Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Road Stories (The First Week)

Wilderness - Knysna - Jeffery’s Bay - Port Elizabeth

We left Jacques’ little paradise later that wet afternoon and headed to the Beach house Backpackers to dry off and perhaps claim a shower. This budget accommodation is situated right near the sea and has a fantastic bar under the leafy branches of a Milkwood tree.

We stayed in a dorm room on the top floor, which had a view of the entire 18km coastline. We cleaned up, warmed ourselves up, and (because of the previous night’s excessive “chats”) had a nap. It refused to stop raining for the whole day and so we just huddled up and relaxed.

The next morning, there seemed to be a break in the clouds and so we got back on the road and stuck our thumbs out in the air. We didn’t stand for longer than 30 seconds when a little white rental car pulled up, and so we met our next, and most cynical altruist, Chris.

Cynicism doesn’t always equal apathy. Chris took us to his Knysna home, gave us coffee, showed us the many articles he has written in his life, and gave us each a CD of his old 90’s blues band, Die Radiators.

He then drove us in the rain right to Judah Square, a little Rasta community in the valleys of Knysna. Chris, despite believing that altruism is dead, went out of his way to make sure we got safely to our destination.

The community of Judah Square is made up of about 40 families and lies in the middle of the township. The valley is scatter with RDP houses, cows, pigs, chickens and children.

We spent the night at Sista Kerry’s B & B. Judah square is festively painted with motifs ranging from the classic Haille Selassi portraits to the more off the wall: Bob Marley in a suit of amour on a white horse slaying a dragon.

We feasted on a lentil stew, and Brother Ras Mau Mau’s garlic rolls. Brother Ras is from Kenya and gets his nickname from the infamous Mau Mau guerrilla warriors. This brother does not live up to the terror of the title; he is a freethinking travelling man who believes in Ubuntu, knowledge, love and brushing his teeth with ash (which he promptly taught us).

The night proved quite heavy on our minds and so we spent the next day doing a little as possible. In the spirit of the World Cup, Ayoba and what have you, we took a walk to the local soccer pitch and watched the children play “beach soccer”. We then took a taxi into Knysna to go and watch Bafana Bafana destroy Uruguay in a game of football!

This was the first time since we left Cape Town that our expectations were dashed on the floor, and ended up with the beer puddles and cigarette stompies. Bafana had a horrific game and were trampled by pretty-boy South Americans.

A night that was supposed to be filled celebrations quickly turned; leaving us feeling the lowest we have ever felt. The night ended with us contemplating Life, The Universe and our project in the bathroom of the Backpackers ‘till 3am.

There was, however, only one cure for our blues – to get back on the road. So the next morning we took out our “Friendly Students”-sign and weaved our way back to the N2. We stood next to the Knysna hospital for about a hour and a half, before a friend of Beer’s grandmother, Tannie Coreen and her daughter, Jeanne, stopped to give us each a pie and a coke. Things were looking up, even though people weren’t stopping for us.

Just as we were about to move to a better spot, a luxury SUV pulled up and offered us a lift to Plettenberg Bay. Inside the SUV sat the friendly Rothschild’s from Johannesburg. Lance picked us up because his wife said that we looked nice enough. We shared the backseat with their son, Brady, who is quite the sportsman.

The family dropped us outside of Plet and we waited near the hitchhiking zone. Apparently we weren’t pretty enough because about 6 other hitchhikers seemed to get easy rides. After an hour, however, a sedan containing two Israelis guys pulled over.

They were currently vacationing in the Wilderness, but had driven through to Tsitsikamma that morning to go bungi jumping. Only one of the guys jumped, and they returned to Wilderness. After some contemplation the other friend decided that he also wanted to jump and so the two drove the 250km back to the bridge (lucky for us).

En route we stopped at something called Monkey Valley to pick up another one of their friends.

We found out that hitchhiking is something of a national pastime in Israel, and the three regaled us with numerous funny, scary and some pointless hitchhiking stories. We were even given some pointers on the etiquette of hitching.

We got dropped off outside a toll gate, as one of the Israelis thought that it would be a good place to get picked up, as cars have to come to a complete stop. Unfortunately for us, there’s a large No Stopping sign (R500 fine) right by the booth and so we struggled to get anyone to pull over.

We were saved by the fact that Germany was playing Serbia in Port Elizabeth the next day and a tiny car with red, yellow and black flags pulled up in front of us.

We squeezed into the car and met Sam, Miriam and Anja: three German volunteers. They were travelling to the game and were heading passed Jeffery’s Bay.

Early that day we called the folks at Ubuntu Backpackers, who agreed to have us stay at a really reduced rate. We were really taken aback by their generosity, especially during this World Cup season. But the universe has an interesting way of working out; the three Germans had not made any plans and really needed a place to stay for the night. We called Liz and Jamie (the owners) who incidentally had three open beds that night. So it would seem that altruism seems to flow in all directions: we got a lift right to the Backpackers, Ubuntu filled up their empty spaces and the Germans had a place to rest for the night.

We spent two chilled days at Ubuntu, chatting to Jamie about ideas of community, altruism and conscious living. We even got to use two boards and did a little surfing…

…well, when we say surfing, Marc caught all of one wave and Beer floated around the ocean for 30 minutes. Still it was great to be out in the sun and not huddled in a dark corner avoiding the rain.

The days flew by and we were back on the road again. Jamie gave us advice on the best location to grab a lift and headed down with our signs in the air.
Many people drove by, some waved, some laughed, and some just ignored us. Eventually a taxi pulled over, and we ran up to explain to the driver that unfortunately we couldn’t pay. Milton, a 70-year-old man from PE, said he didn’t need any money and we were welcome to catch a lift with him.

Milton’s altruism didn’t stop with us; he pulled over for about 5 other pedestrians, and refused any payment. He drove us right to the middle of the industrial area of Sidwell, where we were supposedly spending the next four days.

We had arranged to stay with a university friend of Marc’s Duryn. Duryn met us outside one of PE’s numerous KFC’s and escorted us to his house. At first we were filled with unease as we walked passed burnt out buildings, cigarette smoking ten year olds, and a million bottle caps.

However, we were amazed at the sense of Ubuntu in this poor urban area. Duryn, as usual, welcomed us with open arms into his immaculately clean house. We sat on the roof watching the sunset and drinking Castle quarts; it felt good to be with friends…

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