freezing and I was ready to give up shortly after setting off. Danny and Dean were men on a mission though, and as I didn’t want to appear the pathetic little soft arse I possibly am, I battled forth to save face.

We all came very close to death on numerous occasions along that terrible jaunt. Petrol tankers and huge lorries would zip by at breakneck speeds. The busy two lane highway was an accident waiting to happen. One false step to the right would have seen us crushed to death by a speeding vehicle. Whereas a foot or so to the left would have sent us tumbling into a Willy Wonker like sluice drain filled with a thick, chocolaty river of mud; the brown torrent travelling rapidly along its deep drainage channel before making a vertical drop into a scary looking abyss.

When we finally arrived at the hot spring – a site that would more accurately be described as a heated outdoor swimming pool – I was shivering like mad and almost in tears from the cold. The iciness in my bones was quickly washed away though. And no sooner had the five of us jumped into the glorious, bath temperature pool we all became buoyant in spirits once more.

We bobbed and swam around in steaming springs for an age, trying to get the heat back into our hypothermic bodies whilst doing our best to ignore the fart like smell of sulphur emanating from the waters.

The loveliness of the hot baths was brought to an abrupt end half an hour later. A bolt of lightning from the enduring storm smashed into the ground thirty metres from where we frolicked. The surging electricity could be felt on our shocked faces as it hit, temporarily blinding those looking in that direction.

Reluctantly we departed the spring’s warm embrace soon after, setting off home before we were all suitably fried to a crisp.

That evening Danny, Dean, Anusa and I took a stroll down a dark, winding path to a swanky lodge for some drinks. It was the closest thing the Ezulwini Valley had to a bar, and after our not so enjoyable episode trying to find the hot springs we were all in need of some pleasant refreshment.

Draining our second beer we were thus joined at the table by a drunken Zimbabwean named Louis. Bossily ordering the barman to procure another round of drinks for us all, Louis then entered into a discussion about architecture with Danny as they were both relatively knowledgeable on the subject.

Their educated chat didn’t last long. In his growing drunkenness Louis became somewhat boisterous and a little overwhelming. He liked to be heard, and didn’t seem overly keen on listening to others either.

Anusa soon lost patience with Louis and began chatting up two local Swazi girls. The other lads quickly became fed up with Louis’s conversation domination also and followed Anusa in his pursuit of the local talent. The two women looked remarkably like chubby prostitutes, so I stayed and talked to Louis about Zimbabwe instead.

“So what’s it like there at the moment?”

“It is not good,” replied the red eyed African, before barking more drink orders at the patient barman. “Since the economy crashed, things have gone from bad to worse.”

“What do you think of Mugabe?” I asked.

“Robert Mugabe is a very, very intelligent man.”

“So I’ve read, but do you like him?”

“Can you really like someone whose government has lost everything you have ever worked for? All of my money I had in the bank is gone. I have had to start again from scratch. But there are no other options for the people of Zimbabwe right now.”

“Wouldn’t that Morgan Tsvangirai dude be a better bet to rule the country?”

“Morgan Tsvangirai is a simple man. He is not an intellectual like Mugabe. I really do not know whether he would be any better or any worse, but it is unrealistic to think he will gain control of Zimbabwe. Mugabe is too powerful.”

Louis and I continued to talk about his country, briefly eluding to the ordeals it has gone through under Robert Mugabe’s white man hating regime. All throughout our conversation Louis never once said a bad word about the fuckwit Mugabe, which I found strangely fascinating. Was he scared, or did he genuinely believe Mugabe was the best of a bad bunch? I really don’t know. But talking with the guy proved insightful and I’m very glad I had the opportunity to do so. Plus he paid for my drinks all night so it was a win-win situation.

On our second full day in Swaziland we were at a loss for affordable things to do. Another wander to the Pick ‘n’ Pay supermarket didn’t knock our socks off with excitement, so we decided to get on the next bus heading to the capital city with hopes of finding something interesting there.

The ride to Mbabane didn’t take long at all due to Swaziland being a tiny country. Upon our arrival, we drifted along on the scent of fried secret spices and wound up within the confines of good old KFC.

The price of meals in Mbabane’s KFC seemed ridiculous in comparison to what we had been spending on food of late, so we hastily bid the Colonel good day and went off in search of more economical fare.

Ending up in a small local café we ordered whatever was cheapest and were unsurprisingly disappointed with the results. The chicken casserole I got was a foul brew (no pun intended) of skin and bone with the odd diced carrot thrown in, served on the local staple known as pap.

Pap is a tasteless white lump of cooked ground maize. It is the African equivalent of mashed potato or rice I suppose, just nowhere near as enjoyable as either.

Despite tasting pretty gross, pap does have its plus sides. This comes in the form of what is known locally as a ‘pap ass.’ The thick, stodgy mass is laden with calories and the ladies of Africa can’t seem to get enough of this white gunk inside them. When not burnt off, these calories migrate straight to the ladies rump and form enormous, juicy looking behinds.

A big, fat arse doesn’t exactly sound all that enticing, but believe me, it really can be. These rotund derrières look magnificent fun just sitting there, defying gravity like two smuggled footballs stuck in the back of a woman’s knickers. So, having left most of our crappy meals, we spent the next few hours walking around the capital Mbabane being inter-racial perverts and checking out these gorgeously massive bottoms.

Personally, I think black women are beautiful. I like all women in fact, but there is something about the exotic femme – be they of African, Latin or Asian descent – that really gets me going. Here in Mbabane then I was totally in my element. Dean surprised me too with his ardent admiration as I’d always figured him as a busty blonde kind of guy. The two of us were in cahoots on this one though, and couldn’t keep our eyes still for a second.

Not only were we admiring the perfectly stout ‘pap asses’ of these mysterious black beauties, but we couldn’t help noticing the enormous boobs the Swazi females appeared to possess also. Dean and I were agog at the plethora of busty stunners. Danny remained calm and composed on the other hand, offering fatherly advice every now and then when we got a little overly excitable.

It’s no secret that Africa has a very large problem with the AIDS pandemic, and Swaziland has one of the world’s highest rates of infection amongst adults. So whenever Dean and I would ogle or comment to one another about the perfect dimensions of a particular ladies chest (all done in the most tasteful sense I strive to add) Danny would inform us with an air of learned disinterest that “they might look nice boys, but they’re full of sour milk.”

Not letting the political correctness crew off work just yet, Danny soon changed his tune on the local female populace when an absolute stunner dressed in a tight black pencil skirt and low cut, pink blouse sat next to him on the minibus home.

“Get her chatted up brother!” we urged quietly from the seats behind.

“I might do lads,” replied Danny, unintentionally loud. “You know what they say, once you’ve had black, you never go back.”

His well-known quote wasn’t a terrible thing to say. On the contrary in fact, it’s a compliment if anything. But when said at considerable volume in a minibus full of already staring locals, it may not have been the most appropriate piece of praise given the circumstances.

Categories: Chapter 2, The Jo-burg - Delhi Express | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment
 
 

Manchester – Johannesburg – Kruger NP

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The Jo’burg – Delhi Express

A tale of normal blokes looking for fun and adventure
Chapter One

“What the bloody hell is this thing Blair?”

“That’s a chickpea Dean.”
“A what?”

“A chickpea,” I answered, inspecting the golden orb balanced on my friend’s silver fork.

“Is it chicken or a pea?”

“Erm, a bit of both possibly,” I said, knowing if I told the truth he’d more than likely leave his dinner.
“Champion!” replied Dean, eating my little white lie and the rest of his curry in four hearty mouthfuls.

The Emirates flight from Manchester to Dubai had been a treat from start to finish. The initial trepidation shown by my two travelling companions and me as we splattered along a soggy

motorway to the airport had all been left behind in gloomy England. Nervousness and fear was washed away by the airline’s regular supply of wine, and in its place developed a much welcomed sense of joviality and excitement.

Arriving at the sparkling Dubai International Airport things took a turn for the worse. The long wait for our connecting flight to Johannesburg was miserable. Hungover and groggy from our greedy alcohol consumption on the plane, the three of us needed greasy food more than a bratty child needs a good slapping.

Drifting in the direction of Burger King, we each placed an incorrectly named value meal on our visa cards. The flame grilled offal filled a gap that the chickpea curry evidently couldn’t and once our bellies were completely satisfied we made our way to the boarding gate.

While Dean was lacing himself with aftershave samples in a duty free shop, I joined Danny – the second of my two travel companions – in making the acquaintance of a girl we’d spotted tinkling on her laptop.

The amiable young lady was a South African national called Irene. She was returning home after working on a cruise ship for a year in the Caribbean. I really enjoyed talking to Irene for those first few minutes. She seemed bubbly and energetic, and had a sharp sense of humour to boot.

As we spoke, I struggled terribly to avert my gaze away from Irene’s chest. I literally had to concentrate on maintaining eye contact at all times. For once in my life however, this bosomy interest wasn’t due to being a class-A pervert. Although a finely shaped pair of breasts they appeared to be, I was in fact ogling Irene for far grislier reasons. The poor girl had huge areas of scar tissue spanning from the top of her neck, down both arms and deep into her cleavage. It looked like some sort of burn rather than birthmark, most probably from scolding. Whatever it was though, it had made a mess of an otherwise attractive girl.

One generally tries to avoid asking people they meet in airport terminals what exactly had disfigured them. And Irene wasn’t overly forthcoming in enlightening us on this particular subject either. She was pretty keen, however, on showing us that she was an ardent admirer of inebriation. Asking us all to join her for a drink, Irene claimed to have a stash of miniatures in her bag she’d nicked from the previous flight.

Following her lead, we purchased a can of coke at a nearby bar and watched Irene top up her can with the pilfered liquor. Dean and I sat waiting with thirsty expectation. We hoped the hair of the dog would chirp us up a tad and bring back some of the happy banter we’d shared earlier.

Unfortunately, we would be waiting a long time, as it soon became apparent that Irene preferred keeping her alcohol all to herself, just as she had the tale of her skin mutilation.

“Are you guys not getting a drink?” she asked as we observed her downing the whiskey and coke.

“We’ve got one?” responded Dean, pointing to his ready and willing can.

“I didn’t mean just coke when I asked you to join me you know. I really dislike drinking alcohol on my own.”

“Share your free booze then you tight cow,” I said under my breath, annoyed our new pal wasn’t in much of a benevolent mood.

“We can’t afford airport prices,” we hinted, but it fell on deaf ears.

“You guys are boring.”

“And you’re a selfish bitch,” muttered Dean.

Not keen on paying over a fiver for a drink, we sat at the bar sipping our cokes as Irene steadily got pissed. Not having to act all grateful and courteous now she wasn’t willing to share her stash, we began guiding conversation from sociable chit chat into a more preferable set of topics.

“Did you get much on these Caribbean cruises then Irene?”

“Much of what? Money?”

“Cock,” answered Dean bluntly.

“Do you mean sex?”

“Yep.”

“That’s a bit of a personal question, don’t you think?”

“Come on Irene,” I said, too slow to realise the incredible quip I could have sung from it. “We’re all friends here.”

“Erm, I would say I got my share then. Why?”

“We are just curious. What type of lads do you usually go for?”

“I don’t really have a type. But not South African I can tell you that,” she stated sternly.

“Why not? I bet there’s loads of decent looking lads in South Africa.”

“They’re all dirty players. You can practically smell the AIDS on them,” she spat. Not literally, but it wouldn’t have been any less offensive if she had.

“Fucking hell. You can’t say that,” I responded, dribbling coke all over the table as I attempted to suppress an inappropriate laugh.

“Why not? It’s true. I’m a black woman from Free State. All of the guys I know around there just fuck and fuck and fuck without ever using a condom. They don’t care what they pass on, so why should I care about them?”

“Fair enough I guess. You obviously know the place better than we do. It just sounds a bit harsh that’s all.”

“So is getting AIDS off some sleazy guy who can’t keep his dick in his pants.”

She had me there. One nil to Irene.

From the sexy little conversation that had turned slightly sour (it’s all that dashed AIDS’ fault) Irene strangely warmed to us. She was pretty drunk by now, clearly having caned a few whiskey’s before we’d begun chatting. And in her growing drunkenness it seemed as if Irene’s affections for me were evolving at a similar pace.

My hangover was in full swing at this stage, and since she’d been too tight to alleviate it with one of her pilfered drinks, I was in no mood to humour Irene’s advances. Having found a much fitter South African girl to socialise with, we attempted to fob her off once on board the plane.

The flight to Jo’burg proved nothing like the earlier journey from Manchester to Dubai. Gone was the bonhomie and mirth. Insomnia, back pain and headaches were the predominant factors this time around. Couple this with fighting off the affections of a drunken, judgemental black woman and the flight soon become an experience I couldn’t wait to end.

Before embarking on my trip to Africa I’d had the bright idea of watching a variety of films on the region. I’d hoped to get a better perspective on what to expect upon my arrival and this form of media was the most accessible. It just so happened, the majority of this unwise selection ended in a spot of genocide. With such a pursuit being something very few of us are keen on being a part of, I was a little disturbed to say the least.

Another slightly less aggressive, yet still utterly terrifying programme in my pre-arrival viewing was a documentary by Louis Theroux. Set within Johannesburg, the show focused on the panic and despair afflicting many parts of the city due to poverty and gang culture. Watching this a few hours before setting out for South Africa really wasn’t the cleverest thing I’d ever done. It had completely the opposite effect to what I’d hoped. I wanted to be put at ease by my new surroundings. Not panicked that I was going to get robbed at every turn by a machete wielding madman.

I was genuinely scared about the initial section of our trip. Perhaps it was the not so welcoming locals on Louis’ documentary threatening to cut someone’s wife’s face off. Or it could have been their intent on putting a baby in the microwave should a parent not hand over their valuables when requested. Whatever the reason, it was fair to say that upon arrival into Johannesburg International Airport I was considerably ill at ease.

Another worry concerning this particular segment of our new adventure was the fact that I’d had no say in its organisation. And for a control freak like me, this was not comforting whatsoever.

In normal life – or should I say in everything except travelling – I do my utmost to avoid any form of responsibility. I hate it. Responsibility is just another word for burden in my book. Conversely though, when it comes to my trips abroad, I like to be in full control for the majority of the time.

My pal Danny had taken the reins for the first section. He had organised for us to stay with an old friend of his for a few days in one of the city’s northern suburbs. All I knew was that the guy’s nickname was ‘Trigger’ after the Only Fools and Horses character. When I’d asked why this was, I was told to just wait and see.

Having collected our backpacks – Dean’s festival going sleeping bag receiving a thorough sniff by a drug hungry beagle – the three of us then made our way into the airport’s arrivals hall. For ten minutes we stood in a tired and confused state, doubting the reliability of Trigger actually showing up. Or I did at least – Danny on the other hand seemed quietly confident.

“Do you think he’ll definitely have remembered us mate?” I asked tentatively, trying not to sound too much like an ungrateful arse.

“He’ll be here sooner or later. Knowing Trigger he’ll have got lost in the car park,” answered Danny. “Here is now, look. That big, numb sod over there who looks like Postman Pat.”

Sure enough, a six foot four version of my childhood’s favourite postie bound towards us, smiling warmly as he approached. Manly handshakes exchanged all round, we set off towards the car park Trigger had just been lost in.

Arriving at Trigger’s truck, we threw our luggage into the back. The thud of our bags as they hit the corrugated metal was shortly followed by a loud slap of skin against skin. Turning around, Trigger was stood with his head in his hands looking distressed.

“Fuck!” he uttered, shaking his noggin in disbelief.

“What’s up?”

“I’ve locked the bastard keys in the truck.”

“I told you.” said Danny, looking at Dean and me with a big smile on his face. “Now you know where Trigger comes from.”

Twenty minutes of farting around later and Trigger finally managed to break in. He’d opened a small window with a piece of plastic removed from the roof racking before forcing his large self through the tiny cavity with a succession of grunts and heaves.

It was a forty minute drive from the airport to Trigger’s house in the suburbs. The ride seemed to take far longer however. I was on edge every time we stopped at a set of traffic lights and feared something dangerous may suddenly occur.

Large groups of Africans congregated at the lights, doing nothing more harmful than trying to hawk their wares. Yet I was adamant that one may pull out a gun or grab our gear from the back of the truck at any second.

Had I not watched the aggressive documentaries regarding Johannesburg’s dreadful crime statistics then I wouldn’t have been like this. Trigger assured me there was nothing to worry about, and he was right, but I was still relieved each time we pulled away and eventually rolled into the garage of his well secured bungalow.

The house Danny had organised for us to stay in was fantastic. Each room of Trigger’s lovely abode was spacious and very nicely decorated. The bungalow had a huge garden too, complete with specialised barbecuing area and even its own swimming pool.

The four of us had a quick brew together before Trigger went back to work for the afternoon, kindly giving us the run of the house. We didn’t do much running mind. Dean and I went and crashed out on our big shared bed, whilst Danny snuggled up on the sofa for a few hours of well needed rest.

That evening – our first in Southern Africa – Trigger and his lovely wife Kerryn drove us to their local pub. The ridiculously cheap beer flowed in abundance. Every time our sweating glasses of crisp Windhoek lager looked as if they were likely to expire, an efficient waiter would glide over and drop another round onto the table. It was unusual for us Brits to experience such service, what with having to endure the drudgery of going to the bar for oneself and all. It certainly made a welcome change being looked after so well.

Trigger’s local pub proved to be great fun. We became well acquainted with our gracious hosts that evening, receiving a glimpse into the lives of South Africa’s more affluent residents at the same time. Some of Trigger and Kerryn’s friends had joined our party midway through the night, although they’d acted responsibly by heading home before they became totally plastered. We, on the other hand, weren’t so astute, with Trigger driving us back to their place in approximately half the time it took to get to the pub four hours earlier.

Drink driving in South Africa, we were soon to learn, was a lot less frowned upon than in many other western countries. The locals claimed driving under the influence to be a much safer option than taking a taxi. This was due to the likelihood of the cab driver subsequently mugging them. Whether the countries road safety statistics would concur with this precept I don’t know. But nevertheless, drink driving was something South Africans readily seemed to accept.

Stumbling into the kitchen, we attacked the household’s stock of booze before some bright spark decided it would be a great idea to go in the pool. Just so I wasn’t the odd man out I had a quick splash, but being of sensitive stock I found the water far too cold for my liking. Standing back instead, I watched the other plonkers back flip and wrestle into the night as I shivered my little tits off under a towel.

When the rest of the boys began feeling the chill we ventured back into the kitchen. The five of us then began warming ourselves up, starting with our throat and lungs first by tackling a giant bag of weed. None of us smoked regularly, and consequently, just as many could roll a decent joint. Trigger’s overflowing bouquet was the most acceptable effort, and before long we were all well and truly buggered off it. Although some of us were more reluctant to admit it than others.

“It’s not done anything to me,” slurred Danny. “Its shite is this weed lark.”

“If it’s shit then why have you got that dopey smile on your face?” asked Kerryn through the smoky haze.

“What smile?” replied Danny, trying his best to suppress a Cheshire cat like grin stretching lazily from ear to ear.

“That one you daft fucker!” said Dean, pointing at his beaming countenance.

The rest of us were in stitches at this point. The marijuana and Danny’s denial had well and truly given us all the giggles. He too followed suit soon after, rolling around on the floor in fits of uncontrollable laughter whilst still trying to profess his resistance to the drug.

For a good quarter of an hour none of us could stop laughing. I’d tried weed before, and only once had it had a similar effect. The other occasions it had made me feel like a paranoid sociopath, so this shared joviality was a welcome change.

Eventually we dragged ourselves into the living room and put on some music. Trigger and his Mrs passed out on the sofa shortly afterwards, closely followed by a still grinning Danny. Dean and I sneaked back into the kitchen at this point in order to sate our newly arrived hunger. Feasting on roast chicken and salad cream sandwiches, seasoned with what was left of the bag of weed, we filled our guts before thinking it best we head to bed also.

The next day I awoke feeling terrible. Trigger had somehow managed to crawl out of bed in order to oversee the guys working for his construction company. Dean, Danny and Kerryn had also surfaced and were discussing the plan of attack for the day ahead.

“We’re fancying the Lion Park Jord’, are you up for that?” asked Danny.

“What’s that?”

“It’s a park with lions in it.”

“Not really then, I’ll wait here for you,” I replied, groggily. “I’ll hold the fort and keep an eye on the housekeeper for you.”

“That’s not happening. The housekeeper’s fine and you’re coming with us,” said Kerryn forcibly enough for me to know she meant business. “We’re setting off in quarter of an hour, so go and get ready.”

It’s highly unlikely I would’ve shown any enthusiasm at the idea of visiting a glorified zoo even if I’d woken up feeling tip top. Considering my brain felt as if it had just been punched by a kangaroo then, it’s fair to say I really didn’t fancy the Lion Park whatsoever that morning.

Pulling into the car park of the enormous grassy complex, we bought our tickets before proceeding on foot into the grounds. Having checked out a few hyenas that looked about as happy to be there as me, the four of us then made our way to the giraffe enclosure. A solitary old man was hand feeding the beautiful critters as we approached. Witnessing the animal gently lap at the food from his upturned palm, I instantly perked up.

Although I’m not overly enamoured by most animals – quite unlike Dean who loves the tempestuous bastards – I do really like giraffes. Giraffes, goats and the occasional dog. The rest are either boring, annoying or dangerous. There’s a look of confused serenity in giraffes that I love and can certainly relate to. They’re so wonderfully amiable it’s impossible not to like the lanky buggers.

Danny bought a bag of giraffe food from a nearby vendor. It looked like Shredded Wheat mixed with rabbit shit, and smelled rather similar to the latter too. We each grabbed a handful of the stinking feed and made our way to the fence. Tentatively handing some of the brown mixture to a gorgeous youth with its head stuck through the posts, we quickly moved on when a greedy ostrich started sticking its powerful beak in.

Climbing atop a wooden platform, the four of us cautiously held out lumps of shredded excrement as a lure. Once they saw what delights we had for them, the graceful adult giraffes gently lumbered over. They were magnificent beasts, far bigger than I’d expected. Their massive heads alone were the size of my torso. The beautiful animals slowly took the food from our palms with their customary easy going style. Emboldened by their lack of aggression – and wanting to show off somewhat – Dean and I then placed some of the coveted feed on our tongues for the giraffes to tenderly lap off. As their foot long black tongues tickled against our own it was a struggle not to recoil in fear. We were a long way from any teeth though, so we maintained our poise until the giraffes had eaten the lot.1917193_191843277512_3942822_n

Getting French kissed by a local on the second day of our adventure was something we were both exceedingly proud of. Travelling is all about new experiences, and we gleamed from that brief encounter that bestiality is a totally underrated pursuit.

An affable young attendant invited us into the enclosure she was cleaning once we’d had our fill of snogging the giraffes. Within the fenced environment lay six young lion cubs. They were awesome little creatures, although slightly overzealous with their playful biting. Even when they were attempting to lacerate our forearms, the cute cubs were far nicer than the nasty garden shitting felines adored by women with loneliness issues back home. All they are fit for is testing out a new catapult.

Meerkats and a pit of sad looking crocodiles were also features of interest within the park. We didn’t hang around long at either of these enclosures mind. Our priorities lay with the big boys that gave the park its name.

Heading back to the car we began our drive into the lion’s den. It was all a bit eerie within the fenced arena. It wasn’t a huge space, just enough room for a car to do a comfortable circle before heading back out to safety again.

All of a sudden I became incredibly nervous. As we approached the resting cats, a male lion the same size of Kerryn’s car yawned directly beside my head. All that separated us from this terrific mass of teeth and muscles was a thin pane of glass. The knowledge that one small swipe from its dinner plate sized paw and the lion could open our vehicle up like a tin of sardines was more than a little disconcerting.

The lions we inched by were magnificent looking creatures – utterly terrifying and breathtakingly handsome at the same time. You really wouldn’t stand a chance with one of these monsters. Hence the reason I wasn’t overly keen on spending too much time in the enclosure.

After an unexpectedly enjoyable day in the Lion Park, our second evening in Jo’burg was to be spent continuing the gaiety with a couple of Trigger’s friends.

Rowan was our host Kerryn’s older brother and a really nice bloke. He was very down to earth and chatty, and had a way of making you feel well at ease with him.

Luke, who was engaged to one of Kerryn’s cousins, was an absolute mountain of a man. He made Trigger, Danny and Dean – who were all pretty well built lads – look like three malnourished refugees from a Sudanese village. As for myself, Luke made me feel about as manly as a used tampon. Despite his intimidating bulk, he was an incredibly nice guy too. Both Luke and Rowan were extremely interested in our forthcoming trip, firing off question after question with affable curiosity.

The Monte Casino complex was a giant Spanish themed mall, hotel and casino. It was a stunning place, much like the rest of Johannesburg we had seen to date, and was to be our first port of call for the evening.

Trigger had borrowed his father-in-law’s fancy BMW convertible and sped us through the quiet northern suburbs and down into the Casino’s claustrophobic underground car park. Luke and Rowan were in hot pursuit, racing in behind us before we all made our way to The Meat Co’ – a popular franchise of restaurants for the carnivorously inclined.

After our giant rump steaks we strolled the complex a little. The European feeling resort was lovely to walk around, although it couldn’t have felt any less African if it tried. This wasn’t exactly what we’d come to the vast continent for, so I was glad to climb back into the swanky BMW and break most laws of the road until we reached a supposedly more local bar called Billy Bums.

Billy Bums, it transpired, wasn’t a particularly African experience either. The blue neon lighting and the arrogant bar staff weren’t much to our taste. And the same could be said for the sexual orientation of the majority of its clientèle. We must have arrived on a gay night or something as there were dudes kissing each other on most tables.

We shouldn’t have all been so surprised at this revelation. The pub’s name ought to have been a bit of a giveaway really. Any bar with the word ‘bum’ in its title should automatically be a cause for doubt. I’m not homophobic, and have no issues being in gay bars, but Billy Bums felt seedy and lacked any sort of character whatsoever. Drinking up quickly, we soon departed and said farewell to Rowan who had work in the morn. The remainder of us then headed over to Manhattans, a massive club a few miles away which Luke just happened to manage.

Avoiding all queues, we weaved our way into the colossal nightclub and straight to the bar. Luke, our now courteous host, provided us with complimentary beers and told us to go nuts on whatever we liked.

I was stuffed after the steak and struggled to take advantage of Luke’s generosity. Preferring to substitute my drink for a less gassy beverage, Luke returned with a couple of vodka Redbull’s. Two more of these caffeine pumped babies in my guts and I was rocking, hitting the dance floor with Dean while the others chatted to Luke’s fiancé who worked behind the bar.

“Have you seen these two?” I shouted in Dean’s ear, referring to two bouncing beauties flitting around us. “I can’t work out whether they’re keen or not.”

“Aye, I’ve clocked them,” replied Dean, shimmying to the beat. “Fit as fire. Go in for the kill Blair.”

“No chance,” I said, trying not to look too desperate with my creepy sex stare. “I’m not pissed enough yet. Give it a while and we’ll see if they show more interest.”

Dean and I danced to the terrible cocktail of music, waiting for a sign from the two local sirens to show that a move from our party wouldn’t be rebuffed.

I hate rejection. It sucks. Some people can get spurned twenty times in a night and still keep plugging away for a little romance. If I get turned down once then that’s my confidence down the plug hole for a good three weeks. Not being the most self-assured in these situations then, we struggled to pick up the kind of confirmation we were looking for and spent most of the night dancing together like a couple from Billy Bums.

If I had been a betting man, I would say the two sexy little crackers were quite keen on Dean and me. Their firm little arse cheeks bounced and bobbed very close to the vicinity of our crotches for most of the night, just neither of us had the balls to do anything about it.

Trigger and Danny joined us all on the dance floor a bit later on. Trigger’s enthusiasm soon waned however and suggested it was time to go home. He had work in the morning and understandably wanted some rest.

Dean and I couldn’t help but look disappointed at the idea of calling it a night. This in turn caused Trigger to suggest we stay in the club and Luke would arrange us a taxi back later on. We were both very eager to do this, yet at the same time we would have felt like prize twats deserting our host on the second evening. Therefore we followed Danny and Trigger out to the car before remembering the sweet behinds on the two unapproachable nymphs back on the dance floor.

“What do you reckon mate?” I asked Dean as we stood beside the club entrance.

“I think we should stay,” he replied eagerly. “We need to find some testicles and get stuck into them birds.”

“I would feel a bit of a prick on Trigger though. Plus how would we get in? His house is like Fort Knox.”

“Hmm, I dunno. I could definitely do with a bang though, I know that.”

“It’s a toughie. That short lass in the blue dress was incredible, and I’m sure they both liked us a bit.” I added, weighing up the options.

Dean mused also, yet knowing him as I did, I was certain his party spirit wouldn’t allow him to be the one to say ‘let’s definitely go home’. He knew fine well that the most sensible thing to do would involve getting a lift back with Trigger, but until I suggested it, we were at a stalemate.

“Here,” said Dean. “Does this help make your mind up?” and with these words he inexplicably stuck his fingers down his arse crack before wiping them under my nose.

“You filthy twat,” I said in disgust, trying to wipe the sour poo smell out of my moustache. “As it happens, yes it does. I’m certainly not going back in there smelling like your anus. Come on dickhead, we’re gonna have to go home now.”

Dean’s only way to call it a night was to give me a horrible Shitler moustache, forcing my hand into making the boring decision to retire early. At that moment I genuinely wished he was a more normal human being. Six more months of this palaver at the end of a night out was a very daunting prospect indeed.

*

The five of us wedged ourselves into Kerryn’s tiny car, sharing the already limited space with mountains of equipment and supplies. A cooking pot up your arse and a cool box smacking against the back of your head is hardly the most comfortable way to travel Africa. Yet that was to be my plight during our long drive towards the Kruger National Park.

All three of us lads had over packed considerably for the trip; an idiotic feat which I always manage to achieve. Gradually I’ve become better at reducing the amount of unnecessary crap I take travelling, and maybe by my twentieth trip around the world I’ll have finally mastered what I do and don’t need to bring along.

Danny had taken the over packing to a different level though. His backpack made mine and Dean’s look like the book bags of a couple of primary school children. He had absolutely everything in there – a gadget or tool for all occasions. Not that he knew what to do with it all, informing us quite openly he had ‘all the gear, but no idea’.             My legs had buckled trying to lift the big, black army style backpack onto an airport trolley, let alone carry the bastard on my back around Africa and beyond. It was like trying to give a piggyback to Ray Mears – potentially very handy in a time of need, but fucking torturous on the spine. If we’d crash landed somewhere inhospitable I’d have praised Danny for being so fantastically well equipped. But when a full set of army mess tins are jabbing you in the ear for six hours, unnecessary implements can start to get on a person’s tits pretty quickly.

Despite it being uncomfortable, as we left the elevated Highveld on which Johannesburg lies and approached the escarpment – a relatively steep descent into the Lowveld – we were rewarded with incredible views. The car cruised down huge valleys of lush verdure and jagged rocky precipices before arriving on the vast, arid plateau below.

Making a pit stop to fill the tank which had been straining under our considerable weight, we took the opportunity to load up our grumbling bellies also.

The burger chain Wimpy was omnipresent throughout South Africa, especially the roadside services, and it was here that the five of us piled in and stared confusedly at their non-too appetising menu. Being a tight fisted miser I opted for their cheapest meal before standing back as Danny and Dean subtly took the piss out of a guy serving us named ‘Farter’.

Receiving my food from the cheerful Farter, I then took the brown bag of warm goodies outside and sat in the hot Lowveld sun.

Kerryn and Trigger – clearly Wimpy connoisseurs – had chosen very tasty looking toasted sandwiches to dine upon, whereas Dean and Danny played it safe with fries and a milkshake apiece. Both of these were choices I was very soon to envy.

My burger had the texture and pallor of a drowned sailor. It was basically a grey, sweaty patty of death and as appetising to eat as Popeye’s arsehole. I was starving though, and ate half regardless of its foulness before throwing the rest away in disgust.

Forty minutes later, as the car gently chugged along a quiet stretch of motorway, I began to feel an all too familiar gurgle in the pit of my stomach. Before long this worrying rumble evolved into irregular summersaults and contorting spasms deep within my guts. This was shortly followed by hot flushes and cold sweats. I felt panicked and weak, and was barely able to answer Kerryn when she asked if I was ok.

“Pull over Trig’, Jordan doesn’t feel well at all.” she shouted from the back seat.

“I can’t pull over here, can I? We’re in the middle of nowhere.”

“I didn’t mean right here, just when you can.”

“Ok, just stop barking orders at me.”

“Jesus, I was only saying. It’s not nice when you feel shitty is it.”

“I know that Kerryn, just give me chance to find somewhere decent. There’s a pub coming up soon, we can pull in there.”

The realisation I was merely half a fart away from shitting in my knickers offered me no end of humiliation. And the fact that my dodgy belly had caused a minor disagreement between our hosts incited even more discontent.

My shame was alleviated slightly when we finally pulled into the country pub car park. I rushed through the bar to the gents toilets like a cheetah, making it just and so to the lavatory before exploding.

My hatred for having weak bowels is immeasurable. Ever since I got food poisoning on a night bus in India and had to stick my bum out of the window and let fly I’d been paranoid about crapping myself on long journeys. Mostly it was a psychological pressure I brought upon myself. But in this instance, it was definitely Farter’s rancid burger that had got me.

Three trips to the little boys room later and I was suitably empty. I didn’t feel particularly great, but there was nothing left in me to be squirted out. So, ready to hit the road again, we set off towards to Phalaborwa, home to the northern gate of the Kruger National Park.

After a long day of driving in the cramped little car we arrived at Phalaborwa around half past five in the afternoon. My untimely poo stop had held us back slightly, yet we’d made it to the park before the gates closed for the night.

Or so we thought.

Kerryn entered the gate’s reception to buy our passes alone. As she was the only South African national amongst us she hoped to get our tickets at local prices.

Returning to the car ten minutes later Kerryn was visibly flustered.

“That bitch in there says we’re too late to go into the park.” Kerryn whimpered as she approached the driver’s side window.

“What?” said Trigger, beginning to share his wife’s concern, “They said we were ok until six o’clock when we called?”

“I know. I said that to her but she wouldn’t listen. She says it’s going to be too dark and dangerous to enter the park now.”

“Did you show her all the reservations and stuff?”

“Yes. I even rang the camp in front of her who said it was fine. It’s just her being a jobsworth cow. Will you come and have a word Trig‘?”

Answering in the affirmative, Trigger stormed into the reception with Kerryn while we three lads sat in the car like their useless children.

I felt responsible. If I hadn’t been on the brink of shitting myself two hours earlier then we would have arrived in plenty of time. Danny and Dean appeased my guilt slightly by saying I shouldn’t feel bad, reiterating that we had still got there well before the time the park rangers had advised on the phone. It helped, but I still felt like a giant tit.

Ten minutes later the couple returned. Trigger informed us that the only way we were going to be able to enter the Kruger that evening was if we paid a thousand Rand – the equivalent of about £80 – for a ranger to give us a guided escort to our riverside camp. It was either that or we cancel the booking and stay somewhere in the town of Phalaborwa, missing out on an early morning game drive.

Opting to pay the money, we were ushered towards a special section of the car park whilst waiting for our escort to arrive in his truck. The night soon drew in. The five of us sat alone in the desolate space, sipping on warm bottles of cider and kicking stones around to quell the ennui.

“You cannot be here outside your vehicle,” urged an armed guard who sprung from the darkness.

“We’ve just been told to wait here?”

“It is not safe,” warned the guard, “leopards have been seen stalking this area for the past two nights. Please, follow me.”

Moved elsewhere, our guide to the camp arrived an hour or so later. Kerryn joined the guy in his truck so we in the back could have a bit more breathing space.

Just as both vehicles were pulling out of the wired compound the guide’s truck came to a hasty stop. A giant elephant, illuminated in the hazy glow of the truck’s spotlights, slowly trundled from one side of the road to the other before disappearing into the blackened bush. It was an immense sight. And we hadn’t even entered the park at this point. I’ve seen and ridden on plenty of elephants in all my travels throughout Asia, but they were nothing in comparison to this monolithic beast. It was huge. And utterly terrifying too.

We hadn’t been driving to our lodge for ten minutes before the guide’s truck ground to a halt again. In his beaming headlights this time was a Scooby-doo sized hyena stood looking at us in the middle of the road. Head down and jaws open, the angry looking creature oozed aggression. A few seconds passed before it too slinked into the darkness.

More elephants crossed our path later in the ride, as did large scorpions and a few other not so impressive creatures. Each time one made an appearance our guide, whose sole purpose was to escort us safely to our camp, stopped for a few minutes to give information to Kerryn who would then relay it back to us over the phone.

The rate the darkness enveloped us, and the unchanging, monotonous confusion of narrow roads within the Kruger would surely have resulted in us being lost for the night. This was a scary thought considering the abundance of killer animals the national park housed. As well as saving our party from a night of bewildered terror then, the guide had basically given us a night safari too.

Arriving at the camp an hour after setting off from the gate, we picked up the keys and drove to our two bedroom cabin. The food and drink which had been sweating in the boot all day went directly into the fridge, before Trigger and Kerryn cooked dinner as Dean, Danny and I sat out on the porch drinking cider.

Looking out into the darkness we listened to the sounds of the park at night. It was a wonderful feeling out there amongst so many of the world’s largest animals. Being close enough to hear them call out to one another was a very humbling and surreal experience.

After dinner the five of us sat enjoying Trigger’s tales of previous Kruger visits before deciding to crack open the red wine. Just as Danny was heaving the reluctant cork from its snug hollow an almighty roar filled the darkness around us. Looking at one another in wide eyed horror we listened again as a second low pitched growl clattered into our ear drums.

“What the frig was that?” I asked, feeling another loose stool brewing all of a sudden.

“A lion I think,” answered Trigger.

“It could have been a leopard or a…….” added Kerryn, before being interrupted by a third spine chilling cry from the shadows ahead of us.

“That one was a hippo. I’m sure of it,” said Trigger looking confident. “The first two sounded like a lion, but I’m sure that’s a hippo. Let’s go and have a look.”

“No thanks,” I replied, inching back towards the door.

“It’s alright you soft fucker. We’re fenced in.”

“You say that Trigger,” commented Kerryn. “But didn’t Dad say that last time they were here a leopard had gotten into the grounds and killed one of the resident dykers?”

“It did what?” Dean asked incredulously, before learning a dyker was a sort of small deer and not a local lesbian.

“It killed a dyker. That was ages ago though. Come on, grab your torches and we’ll go for a look. There’ll be nothing in here so don’t worry.”

All of us collected our torches and tentatively edged towards a hide at the bottom of the camp. A low, flimsy looking electric fence was all that separated us from the life filled river. As we neared the hide I pushed myself to the middle of the pack, not wanting to be picked off at the back by a ravenous cat of sorts. I didn’t get too close to the front either, just in case there was something equally deadly lying in wait.

Another blood curdling roar filled the night sky just as we neared a felled tree that’s flaying roots looked terrifyingly like the ragged mane of a daddy lion.

“Nope. Bollocks to this. I’m off!” I said, scurrying back up the banking and into the heady sanctuary of the red wine. The others laughed at me like I was a coward, but sod that for a lark. They could get mauled all they liked, I much preferred the idea of staying in one piece and getting tanked up.

The shrill cry of my cheap alarm filled the wooden cabin at four in the morning. I had slept soundly once the sheets and underneath my bed had been checked three times for spiders and other nasty critters. Had anything actually been present it would have been destined for a flip flop to the head. Yet I wouldn’t have slept a wink all night for fear of reprisal attacks from their pals.

Languidly we streamed out to the car one by one, clutching our pillows and blankets as we went. Trigger had lowered the seats down in the back to produce a bed like viewing deck. It was a fine idea, but one that didn’t work unfortunately. Within ten minutes of setting off, everybody in the back had neck ache from straining to see out of the windows in our reclined positions. It was too late to amend it though – we were out in the inhospitable wilds at this stage so we simply had to grin and bear it.

The reason why we’d set out so early was to hopefully catch sight of some nocturnal feeders. Predominantly lions, as they usually slept all day having returned from a kill, hiding beneath the shade of trees out of sight from the road.

As it happened, we saw no lions, or cats of any kind for that matter. What we did witness a vast amount of though were very repetitive impala, springboks and other deer like creatures. I was awful at spotting these still, however boring and pervasive they were quickly becoming. Dean was great at finding the wild animals mind – the majority of which I couldn’t even see after having people point them out to me. My ineptitude was embarrassing.

I fared a little bit better on the animal sighting when I decided to put on my spectacles, feeling a grandiose sense of achievement when I made my first spot.

“There’s something!” I said, pointing in between two large trees off in the distance, “It looks like a giant camel. Hang on though, it might be a tree actually.”

“No, that’s a kudu,” Trigger confirmed. “Good spot.”

Good spot indeed. Filled with smugness I was desperate to locate more animals, the more dangerous the better. Sadly I didn’t achieve this – not before anybody else anyway – and consequently felt a touch retarded for being so completely useless.

Thankfully nothing was spotted within close proximity when Trigger took the small Toyota up a steep incline and got it stuck on a protruding rock. No amount of wheel spinning would set us free so there was only one option. Get out and push.

We managed to break free without being stalked by either an animal that wished to maul us or by a park ranger who would have enjoyed fining us. Ploughing on past enigmatic baobab trees and the iconic flat topped acacia’s we continued our morning safari.

On the way back to camp Danny saw an elephant up ahead with a stick hanging from its mouth. Legs widely spread, the beast looked like a toothpick chewing mafioso. As we neared, we realised it was a mother elephant with a calf nervously playing behind her knees. The mother was clearly uncomfortable with our presence, flapping her ears and raising her trunk wildly in our direction as if flipping us the finger.

The two elephants had the makings of a beautiful vision – a sight filled with maternal majesty. Unfortunately, the only maternal thing I had in my mind was when I found myself screaming “MOTHER FUCKER!!” over and over again.

What could cause an expletive at such an exquisite display of nurturing love? Twenty stampeding elephants hurtling through the bushes would be the answer to that little query.

Just as Trigger had killed the engine for us to take photographs, the rest of the herd arrived to assist the mother who saw us as a camera wielding threat. All of them besides the mother and calf charged at our tiny car with menace, knocking down trees and bushes like they weren’t even there.

“Go Trigger, fucking reverse!” cried Kerryn from the back.

“I’m trying” replied Trigger, stalling the car on his first attempt.

“Shit, shit, shit.” I whimpered, watching as the cloud of orange dust and elephant muscle poured forth.

“Get a bloody move on!”

At this point the herd were rapidly making ground on us. Five ton elephants spewed from all angles of the dry shrubbery intent on crushing the silver car with their enormous mass. Our only option to avoid getting trampled and gored to death by their fearsome tusks was to retreat the way we’d come.

Trigger finally managed to start the car and we steadily began to get some distance between us and the angry mob. One enormous angry elephant would have been bad enough. But times that by a herd of twenty and I think you will agree my terror wasn’t without foundation.

“Faster, please faster!” I urged Trigger, honestly fearing that if my bottom got any slacker through unprecedented fear then my underpants were shortly going to become a very unpleasant environment again.

Eventually, enough of a void between us and them was created before the elephants were suitably satisfied. We were no longer a danger to the calf, so they swanned off to do whatever it is giant African elephants do at that time of a morning.

The relief I felt was immeasurable. I’d genuinely felt my days were numbered.

Unfortunately, the only way back to camp was to pass where they had all charged from. Not knowing how far away they would be, Trigger put his foot down and sped us along the narrow paths and into the sanctuary of our hopefully safe resort, happily all in one piece.

Once settled back at the riverside camp, it was unanimously decided that the best way to celebrate not dying was to have a boozy barbeque for breakfast. Sipping on chilled bottles of Windhoek lager, Trigger cooked up perfect steaks on the barbeque while Kerryn fried eggs and mushrooms in the cabin’s kitchen. It was a fantastic breakfast – a textbook way to go about a manly morning of big game hunting. It was all very Hemmingway like, except in this instance, we were the ones most at risk of spewing blood and not the wild beasts.

Having made good headway through our stock of alcohol, the five of us set out in the car again for another game drive in the early afternoon. I would’ve quite happily not gone out for a second time. One, because I was admittedly petrified of another Jumanji like episode. Two, because my guts were still going ape-shit from Farter’s Wimpy burger the day before. And three, due to the fact I was pretty much over the whole safari thing. There’s only so many deer and zebra a person can see before it becomes dull. And as much as it had been quaint in the morning, at this point, the idea of searching for more fluffy tailed critters in the hot savannah filled me with nought but irritation.

We did end up seeing some lovely giraffe and wildebeest on the drive, but it was a long, tedious, hot afternoon in the cramped car all the same. One positive that sprung from the afternoon game drive was visiting one of the bigger Kruger based camps. Our booze stocks had depleted dramatically after our excellent breakfast so we took the opportunity to stock up whilst at the exclusive resort and enjoy a few on the drive around.

I was pissed by the time we’d driven back to our own camp, as were Dean and Kerryn. Unlike those happy souls though, I felt dreadful along with it. The previous day’s food poisoning had flared up somewhat and I was reduced to a drunken, stomach holding mess as I dashed into the cabin.

We’d brought from Jo’burg all the ingredients for a South African delicacy known as a Potjie. This included chicken, bacon, garlic, onions, cream and a whole load of other equally delicious items. Sadly, with my belly becoming more rebellious than 18th century France, I spent the entire evening sat on the toilet. I don’t know what was more painful – my cramping sickness, or the fact I was missing out on the wonderful smelling stew being devoured by all on the veranda.

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