06 January, 2007

Maputo to Winklespruit

The Book had said that "Maputans love to party" so I thought it'd be the best place to head for Hogmanay. In the event, however, it was about as damp a squib as the reports from Edinburgh on the World Service (available, it seems, on FM in all major cities in Africa!). Off and on rain kept the party-loving Maputans in their houses, presumably partying, but not with very loud music like you used to be able to seek out and invite yourself to on Hogmanays of old at home.

All the bars were closed too. I had deliberated for most of the day about whether or not to put on my kilt. I could certainly do without the attention it might generate but then again maybe I could do with some pals for the duration . . . It was finally decided when I thought about how disappointed I'd be in myself if I met a compatriot who had gone to the bother when I hadn't. Suitably be-kilted, I strode purposefully up the street in the vain search for where the party was at. The few 'revellers' I met along the way had a positive attitude to my attire but I met no-one who spoke any English. Eventually I fell in with some Swazis, Angelo and his pals, who were staying at the same hotel as me and knew the way to a 'disco'.

This was mainly Mozambican reggae, which I didn't know. I sat at the brightly-lit table watching the goings-on. For one of very few places open, it wasn't exactly packed. Some were a little the worse for wear but the most annoying thing was the liberally insane way in which fireworks were ignited. Moronic youths would hold those rockets attached to sticks by hand and then get a big fright when the rocket's tail of sparks hit their hands. They more often than not dropped the thing which then went off in whichever direction it fell. As another rocket ricocheted around the room I began to understand why so few people may have bothered leaving home. On one occasion a waitress was hit on the shoulder with a flying spark which burnt through her blouse and into her skin. Screams and mayhem! Public safety broadcasts are another thing we have to be thankful for in the UK. The Mozambicans have been through 14 years of vicious civil war fairly recently so you'd think they'd have had enough of this sort of nonsense. Few of those in attendance were old enough to have experienced much of that. Eventually (but after an insanely long time!) the nutcases were less than politely asked to leave by the management, backed up by just about everyone else there. At last Bob Marley came on and I could get a boogie to a rhythm I knew. This attracted some attention, again positive, and soon all the lassies (there were as many as six in the place!) were dancing around. Cannae complain too much at that!

I was glad to get back to the pensao and my bed. A cool evening led to a relaxing sleep. In the morning I walked around the still-deserted city. Standing on the corner of Avenidas Karl Marx and Ho Chi Min did something curiously satisfying for my leftist pretentions. Too much Citizen 'Wolfy' Smith when I was wee!

Maputo is a beautiful city. A strange fusion of African and Latin architecture and (dis)organisation. The pavements are typically uneven with enormous gaps, broken up by the overgrown trees, and manhole covers are invariably missing. Things close and open at fairly arbitrary times. Streetlamps are sprinkled unpredictably about the place. Sometimes the pedestrian has to rely on the lighting of a nearby hotel or shop. Almost every one of these has some form of security guard outside.

A girl screamed in the street outside the pensao and some youths (probably the same brainless beauties that had the fireworks!!) were seen to be pulling at her roughly. Security guards sprang immediately from every doorway, eager than each other for a bit of action. The youths ran away but I think all of them were delivered into the hands of the police, after some fairly rough handling by the bored and now-justified security guards. The girl lost nothing, was shaken and frightened but otherwise fine. The daft wee laddies lost some amount of liberty (and I suspect maybe a tooth or two!), the security guys got to slap each other on the back and feel good about themselves. Later I wondered whether this would be an excellent wee distraction to stage if you wanted to help yourself at the jeweller's or the cake shop, for example!

At a petrol station I was looking through my wallet, trying to work out how much petrol to get so that I could clear the 100miles of Swaziland, but still afford a decent lunch. Wondering whether the wee shop there had any food, I must have put my wallet down as I removed my helmet. Of course it wasn't there when I came back! Will I ever learn!? I reckon not. Just have to prepare as best I can for my own lackaday stupidity. In this case I lost only about 10GBP. I had already filled the wallet with out-of-date cards to please any assailant in the first instance. I was able to get my real card out and get a few Metacais more out of the bank. But I also lost some valuable Cape Town contact numbers.

I was into South Africa well before tea-time. This was truly odd. After thousands of miles of rough and ready Africa, this was Europe! Smooth roads, traffic lights, an infrastructure that worked well, surly petrol station staff!

I stayed one night in Richard's Bay and then made my way to Durban In passing through I stopped at the port only to discover that getting transport to South America will either be costly or time consuming, or maybe both! I have to get a fumigated (!?) crate to put the bike in. It will cost about US$1000 to put the bike on a ship, but then it could be $400 for customs charges at Buenos Aires. $2000 will get it on an aeroplane and the costs in Buenos Aires will only be $60!! Then I have to get myself there somehow. They used to let people go on the cargo ships but they had so many complaints from passengers that it wasn't luxurious enough (they were expecting to dress for dinner with the captain as on a cruise!) that they stopped it altogether. My pleas that I have salty sea-going, trans-Atlantic experience have so far fallen upon only the most deaf of ears. Half of South Africa is still on holiday, so maybe I just haven't spoken to the correct person yet. I'll hope to do that on Monday.

I made my way south, to Winklespruit. When I arrived at the campsite, I had just chosen the best, most shady spot to put my tent on when I heard a drip, drip, dripping behind me onto the waterproof bag holding the tent on the back seat of the bike. A friendly monkey above in the trees had welcomed me to my new home by peeing AND pooing on the bike!! Great! On a far more positive note, Cliff and his wife opposite my space are permanent residents and they kindly stuffed my filthy, dust-ingrained clothes ('only the stubborn understains holding them together') into their automatic washing machine. The first I'd seen since Italy. The clothes came back pristine and smelling sweetly of home!

Meantime Thyss, the mechanic at the local bike shop, has introduced me to 'The Sainted Three' a bikers' bar. HUGE blokes with those cut-off denim things covered in patches. This bar is the hang out of J.A.B. (Just Another Biker) bike club. They have patches on their backs in the style of Hell's Angels but they're just big soft cuddly lumps of friendliness. Back slapping that takes the wind out of you though! At home I was about average height. Here I'm far too wee!

And I found another place, a Saltire flying outside next to a Union Jack, a Belgian and a German flag. I walked in. "Can I help you?" asked the barmaid while I surveyed the place (as you do!), seeing it was more of a restaurant than a bar. "Do you have any beer?" I asked, playing the daft laddie (it was very hot outside). This got a wee ripple of giggles going round the barful of locals. It might go wrong. "You're the guy who's just ridden down from Edinburgh on a motorbike! " she exclaimed, "You're staying at the campsite and looking for a boat to South America!" News travels at the speed of light!! I was soon introduced to the gallery of Scots sitting around the bar. Drew, Alex, Bob, Jim and Doug from Sheffield, (his daughter was in the audience in the final scene of 'The Full Monty' - she says they didn't, by the way!). Some retired, all full of advice, few having been 'home' in years.
Round the corner was the 'Flour of Scotland' bakery and coffee shop - full Scottish breakfast (square sliced [something], tattie scones, beans, HP sauce and plenty of grease), perfect after a quiet evening in 'The Sainted Three'! Drew ran me around loads of places in his air-conditioned car - excellent! And then he found me another place for me to camp. I even got my phone fixed! Bob produced a list of shippers who might let me go on their boats.

When I told the campsite owners about maybe moving, apologising that it was all about saving pennies for me now, they wouldn't have it! Mickey and Lana are local biking legends and so instead they took me out for an evening of cocktails and ended up insisting I wasn't to be paying them anything at all. So impressed was Mickey that my bike had made it all this way. He'd attended the Sturgis Rally in America (biggest in the world, of course) so he knew about the problems of getting motorbikes across oceans. Rallies are where loads of motorcyclists stand around in a field for a weekend, drinking, scratching and staring at each others bikes. Sometimes there are 'events' which usually involve the near destruction of somebody's bike. Highly entertaining so long as the bike isn't yours.

When I think about it, I'm fairly impressed by my wee bike myself. Odd that I need to think about it. But it is a bit like when folk say it's an old bike. When I bought it, it was only four years old. I've grown (relatively) old with it so I don't really see its age. And it really is better now than it ever was - far better even than when it left the BMW factory - really, with all the improvements unavailable to, or too expensive for, BMW when it was built! It's only when I park up next to these 'modern' machines, like at the bikers' bar, with their enormously fat tyres and hulking motors. Then I can see how much shinier the new ones are.

Similarly with the journey so far. I've sat on top of the bike most of the way (when I wasn't falling off!), so for me it's often felt like just a really big run. I'm still looking forward to getting home, but still not homesick. The next bend, mountain range, river crossing, all are just that wee bit more inviting. For now. Still, news from home is fantastic even in the smallest detail. So it's great to hear that Kev's finally got Freda's kitchen finished and he's just to put on the new door. He's been at it long enough!! Also that Nick's seen the light and got a proper motorbike at last! It's funny how folk sometimes apologise for what they perceive as mundane - I love it - more please!?


At 10/01/2007, 19:16, Anonymous Mo said...

I really hope you can fulfill this dream trip, i'm enjoying the read.
I remember a few years ago taking you to get a big part of the frame of the bike resprayed in Glenrothes, I didn't think much of it at the time but it's still giong strong. Hoooray !!

At 11/01/2007, 20:13, Anonymous Eddie said...

Hi Mick
Im a new reader to your to your Blog, the Toolman would call me the Harley Dude fae Cowdenbeath !
I can remember paying you off ! from the Yard all those years ago and look how far youve come since then !
Keep up the adventures reading with interest


At 12/01/2007, 09:41, Blogger Mick said...

Probably the best thing that ever happened to me, although I didn't know it at the time - thanks for that Eddie!

At 13/01/2007, 12:53, Blogger Roy said...

You want mundane? I can do mundane. Weather is crap here, rainy and windy. The R75 is chilling out on the rolling trolley getting its winter maintenance (ie. a semi-rebuild!). The scottish OAP was still in the Dakar the last I heard. Craig's boat blew over (onto mine). Best of luck with the sea crossing - something will transpire.

At 13/01/2007, 13:41, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Mick
After bursting out laughing while reading your blog at Luton Airport I got talking to one of your fellow Scots about your blog and trip.
If you get the chance while in the Cape Town area, he thoroughly recommends going swimming with the penguins at Boulder Beech.
good luck with finding a boat.

Stuart Pearson (Andrews brother in law)

At 14/01/2007, 14:13, Blogger Mick said...

Thanks for that Stuart. Sadly Cape Town is going to have to join the long list of things I haven't seen on this trip, starting with that tower in Pisa, then inside a Pyramid, Lake Victoria, the top of Kilimanjaro (cloud) and Victoria Falls. Next time!! :-)


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