[mk_fancy_title style=”avantgarde” tag_name=”h3″ size=”14″ line_height=”24″ color=”#393836″ font_weight=”inherit” letter_spacing=”0″ font_family=”none” margin_bottom=”10″ align=”left”]Transkei 1989, Episode 2[/mk_fancy_title]
Sometime after dawn we arose and swam across to the other boys with our packs dragging along beside us. ‘They’ll just have to dry’, I thought, in the warm East-coast Sun. The sun however remained only exactly long enough to release its most deadly UV rays before leaping back behind a bank of cloud that let rip over our heads, rendering everything we owned profoundly wet. This was the start of a grand piece of dark comedy at the very culmination of this dejected day. We walked along the beach until darkness and rain stopped us.
Thus arrived the opening piece of the theatre; the unfolding of the tent. Sandy beach, lots of grip, lots of … um, rain. We hauled it out of George’s rucksack. George always carried the heavy things. He had a certain stoic dwarfishness and stubborn constitution about him, despite his angelic appearance. So we hauled it out and scrambled over each like hyenas in the rushing wet darkness to try and link it all up until finally it stood, barely, and we could truly appreciate its size, its Lilliputian grandeur. George crawled in quickly and almost filled the whole thing.
Oh, what a laugh it was! We were like Indian gurus in there, all wrapped up wet and tight and twisted. And you couldn’t touch the sides because then the water from the outside inverted through the cloth and showered down your back; a difference only in degree perhaps, but certainly a difference. It was a most miserable moment indeed when, in a flash of divine inspiration, I remembered a cigar I had brought along secretly for a special celebration when things looked rough. I hauled it out from its waterproof container and lit it up. In seconds, bellows of cloying, pea-thick choking fumes inundated the tent.
In the pressure of the rain and the night it was like somebody had let rip on a tear gas grenade, so disgusting it was. Contrary to the entire spirit and intention of the gesture, the tiny group had exploded into internecine violence. Rene was so very very angry with me it was unbelievable. George, responding to the primeval vibration of his rising lizard brain instincts’ jumped up in a cannon of fury and completely dismembered the tent like a killer whale tearing out of a circus balloon. He simultaneously bent the tent poles completely out of recognition. It turned out to be quite a night.
The next day we were forced to hug deep into the rocky coast and basically had to climb along miles of cliff-faces, just above the raging ocean of Neptune, which slammed into the cliffs with geographic testosterone. Not for the first time, the fishing rods became an issue. Being three metres tall apiece, they were difficult to navigate while climbing sheer, wet cliff faces. We (George and Ian) had tied them to the sides of our packs and we (they) were seriously beginning to endanger ourselves.
The question to consider most carefully in these situations is the actual point of having the rods in the first place. Everyone would know by looking at us that we would barely survive anyway – unless we had serious professional intervention – and that the rods would make no difference whatsoever. Even if you knew how to fish, you would still need bait and the local black folk – for some utterly bizarre reason known only to them – do not fish from the sea, instead preferring to raise the sea in their own toilets.
I had a lot of opposition to those rods and the twenty kilograms of fishing tackle that by necessity must follow them around, which temporarily had been placed in Rene’s backpack. The boys just didn’t believe in fishing in the first place. They had never read ‘the old man and the sea’. They had never known the glory of raising the body of God from the sea and eating into it to survive. Eventually, we (they) compromised and I ended up with both the rod and the tackle, while George struggled on with the other rod.
That afternoon we were blown away to round a cliff-face and discover a nest of Super Yuppies, the kind of people that look like they have been cut out from ski resort brochures and always kept photos of their yachts in their wallets. They had somehow airlifted this little beach cottage and dropped it on the beach in the middle of nowhere and were all standing around with big flashing 4 x 4 smiles and gin and tonics in their hands, greeting us pleasantly like we were not four lost teenagers at death’s very door! The head lady took us around to the servant’s entrance and fed us a nice big old Christian pot of rice and spaghetti and wished us good luck on our trip. When we returned the bowls, now glazed with our greasy, middle class paw prints, she smiled and kindly told us that we could keep them.
Luck must have been on our sides because from then on the whole mystical experience began to degenerate into the Cop cabaña. Not too far afterward, we discovered a five star lodge, nestled into a forest by the way side. We marched on up there and started by buying every chocolate we could, to nourish our starved bodies. Then we hit the bar and started drinking. To come out of that starving, wet hell and be vomited into the cocktail lounge of a five star hotel was beyond belief. We played the residents’ darts for drinks. It was almost paradise.
Under cover of darkness we crawled around the hotel blind drunk in the darkness looking for a place to sleep. Eventually we discovered this nice big patch of soft African grass, unrolled our sleeping bags like St Bernard tongues into the stuff and jumped into them for a good night’s rest after a day well lived to sleep a comfortable night, dreaming the aqueous dreams of Bourbon and Beer. It was barely ten minutes after we woke up the next morning that we realised the horrible truth. We had somehow discovered the fabled lost breeding grounds of the Red Transkei Tick. We sat there like red jellybeans in horrid fascination.
Rene immediately began ripping opening the medical case and taking a massive overdose of tick bite tablets. All of them, in fact, which was bad luck for us, as things would turn out. Then he proceeded to burn the little horrors off with a cigarette tip, cauterizing the wounds. I trashed myself clean with the other boys and we all had a good old hung-over argument as we marched away from the hotel and toward our final destination, which we were promised lay only a short walk away. A short Transkei walk, as the saying goes.
We travelled across a large plain of sand and eventually encountered another river, though this time it was calm and well behaved. I immediately recognized the smell and sight of the place, Mzikaba. I had come here with my family ten years before when the country had still been civilized and controlled by the fascist white Afrikaner government. We had travelled down here in a Mercedes and a big caravan camper. Both vans had lost their exhaust pipes by the time they arrived and we were in a merry old pickle trying to escape from there.
There was a surprising amount of people there, despite the regional conflict that was reportedly unfolding around us. Die hard fishermen I’ll bet. Fishing folk like me are a hardy breed. We came into the camp and immediately encountered an armed Transkei soldier, who checked us over. He had this great trick that he showed to us after we had made friendship movements toward him. Being pretty sad looking ourselves, we found that the peasants related easily to us. He had a string tied to his wrist that wound down to a serious looking revolver that sat on his hip. With one smooth movement he could yank the cord and the revolver would snap into his hand, smooth as you please.
During the conversation with this now amiable fellow – this armed post-adolescent goatherd – George started to get very skittish. I think he scented the far off call of the God of Marijuana on this man and he had begun to sink into this sort of Shark-like primitive feeding frenzy. His jaws started snapping open and shut in anticipation. It is always difficult asking for contraband substances from government military officials in foreign countries. In a few – mostly African – they say, ‘sure man’ and take you to the reefer merchant. In others – mostly everywhere else and half of Africa – they just turn around and shoot you in the head. This was a risk George was clearly willing to take.
We got shown to a campsite in the falling light while George disappeared with the guard. The radiant light of the divine priestess had truly smiled on us this night. Not only had we discovered that it was Christmas Eve and not only did the weather break into absolute perfection, but George returned, alive, with a big old reefer. And our luck did not end there. We met a fellow camper who gave us a run-down on the local fishing action and quality advice on how to get bait. Fishermen are something else; every one of them with a different story, a different interpretation of the sea and its beautiful creatures and how to haul them out and kill them.
We raced down to a rocky promontory in the last of the light with our two rods and our kit and our hunting blades, baying like Indians on the hunt. The bait trick was great. Just above the line of the retreating surf as the tide goes out, you will find little sponge like protrusions on the rock that you need to stab and cut open. In the centre of the tough, fibrous shell lives the stinkiest thing in town, called redbait. This mollusk type creature makes excellent bait, hangs on your hooks like a dream and should never be left near human habitation overnight.
Within ten minutes of those hooks hitting the water, the fish were banging on us, cavorting in the rough moonlit ocean like fries in hot oil. A race of electricity ran through us. I could feel it like mild electrical impulses snaking along our nerves and I knew they were feeling it. They were getting it. They understood for a suspended moonlit moment what it meant to be in struggle with a life, with an unknown set of rules; to have used ingenuity to lure and capture something which is devoted to its own survival; to have gone into the wilderness of the soul and created food.
The moon was so unbelievably full and profound that it dominated the landscape, etched out each shadow, played along the contours of our faces, carving ancient, wiser masks for us. The marijuana joint was supreme. With effortless grace it elevated us to a grander world of light and meaning. The fishes we caught are called ‘Streepies’, an Afrikaans word that describes the black tiger stripes that run down their silver flanks. We collected the bigger ones for our dinners and travelled back to our campsite where we sat by the fire and listened again to the Phoebe Snow tape. It was truly gorgeous.
We arose to Christmas day filled with unutterable joy and abandon. Immediately we ran down to the river and began to explore upstream, where the river gradually narrowed as it entered lush canyons, the plant growth itself like waterfalls tumbling down the sheer blue-black faces. We managed to walk a long way from beach to tiny beach, the muddy sand filled with a filigree of crab pin prints as they skated like ghosts across the surface and into the water. Long, colourful birds darted along the cliff faces and called out with unfamiliar cries. Everything we saw seemed to be beckoning. This trip was a journey into ourselves and the land a magnificent metaphor.
On the very final beach we stopped as the coast became continuous, flat cliff. We looked around and realized that we were in the most private place that we had ever experienced, whether individually, or as a group. Nothing or nobody could see us. The beach was ours. George and I pulled out our ceremonial equipment from our packs. Over time the nature of the ceremonial equipment had changed. When we were first a group together no real ceremony had been necessary, other than drinking fast and passing out. Now the group had moved to a new level and I needed more ceremony.
The ninja thing was a big contender for ceremonial priority. We had all enjoyed weaponry and wiped out our fair share of the neighbourhood animals. We were all slightly esoteric and most especially we all wished that we had the power and physical prowess to leap about and defend our skinny white asses. The Ninja philosophy and art seemed to me to embrace all of these qualities and attributes. They were mysterious and secretive and powerful and were the stuff of legend that walked tantalizingly hand in hand with historical truth. My mother had sowed George and I ninja suits, which were our present ceremonial gear. The other guys just wore loose pants and black vests.
All that afternoon, we stood and moved about slowly in martial arts manoeuvres. We were training for all eventualities. We were hardening our bodies, through relentless exercise and exposure to the elements in one of the wildest places in Africa. We stood there for Christmas and for the entire world, us Tai-Chi teenagers. Then we walked back slowly, filled with the breath of the Marijuana deity and our newfound bond of training and secrecy. We had airlifted our youthful home and replanted it right here, on the beach, in the middle of nowhere – A new place for our kind to meet.
Getting back in the lazy afternoon, we pondered the direction of our night. It was, after all, Christmas day. We decided eventually to split up and organize for the evening’s activities. Rene and Ian went back to the camp to organize some Christmas grub while George and I decided to head across the river with a bucket and empty the bar of the five-star hotel with our every available cent. We promised to meet at sunset by the river mouth and George and I waded through the river with our bucket dragging along behind us.
We arrived up at the hotel pretty late and made the commitment to satiate our thirsts before returning, which we did. Then these four black characters came over to us and challenged us to a game of darts, if you can believe it. They agreed to play for money. A very funny bunch indeed – local politicians as it turns out – and very willing to spend their ill-gotten pay checks on the young white boys. We got so blind drunk that we barely made it to the river after dark and saw our friends on the far side of what was now a raging torrent. I could not hear them but managed to throw a bottle of scotch across before turning around with George to walk back into the hills to find a nice, quiet place to sit down and work on our future hangovers.
We had not walked five steps when suddenly the sky vanished and angry clouds exploded across the heavens, very quickly spilling into big, wet raindrops that fell at first sulkily and then moodily and eventually righteously. We were soaked in moments, stumbling through the muddy dark with our bucket of booze clambering along in tow. We completely lost our way but eventually somehow ended up back at the fancy hotel like a pair of drowned poodles.
This was the start of an interesting turn of events.