George and I were getting pretty crazy by this stage. We had both been expelled from school some time the previous year and were spoiling for something to do. I remember clearly us walking down the long hill into Yeoville and discussing how we would go to Cape Town and earn enough money to get this stunning sea-side flat with large open spaces and white tiles and lots of green plants. We imagined how we would have powerful people coming to our house; Beautiful women and immaculate men who were in truth covert sorcerers from all over the world who had heard of our reputation in occult circles.
So, we decided to run away from home. Not so much run away actually. We decided that the best thing would be for us to simply announce our intentions. For those of you not from South Africa, Cape Town is about one and half thousand kilometres from Johannesburg and we were on foot. We figured however that we were pretty much survivalists and that we could live off the land for an indefinite period. I am being serious when I say this. I remember how we imagined this beautiful little glade by a river where we would grow vegetables and catch fish and hunt if necessary. We planned to head straight for the Tsitsikama wilderness, which is a really big patch of trees on the east coast.
We gathered both sets of parents together in the living-room at Georges’ mothers house and announced, that, as young adults, we had decided to take control of our lives and go down to Cape Town, where we would live for a while. My father wanted to know how we would survive. I instinctively decided to keep the part about living off the land a secret so we had to blab a little bit about how we had both saved up and we could work in restaurants. They told us not to be ridiculous and come home immediately. I gritted my teeth in maniacal determination. My father said jokingly “They won’t make it past Bloemfontein!”
We left the following Monday. The part about the money was maybe an exaggeration. Between us we had about six hundred bucks, most of which George had pilfered from his mother’s money suitcase. Our rucksacks were filled to the brim with all the wrong sorts of stuff. We didn’t even bother to clean the right clothing. We just took whatever was left over from the last wash and shoved it in with a couple of moth-bitten flea-bag sleeping bags. Georges back-pack was especially bad and was held together by uncomfortable wire. And to eat? I took a few tins. We left late in the day because George had spent all night making dope cookies whichhe explained was a very good way to courier the stash and provide some food.
That first night we stood by the side of a lonely highway, smoking pot, discussing our plans, trying to catch a lift. The highway bisected a sort of shanty town industrial night-mare zone. It was hard-edged and frightening. It was a place where death could easily be found, like a hare caught by a truck and splattered across the highway. It was desolate and without feeling. It was intimidating. We were also pretty stoned. The night yawned away down barren roads and the silver crackle of over-head electrical wires. By and by, just as we were about to call it quits and contact my father, a truck stopped. We ran over. It was a fat, greasy, scary looking driver. We looked very lost and unaccounted for. He bade us jump in the back, where truck-drivers have a little sleeping place behind their seats, fluffed out with booze-sodden blankets.
It was a long, strange night. I had never felt so uncertain and free at the same time. I tried to sleep as much as possible as I thought about my past year and the one before it, of how I had chosen paths that would ultimately lead me to this bizarre place on the edge of nowhere. Just before dawn, the driver woke us and told us to climb out. He pointed in an eastward direction and instructed us to hitch along this road. Not such a bad sort, I suppose. He also made sure to tell us that hitching was dangerous. As he drove off into the dawn light, we felt pretty good. We had made progress. We had travelled far in one night, despite our fears. It was possible to travel this way and really get shit done! It was also very, very cold. We just sat there and waited for the sun to arrive.
We celebrated the start of day with a big reefer and laughed as we swung around the poles on the road and threw stones at targets and said how we would have loved to have brought cameras with us. We started to play this game where we would find ever more creative means of hitching, to the point where I was standing on my head and sticking my thumb out while George performed a cartwheel. Eventually this dude stopped and told us to jump in. We sped off into the day, feeling mighty good about ourselves. At length we stopped at a fast-food outlet in a small town and blew a fortune on toasted sandwiches and chocolates. Fed to the gills we went outside and tried to hitch. Some idiot drove past and threw something at us, laughing raucously about our long hair in guttural Afrikaans. Here the sixties had not yet arrived. Men were men and their women were scared.
In despair, we elected to camp for the night and eventually convinced some hotel owner to let us sleep in a sort of store room. Compared to the truck, it was luxurious and we looked forward to a good night’s rest, now two days away from our previous lives of captivity. We smoked a big joint and gambolled about town for a while. One of our original plans had been to make money by pool hustling, so we looked for a pool joint where we could rustle up some cash. We found one but it looked like a place where we might easily get killed so we played a quiet game on our own and left. We had a pile of toasted sandwiches for dinner. When we woke up the next day, we were bouncing with enthusiasm. We had established a base in enemy territory, like spies, and lived through the dark hours in an unknown locale. We were doing it for sure.
Our luck was holding and almost instantly we got a lift. Our driver was the most incredible girl. She was young and hip and very beautiful. She was also very into the spiritual thing and we made haste to share the plans for our sacred mission into the beyond. She thought we were pretty cute I guess and drove us all the way to the border of the Ciskei, which was a sort of tribal homeland that not many white people went into. She suggested that we look for a place called the Hog’s Back Mountains and sure enough this had been one of my plans anyway. She herself was continuing around the outskirts and onto a place called Grahamstown which she advised us was a really groovy place where it was really happening. We promised to meet her there after we had purged our souls in the sacred mountains.
I think the name of the town was Cathcart or something. It’s a very dark place if you’re white. The place is filthy and almost everything looks broken. The streets are dusted with mud and grime, the few retail stores overpowered by shoppers grubbily handling incredibly distasteful clothing. Everybody is selling something somewhere. The town boasts a big university – Fort Hair – if I remember correctly. Most of its best students went on to become life-time prisoners and then eventually the future leaders of our country. Funny old thing life. Nelson Mandela. Imprisoned as a murdering communist traitor for twenty seven years and then released to become the legendary president of the New South Africa. I don’t know if he went to Fort Hair but some of the best black revolutionaries we have on offer had their humble beginnings in these hallowed halls, enraged by their past and simultaneously enlightened by the sudden education provided at Fort Hair. Anyway, it looks like shit now.
So we motored on through this town feeling like Enuits on safari and came to realise, after a quick meal of stale pies and a condensed milk shake that we could not remain in this destitute hole for much longer without actually dying. We found our way to the nearest taxi rank, after being assured that the taxi was the only route we would ever have to the Hogs Back Mountains. Few of you will ever experience a taxi ride in the Ciskie. Earlier in my account I made mention of the wonders of taxi travel, so just exaggerate what I said a few times. My over-riding thought was that we were in danger. When I climbed into that taxi I had no assurances that we would not end up as jackal carrion on the side of some barren highway. We were, after all, living in times of political strife and turmoil which constantly manifested in acts of extreme violence. We both had some keen knifes at the ready, strapped up next to our packs, on account of the fact that we were still very much into the ninja thing and fully expected to have to defend our lives at least once during our journey.
Needless to say, it was a smooth, if uncomfortable ride. I had two monstrous black women on either side of me who were intolerably sweet and full of foreign language and bits of chicken splattering cheerfully from between perfect white sets of teeth and dazzling smiles. They were a pleasure compared to what might have been. The taxi meandered through miles of peasant townships. Vast tracts of land were given over to plains of grass and nibbling cows but the majority of the country was arid and populated by the chief agricultural product of Ciskie, prickly pears. Nasty things those pears. Good to eat, terrible to pick. One false move and your skin was impregnated by thousands of tiny hair-like fibers that took hours to remove. There would be a time in our journey where it became quite important to know how to pick them correctly. At length, the road stopped, suddenly as a heart-attack. Dozens of little black kids gathered around the taxi, laughing and shouting and singing, waiting excitedly to see who had arrived.
So that was it, the end of the road. As we climbed out of the vehicle, gangs of little kids gathered around us as though they had just discovered an ice-cream factory in the veldt. It made me a little nervous – little pick-pockets! – but they were extremely friendly and smiled with their perfect teeth. That was a common thing about these rural black folks. Big, white teeth. Like wolves. I tried to swat them away and eventually dug into my pockets and handed over a few pennies, to their intense delight. Then we began to walk while they followed. Over on the right there was a large plain filled with little white rondawel houses and shacks. There were small vegetable patches between the houses and little dirt roads that somehow contrived to look neat, as though they were regularly dusted. Somewhere up on the ridge was a big brick building which I assumed doubled up as a school and hospital. Most of the kids around us were partly dressed in tattered school outfits. I imagined there had been a limited number of uniforms and they were all sharing bits.
We asked for directions to the Hog’s Back Mountains and the kids seemed delighted by the fact that they knew what we were looking for. They pointed northward and up the long slope of the road that lay before us. It was a steep climb. We considered sleeping over somewhere here in the veld but figured we would be knifed and robbed by dawn. Paranoid, maybe, but then a dog is only two meals away from being a wolf and we were in what was considered a destitute area. So we decided to make for the mountains. After half an hour of climbing, we finally crested the rise and looked down onto a massive, green plane, on the far side of which rose a neat backbone of high mountains, shaped suspiciously like a Hog’s Back. So that was it then; very clever name. It was breath-taking, like a lump in the arid landscape a hundred times the size of Ayers rock, covered with lush green growth. It was also damn far. Trusting in providence, we started to make for it, hoping to get there before nightfall. Shortly afterward a car arrived and a sweet old lady gave us a lift all the way into the mountains.
The Hog’s Back is one of the most exquisite places I have ever visited. Beautiful and sacred somehow, like an ancient kingdom filled with magical places. It reminds one very much of rural England, or at least how I imagined it to look. The lady we travelled with provided us with tea and lodgings for the night, which was a nice gesture except that it just about bankrupted us and only too late we discovered that our remaining meagre resources would be unavailable until we found the nearest auto-teller, several hundred kilometres away. She lived in a lovely little cottage and made just super! tipsy tart and had the most annoying habit of saying jingo’s! every time she got excited. We smoked a monstrous joint that night and sat out on the back porch, listening to the sounds of the wild and congratulating ourselves on how far we had progressed together and how we were becoming really independent like.
The next day we hauled ass to the nearest camping sight – which was completely empty – and set up our tents. This was the first time we had actually got the opportunity to use our survival gear and that made us feel pretty on top of things. That day we each took one of our precious acid caps, got dressed up in ninja suits and raced through the wild in the manner of silent panthers, stalking each other and trying to pounce on the meager wildlife with daggers drawn. We saw colour galore and all sorts of fantastic mythical shapes in the trees. I particularly was looking for elves and that sort of thing because one of my main motivations for coming here was that I had heard that Tolkien had written his great work Lord of the Rings in this place. My theory was that this was a place where two worlds met and he had had a glimpse into this other reality when he had lived here. There was even a small town called Hobbiton which I surmised was named after the famed home of the hobbits. I didn’t see anything convincing but I did think I caught sight of a Dryad tree spirit as the sun was slowly dissolving into the land in such a manner that I thought the forest would burn down.
We stayed in those beautiful mountains for a couple of days but it was a bit hard living out there in the wild, especially considering that we had completely run out of cash. Dope was our constant friend. It kept us going and happy. Some of you may not understand about drugs but let me tell you, marijuana can be a real ally. It blocks out the whining nature of human being. You can be starving and cold and lonely and lost but if you have just one buddy and a joint, you can make it through. It is the ultimate escape. Morphine and a rat-pack rolled into one, anaesthetising and stimulating, casting the world in the lovely tones of fantasy and promise. I walked through the forest on our final day. I was trying to walk literally in the footsteps of Mr Tolkien. As I moved along, I superimposed that fantastical world upon this one. Over there the misty mountains; over here, the Forests of Mirkwood. It was groovy. I got connected in a very basic way. Out there on my own, a young man with nowhere to go and nothing in particular to do. I felt my home was gone and I think I loved it.
The next morning we arose bright and early. We had no coffee or breakfast. We must have looked pretty rough as we walked along through the mountains to the tail of the Hog’s Back. Along the way we started to feel dangerously hungry. A year before, on my first soul journey, my friends and I had almost starved in the Wilds of the Transkei. We had third degree sun-burns and tick bite fever, the lot of us. We were also robbed in the night of our shoes and clothes so it was pretty hectic before we got help. I started to feel as hungry as I had at that time. We scraped together about three Rand and stopped at a lovely farm-house in a beautiful sunlit meadow. There we were greeted by an alarmingly healthy woman and her husband. You could have put an apple in her mouth and served her for Christmas dinner. We asked to buy a few rolls for breakfast and she looked at us like we were Hansel and Gretel back from the forest. I have never eaten a meal like that before. Neither have you. There was more cholesterol in that meal that most Africans see in their whole lives. The rolls were still baking on the table and the eggs large and very free range. A whole pig must have given his life to that breakfast. So we started our march from the Hog’s Back with a real good omen and that was pretty fab.