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.

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!?