Cut a log and carve a boat

Trip Start Jul 19, 2009
Trip End Oct 25, 2010

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Flag of South Africa  , Eastern Cape,
Saturday, October 16, 2010

We are stranded, Ntokoze, Terron and me.
We left Hluleka early, wanting to reach Coffee Bay before dark. It was going to be a long haul.  After some brisk walking we reached the river Tagaji, well in time. It runs into sea; a wide stretch of water we need to cross, but the boatman isn't there. The boys are looking for him, on top of a hill, waving, making funny birdlike noises, piercing whistles. Well, the pre-mobile communication methods really, but to no avail. A young shepherd has been sent to the village where the skipper lives to say we were on our way. Nothing.
What to do? The lads are fed up, cursing, kicking stones, hitting the branches with their sticks. 'It's his job - he ought to be here. Let's cut a log and carve a boat,' Ntokoze suggest wryly.
We are losing precious time and they decide to swim across, try find a boat to carry me and my luggage. They don't like it. They have been smoking ganja since they opened their eyes but they are not getting any mellower. It was a tough walk yesterday, hot and steep, and then with the wind. It was heavy - and now this.
No, they don't like it.

By now the two of them have swam across. It is still early, so still cool, ah, poor things. Well, I've got a big towel to wrap around them later. I can just make them out at the other side of the river, carrying something, but it doesn't look like a boat to me. They start making their way back and it is taking ages. I am not sure we are going to get to Coffee Bay today.
They are getting closer, what on earth are they floating on? I can't help laughing, it is an old inner tube of a truck tire by the looks of it. Dragging it on to the shore, half amused, half pissed off, they explain the boat was locked up and this was the best they could manage. They are bringing my stuff across first and then one will come back for me.
Well, so be it. It is going to take up a lot of our time.
I sit back and wait. And wait. Ntokoze finally returns. By now I have rolled up my sleeves and trouser legs, hoping that will suffice as I don't want to embarrass those boys by stripping down to my knickers and bra. Ntokoze reckons I'll be okay and tells me to take a flying jump onto the tube, flat on my stomach. He pulls the thing out into the water and leaps on himself with a: 'You are going to get wet, mama.' Ja, you're telling me? I am soaked of course, there's a great big hole in the middle of that tube. Oh well, at least I won't have to worry about that any more. What is really worrying is that we are not going forward. The current is strong, pushing us in the wrong direction. Ntokoze starts shouting at me, trying to explain how I should paddle with my hands, but I am totally useless, simply not strong enough. We muddle on, exhausting ourselves, till Terron swims up and starts pushing and pulling. It's a struggle, but we finally make it. Teethchattering cold, soaked to the bone, but exhilarated - it feels so good. Well, that's me, those boys aren't jumping up and down for joy, they are still blaming the ferry man.

Soon as we are - more or less - dry, we hurry on. 'That lazy man has eaten up our time,' Terron complains. No time to lose now, we have to step up. And up. God, it is all uphill and I hate that, puffing and panting till finally we reach a leafy stretch, a tunnel of big green leaves. It's great, I imagine myself in a jungle. 'Stop,' hisses Ntokoze. I freeze, he sounds dead serious. 'A green mamba, right in front of you.' What the hell's a green mamba, and where is it? I can't see it for the leaves on the ground. 'Just don't move!' He shoos it with a stick and it slithers away, turning its head, looking quite harmless really. 'Wow, almost stepped on a green mamba,' I joke feebly. Ntokoze grinns, but I can tell he was worried for a moment. Later I find out its venom is potentially fatal
The rest of our walk is less perilous, another river to cross, this time the skipper is there and we drift over the water in a haze of marijuana.

A short stop at Mdumbi; a drink, a bite to eat, and I am surprised at the warm welcome. That's what I like about the place and it is good to be back. I am sorry we have to push on, but, ja, it's getting late.
With Coffee Bay in sight, but still a long way by foot, Ntokoze suddenly side-steps into a shebeen. Hold on - it will be dark soon and I can hardly take another step as it is. But he tells me it's all right, he will call his uncle and he'll come and collect us. Can he use my mobile? By all means, please do:)
But oh, that place, it is something else. Dingy and dark, rough and broody. Men sitting on upturned beer crates, playing cards, serious business - there's a quick exchange of glances when I stand at the door, waiting to see if I can to join them. A hardly perceptible nod and I am in. I sit back and watch, completely fascinated. The hierarchy is evident, the game played out in tension, and then, snap, the leader wins - to everyone's relief, I reckon, and it's laughter and drinks all around. Dirty little children wander in and out, shy, but curious about my presence. Chickens scuttling about, pecking at crumbs and bottle caps.
A place stripped of all niceties and pretence, where people have nothing to lose and nothing to dream of. I try not to romanticize what I find here; the bare minimum, the squalor, it is not pretty, not commendable, yet I love being here: no standards to live up to, no expectations to meet, nobody cares if you are good enough.
Ok, I am happy now, not in the least for knowing that the promised uncle is on his way. And there he is. We arrive at the Bomvu backpackers, Coffee Bay, after walking for nine hours solid! Not bad, hey? Terron rushes off, just in time to play a soccer match......oh, to be young again, I can feel every muscle in my body.
There will be a band playing the drums that night but I tumble into bed, a satisfied smile on my face, and sleep right through the whole racket.

Tomorrow on to Bulungula. Walking? No way, it's shuttles and stuff again. There I'll spend my last days on the Wild Coast.
So just a few more South Africa entries to go and that'll be the end of it.
Bear with me, please.......:)
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