Blimey, an entire month; what were you all thinking? I just spent all last night apologising for my mysterious disappearence to all and sundry, so I won't bother doing it for you lot as well; sorry about that. I might as well fill you in, though.
About three weeks ago, I left for the training in Pretoria. Having been assured that my assorted possessions would be arriving at the airport on that very same day, I drove down as early as I could (not very; I'd been up celebrating Dessy's return from Cape Town) only to find that, no, the cargo section isn't open on Saturdays. Heavy-hearted, I drove back to Mbabane, picked up Ali and the R45,000 server we were to work on and we hit the road for PTA. The drive was uneventful, except for an highly impressive hailstorm, which threw fist-sized lumps of semi-molten ice onto the car so thickly we couldn't actually see anything beyond the bonnet. We stopped. I did take a photo, but it was rubbish.. sorry about that. We settled our nerves with a greasy burger in Carolina and arrived a little later than planned (well, actually a day earlier, but probably a bit later than we should have been). After dropping in on Anne for a swift beer and a map of PTA, darkness was falling, so we phoned ahead to our hotel, who told us it wasn't a problem, we could check in any time before three. Mind you, remember last time I was there I got lost on the normally 40-minute drive, so maybe it was fortuitous after all.
I won't dwell on the details of the evening, suffice to say Pimane and I showed Ali where the far limit of booze-related debauchery lies. It was great fun. Pimane was perhaps more impressed than I by the woman dishing out shots of tequila, but the general consensus was that the apple sours lady was definitely worth chasing around the club, coins in hand.
It was a slow morning.
Shortly after noon, a large South African man pitched up in an equally sizeable BMW convertible. Ali introduced us; this was Werner, for/with whom I would be working for the next few days. He was extremely friendly and whisked us around to the office via the fewest junctions possible (a very wise move for my sake) and then took the entire office out for a steak. Three pints of Guinness later, and my hangover was sitting much more happily. Werner showed us where he lives so that we might meet his wife and, as he put it, "she won't stick a shotgun up your nose when you go round tomorrow after work". Then we were dropped at home, reeling somewhat but very full of lunch. We ambled off to the cinema and watched a remarkably facile sudDEN loud moveMENT type of "thrill"er with Mel Gibson in it. Sadly, he didn't pull a gun on anybody, didn't eat dog biscuits and didn't have a perm, the three things I more or less demand from his movies.
The following week was actually great fun; the guys at Flux were very accommodating and took me to a number of throbbing hot-spots. Special thanks, I think, should go out to Martin, whose seemingly endless patience with my rampant alcoholism and never-ending appetite for large meals didn't stop him inviting me out practically every night. And paying. Outrageous.
Anyroad, the week was probably not fantastically thrilling for anybody not technically inclined, although outside the office, I managed to have great fun seeing an amazing solo blues guitarist, with a mean line in Pink Floyd covers, playing pool at the Liverpool Arms (the shiftiest shebeen in Pretoria) and eating my way through several herds of steak. The only excitement came two nights before I was due to leave, when I went to Johannesburg to Nana (the singer from chapter 1) and my passport went missing. With my driving license. And all the receipts for fuel. This, in case you are wondering, wasn't a fantastically good thing.
It wasn't the only bad thing that day; my diet also went severely downhill when I helped Flux move offices and they laid on a bucket from KFC for lunch. Presented with a choice between that and imminent starvation, despite what I might have said about such a situation while I was in the UK, I went for the chicken. That evening I was at a friend's house for dinner; he'd promised to cleanse my system with a wholesome stew.. but unfortunately Pick n Pay was robbed while he was shopping, so he came back with McDonald's. Sigh. In the morning I applied for a new passport; they told me a week.
Flux took the server back with them; I remained behind feeling like a bit of a berk. Apparently, Martin took my place at the Corporate Raft Race, on the team for the Times of Swaziland, and had great fun, but I was stuck in Johannesburg. Well, that's not actually true. Anne loaned me a few notes and I finally discovered what the Buccanneer's Backpackers in Cintsa is really like. It was the place that I was meant to go back in '99 when my travelling companion decided twelve hours before we left that she didn't want to go - which saw me in Swaziland on my own. Funny how these things work out, eh?
Anyway, it was a fat drive; Durban is only about half way. I was determined to discover if I could do it, however, and also how little fuel I could do it on. The answers were yes, and surprisingly little. I think I averaged 6.92 litres per 100km which is probably quite a few mpg but I can't say I'm any good at imperial conversions after a day at work, sorry. If anyone works it out, do email me.
The boredom was unbelievable, but it was surprisingly restful and easy to concentrate when I stuck to 100kph (about 62mph) - very weird. I stopped for fuel in Pietermaritzburg and again in Umtata, but apart from that it was one long haul, 1000km as near as dammit in about 12 hours, averaging 6.9l/100km (34mpg) which isn't great but isn't that bad, either. As darkness closed in over the last 150km or so, I started fantasising about what a lovely, quiet place the Bucanneers was going to be, and how they were going to offer me sandwiches and take me down to the beach under the stars to share my bottle of Smirnoff with me.. which is probably why I was so disappointed. Ironically, of course, Gemma would have loved it, but I was too skint to enjoy being pushed towards surfing lessons at a cool R1,250 a day, or a proper bar with an mp3 jukebox and proper glass fridges. I arrived at 9 and was told that "dinner is at eight". I was also told not to bring my own booze into the bar, in case I was thinking of going there to buy a Kit-Kat, the only food now available.
I starved instead.
The weather was blustery and overcast, exactly the sort of weather you get when you've driven futher than is comfortable to the coast and are absolutely not going anywhere else. I spent an unpleasant half hour being stung by the sand and went back up for a shower. I was bright red. After being roped into a game of volleyball, during which I managed to spike the thing into underbrush so thick I thought I would never find my way back out, I paid the princely sum of R40 for a very good but unncecessarily fancy braai, which was served in portions to tourists in khaki who sat in rows to eat, while nobody played pool. It was actually somewhat depressing. I drank up, slept, and left in the morning.
It was, of course, raging hot for the return journey. The overcast, cool trip down had made me think it wasn't a big deal but of course it was. In Umtata, I sat and dripped sweat onto my chips at Rampant Chicken (no.. really), but had enough self-control not to go to the tragic antithesis of glamour that was the Chicago Disney Bar. On the way back I spotted some comedy signs, which are in the gallery, which was something. I also took a turning for a waterfall (the name eludes me now) which turned out to be a 18km tar road with a 6km dirt turnoff.. each way! Blimey, they aren't shy, are they? Mind you, it was worth coating the car in mud on a deceptively deep ford for the photographs as you can tell. And yes, I did cover it in mud after that picture was taken.
A few days back in Johannesburg and a call to the High Commission revealed that they'd lied to me and could actually issue a 1-year passport in 24 hours. They had "forgotten" that before. I ordered one and picked it up on Thursday afternoon, while recovering from an excellent night's revellry in Melville with absolutely nobody I had known before - well, except for Nana, who pitched up briefly.. and entirely randomly. Guy, why didn't you pitch? Call me. I arrived in Swaziland nearly two weeks late, to sighs of relief and joyful beer-purchasing. It was absolutely lashing down, but it didn't dampen the mood; I was ecstatic to be back.
Friday was a busy day at work picking up everything I'd missed and I took an early lunch break to fetch all my stuff from Matsapha, which had by now arrived. 250 CDs and a computer later and I was down at the farm, introducing Andy to my collection. I get the feeling some of it went down better than others. Anyway, it was an orgy of music and Guinness (cheers, Anne) and it ended just in time for a stiflingly sweaty Christmas dinner with the staff of Real Image, down in the valley.
On the way back, the Merc started smoking and the oil pressure dropped. Oooooh, dear. Still, it's good to be back to problems I can control.
Other Carl sites