of germans and ninja outfits

dassieWhen you walk along a path and look at the jungle on either side of the way, it always seems so soft and gentle. We quickly discovered however that there is a very good reason for people making paths. The ground was a tangled mass of interwoven grasses, vines, brambles and bushes, which most of the time were almost waist high. It was a struggle and we were forced to take a frustratingly circuitous route. We were vaguely heading toward the coast and it was as much as we could do to keep our sense of direction.

We did have a compass on the back of George’s knife but for the life of us we couldn’t work out how to use it. Either way, we found ourselves heading into very mountainous territory. Gradually, the ground began sloping and then simply did not relent. After hours of crashing through the bush, we finally crested a rise and took a smoke break. We were pretty cheerful but somewhat daunted by the task we had set ourselves and I put a lot of effort into explaining how all pioneers had to go through a trial of fire before they were granted their rewards.

Much later, we continued walking and discovered that the far side of the ridge was a sheer cliff which plummeted down into a river valley. We could have walked along it until we found a way down but I was suddenly all over the idea of using our rope to get down. I felt certain that this was the reason that we had brought the damned heavy thing with us and was determined to prove our adventuring talents. We tied the one end around a tree and spent the next half an hour gradually inching our way down the treacherous slope.

Off to our right, a sparkling waterfall plunged down into the river below and we were treated by misty clouds of cool water blowing around us and creating a virtual fanfare of rainbows. About three quarters of the way down the rope ran out and we spent several dangerous and desperate moments edging down the wet rock. I suddenly realised something that even to this day still puzzles me. How are you supposed to untie the rope when you get to the bottom? So that was it for the rope then.

 

We walked along the river bed feeling like Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Fin. Our lives were filled with adventure and promise. Here we were, two cities boys, who had actually headed into the wilderness and survived. Yep, we were survivors for sure! We smoked our cigarettes and do you know that we didn’t throw one single cigarette butt away the entire time we were there. Piss on a grave; Sure. Rob a church kitty box. Undoubtedly. But to drop one non-bio-degradable butt into that beautiful, sacred forest was unthinkable. The kids of today. Totally screwed up priorities. We found a lovely little nest to sleep in for the night and lay naked under the stars, the warm forest winds tickling us into sleep.

I woke up the next morning feeling stiff and hungry. We ate all of our food but elected to keep the loaf of bread in case things got desperate before we were able to really start to living off the land. We walked tirelessly through the day and spent another stiff and hungry night by the river side. I couldn’t bring myself to eat the dried out bread and all we had left of our original kit was a sealed bag of sugar and a sealed packet of hot chocolate powder.

We ate a little of the chocolate powder but it quickly made us even hungrier as our saliva made our stomachs cook up some nasty enzymes. That whole day was about food and as we walked along in stoned silence – comforted only by the fact that we had a constant supply of water – our lives became reduced to the bare essentials. We were thinking like the cave men. Eat, sleep, walk, hunt, eat, sleep, walk, fight, eat. I imagine that their entire culture was focused on getting food into their stomachs. When you are starving, you remember these primal motivations.

 

It was a triumph of the spirit that we walked so far that day, right to the end of the mountains. Coming around the corner, we were suddenly greeted by the immense blue expanse of the ocean. It was very moving. I thought about the first man to have walked out of his cave and down the hill to suddenly bump into the ocean. Pretty impressive it must have been. I don’t know why it seemed like we had arrived at a place which represented the salvation from our hungry plight, but it did; for about an hour.

Unpopulated beaches, like unpopulated mountains, still don’t have toasted sandwich machines. It finally hit us that now was the time for us to begin living off the land. We learned a lot that day. We learnt that those tiny crabs that run along the beach don’t have much meat. We learnt that there is just no way of getting a fish out of the sea and into your stomach without the intervention of fishing equipment. We learnt that fruits and berries are either hidden, kept somewhere else or represent a vicious rumour. There is absolutely nothing in the wild to eat!

 

It was a shocking discovery. We hiked at a pace along the edge of the beach, no longer driven by a sense of adventure, but by a sense of our own mortality, and the desperate need to find civilisation. We could not go back and the way forward was uncertain. It took hours for a car to drive through the Tsitsikama. On foot, it might well take weeks. Later in the day, we ran across a colony of rock-rabbits, which we call in South Africa the Dassie. It looks like a big, fat rat.

I looked at George and he looked at me. Food. Roast dinner was scampering around in every direction. In that moment, our eyes hardened and we truly began to leave civilisation behind. The first challenge was to catch one. Fat they may be, but slow they are not. With ninja skill and ferocity we did a strange ballet out there on the rocks, leaping after those silly rats and ending up with nothing more than bloodied cuts and grazes. We were engaged in a battle of self-destruction, at once both the perpetrators and victims of our wounds.

Finally, we got hold of one, and came up against our second great challenge: Killing one. Put yourself there. Look at that living, frightened thing. Imagine drawing forth a dagger – which has never been used for more than throwing at doors and carving bits of school desk – and jamming it into the things shaking body, tearing with difficulty through its bones and sinew. It was more than I could handle. I let the thing go and crouched down to hug my knees in tears of frustration and confusion and desperation.

 

Gradually, we surfaced from our dark thoughts and, even as the sun again began to slip sadly away, our hunger faded. The world became a simpler, calmer place, where days followed nights in light and dark across the centuries, forever and ever. The land and everything in it was an organic cycle of symbols, over-shadowed by some mighty, creative, mysterious force. We knew then why the ancients had started religion and wondered anew at how this magical, mysterious truth had become transformed into a sordid business where truth was extolled in big tents by seedy confidence men to crowds of fat, brash Americans brought up on a diet of coke and hot-dogs. Food was the tool of the enemy.

We were out here to starve. We were really doing it, for sure! We were fasting, purifying our thin little bodies and absorbing nothing more than clean, sparkling water, the tears of laughter that flow from God. Some would look out at this exquisite tangle of organic energy and worship the power and beauty that flowed through it. Others would bulldoze it and build a face brick church.

 

By that afternoon we were crazy. We stripped down and got dressed in our ninja suits. Perhaps I should elucidate a little bit on the ninja thing for those of you who have never stripped and climbed into a ninja outfit on some far, foreign beach in the middle of nowhere. The suit is made of a heavy cotton that is puffed out in all the places where you bend joints and streamlined – laced with elastic – on those parts of the body where you need to be aerodynamic. It is traditionally a pitch black, consisting of leggings, tunic, small cape and a hood. The gloves cover the backside of your hand, leaving your fingers and palms free for sensitivity. When you close your fist, your white skin disappears.

Last comes ninja boots, which are also tight fitting, thick cotton, with straw soles and a split between the large toe and the rests of the toes so that you can balance more easily. Very interesting, you might say; curious anthropological relic from some distant time in an ancient, feudal, flaming Japan. But why would one actually want to get dressed up in one? Well, that remains to be seen, but right at that moment, we walked along a path and around a corner and found the place we had been looking for.

 

The steep mountain side which we were walking on – a mountain covered in delicious jungle – suddenly fell away and down into a channel like a canyon. On the far side of the canyon rose another cliff, but this one was bible black and jagged like some fierce battlement. The canyon became more and more narrow until it suddenly ended in a cavern with an entrance over four stories high. The sea raced into this mighty channel and crashed against the entrance of the cave, where a beach that marked the entrance was constantly shape shifting with the waves. Down there, in that cave, we would have our experience. The big trip was so close I could smell it. But, we would have to wait, wait until the tide retreated enough for us to go in there.

There was still a fair amount of light in the land when suddenly, to our choking amazement, we heard voices! This is when things started to get really crooked. No matter how you look at it, the sudden appearance of two half-starved black clad terrorists in the middle of the strife torn African wilderness is asking for trouble. Also we were actually feeling pretty mental and I guess maybe not quite ready to meet normal people again. It was like we were having a soul journey in the middle of the Amazon jungle and suddenly we bumped into three German tourists. Whatever sequence of mad thoughts had co-ordinated to dictate our actions at that time, the end result was that we made the rather rash decision to hide. Once we were hiding of course, it suddenly occurred to us that now we really were like ninjas and we were involved in a serious mission.

A certain kind of power came over us then. Again and again over the years we had devoted much thought and practise to the art of stalking and silent movement. It’s one thing stalking your baby brother around your back-garden and quite another stalking a live – and possibly gun carrying – German tourist, granted, but at the end of the day it only changes the consequences and not the art itself. It’s a bit like walking along a narrow white line on the road and then trying the same trick on an equally narrow beam ten thousand feet up in the air. It was imperative that we become absolutely committed to our task. We faded into the dense jungle of ferns to either side of the road and waited like lizards for the tourists to pass us. They didn’t sense a thing, but either of us could have nailed them, if necessary.

Then came the real work of art. After the tourists had passed, we heard more coming and we decided to climb into the trees. The way we moved was really beautiful. We were leaping about without sound, propelling our young bodies into feats of sublime athleticism. That’s the thing about madness and drugs. Sometimes you are so far to the left of centre that you truly become for a while something other than human, something faster and stronger and more graceful. You forget your own limitations and you start to use your body in way for which it was truly designed.

Of course, you also fall off rooftops while performing some of these fool-hardy stunts, but that’s another story. As it happened, there was a massive limb which ran right over the path and we crouched on it like panthers as the tourists walked right beneath us! If I had had just one coconut, they would have been finished. For sure! It was a glorious act of warrior prowess.

 

Anyway the story goes that the cave itself was a sort of national monument that could not be approached or entered, by law. The path continued along a little way and then stopped at a lookout point. What we did not know was that the path ran the other way for about five hundred metres and then slammed straight into a hotel. Mixed blessing. We waited around till almost sunset, and when we were sure that no more Germans were on their way, we leapt the barrier and thundered down the hill.

We were almost at the entrance of the cave when we heard more people coming along the path and it was then that we became truly like black spiders and ran sheer up the face of the opposite cliff on hands and feet. Our suits were as black as the rock itself and we moved so fast that we must surely have been unrecognisable as human bodies. Up there we hid and watched them like they had become some other foreign species.

 

Eventually, after they retired and as the sun sank its hot, wet bulk into the steaming ocean, we returned to the entrance. It was immense and powerful. The sea came crashing around our feet and sent long blasts of whale sound down into the back of the cavern. Despite the size of the entrance, it quickly narrowed into a cone which terminated a hundred metres into the heart of the black rock. It was like being inside a colossal worm, or a whale.

Just inside the lip of the entrance was a large slab of rock covered in beautiful green lichen which I recognised immediately as being an altar, a sacred stone of worship. Probably the early people had come down here to do their African magic. George apparently thought it was more of a seat because he jumped onto it and sat there with a big, friendly grin on his face. I joined him, and without a word, he handed me a large dose of dangerous mind-altering chemicals. Almost our entire remaining stash of LSD. Sitting there upon that rock, darkness closing in and the forces of nature thrashing themselves into chaos all around us, somewhere on the wildest coast of South Africa, I chewed thoughtfully and waited for the trip.

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