It wasn’t long before I was convinced that Mkuze Game Reserve had no animals. Judging by the size of the staff, it was entirely possible that they had eaten the lot.
I went into a hide where a section of fence along the walkway had been smashed by either an angry elephant or a hungry Ezemvelo Wildlife employee upon discovering that someone had wolfed the last impala.
Inside the hide was a family of three. The man had a camera with a zoom lens the size of a 420mm howitzer. I put my phone on vibrate and laid it gently on the wooden counter. Five minutes later it vibrated.
“Shh,” said the woman. I was about to apologize but she held up her hand. “I heard a lion!” My phone vibrated again. “Did you hear that?” she said excitedly. I casually slid the phone into my pocket. “Yes,” I said. “He sounds close.” A terrapin snuck its snout out of the muddy water two metres away. The husband swung his giant lens around and fired off a round. The terrapin disappeared.
The thing about sitting in a hide is that often the animals aren’t aware that you have paid to see them. I waved my receipt through the slit but still nothing. I spotted three turtle doves and a tree trunk that I kept mistaking for a baby elephant with a crocodile’s face. Animal sounds drifted out of the bush at fairly regular intervals, but that’s easy enough to arrange with a few cleverly hidden speakers.
Driving through the reserve, I came around a corner and almost ploughed into a flock of rhino. One of the reasons I hate poachers is because I will never again be able to look at another rhino without thinking, “That’s the price of a Ferrari he’s got on his nose.” I drove closer to inspect this lucrative appendage and the bastard had the nerve to charge me.
“Fifty bucks for a look, mister,” he said. No, he didn’t. He lowered his head, snorted and took three or four lumbering steps towards my car. I am accustomed to things lowering their heads, snorting and lumbering around my apartment, but this was altogether more frightening. He stopped in his tracks before I could even find first gear. We gave each other the lazy eye, then, having made whatever primeval point it was he thought he was making, he ambled into the bush.
Back at camp, I saw a sign warning that hyenas were attracted to braais. It said they were opportunistic and would grab food whenever they could. Please. I have been to conferences and seen what civil servants are capable of when the buffet opens. Hyenas are amateurs.
The next morning I headed for Mozambique. After a couple of hours I arrived at the border. Or, more accurately, I arrived at the back of a long line of parked 4x4s. My heart sank. I would be there for days, possibly weeks. I would have to sleep in the car and beg food from local villagers. I would probably go mad and kill myself.
I had apparently forgotten it was Easter weekend. This is the price you pay for being an atheist.
It was mayhem. People milled about like sheep, bleating, “Where am I meant to go now?” To their credit, the South Africans and Mozambicans were doing their best to get people through as quickly as possible. Forms were snatched, passports stamped, money exchanged for worthless pieces of paper and, finally, tyres were deflated. Well, other people deflated their tyres.
I think it’s an urban myth perpetuated by men who like to cut a rugged image by dropping to one knee and sticking a match into their valves. I set off down a sandy track. I had gone about nine metres before someone on the side of the road, kneeling next to his tyres, shouted that I was going the wrong way.
I pretended that I was just trying out my non-deflated tyres before making a u-turn. The Land Rover sank up to its ankles. I got out and shouted at the car. I kicked its tyres and slapped its face. With a dog, you need to bite its ear to let it know who’s boss. Land Rovers are no different to dogs, except you need to use more violence. For all I know, they enjoy a bit of the rough stuff. That’s probably why they break down so often.
Anyway, it seemed to have learnt its lesson and got me out of the hole it had dug for itself and onto the right road. Not that you could call it a road. You couldn’t call it signposted, either.
I was booked into a place called Gamboozini lodge in Ponta do Ouro, which means Place of Gold in Spanish or whatever the hell language it is they speak in these parts. It was supposed to be 10kms from the border. I had been bouncing along for a lot further than that, causing permanent injury to my kidneys, when I arrived at Ponta Malongane.
Gripped by a raging thirst and nursing a belly full of badly rattled organs, I spotted a man beckoning me towards a shack made entirely of sticks, straw and bottles of alcohol. It seemed rude to ask for directions without purloining a local beer at least.
After an hour or so, it seemed rude to leave at all. Ever. The Dosem beer was delicious. The reggae was fabulous. The company good. I could sleep on the floor behind the bar. I’d wash glasses and repair the fittings, not that you could call them fittings.
My new friend urged me to try a local delicacy called an R&R. It consisted of a beer mug half filled with ice, half filled with Tipo Tinto rum and half filled with raspberry Sparletta. It was a mathematical impossibility. As was walking, after a few of them red rascals. It’s a good thing one cannot drive faster than walking speed along these roads. And if you do happen to fall out of your car, you land on soft sand.
There are several rustic bars on the road between Ponta Malongane and Ponta da Ouro, which helps to make the journey longer or shorter, depending on a range of factors. I suppose a 7km stretch can’t strictly be called a journey, but it certainly felt like it at times.
There are no tarred roads. It’s just a question of how thick the sand is. The road forks constantly and it doesn’t seem to matter whether you take the left or the right fork. Like our opposition parties, they usually merge at some point. However, one needs to do a fair amount of veering off the road if one wishes to to avoid having a drunk quad-biker land on one’s lap.
Soon enough I discovered where the multitudes from the border had got to. They were all in Ponta do Ouro. Going by their number plates, most of them seemed to come from Joburg. Going by their physiques, most of them seemed to come from Mordor. Orcs and Uruk-hais recuperating from the great battle littered the shores of the bay.
A howling onshore wind meant surfing was out of the question, so I bounced off in search of Gamboozini. I found it on the far end of the bad part of town. Not that Ponta has a good part. My accommodation, which I assumed would be sumptuous at R800 a night, turned out to be a room barely bigger than Nelson Mandela’s cell. The other guests were juvenile orcs whose shrieking and braying alone would have kept me awake, even without the giant anopheles mosquito launching raids at my face every thirty seconds.
White South Africans have done terrible things to Mozambicans. For a start, the locals have been led to believe that we all love rave music. For that alone, we should hang our heads in shame and, as penance, dispense cheap sweets to their tattered children and learn how to say “obigadro”. No, wait. That’s not right. Obrigado. That’s it. “Una cerveja e dos R&Rs, por favor. Obrigado.” That’s all the Mexican you need to know to survive in Mozambique. And if you’re hungry, chicken is frango. Whatever you do, don’t ask for a frango smoothie.
The other name for Ponta do Ouro in season is Gouge City. From a hundred bucks for a toasted bacon and egg to twenty bucks to park at the beach, the locals were out to get as much as they could before the aliens returned to their planet.
Here, babies are weaned on prawns. Stray dogs have prawn suppers. Homeless drunks are half-prawn, half-people. But herd a bunch of whiteys into a restaurant and suddenly prawns are priced according to the gold standard.
A gamboozini is a small pink hairless creature with a long snout that may or may not lurk in the undergrowth. After two nights, I felt myself turning into one and fled back to Ponta Malongane, whereupon I checked in to the Tartaruga Luxury Tented Camp. It was like going from Mogadishu to Maui – all dune forest and peace and well-behaved monkeys.
I was allocated a beautifully appointed tent with en suite bathroom, set deep in the bush, and my own personal fridge up in the self-catering area. Inexplicably, I had brought no food with me. I put six beers in my fridge, lest the other guests took me for a pauper, and drove off in search of sustenance. I didn’t have to go more than a kilometre or two before coming upon a promising place that offered views and alcohol.
The Land Rover protested and suggested we rather repair to an eatery that did not entail clambering up the side of a dune, but I put my foot down. Mozambican music was playing as I chose a table overlooking the endless flatlands of the south. A waiter brought me a cold beer. It was perfect – right up until a pack of feral Gautengers arrived, full of muscles and tattoos and R&Rs, and within minutes the music had changed to that execrable electronic shit.
I went inside and insisted that they return to Portuguese music. Three minutes later, the music went off. There was a long silence. It occurred to me that they were desperately searching for music from Lisbon. Music that reminded them of the savage brutes who had colonised them. A waiter came by and I attempted to explain that I had meant they should play Mozambican music. He listened politely and then, in perfect English, said, “I’m sorry. I don’t speak English.”
Just then, a man who looked as if he had been designed by Armscor rolled around the corner and headed towards my table. I closed my laptop and readied myself to fling it at him. MacBook Airs are aerodynamically designed for the express purpose of beheading troublemakers. He lurched to a halt and stood there, swaying gently. I was about to decapitate him when he spoke.
“Does you mind if we get the bar okes to play Bob Marley?”
Was this some kind of cunning trick? To what end? It made no sense. “Sure,” I said. “Go ahead.” He flexed his muscles and made a grunting sound. “Come join us,” he said. “We playing drinking games.” I declined on the grounds of being on deadline. Also, drinking is not a game. It’s a damn serious business. People have died doing it.
He snorted, pawed the ground and lowered his head. I picked up the MacBook Air as if it were a Frisbee. Our eyes locked. Just then, the music kicked in. It was a message from Bob, via the barman.
The song was Crazy Baldheads.