Wednesday, August 06, 2003

I have just got back from a longer-than-planned weekend in Joburg (due to visa trouble once again). Here is the second and final installation. I have slightly reordered some bits from the first episode too, just to confuse you.

[Macaneta - Episode 2]

We zoomed across the river and clanged onto the far bank. Macaneta was another 4km across the peninsula, on a dirt track which the locals reckoned our city car would handle – but only after a few grimaces. On the ferry we had chatted to some local ‘playboys’ who were taking their huge 4x4 to Macaneta. As we rumbled off the ferry I thought we could follow them to find the best route through the dirt track. Howevfer with their 4WD they didn’t really have to worry about that kind of trouble and roared off into the flat distance trailed by a plume of dust. In any case, Luiz had noticed that every time we stopped the car lost another hubcap, and he wanted to put the last one in the boot for safekeeping. (Though as it turned out later they get nicked so regularly here that the car rental guy didn’t even blink an eyelid at it, and didn’t charge us).

So once we got going we had the road, a thin strip of tarmac twisting over deep pothols, to ourselves except for an occasional herdsman and medium-sleek looking cattle.
The first 2km were easy but the road got sandier and sandier, and suddenly we were stuck. The grimaces were right.

Obviously a stuck car was not uncommon in these parts, as almost immediately kids started running up the road to have a look, and bunches of young men appeared from nowhere. If you had a helicopter view at that it would have been a bit like that scene in Jurassic park with the velociraptors converging through the long grass. Throughout human history there are stories of bandits and peasants deliberately digging holes in the road etc. to knacker the carts, chariots, caravans and cars of the rich, so that they can get a piece of the resulting breakdown action.

Apparently this practice is alive and well in Brazil so Luiz was very suspicious. Certainly a guy with a white landrover, a tow-rope, and a squad of hefties conveneniently appeared round a hill within about 200 secs of our arrival. Still, he helped us out and we got on our way again. Luiz was determined not to get stuck again so he rally-drove around the next few corners – but just a few hundred metres from the beach we ran aground once more. This time I convinced him to admit defeat and make a deal with White Landrover Man, and his buddy Red Pickup Guy, who obviously had the operation sewn up. We agreed a very reasonable 4 dollars for them to escort us there and back.

Finally we arrived. We managed to sneak into the “guarded” car park, demarcated by a movable road-sign and some trees, and left the car in the shade. Immediately before us was the Incomati estuary, half-covered in water-lilies. A large but rather faded restaurant sat across the path to the beach, which was only 3 minutes away. It faced onto the breakers of the Indian Ocean – and yet just over the ridge was the river [see photos]

We contracted a local young entrepreneur, Antônio (white T-shirt in the Karate Kids phots) to buy us a couple of beers from the resaurant. One thing that I have never encountrered anywhere in sub-saharan Africa is underage drinking, so I reckoned he would have no troub le bweing served. This proved to be the case. Unfortunately in the areas of almost permanent civil war stretching across the centre: Southern Sudan, Northern Uganda, Eastern Congo, and then the endless pain of Sierra Leone and Liberia, where society is half in ruins, child soldiers are standard operating procedure for a warlord, often going into battle high on booze and a whole selection of other drugs. But apart from this I have never seen t he same importance attached to underage drinking as you get in Britain.

By this time though the sun was hinting that it was not long till bedtime, so we had a power-sunbathe for one hour, and then ate some delicious prawns in the restaurant. When it came time to go back we gave a lift to a couple of craft-sellers we had been chatting to. Luiz was determined not to get stuck again, so every time we got near a sand-patch, he ordered us all out, reversed, and then took a run up to the sand patch so he could zoom over it. This Colin MacRae Rally approach caused great amusement to the locals, but it worked - we made it to the ferry with no running aground.

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