11 January, 2007

A Farewell to Africa. 13,751miles

Being in Durban (or just south at Winklespruit) was more about the wonderfully kind and helpful people I met and who took care of me than it was about the place itself. It was something of a blessing that Jim's wife Violet is Scots and could understand my accent! She organised my flight. Lots of deliberations took place before the final decision was made. After much running around as well as electronic and telephonic research, myself and the bike flew from Johannesburg eventually, after a fortnight. There was some extra delay for the bike due to 'unforeseen circumstances' leading to a fair amount of anxiety.

I'd initially gone to seek out a friendly boat captain but was denied access to the dockside. I was told I needed to go via 'Clearing Agents'. Naturally they only deal in cargo and mine was too small for any of them to be very interested in. They more normally organise cargoes filling entire ships. My bike would need to go in a container and that might take a few weeks to fill. Nobody would just let me swing the bike onto a boat, tie it down and find myself a cabin. So no shippers (that I could find, Bob got me a long list - how long do you spend looking?) would entertain even the notion of my going on the same boat. Had the bike gone by boat, the quickest would have been 'at least 20 days, maybe ten weeks' and would have cost as much as the plane. The bike would have gone all alone, possibly via Singapore or maybe Antwerp, while I flew to and then mooched about Buenos Aires, uncertain, waiting, scared. So the bullet was firmly bitten and my already sagging bank balance sagged a wee bit more. It turns out that these Jumbo jets take 40tonnes of cargo along with passengers' luggage, so there was a fair possibility that I'd be on the same plane.

Before leaving Durban though, I had to get more new tyres, the phone needed a new speaker and the pot rack I bent in Tanzania needed straightening. All these mendings were a bit tight so close to departure. I'd spent almost my entire time in South Africa organising to leave the place. However, this activity in itself brought me into contact with a wide variety of locals. Somehow, I've again been personally blessed by meeting some of the kindest people you could imagine, mainly UK ex-pats. The kindness of those who have gone some considerable distance out of their way to assist me is second to none, and I've come to absolutely no harm whatsoever, despite everybody's insistance that everyone else is out to get me!

I met one petrol pump attendant who knew far more about Scottish football than I would ever want to. I noticed that a huge amount of people in Soouth Frica walk around barefoot by choice. This seems an excellent idea, given the climate and the cleanliness of the pavements. I also, sadly, noticed that only in South Africa I saw lots and lots of people with black skin, but I spoke to few, and fewer still spoke to me. People with black skin were never in the pubs or restaurants. They seemed wary, cowed, nervous of those people with white skin. It was odd, very odd. Especially having come through so many countries full of so many friendly and happy Africans - both with white and black skin.

Left to right - Drew, Gerry, Alex (at the back), Bob and Doug.
I'd put the tent and all of the camping gear into the crate with the bike. This meant I'd need to stay in B&B for a couple of nights until I flew. When I told Drew of this he wouldn't have it and instead offered accomodation at his place. Even once the bike was crated I needed to get back to Winklespruit from Pinetown, some 35 miles away. Ken, camped across the way, said he'd be glad to run me back, since he worked up there. Kindness everywhere. Not only did Ken run me back, but along the way he treated me to a grand tour around the sights of Durban. A lovely city with a very attractive beach front, almost Mediterranian.

The best way of getting to Johannesburg was by one of these cheap flights (also against the grain but . . . ) This one somehow costs a daft 12GBP for a one hour flight. How . . ? When will we ever learn? Meanwhile back in the ozone layer . . . It'll be flying anyway, I conceded, with or without me. Will somebody please plant some trees for me? About half a rainforest should do it! Something about twice the size of Belgium? Brendan, the kindly veterenarian from next door to the Lincoln Steak House, offered to lift me up to Durban Airport. This was particularly kind since public transport in that direction seemed to be lacking.

The bike was supposed to be there the same day as me, so I only needed to get it out of customs after getting myself through. Yes, I could leave the bulk of the luggage in the crate with the bike, but I had to have a very detailed itinerary. That only took ten minutes at the computer! The bike had to have its petrol drained and battery disconnected. It's classed as 'dangerous cargo'. Few faces cracked at my insistance that it could hardly be very dangerous without me on top of it!
I met a lovely young couple, Ian and Jayne, (with Jayne's step-grandpa Reg) who offered to accomodate me just a few minutes from Johannesburg airport, as well as run me there for the plane. But I had to check in at 0445 on Wednesday morning, so instead, Violet arranged for me to get the last of these cheapie flights from Durban on the Tuesday night. That way I just needed to make sure I stayed reasonably awake. Unfortunately, the bike wasn't on the plane at 0445 and Customs didn't open until 0800. I decided to follow the advice in the AMH and not leave before the bike.

After some phone calls and e-mails I walked a few kilometres in the blazing sunshine to the Customs offices, and retrieved my own Carnet. This, if I haven't already explained, is like a passport for the bike which promises that I won't sell it and that I will move it out of the country fairly soon. The RAC in the UK charge lots of money for it and it is extremely unwise to leave any country without it. I paid a fair amount of money for a company to do this for me but haven't heard why it didn't happen. The next flight was on the following Sunday and I was assured that the bike would be on that plane, with me.

Having collected the Carnet, I texted Ian, who almost immediately came along in his car, scooped me up and took myself, his flatmate Kevin and pal Matthew out for lunch!

Over the next few days I was treated to fantastic South African hospitality with Ian, Jayne and their pals, during which I visited the excellent Johannesburg Zoo, and was invited along on several top social events. I learned about 'Chop and Dop', more about braais and had a fair insight into how life works for the whites in the new South Africa. Ian and Jayne dropped me at the airport on their way home after a party well in time for booking in. However, at 0445 on the Sunday morning. The bike still wasn't on the plane. My strategy of staying awake all night in order to sleep on the plane meant I was over-tired when I decided that everything had been done that could possibly be done, I had the carnet and so there was no reason to suspect this wouldn't happen. So I got on the plane, prepared for the worst and hoped for the best.



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