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In May 2004 the author_ a 32-year old freelance translator and

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In May 2004 the author_ a 32-year old freelance translator and Powered By Docstoc
					       Searching for Paradise


                     A Book Proposal by Sid Bartlett




Searching For Paradise
                     Sid Bartlett, PO BOX 131, 4184 Pennington, South Africa                1
       tradbartlett@hotmail.com                                      Tel:0027 82 493 6447
                                                                 Proposal Contents
Overview..................................................................................................................................... 3
The Author .................................................................................................................................. 4
The Audience .............................................................................................................................. 5
Book’s Table of Contents ........................................................................................................... 7
Sample Chapters ......................................................................................................................... 8




Searching For Paradise
                                    Sid Bartlett, PO BOX 131, 4184 Pennington, South Africa                                                       2
             tradbartlett@hotmail.com                                                                            Tel:0027 82 493 6447
Overview

       In May 2004 the author, a 33-year old freelance translator and Internet-ordained agnostic
reverend of Anglo-Franco-Welsh origins, embarked on a 12-month trip around the southern hemisphere
with his French wife in search of a little spot of paradise, hoping to find out if there were better places to
live than the once delightful, pre ―A Year in Provence‖, French countryside?
       How many people dream of taking a year out and travelling?
       How many people dream of finding an alternate lifestyle that gets them out of the hum-drum of 9
to 5 life and allows them to enjoy living rather than just existing, when the major brake on taking the
plunge is the fear of the unknown?
       Now that continental house prices are catching up with the UK market, how many dreams of an
early retirement in Brittany or Provence have become unattainable, or simply undesirable?
       An ever-increasing number of couples are taking the plunge and having a look at the world before
starting a family. But why do it for just one year and then go back to the office?
       Through the Internet certain trades no longer require going to the office, and with rents higher
than an E‘d up eagle, what better way to reduce overheads than out-sourcing to an English accountant
in an Ezy-boy recliner in Ecuador? And the dullards who settled down in the mid-nineties and bought
property are now sitting on some serious net equity, if only they could find somewhere cheaper to live
(other than moving to Toxteth or Ongar). The plethora of TV programmes dedicated to living abroad is
proof that upping sticks is an appealing subject that has caught the public‘s eye.
       The author was not one of those foresighted people; after obtaining a degree in International
Business he spent his twenties in an unlikely combination of importing remote controls, teaching at
University, playing cricket for France, and running a small brewery. Obviously, this lead him into
translating and he now works from wherever he fancies, and supports his wife‘s lie-in and breakfast in
bed habit. In the spring of 2004 they set out to find somewhere cheap and sunny where a monthly
income of £1500 would be enough to buy a house and live comfortably. ―Searching for Paradise‖ is the
author‘s account of their travels and their findings. Along the way the author has a near-death
experience in the Zambezi, stands up (trembling like a watery jelly) to a charging lion in Zimbabwe,
marries a couple on the beach and embarks on a search for an abandoned child‘s mum in a 400sq Km
area armed with only her first name and a bedraggled Jesus look-a-like in Mozambique, nearly buys an
opal mine in Australia, jumps out of a perfectly serviceable light aircraft in New Zealand with a
dreadlocked Gimli impersonator, ends up camping at a remote Paraguayan military outpost on the
Bolivian border with His Excellency the Chief Justice of the Paraguayan Supreme Court, and gets caught
up in some of the world‘s worst driving spots, outside of the Indian sub-continent and the Arc de
Triomphe roundabout, in a 56,000 kilometre drive around 3 continents.



Searching For Paradise
                        Sid Bartlett, PO BOX 131, 4184 Pennington, South Africa                        3
         tradbartlett@hotmail.com                                            Tel:0027 82 493 6447
       This book is not a house-buying guide but rather a travelogue of the author‘s meetings with
people and places on his search, with observations about the locals and the property market based on
criteria ranging from investment potential and political stability to quality of pies, dark rum and smelly
cheese. During the 12-month trip the author and his wife made every effort to meet the locals; of their
364 nights away, only one was spent in a hotel for foreign tourists, and met estate agents from every
country they visited. As a testament to their dedication to trying local fodder, the author put on a stone
during the trip, possibly a unique achievement amongst globetrotters away for a whole year. Sometimes
funny, sometimes poignant, but always easy to read, ―Searching For Paradise‖ gives insights to the
places visited from the perspective of a 30-something couple looking to make a serious lifestyle change.
       The manuscript is well under way, 2/3rds of the first draft has been written already, and should be
between 260 and 310 pages long when completed. The author will be able to deliver the finished book 3
months after sale of the project. The author can provide colour photographs from the 3,000 pictures that
were taken during the trip.



The Author

Born in England in 1972 of an Anglo-Welsh father and French mother, the author completed his primary
and secondary education in Berkshire, interrupting his enjoyment of cricket, rugby, football, the Army
Cadets, the Stone Roses and the Wedding Present sufficiently to gain three A levels and an A/S level
upon leaving school in 1990, despite the distraction of moving out of his father‘s house at the age of 17.
Whilst waiting to join the Army to undergo Officer training he travelled around the UK for nine months
installing and servicing industrial heating for a MoD contractor. Three months into his military instruction
the author did a sharp about-turn at the boredom of garrison life and had a bit of a rethink whilst working
as the cellarman in a local hostelry.
          After five months, in early 1992, he became a financial advisor for a subsidiary of American
Express, advising middle and senior managers on investment and retirement planning. A promising
career was brought to a halt by circumstance and young love and led the author to France.
       A feisty and torrid relationship had blossomed with a nubile French au pair, and given
Metropolitan Berkshire‘s talent for breeding moronic 11p.m. hardmen, the author decided to take a look
at the other side of the pond and discover the frog in himself with a view to marrying. Unfortunately for
him, his French fiancée decided to withdraw her proposal of nuptials, but the author ploughed on,
completing a course to become a teacher of English as a foreign language in order to find work in
France.
       He settled in with ease, despite being limited to schoolboy French due to his father‘s insistence
that English would be the only language spoken at home (despite his delusions of grandeur, he could not
apply this principle to the rest of the world). The only minor hiccoughs came from linguistic mix-ups - like

Searching For Paradise
                         Sid Bartlett, PO BOX 131, 4184 Pennington, South Africa                     4
          tradbartlett@hotmail.com                                          Tel:0027 82 493 6447
asking a waitress to serve his steak naked rather than medium, and thinking he was politely telling his
slightly stuck-up female boss that she looked a touch tired when instead he was informing her that her
eyes looked like the slit in the end of his cock. The relaxed atmosphere and a hectic social life kept him
busy, and a series of relationships ended up with him earning a degree in International Business in late
1996. After a year in the import/export trade he was offered positions lecturing at the local university and
in a business school, which seemed like a great way to have young French women look up to him and
him look down their low-cut tops.
        After two years he was ready for new horizons and set up a microbrewery in the heart of the
Muscadet wine region. In 2002, after three years of toil, the brewery looked to be going places and the
author had met the gullible woman who, six weeks after meeting him, would agree to become his wife. In
the same year he was diagnosed with a herniated disc that resulted in seven months of sick leave and
an operation. Whilst the author recovered, his business could not stand the absence of the 60% of the
work force that was the head brewer, chief salesman, accountant, and delivery boy, and folded in March
2004.
        By this time, his wife Sandrine had decided that she wanted to live in a foreign country for a few
years, but couldn‘t decide which one. The author had become a freelance translator during his
convalescence and was earning more than he ever had before for far less work, and was also starting to
get articles published in magazines, and, having already experienced the pleasure of living abroad, was
all for it, so the couple mapped out a route around the southern hemisphere taking in countries that were
potential places to settle down in. They set off in May 2004 and, in the course of the following year, flew
56,000 kms, drove the same distance again, and visited 19 countries on three continents looking for their
spot of paradise in which to settle down and raise a family.
        In each region that they liked, the couple visited houses and estate agents to get the low-down on
the property market, and they both tried their best to embrace local customs; even if it meant eating the
occasional worm, guinea pig, or cow‘s udder, or drinking copious amounts of locally produced alcohol in
the name of research.
        In the time it has taken the author to write most of the manuscript he has become a qualified Dive
Master and spends many hours underwater SCUBA-diving with four-metre Tiger sharks, and has also
found time to pass the South African Field Guides' Association examinations with a record score of
134.5 out of a 135.



The Audience
        The audience for this book is twofold. Globally, the book is aimed at anyone who likes to read
about travel and adventure interlaced with the author's attempt at wit and humour. Furthermore, there is
a growing number of travellers who set off on long trips to the southern hemisphere, and there have
never been more options open to Round-the-Worlders.

Searching For Paradise
                        Sid Bartlett, PO BOX 131, 4184 Pennington, South Africa                      5
         tradbartlett@hotmail.com                                           Tel:0027 82 493 6447
       More specifically the book is aimed at those who are interested in making a lifestyle change and
moving abroad whether to retire, live off investments, or work from a distance.
       According to the National Statistics Office, 26% of the UK population between the ages of 50 and
64 are voluntary early retirees, with an average net monthly income of £1032 and who own their own
property outright.
       Another potential target are those have the good fortune, like the author, to be one of the growing
number of people able to work from home over the phone or via e-mail, meaning that they can live and
work wherever they fancy, irrespective of local employment law and opportunities.
       With the growth in UK house prices, a net worth of £150,000 today would buy a £50,000 house in
the southern hemisphere and, with a return of 10% on the investment of the remaining capital, would
generate monthly revenue of £833. As of July 2005 the average house price in England and Wales was
£187,651 and £264,505 in Greater London, according to the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister.
       If that is not enough proof that people are looking to move abroad as part of a lifestyle choice,
one only has to look at Brittany, Normandy, Périgord, or Spain to see ex-pats living it up. Further
evidence of this growing market is provided by the numerous TV programmes featuring house-
makeovers on properties abroad and ―Get a New Life‖ style documentaries.
       Anyone who reads Pete McCarthy, Bill Bryson, early P.J. O‘Rourke, or even Dark Star Safari by
Paul Theroux, is potential reader of Searching for Paradise.




Searching For Paradise
                        Sid Bartlett, PO BOX 131, 4184 Pennington, South Africa                    6
         tradbartlett@hotmail.com                                          Tel:0027 82 493 6447
Book’s Table of Contents
1- Off at Last
2- The Rainbow Nation
3 – A Brief but Regal visit to the Roof of Africa
4 - Back in the RSA
5 – Swazi Football Fever
6 – Kruger Capers
7 – Into Moz
8 - Antonio, Raphael, Simon and Claire
9 - More Moz: The young men and the sea, and wedding bells on the beach
10 - Mugger Bob‘s Zimbabwe
11 - The smoke that thunders
12 – Botswana, eco-paradise
13 – Namibia, nowhere like it
14 – Back to the Cape with the Bakkie on the back
15 - Strayer!
  Happy families in the Sydney suburbs
  Melbourne: Culture Capital
  Outback: Men at work
  East Coast: Big Things
16 - Fiji –The Friendly Islands
17 - New Zealand: Not all about sheep
  North Island
  South Island
18 – Rapa Nui (Easter Island): Magic rocks (and I don't mean that I'm a Paul Daniels fan)
19 - Chile
  Santiago to Patagonia:
20 - Argentina
21 - Paraguay
22 - Bolivia
23 - Peru
24 - Northern Chile
25 - Rio




Searching For Paradise
                         Sid Bartlett, PO BOX 131, 4184 Pennington, South Africa                 7
           tradbartlett@hotmail.com                                       Tel:0027 82 493 6447
Sample Chapters
1 – Off At Last ...............................................................................................................................................9
2- The Rainbow Nation ...............................................................................................................................12
3 – A Brief but Regal visit to the Roof of Africa ........................................................................................21
4 - Back in the RSA .....................................................................................................................................24
5 – Swazi Football Fever .............................................................................................................................27
6 – Kruger Capers ........................................................................................................................................32
7 – Into Moz.................................................................................................................................................36
8 - Antonio, Raphael, Simon and Claire ......................................................................................................43
9 - More Moz: The young men and the sea, and wedding bells on the beach .............................................48
10 - Mugger Bob’s Zimbabwe .....................................................................................................................54
11 - The smoke that thunders.......................................................................................................................62
12 – Botswana, eco-paradise .......................................................................................................................67
13 – Namibia, nowhere like it......................................................................................................................77
14 – Back to the Cape with the Bakkie on the back ....................................................................................88
15 - Strayer! .................................................................................................................................................91
   Happy families in the Sydney suburbs, and Melbourne: Culture Capital ...............................................91
   Outback, men at work ..............................................................................................................................94
   East Coast ..............................................................................................................................................104
16 - Fiji –The Friendly Islands ..................................................................................................................109
17 - New Zealand: not all about sheep ......................................................................................................120
   North Island ...........................................................................................................................................120




Searching For Paradise
                                    Sid Bartlett, PO BOX 131, 4184 Pennington, South Africa                                                            8
             tradbartlett@hotmail.com                                                                            Tel:0027 82 493 6447
1 – Off At Last

It‘s five thirty in the morning, -50°C outside, and we‘re travelling at 914 kilometres per hour. I‘m not in
Antarctica on speed, I‘m finally in the plane on my way to Cape Town. I think it‘s only just sunk in that
we‘ll be a way for a year, and although we‘re both a little anxious, we keep grinning at each other like
two demented teenage chimps who‘ve been left at home alone for the weekend with the keys to the
banana vodka cupboard and daddy chimp‘s convertible.
       Sandrine and I had known each other for six months and had been engaged for 4 and a half. I
was teaching English part-time in two engineering schools and running my own microbrewery. Sandrine
worked in sales in France‘s biggest bank and had just completed a degree in Export Management during
a sabbatical year. We had put an offer in on a house near the seaside that came with a building large
enough to house my brewery with enough space left over to add on a pub and turn part of it into a flat for
holiday letting. The offer had been accepted and the rent I was paying on my current premises and the
letting income would have covered the mortgage. All we had to do was jump through a few bureaucratic
hoops to enable the brewery to be set up there and complete the deal.
If we bought the house it would be time to start having kids once we had wed in 10 months time. We sat
down and thought about whether there was anything else we wanted to do before we settled down.
―I want to work abroad‖, said Sandrine
―Where?‖
―Anywhere that speaks English.‖
My brow creased up, ―Could you be less vague?‖
―I dunno, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, anywhere,‖ she replied
It was looking like a long brainstorming session.
―So you‘re not ready to settle down quite yet then‖ I cunningly observed.
       I‘d moved to France from England 9 years previously and despite the obvious complication of a
business that I‘d struggled to build up over the last three years but that was finally getting somewhere
with most of the hypermarkets in Brittany selling my ales, I felt I didn‘t have the right to deny her the
opportunity to experience life in another culture. I was also keen on travelling, part of the (erroneous)
business-owning master plan was that I‘d be able to have 10 weeks' hols a year and the money to go
where I fancied, southern Africa being number one on the list, followed by Australia to see my big sis and
nephews. If I could sell the business we were on.
       Two weeks later, in early December 2002, an agency had been taken on to sell the business, but
I was also on sick leave, a dodgy back finally having become so bad that I couldn‘t walk without a fistful
of pills. I was diagnosed as having a ―herniated disc with extra-ligamentary fragmentation‖. I would have
to go under the knife in February and then spend 4 months convalescing. Having only one employee and
being the head brewer, salesman, accountant, purchaser and part-time delivery boy, the brewery
Searching For Paradise
                        Sid Bartlett, PO BOX 131, 4184 Pennington, South Africa                     9
        tradbartlett@hotmail.com                                            Tel:0027 82 493 6447
balance sheet soon looked like George Bush Jr was at the helm. Then Gulf War 2 started and the
agency said that sales of businesses had stopped overnight so King Bush II really was influencing our
plans. During my time off I was not allowed to teach either, so I set up as a freelance translator working
from home via email. By the time I was back in the brewery in June 2003 the writing was on the wall; the
brewery‘s debts being inversely proportional to the amount of WMDs found in Iraq. I held on as long as
possible by putting all my earnings from teaching and translating into the business as several potential
buyers "ummed" and "ahhhed" until it had to go into liquidation in March 2004.
        By this time we‘d decided that as we couldn‘t decide where to go, and as I could now travel and
work with a laptop at the same time, we should spend a year checking out the southern hemisphere and
looking for a place to buy a house and then set the baby factory in motion. The guests at our wedding
had been generous, Sandrine had been a sensible girl and saved up a fair amount of cash despite
amassing nearly as many shoes as Imelda Marcos, I now had a decent regular income from a few hours
work a day, and we could afford to buy a round the world ticket that would take us to southern Africa for
4 months, Australia for 6 weeks, New Zealand for 6, Fiji for 3, and then Easter Island, Chile, Argentina,
Uruguay, Paraguay, Bolivia, Peru, and Brazil for another 4 months. We toyed with the idea of just going
to South Africa as the climate, wildlife, and property prices appealed to both of us so much. But given
that all our friends thought us mad to move to a country where safety seemed such an issue we decided
to stick to the original plan.
        Researching southern Africa made it sound a frightening place. If we weren‘t going to die from
Malaria, a car smash with an uninsured drunk driver or a large mammal, we were going to be car-jacked,
mugged, contract Bilharzia, one of the many forms of Hepatitis, Cholera, Yellow Fever, be bitten by a
rabid animal or, if we were lucky, just go doolally from taking Larium anti-malarial prophylactics. We had
as many jabs as possible, and vowed never to drive at night or walk in dodgy areas, but the potential
threat of having our car stolen and getting shot in the process was not made lighter by advice on driving
in South Africa from a South African tourism website. It advised that we should turn off the radio a
kilometre before arriving at our intended destination so that we could switch on ourselves and start
looking out for vehicles or suspicious characters following us when pulling in to park. Our handgun
should be loaded and easily accessible, like in the door side pocket or under a thigh. When arriving at
red lights you should either be the first vehicle at the lights or, failing that, stay far enough back from the
vehicle in front to be able to pull out - into the oncoming traffic at a red light if necessary. Should you do
this but the car in front starts reversing to block you then you should ram them to clear a passage
through. Taking the backpackers‘ Baz Bus would have sounded like a better option, but walking around
with a laptop rucksack was as advisable as leaving Gazza and George Best the keys to an off-licence.
        We established a rough list of criteria in no particular order, apart from the first two that obviously
were a priority:


Cost of house £100,000 or less (joint priority)

Searching For Paradise
                          Sid Bartlett, PO BOX 131, 4184 Pennington, South Africa                       10
         tradbartlett@hotmail.com                                             Tel:0027 82 493 6447
Personal safety (joint)
Proximity to the sea (joint)
View of the sea (Sandrine‘s)
Warm climate (joint)
Decent cricket club within 30 minutes drive (mine)
Access to International airport (joint)
Quality of pies and sausages (mine mainly)
Places of interest within driving distance for weekend breaks (joint)
Associations requiring volunteer helpers (joint)
       And that, basically, was it. Sandrine‘s sister took over the lease on our flat to baby-sit the furniture
and the cat, we equipped Sandrine with rucksack, sleeping bag, hiking boots and obligatory tourist Gore-
Tex jacket, packed our bags and jumped on the plane.




Searching For Paradise
                          Sid Bartlett, PO BOX 131, 4184 Pennington, South Africa                      11
         tradbartlett@hotmail.com                                             Tel:0027 82 493 6447
2- The Rainbow Nation

       The in-flight map showed that we were over the Atlantic, just off the coast of Namibia, with
landing scheduled 2 hours later. The 10 hours had whizzed by. In the middle row of four seats on a 747,
we got the middle two. Sandrine‘s neighbour was a Capetonian returning from business in London, who
readily offered us advice and then very kindly moved to a spare seat across the aisle so that we had
three seats to ourselves. My neighbour was a rather haughty French wine ‗expert‘ who was going out to
the Western Cape province to visit two companies that belonged to his employers in Bordeaux. Drinks,
food, and the film followed, and then I was ready to nod off. Previously I‘d never been able to sleep in a
plane unless in a window seat, but British Airways have these little side bits on the headrests that rotate
down and round and mean that you can rest your bonce on them rather than dribbling down your
neighbour‘s shoulder or lolling around like a punch drunk 45 year-old heavyweight on his 5th comeback.
By the time I‘d had 5 hours kip and looked as fresh as those seasoned female travellers who I used to
see when I was a teenager flying out to Barbados in velour jogging suits, anti-leg-swelling socks, slippers
and eye masks, I was fresh enough to suggest a quick bit of in-flight entertainment to join the mile high
club, but she hadn‘t slept much and there were couple of old geezers farting in line outside the toilets, so
we decided to save it for the flight to Sydney.
       At immigration the officers wore accreditation round their necks on lanyards emblazoned with
―Castle Lager‖ - nice touch – and the first thing we saw as we came out of customs into the arrivals hall
was a French bakery called ―la Brioche Dorée‖ – so much for exploring new horizons.
       We dropped our bags off in the luggage room at our backpackers hostel in Long Street, central
Cape Town, and went for a wander until our room had been vacated. After a while we noticed we getting
some funny looks, but couldn‘t figure out whether it was because I was wearing a Springboks rugby
jersey or because I was carrying a rucksack with my laptop in it, as I didn‘t fancy leaving it in the
communal luggage room. It was an odd feeling, one that I‘d never felt before, although Sandrine thought
that it wasn‘t much different to walking into a rugby club bar wearing a low cut top and a short skirt. Still,
the castle was just over the road so we decided to go and have a look and man the battlements.
       The five-bastioned castle was built on the site of the original clay and timber "Fort de Goede
Hoop" which was erected by the first Dutch settlers in 1652. After the British had decided against
establishment of a colony at the Cape of Good Hope, it was the Dutch who realized the strategic and
economic importance of the area. On a commission for the Dutch-East India Trading Company, the
merchant Jan van Riebeeck anchored in the picturesque bay at the foot of Table Mountain on April 6,
1652, accompanied by 82 men and 8 women, his own wife amongst them. They had been instructed to
establish a strong base to provide the Company's ships with fresh groceries, mainly meat and
vegetables, on the long journey from Europe to Asia. Despite many setbacks - during the first winter 20

Searching For Paradise
                        Sid Bartlett, PO BOX 131, 4184 Pennington, South Africa                        12
         tradbartlett@hotmail.com                                            Tel:0027 82 493 6447
of Riebeeck‘s men died - the settlement started to flourish. The number of sailors who anchored at the
Cape to stock up on milk and meat obtained through trading with the locals and vegetables grown in the
Company Gardens rose steadily. The construction of a pier rendered the bay safer and even more
attractive to passing ships in need of victuals. Soon there were also workshops to repair ships and a
hospital for the ill.
        The castle that stands today was erected between 1666 and 1679 in response to rumours of
British plans for an attack on the Cape. Despite the presence of rocky Table Mountain, Lion‘s Head, and
Signal Hill, the stone was actually imported from Holland. With the undertaking of such an enterprise,
along with other building plans and the ever-increasing trade through the fast-developing port the need
for labour increased dramatically. Firstly slaves and politically banned people were imported from Dutch
colonies in Java and Sumatra, but soon Dutch settlers arrived and then immigrants from all over Europe
followed. In 1688, a large group of French Huguenots, who were fleeing religious persecution at home,
settled at the Cape. Because the demand for agricultural land, especially pastures, grew continuously,
the settlement steadily spread from Table Bay towards the north and northeast. The Khoikhoi, also
called Hottentots, were forced to recede, although they strongly resisted the expansion of the Cape
settlers. However, resistance was dealt a crushing blow when, in 1659, a Khoikhoi uprising resulted in
complete defeat, and they had to retreat to the north.
        Dutch fears of a British attack were a little off the mark; invasion only occurred in 1795 as a
tactical manoeuvre against Napoleon, who had occupied the Netherlands and forced the erstwhile Dutch
leader, William V of Orange, to flee to Britain. And the French were also largely responsible for the
demise of the Dutch East India Company, now effectively under Napoleonic rule, as their charter was not
renewed; and in 1799 what was once the world‘s largest company with 150 merchant ships, 40
warships, 50,000 employees, and 10,000 soldiers went into bankruptcy. Once under British rule the port
flourished further as the Empire‘s merchant fleets and battleships pulled in for repair, refreshment, and
recuperation.
        Although the seafront has changed since those times due to landfill, the original bell, cast in
1697, still swings from its original wooden beams in the Bell Tower over the main entrance, and looking
towards the strand, where the beach used to be, you can still imagine the tall-masted ships sitting in the
harbour, with barrels of food and drink and carts of goods going up and down the gangways. New
arrivals then must have been even more excited than we were, as they trawled the streets looking for a
place to stay and a horse to get around on.
        Our first test-drive was more of a pony than the packhorse that we were looking for. It was a Lada
4X4 that was quite nippy for a vehicle blighted by a poor reputation and a fistful (or should that be a
buttful) of jokes. Given that it was my first time driving in a right-hand drive vehicle for some time, and
Cape Town intersections and drivers required heavy use of the reverential right foot it was almost as
nippy as a night in Siberia. That said, it was too small, too old, and too expensive, and parts would be a
problem to source, so we weren‘t interested in buying it in the end. We left the mildly shaken owner

Searching For Paradise
                        Sid Bartlett, PO BOX 131, 4184 Pennington, South Africa                     13
          tradbartlett@hotmail.com                                         Tel:0027 82 493 6447
disappointed in not concluding a sale, but probably grateful to still have his mini 4x4 in one piece as I
think I left a rather poor impression of European driving skills. He headed home and we headed to the
bar in our backpackers in Long Street to thumb through the cars for sale ads in the papers and phone a
few garages for suitable vehicles in our price range.
       The next morning, Desmond, a portly Afrikaner with a goatee beard, came to pick us up from the
backpackers to look at a few motors. On the 15-minue drive he quickly got onto rugby and "hyuk hyuk
hyukked" throatily, a perfect imitation of Alf the Alien Life Form, as he told us that he supported the All
Blacks or anyone else that the Springboks were playing because they were bad losers and he didn‘t like
them. He reeled off many more of the 1974 Lions than I could as he drove us around Table Mountain to
the Wynberg district. We chose our 4X4, an Isuzu diesel with air-con and power steering, and arranged
to pick it up the following day. Simon, a young Xhosa, drove us back. He knew nothing about rugby, but
loved his football.
―Whose your favourite player?‖ said he.
―Terry Henry, because I‘m an Arsenal fan and half French‖
―Sheeeeeeeeee, wild wild man!!‖ he laughed, ―He my favourite player too and I loooove Arsenal‖ .


He threw his head back, shaking it from side to side, at the apparent incredibility of meeting someone
who supports the same team as him whose centre forward is their favourite player. We talked some
more about TH‘s wonder goals, and I set up a goal with a fag packet on the dashboard to run Simon
through the best ones as we nipped through the traffic back to the backpackers. And in conversation I
finally figured out what a robot was.
       Yesterday, when we'd walked around town I'd asked a woman for directions to a supermarket
and was told to turn at the robots.
―Robots?‖ I said making my best Metal Mickey impersonation.
―Like……..robots‖ I waved my arms around and did a couple of stiff legged steps.
She shook her head, laughed, gave me an explanation that I didn‘t understand and walked off.
Thankfully I‘d realised just in time that doing a Dalek ―Exxxxterrrrrminate, Exxxxxxxterrrrminate‖ would
have been even less productive than the Cybermen walk.
Robots are in fact traffic lights. When Churchill once famously described the Americans and the British
being two nations divided by the same language, he really meant South Africa but had had one too many
by then.
       Like any place in the world that uses English as one of its official languages, South Africa has
developed an interesting vocabulary for everyday conversation derived from one of the other commonly
spoken tongues. After the robot misunderstanding we came to understand the local lingo a lot better.
       Anything that is deemed to be good or appreciable is lekker. A pick up truck is a bakkie, which is
pronounced ―bukkie‖. These are often driven by surfies who refer to every male as bru. If the bakkie
driver is not a surfie or a housewife using it pick the kids up from school, he more than likely sports a

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           tradbartlett@hotmail.com                                        Tel:0027 82 493 6447
Springbok Rugby branded item of clothing and takkies (trainers) and calls other men okes. Any oke who
fits the stereotype of an Afrikaner is a ―Van der Merwe‖, often from the bhundu ( the sticks) and the butt
of jokes across southern Africa. Needless to say Van der Merwe does not appreciate the company of
buppies (black yuppies) or TWOGs (Third World Groupies).
           When van der Merwe has too many dumpis (beers) at a braai (BBQ) he will no doubt be
babalass, pronounced ―bubble-arse‖, the next morning. This is not a reference to the consistency of his
morning dump, though if he‘s been on Milk Stout with Amarula chasers he may literally be shitting as
much air as boerwors bits (a beef sausageand the key ingredient to any braai), but Safferish for hung
over, especially if he‘s smoked a bit of dagga dagga / zol.
           ―Izzit‖ is used as a universal question, or to replace ―right‖, ―OK‖, or ―really‖ in a conversation.
When asked from whence you came, a reply of ―We stayed in X‖ is not met by ―did you?‖, or ―My wife‘s
French‖ by ―is she?‖, but always by ―izzit?‖. Fortunately they have yet to invent a negative version or to
employ ―innit‖.
When asked if we are renting our vehicle and we reply that we have bought it, a common response is
―Izzit, lekker bukkie bru‖.
           ―Howzit?‖ has nothing to do with cricket, but means ―how are you?‖, ―how‘s it going?‖, or just
―hello‖.
           ―Yassus‖ is said by a blaspheming South African who wants to sound like he is not pronouncing
the messiah‘s name in vain.
           Bunny chow is not a synonym for grass, but is a hollowed out half-loaf filled with beef or mutton
curry – a meal in an edible bowl. Grass for smokers is dagga or zol.
           ―Just now‖ does not mean straight away, but at some indeterminate point in the future, generally
later than you want or expect. Nor does ―now now‖ mean more immediately than now but rather probably
before ―just now‖, maybe. Neither are answers you want to hear when you phone up the plumber to get
your burst water pipe fixed, but both are infinitely better than ―later‖.
           I had to visit two microbreweries in Cape Town, both on the Waterfront, to research an article for
a beer magazine. The money wasn‘t great, but it was a good excuse to drink free beer in the name of
building a new career. Both were on the new Waterfront. We‘d read on forums and in guidebooks that it
was one of the most beautiful cities in the world and that the Waterfront was a superb addition. We were
disappointed; it‘s like a bigger Cardiff / Portsmouth / Bristol renovation job with added sunshine, cheaper
labour, and a nice mountain and a couple of hills.
           We bought the truck and drove from Cape Town and its confusing ring road system to the coast
to the southeast. It wasn‘t really a truck; it was a 2.8 litre turbo diesel 1996 Isuzu KB 280 with dual cabin,
back canopy, air-con and power steering. It went well, but when pulling away it did sound a bit like a
truck. Arriving after dark, in a place called Strand, meant most campsites were shut, but we got lucky on
the third attempt having started to worry that we looked like lost tourists with a neon ―Carjack Me‖ sign on
the roof. Our only neighbour in the whole place of 200 sites was a Zimbabwean 50-something who‘d

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            tradbartlett@hotmail.com                                           Tel:0027 82 493 6447
been travelling ―for 26 years‖, and this trip started in October 2003. He had inherited a printing business
in Harare and somehow, despite him being away, it still ran and he just used the money to travel around
hitchhiking and on the buses. He gave us 8000 Zim‘ Dollars as he said he wouldn‘t be going back for a
while and it was just taking up space. We offered him some Rand in exchange, but he said he hated
having loose change, adding that it was enough to buy a loaf of bread back home, well, it had been last
October anyway…
       We left Strand and drove along the coast road heading east. The area around Gordon‘s Bay was
beautiful; craggy mountains jutting out of the sea, rust red rocks littering the ground, with stocky green
vegetation that from afar looked a bit like heather filling in the gaps. We ended up in Cape Aghulas, the
southernmost place on the African continent. Sandrine was mildly surprised to not see any icebergs.
―Antarctica‘s only over there‖ she said pointing towards the horizon.
When we arrived we were the only campers, but a French brother and sister turned up to sleep in their
car later on; after the Brioche Dorée in Cape Town, followed by two locals in the supermarket who spoke
excellent French we were starting to feel we were being pursued by the French language.
       On a windy autumn day, if you didn‘t know that this is where the Atlantic and Indian Oceans
meet, you could be forgiven for thinking you were in Cornwall or Scotland or Brittany, but there is
something special about Cape Aghulas beyond the scenery. It does seem to be stuck in a time warp,
witness the petrol pumps outside the store that sells everything from apples to zebra. As well as being
cut off from hypermarkets, advertising hoardings, and graffiti, they also appear to be cut of from crime,
as people leave their cars unlocked in the street.
       After a braai (south African for ―barbie‖) in the rain and wind we went to Nostro‘s, the
southernmost pub in Africa. Our barman, Coenie, (―Curny‖) turned out to be a game warden from
Botswana who had guided Britain‘s two little princes, on holiday and who was a mine of useful
information, addresses, and places to go. With the help of Mike, a regular, they talked us into missing out
Zimbabwe and heading a bit further north to cross through Malawi and into Zambia to get to the other
side of Victoria Falls. The game parks were much better than in Zimbabwe, they said, and by avoiding it
we would not be giving any money at all to Robert Mugabe, the shitheel who runs the country (into the
ground).
       Nostro‘s also serves the southernmost pint of real ale in Africa, Birkenhead by the Standford
brewery, who, despite diligent research, had escaped my attention. Not a bad sup, though I was only
allowed a couple. Mike was a farmer in Zim, but his farm was ―repossessed‖ four years ago. He had
reconverted to become a wildlife painter and his wife was a writer. When asked what he thought of South
Africa‘s future prospects, he said he and his wife were moving to the UK where their two daughters lived.
       We walked past Africa‘s southernmost nightclub that was set up in what looked like someone‘ s
front room and had three punters dancing to Alizée. We decided to give it a miss and listen to the surf of
two oceans crashing onto our pillows instead.


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           tradbartlett@hotmail.com                                        Tel:0027 82 493 6447
       The next morning I espied a hair salon in town and decided I‘d had enough of the wild man of
Borneo hairstyle that I‘d been nurturing for the last 9 months for no particular reason. Not a barber‘s
chair in the back of a fishing tackle shop, not a hairdresser, no Sahree, a veritable hair stylist, Ester van
As. She‘d moved down a year previously from the north and set up in Aghulas as the nearest other
facilities seven kilometres away specialised in blue rinses and crew cuts.
       The day before I‘d made an appointment for 0830, and after porridge and bananas that Sandrine,
for some reasoning proper to females, thought would taste different to European bananas, we went
along to see her. I was torn between having it all lopped off or keeping some curls to keep Sandrine
happy. In the end I decided to let the professional decide and style me as she saw fit. When I was
thinking of having it all chopped off I was going to ask her to leave the back till the end so that for a
couple of minutes I‘d have had a mullet. Ester was very chatty and friendly, and didn‘t at all mind
Sandrine taking photos of her in action, what with this being the southernmost haircut in Africa. She even
phoned a mate and got him to knock up a certificate attesting to this awesome event.
       Unfortunately, apart from hypermarkets, advertising hoardings, graffiti, and crime, the whole 21st
century would have appeared to have been lost in the post. We didn‘t have the heart to tell her how
awful we thought the hairdo looked, and paid up the £2.40, gushed at how great it was, and walked out
hoping that she couldn‘t see our ribs shaking as we choked down our laughter. I‘d been mulletted. It was
like a cross between a Caleb Ralph, a Carlos Spencer, a failed ―Pop Idol‖ candidate, Bobby Ewing, and
a modern Kevin Keegan. Indescribable really.
       We moved on to Plettenberg Bay, one of the bigger towns on the Garden Route, and went for a
walk on the magnificent Robberg peninsula where we watched the seals gambolling in the sea. An hour
into the walk I realised I‘d left my phone on the roof of the car and ran the 3 k back over rock and sand
like a man possessed, worried stiff that some kid had picked it up and was running up a bill at 2.25 euros
per minute. After all, the guidebooks had made it clear that anything on your person that wasn‘t on you at
birth was fair game to thieves. When I got back, out of breath and dripping from a run in the afternoon
sun, it was still there on the roof of the wagon. We still had time to take in the breathtaking views created
by several million years of erosion and sea level variation. On the return leg we came across a bench
with a plaque saying ―in loving memory of Ted and Peggy Scales‖. Sandrine wondered why someone
would dedicate a bench to someone‘s kitchen appliance…It brought back fond memories of her mother
who, when looking at one of my father-in-law‘s hypermarket bills was surprised to see that he‘d turned
hippy and had bought ―essential tea‖ or ―the essential‖ as the receipt said. Unless Eric Clapton has
bought himself a plot in Kenya, that would be the name of his latest Best of Best of Eric Clapton Volume
3.
       We went to the beachfront boat club bar for a pint in the evening, and I got talking to some white
bearded 50–something who professed that SA would be OK for the next ten years or so thanks to
tourism, but after that the manufacturing sector had to pick up to guarantee a future for the country. He
was, however, pessimistic as all the blacks, in his opinion, are lazy buggers who don‘t want to work.

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         tradbartlett@hotmail.com                                            Tel:0027 82 493 6447
This, apparently, is due to thousands of years of culture and history and will be very difficult to change.
He is entitled to his opinion, but I was more than a little disconcerted by the fact that he said all of this in
front of the Xhosa barman who seemed to be doing a lot more work than the white manager…..
        We stayed a couple of nights in a backpackers on the beach in ―J Bay‖, the SA surfing Mecca
that is Jeffrey‘s Bay, which has the longest right hand break in the world, whatever that is. I‘d seen fair
few ―okes‖ surf fishing and when we went in to a tackle shop to ask for directions, I came out with a rod,
reel, bait, and tackle assuring Sandrine that I could now provide endless amounts of free fish for dinner.
Several hours spent attempting to hook a monster went unrewarded, but saw the seagulls steal my live
bait with merry abandon, and £6 of spinners get stuck on the rocks.
        After a couple of evenings in the company of Len, owner of the bar and restaurant at the
backpackers, and his endless list of shooters and tall stories, it was time to move on. Sandrine had been
woken up on the 2nd night at four in the morning by a ―Roxanne‖ session involving a group of overweight
German Britney Spears wannabes. One of the blubber-laden Teutonic tarts suggested they vote to turn
the music up louder, it being a democratic country. My question as to whether she thought democracy in
Germany in the 1930‘s had been successful was not well received.
        After J Bay, we spent a couple of days in Port Elizabeth, where I worked and Sandrine cross-
stitched and watched satellite TV. Our host, Jacques, a 24 year old monster with a goatee that made him
look 35 and who considers his previous employment as a Jo‘burg night-club bouncer as working in the
―entertainment/tourism industry‖, was yet another impeccably polite chap who couldn‘t do enough to
accommodate us. PE itself (Port Elizabeth, not Physical Education lessons where reluctant school boys
in over-sized vests and shorts are encouraged to touch the teachers hamstring to learn where it is)
marks the beginning of a traditionally British area and the end of the Afrikaans area we‘ve travelled
through from the Cape. Driving up the main north/south dual carriageway, the surroundings are very
reminiscent of the A4 on the outskirts of London in summer, with a strip of sun-bleached grass
separating the road from the pavement and front garden. Any sea view is dominated by the imposing
cranes and gantries of the port, and the motorway runs alongside the beach. There was a distinct lack of
seaside property, and although there were plenty of houses for under £60,000, there was nothing in PE
to really flick our switch.
        We carried on along the coast to East London and another backpackers on the beach, where
Mandisi and Stera, both students working and living at the backpackers to see them through Uni, fell foul
of my flukey pool shots.
East London is named correctly from a geographical point of view, and though some similarities
prevailed (like the locals speaking with a accent that would make Angela Rippon shit on her desk)
nobody offered us any clichéd jellied eels and winkles. The main thoroughfare hinted that the place
wasn‘t always so grubby in a wild-west town sort of way, and that it had some hidden class, or at least
used to. Unfortunately, we couldn‘t find it, and despite more houses well within budget, we moved on
eastward and northward, hoping for more countryside and less town, and smaller-waved and weaker

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         tradbartlett@hotmail.com                                              Tel:0027 82 493 6447
surf. We had had a go at bodyboarding, but the surf was too big and strong for Sandrine, and after 3
trips in and out I was cream-crackered
       Two days later at Port St. Johns, a small but bustling and mainly black town down the end of 60-
kilometre dirt road, we went for another horse ride in the hills accompanied by a 21 year-old Xhosa
guide. Before we set off the local school kids who were on their break got together and, under the
prompting of their teacher, gave us a 10-minute impromptu song and dance session.
       We meandered through villages, harvested fields of maize, and sub-tropical forest to arrive at a
pristine beach. Andile, our guide, told us about the medicinal uses of different plants, and it seems that
he must have had a lot of stomach problems as a kid, because virtually every remedy was for crook
guts, except for some tree that you lay down under and said a few words in order to cure tonsillitis. We
galloped across the beach and back into the village for a cooked lunch in the Xhosa village we had set
off from. The little kids were very shy because, apparently, they weren‘t used to seeing whites, and were
amazed when they saw their own noggin on my digital camera screen. We walked through the banana
plantations to the school, and all the kids were still running around the trees.
       We left Port St. Johns and drove through the Transkei, one of the old homelands, meandering up
and down the Drakensberg foothills to Port Shepstone in Kwa-Zulu Natal. The contrast between the 2 is
striking; from settlements of round mud houses with thatched roofs where the people subsistence farm
and the roadsides that are a minefield of kids in school uniform wandering in both directions at all times
of day, to a predominantly white area that resembles most seaside towns anywhere in the world.
       Port Shepstone and neighbouring Umtentweni are another surfers‘ haven, but at last we found
some warm sea. One of the surfers sold us a large crayfish for £3, it was delicious with a bit of garlic
butter. Sandrine spotted a clock that had the numbers the wrong way round, with the 3 being in the place
of the 9, the 2 swapped with the 10 etc… She blondly enquired whether it was due to us being in the
Southern Hemisphere…..
       From Port Shepstone we followed the coast through Scottburgh to Umkomaas, site of the Aliwal
Shoal reef, reputedly on of the best 10 scuba spots in the world. We found accommodation at a cheap
lodge, where our hosts Rian and Karen laid on even better hospitality than we had received before. The
hand-patterned floor, the backpackers‘ kitchen, and the furniture had Sandrine drooling with envy and
cooing compliments to Karen who‘d designed it herself. It seemed a shame to miss out on the reef, so
we signed up for a course to become qualified open water divers. Unfortunately, after a day reading
manuals and watching a DVD, Sandrine got in the pool only to feel a sensation akin to a hot needle
being passed through her ears, possibly risking damage to the shoe shopping gland. One visit to the
doctor later, she was told that her ear tissue was unsuitable for diving, so I carried on alone.
       The pool sessions, where you learn all the basic skills, were straightforward and were done in an
hour. Next up were the open water dives enabling one to qualify to dive at any resort with a dive master.
At 6 a.m. we were jetting out into the Indian Ocean in a "rubber duck" - a large rigid inflatable boat like
the one Action Man used to have - watching the sun rise out of the sea and the dolphins chasing the

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                         Sid Bartlett, PO BOX 131, 4184 Pennington, South Africa                     19
         tradbartlett@hotmail.com                                             Tel:0027 82 493 6447
flying fish. Then Baasie, our suntanned Eagle Eyes Action Man look-alike skipper (complete with orange
and blue waterproofs) throttled back, told us to kit up, counted to three, and watched us roll overboard.
       Despite a fair amount of pain in one ear, I got down, demonstrated my newly acquired skills, and
got on with the dive. Between the masked coachmen (wafer-thin, hand-sized black, white and yellow
banded fish with a top fin than arches along their back like a slipstream indicator, not robbers on horses)
I glided over 4 leopard rays, ogled a couple of boxfish, had a bit of a chocolate starfish pucker when two
sand sharks swam past, watched a loggerhead turtle munch the coral and a wrasse sitting under his
head hoover up the leftovers, and perved over a rare devil fire fish hiding on a rock. Not a bad start.
       On our last night on the south coast we met Kim, Willem, and Gary, three buddies from
Umkomaas. Kim lived in Mozambique for six months of the year and was full of advice about places to
go and see along the Mozambique coast. He also gave us a long list of bits to buy in the event of a
breakdown: spare fan belts, towing chains, engine oil, extra diesel, a high lift jack and a front mounting
winch. Willem and Gary were in stitches by the end despite Kim saying they could all come in very
handy. His two mates acknowledged that, whilst not entirely useless, the last two items were definitely
overkill for anyone except Kim who had once managed the near impossible feat of getting stuck in a
tarmac car park. They then regaled us with the story of Kim accidentally hooking a whale shark whilst out
fishing. Kim maintained that this protected behemoth of a species (they can grow up to 18 metres in
length) did not take his bait, but has a theory that the prop wash from his boat looks a little like plankton
and as the beast swam towards it the hook got caught on its head. Having realised he had achieved the
near impossible again he cut his line before being dragged overboard.
       The locals told good stories and drank more rum than a shipload of scurvy sea dogs, but we had
a vague schedule to catch up with and so the next day we were off to Lesotho, the ―roof of Africa‖, to
have a beer in the highest pub in Africa, having done the southernmost. I decided to give the highest
haircut in Africa a miss though.




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                        Sid Bartlett, PO BOX 131, 4184 Pennington, South Africa                       20
         tradbartlett@hotmail.com                                            Tel:0027 82 493 6447
3 – A Brief but Regal visit to the Roof of Africa


We set off from the coast through the sugarcane field hills towards Lesotho. The rural black areas soon
turned to even more sparsely populated woodland managed by one of South Africa's biggest timber
companies. 300 kilometres and a couple of two-horse towns later we turned onto a dirt road and headed
up towards the Sani pass, a track that can only be navigated in four-wheel-drive vehicles. One hour, 30
kilometres, and a bouffant-load of hairpin bends later we were at the Lesotho border control and the
highest pub in Africa. The guidebook failed to mention it was also no doubt the coldest; in the evening
the outside temperature dropped to well below freezing.
       The Sani Top Chalet and Pub, at 2,874 metres above sea level, has everything except lager and
soft drinks driven up from South Africa, including wood (there is very little on this side of Lesotho) and
real ale from a micro-brewery 120 kilometres away in Nottingham Road. Electricity is supplied four hours
per evening by a diesel generator, and I had an hour‘s work to do so that was fine. Jonathan, the owner,
professed to have run out of everything at some point, though fortunately not all at once. He has twice
been blocked in by the weather; once due to snow, and once due to heavy rainfall that turned the
already tricky track into a mudslide.
       After a cosy evening in front of a log fire, a spot of stargazing into a sky unspoilt by artificial light
and a magnificent sunrise, we took the high road to the northern Lesotho border, 200 kilometres but 6
hours drive away. The idea was to meander through over a couple of days, enjoying the rugged
landscapes and getting a feel for this very different mountainous land, of which no part is below 1,000
metres altitude and 80% is above 1,800 metres, 25% higher than Ben Nevis.
       Once called Basotholand whilst under the rule of the British Empire, it became the Kingdom of
Lesotho and an independent member of the Commonwealth in 1966, with Moshoeshoe II as its Regent
and Chief Leabua Jonathan as prime minister. In 1970, when his BNP party (the Basotho National Party,
not some jackbooted brownshirted skinheads from south London) was losing power, Jonathan
suspended the constitution and dissolved parliament. He survived a coup attempt in 1974, but despite
becoming ever more unpopular clung on to power for more than a decade after. Elections were next held
in 1985, but looked dodgier than a Robert Maxwell pension scheme and were duly boycotted by the
other parties. The military finally ousted Jonathan in 1986 with a six-man military council replacing the
government and King Moshoeshoe II as Head-of-State. The officially omnipotent monarch was, to all
intents and purposes, impotent and was forced into exile in 1990 after being overly critical of the
camouflaged council, who replaced him with his son Letsie III. Infighting amongst the military resulted in
several changes of leadership and the postponing of elections until 1993 when the Basotho Congress
Party heavily defeated the BNP. Unhappy with the outcome, soldiers rioted in January of the following
year and then in April they abducted several ministers and assassinated the deputy prime minister. In an

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                        Sid Bartlett, PO BOX 131, 4184 Pennington, South Africa                         21
         tradbartlett@hotmail.com                                             Tel:0027 82 493 6447
unexpected twist King Letsie III suspended the constitution and dismissed the government in August,
and a month later, with the help of South Africa, returned the elected government to power and
abdicated in favour of his father, bringing an end to what was effectively 23 years of autocratic or military
rule. Not surprisingly for a landlocked country, it wasn‘t all plain sailing from then on. A contentious
election in 1998 lead to a military mutiny that was put down by a brief but bloody intervention by South
African and Botswanan forces acting on behalf of the Southern African Development Community.
Constitutional reforms have since restored stability and peaceful elections were successfully held in
2002.
        The SADC intervention was not sanctioned on the noble basis of upholding democracy and
ensuring civil liberties, one look north to Zimbabwe shows that these ideals do not hold much water in
Cape Town or Gaberone. The reason was that Lesotho itself does hold much water, and the completion
of Africa‘s tallest dam at Katse in 1998 enabled the export of water. Traditionally reliant on the foreign
incomes of mineworkers working across the border who make up around 35% of the active male wage
earners, Lesotho now receives substantial income through this project, and the South Africans are
pleased to be able to purchase their neighbour‘s only natural resource. It‘s not crude oil, but still a
precious substance that is often in short supply on the tip of the continent; despite the sub-tropical
conditions. Odd as it may seem, the towns north and south of Durban often have water allowances cut
by 2/3rds at the end of each year until the rains come.
        With the decline in mining and restrictions on foreigners working in South Africa, a small
manufacturing industry has grown based on farm products that support the milling, canning, leather, and
jute industries, and apparel assembly and garment manufacturing have increased substantially, mainly
thanks to the country qualifying for trade benefits under the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act. The
major brakes on Lesotho's continued growth, however, are an extreme inequality in the distribution of
income (49% of the population are estimated to live below the poverty line), and 86% of the 2 million
residents being engaged in subsistence agricultural in rural areas.
        Anyway, our meandering plan hit a hitch early on; when I tried to send my finished translation
work back through my cell phone, the network was down. The nearest town was Mokhotlong, and
Jonathan said the landlines would be working there, so off we went along the Tlaeeng Pass, the highest
road in Africa. Along the long, steep and windy stony track that would lead to a pot-holed but tarmac
road we passed smiling kids and waving adults, wrapped up in mohair blankets. Sandrine waved
indiscriminately at everyone like the Queen on her jubilee, whether they were looking at us or not, and
I‘m sure that if they‘d have had some little plastic flags with Sandrine‘s noggin on it they would have
waved that too. Try indiscriminate waving in any English city and I‘m sure that if all you get in return are
gestured insults and avoid having a lighter, a stone, or a mobile phone thrown at your car then you‘ll
have gotten off lightly.
        Mokhotlong, the biggest town in western Lesotho, looked a rather motley place with only 7,000
inhabitants, but it made finding the Lesotho Telecom offices easier. (There are no internet cafés outside

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                           Sid Bartlett, PO BOX 131, 4184 Pennington, South Africa                    22
         tradbartlett@hotmail.com                                            Tel:0027 82 493 6447
of Maseru the capital, situated about 350 kilometres and 5 passes away, mostly on untarred roads). The
telecom office was in fact in a portakabin, but I wasn‘t put off; I‘d connected my laptop to a line in the
middle of a fruit market in Port Elizabeth with no problems. Except that there were no outgoing
international phone calls working that day, the technical reason for which was impossible to decipher
from the non-committal shoulder shrug my ire inspired. Our only choice now was to crack on to
Fouriesburg in South Africa‘s Free State, and to get there before the border post shut at 8pm. so that I
could send my in work. The job itself was only worth £25, but it was for a good customer and I didn‘t
want to risk letting him down and losing him. We pushed on, a bit miffed to not be able to hang around,
but the views soon calmed us down and brought things into perspective.
       Children leading donkeys laden with sweetcorn, and mealie meal passed by waving. We overtook
carts made from the back section of a rusty 4x4 being pulled by an ox, and herders in mohair coats
wearing antelope antlers on their head chewed long stalks of wild grass. Little villages of mud-plastered
and thatched rondavels, each with its own little sweetcorn patch and aloe plants flew by and the
mountainous countryside of the Drakensberg range changed from morbid grey to deep brown, and finally
to the rusty red and sand colours typical of the highveld as we came out of the peaks.
       The setting sun only heightened the impression that the landscape was covered with a fox‘s fur.
As we left behind a poor but seemingly happy people we didn‘t think we‘d be moving there, but it is
definitely a place to go back to and visit in more depth.




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                        Sid Bartlett, PO BOX 131, 4184 Pennington, South Africa                    23
         tradbartlett@hotmail.com                                          Tel:0027 82 493 6447
4 - Back in the RSA

Back in South Africa, now in the Free State province to the north of Lesotho, we visited a traditional
Basotho village. Our guide, Joshua, introduced us to the chief and his advisor, who welcomed us with a
pot of Jwala, Basotho beer. Made from sorghum maize, wheat, sugar, water, and old beer that provides
yeast for fermentation, the mixture ferments for three days before being partially filtered through what
can only be described as a horse‘s condom woven from thick grass. We visited the houses of the chief‘s
3 wives; the first two are chosen by the community and the dowry paid for by the community, the third is
chosen by the chief himself. I told the chief through Joshua that in some countries the father of the bride-
to-be had to pay the dowry, and he burst into hoots of laughter, thigh slapping, and clicking of his tongue
on his palate. Each wife has an area with three huts; one is the kitchen, one for sleeping, and one for
receiving visitors. The second wife gave us some motoho, a maize and honey drink that is drunk cold in
the summer and warm in the winter, and is supposed to be good for breast-feeding mothers.
       The ngaka, or doctor, who is a fortune-teller and herbalist to boot, offered us his services, but the
presence of a couple of dominoes in his set of bones put me off. The advisor later told us that they are
used to replace ivory, as it is very scarce nowadays. Fair enough, but why not use some other bones or
cattle horn? It just made me think too much of old West Indians playing dominoes, or one of the
characters from Desmond‘s, for me to even consider taking him seriously.
       The advisor showed us a board game I once played in Austria as a twelve-year old that is used
by the chief to choose his advisor. Any new pretender to the advisor's place at the chief's right-hand
must beat every man in the village at this game in what is, apparently, a sort of knockout competition.
Every three to four years a new challenger may come forward, but woe betide any upstart who loses his
challenge to an advisor popular with the chief, as he will be punished for his lack of respect. Maybe if
Tony Blair had a tiddlywinks showdown with the incumbent of the Conservative Party ejector seat come
election day, the Tories might have a chance of ousting the Labour party.
       In the village we lunched on the Basotho speciality of Nyekwe, a mixture of wheat and sugar
beans, with a bit of beef sausage and gravy, washed down with some more Jwala. The slightly acidic
taste and the thick texture take a bit of getting used to and you‘d have to drink more than is good for you
to acquire the taste for it. It‘s as much a meal as a drink, and despite a certain hint of raspberries that
comes from the wild yeast that would no doubt please lambic and gueuze fans, I‘d actually rather drink a
pint of bland mass-produced pint of pseudo-lager. To be fair though, I‘d take it over most of the lambics
I‘ve sampled, as it doesn‘t taste completely off, just a bit tart. On a wander round I noticed signs that the
locals agreed with me, as several of the flowered areas had upside down beer bottles stuck in the
ground to make a handy border…..



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         tradbartlett@hotmail.com                                            Tel:0027 82 493 6447
       I asked Joshua if he himself would be getting more than one wife, but he said that it was an
expensive business, the dowry costing at least 4000 Rand depending on the negotiating skills of one‘s
uncles, the education, age, looks, and lack of children of the future Mrs. Joshua (4000 Rand is about
£350 – and an unskilled labourer earns £65 per month). If a man did have more than one wife, whatever
one had the other had to have something of similar value, and that when a Basotho has more than one
wife, he can live with neither of them. So as to not show favouritism each wife must have their own
houses and a timetable on which to visit him. Joshua also said that modern Basotho women were not
too keen on the idea:
―If I tell her I want another wife, she gonna ask me what the new one have that she don‘t, and what the
new one will do that she don‘t. I can‘t answer that if she‘s a good wife, and I don‘t want the trouble.‖
Polygamy looks like it‘s going to be as popular in the 21st century as Jwala.
       We headed across to the Zululand battlefields, where British, Boer, and Zulu all fought against
each other during the 19th century.
       The first white man to come to what is now KwaZulu Natal was the Portuguese sailor Vasco da
Gama, who reached the bay of what is now known as Durban / Ethekwini (Zulu for ―one-testicled place‖
due to the shape of the bay) on Christmas day 1497. Rather logically he called the place ―Rio de Natal‖,
or Christmas River. From then on it was a frequent port-of-call for passing ships, but it was not until 1823
that real settlement by the British was established, and in 1835 it was renamed after the Governor of the
Cape Colony, Sir Benjamin d‘Urban. However, it wasn't easy living in the small harbour town as the
inhabitants were threatened on two fronts. Firstly there were the powerful and numerous Zulus, who still
regarded the territory as theirs, but tolerated the white settlers, as the port was useful to them as a
trading post. Then, in 1836 5,000 Voortrekkers, farming families of Boer origin who had set out from the
Cape to settle new grazing land, arrived in Natal. Initially the Boers fought with the Zulus, losing at first
after successful negotiators leaving a meeting with the Zulus were ambushed, losing 500 settlers and
nearly all their cattle. However, once 464 Boers had defeated more than 10,000 Zulu warriors at the
battle of Blood River in 1838, they set up the Boer Republic of Natal with its capital in Pietermaritzburg,
90 kilometres inland from Durban. However, their republic was short-lived as British troops arrived in
1842 and annexed the hinterland as a Crown Colony, pushing the Boers north to behind the
Drakensberg mountain range.
       We then got our timeline muddled up and passed through Ladysmith, where the Boers besieged
the British for 118 days in 1899 and 1900 during the first Boer War which saw the British Colonies of the
Cape and Natal annex the Boer Republic and the Orange Free State, mainly in order to gain possession
of the Transvaal gold mines, before the siege was broken and the farmers done in. We continued past
Newcastle, through Dundee, and along the dirt roads to iSandlwana., scene of the 1879 battle pitching
British and Native Natal Forces against the Zulus.
       Here the 25,000 strong Zulu impis of Cetshwayo routed the British column that was moving in to
launch punitive raids. The hillside and the approaching plain is littered with mounds of white stones,

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         tradbartlett@hotmail.com                                            Tel:0027 82 493 6447
some of which have been replaced by headstones and monuments, marking the graves of the fallen
British troops. All told around 1500'tourists' died, along with approximately the same number of Natal
Native troops, and a similar number of Zulus. Once the poorly organised British defence had been
breached and the defenders set on the run, the Zulus pursued the retreating survivors, and only the
fortunate few who were on horseback managed to escape. Sandrine found the place a bit creepy, but I
would have liked to have had more time to spend there than we did. As it was, we had to move on to
Rorke‘s Drift, immortalised by the film ―Zulu‖ and Michael Caine giving it ―Don‘t frow doze bluddy spears
at me‖.
          Whilst the small museum has some interesting artefacts and information, and the perimeter of the
area defended by the combined total of 139 able and injured men left guarding a mountain of supplies
after the Natal Native Forces had scampered, is well marked out and the battle clearly-explained, the
vegetation has changed drastically. 120 years ago, when they so valiantly held off 12 hours of attacks by
4000 Zulu warriors, the surrounding area was covered in long elephant grass, whereas today grazing
has reduced the veld to dusty scrub, and a host of non-indigenous trees have sprung up, cutting off the
view that the defenders would have had of the impis lined up and charging towards them. That and the
school kids out at playtime 100 yards away makes it difficult to picture the scene.
          We drove off as the sun started to set, making the countryside even more stunning than it already
was. We had a bit of a scare crossing a bridge that is only wide enough for one vehicle when the truck in
front stopped just before it had got across and we were caught in what was in fact an ordinary traffic
queue. But this was in the middle of nowhere and we were about the only whites in a poor rural area, at
dusk, in a nice truck, sandwiched on a bridge with nowhere to go..... A good-looking local lass sauntered
past with a wry smile, possibly thinking that our situation didn‘t look too good either. The doors were
already locked but in my imagination a bloke with a gun pointing at the windscreen would have
persuaded me to open them. Just as I was trying to remember some Nero/Chuck Norris/Uma Thurman
type move to disarm him as I opened the door, the truck in front moved along as the cattle had finished
crossing the road in front of him. Maybe that comely maiden wasn‘t smiling about how much jewellery
she‘d get out of one of her boyfriends once he‘d disposed of our bodies and sold the truck, but how she‘d
always fancied shagging a whitey because they‘re reputed to have massive choppers!




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           tradbartlett@hotmail.com                                         Tel:0027 82 493 6447
5 – Swazi Football Fever

We ended up in Durban the next day (60 kms from where we‘d left Umkomaas 5 days before, but about
900 kms on our route) in order to get our visas for Mozambique. We found the consulate only to be
informed that that particular Friday was a national holiday in Mozambique and the consulate was
therefore shut. Rather than hang around ‗Durbs‘ we headed for Swaziland, hoping we could get our
visas sorted out quickly at the embassy in Mbabane, the Swazi capital. People said that we could get
visas at the border posts, but our Lonely Planet (that had, admittedly, proven on several occasions to be
well out of date) said those visas are only valid in the border region and not for where we wanted to
go......we‘d see whether the embassy could provide more useful information than the ―When in
Swaziland a woman must not enter a church wearing trousers and should be wearing a hat or headscarf‖
sign in Portugese.
       We spent the night in Manzini, in the middle of Swaziland, in a backpackers in the hills. Myxo
Feedom lives in the hostel and his sister, two cousins, mother and younger brother Stan live in wooden
shacks in the grounds. Whilst I was doing some translating, Sandrine got out her cross-stitch, and in no
time the sister and one cousin were fascinated, and then Sandrine asked them if they wanted to try, and
they became instantly addicted. Like the cokehead who is going to stop they kept saying ―just one more
line‖. Both were single, Lulu had a boyfriend but Myxette didn‘t at the time. We were never introduced so
I‘ve made up the names: the sister is Myxette; cousin 1 Lulu; and cousin 2 Ermintrude.
       Myxette thinks Swazi men are not worth the bother; polygamy is still the norm here, and nearly all
men have several girlfriends, wives, and later on, a combination of both. Lulu has a boyfriend, but won‘t
be getting married as she is HIV positive and doesn‘t represent much of an investment. (Like the
Basothos, Swazi men pay lebola, dowry, for their wives.) It transpired that Ermintrude, who is the single
parent of a 3-year old boy is also HIV positive, and not looking good on it. We didn‘t have the courage to
enquire whether the cute little offspring was infected too.
       Both found the ideas of western women on sharing of household tasks totally unfeasible in Swazi
society, and were dumbfounded to see me doing all the cooking and serving Sandrine with drinks. Rural
Swazi women are tasked with house-cleaning, wood-gathering, water carrying, child-caring, beer
making, crops, corn grinding, cooking and washing-up. Rural Swazi men wander into the hills with their
mates and their cattle, and drink beer, without the need to invent allergies to get out of hoovering.
       Lacking a telly to watch the footy on, I headed down to the local bar (the Big Surprise Bar) with
three foreign students: a Dutchman, a Frenchman hailing from a place 50 kms from Sandrine's home
town, and an American lass who didn‘t seem half as dumb as the one we met in Durban; when
earwigging a conversation I was having with two Aussies about currency she enquired whether a quid
was the Australian legal tender. The two surfers told her that it was slang for British pound sterling
- ―Naaah, thaaats whad de pommies ‗ave‖ as Moike from Perth put it -

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And that they used dollars ―Back in Strayer‖.
―Ohh geee, just like us, that‘ll be neat if i go there on vacation, I‘ll always no how much stuff is‖ she said
with her Wisconsin full-blast
―Naaaaeer, ears or Ozzie dollars, dare wurf summat love‖ said Bondi Brent, as I was still fighting back a
huge guffaw.
Later that evening, nearing midnight, her full-blast monologues about how:
―I‘ve always felt an affinity with Africa and it‘s real swell to be here and it feels real positive even though
all I've done so far is get off the plane and drink beers with you guys, but that‘s a cool thing too, I wish I
could hang around with you guys instead of going to school for 6 weeks, but that‘ll be neat too, I can‘t
wait to start learning Zulu and....‖
       She was thankfully interrupted by the walking ghost, our night watchman, so called because he
looked about 75, was made entirely of skin and bones and had no flesh at all, and was so white that he
was almost iridescent. He covered most of this up with a large, black cowboy hat and a thick, black coat
that came down to his ankles with a large arrangement on the shoulders that looked like it could double
up as a cloak. The only skin visible was his long drawn face, ready to be covered in a hood. Brent
reckoned he must be packing ―some serious heat, loike a 12-gauge auto and a .44 magnum‖ under it to
keep us safe. I was more of the opinion that despite, his high-pitched and croaky old voice, if necessary
he would sweep the hood over his head and pull a long-handled scythe out from under his cloak, plus a
horse to sit on, firing firebolts out over the top of his reading glasses.
       We were the only pale faces in the place, which was packed. We got in a round of Castle Milk
Stouts, similar to a Leffe Brune and a lot better than a Guinness (though it still makes your shit black but
doesn‘t make it smell as much). Apart from the odd hand feeling up pockets as people brushed past, and
a few funny looks as we walked in, the locals were very friendly, engaging us in football-talk, mainly
about how England 'was robbed' and that ref looks like a right twat with his bleached beard and pencil-
thin buggery grips'. After Holland pulled off a miracle and scored more than twice in the penalty shootout
to win, we went into the nightclub next door where there was a live band knocking out jazz and calypso.
Despite a rudimentary stage and the acoustic prowess of the rectangular breezeblock and tin roof
building, the boys were pretty good. Certainly a whole lot better than me after 5 pints of the 6% stout
(unless, of course you want a bagpipe impersonation of the Highland fling or a rousing version of ―Bread
of Heaven‖) Again, conversations sparked up easily, only being interrupted when one or other participant
ran out of beer, needed a piss, or fancied a bit of a dance. I don‘t know how Swaziland compares to
South Africa in terms of unemployment and standards of living, but a lot of the Swazi boys are podgy to
say the least. Many would not be out of place covered in gold chains lounging in a convertible 1960‘s
Cadillac, rapping away while their bikini-clad harem of hos and bitches shake their booty under the
Empire State Building. That, or in a Swazi remake of Star Wars playing Jabba the Hut.




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       Anyway, they didn‘t feed us to a giant spider-scorpion-dragon monster or have us cryogenically
frozen; they seemed more intent on feeding us beers. It was t 2 a.m. when we wandered back down the
track to the backpackers under yet another star-filled sky.
       The next morning, whilst discovering the aforementioned advantages of drinking Castle Milk
Stout over Guinness, I also discovered a simple but brilliant ecological measure. Myxo has confounded
all design and marketing research carried out since the advent of toilet paper by cutting each new roll in
half. My initial worry that my ―deep-wipe‖ technique would leave me with bits of kaka on the side of my
fingers was immediately dispelled, and I made a note to ask Myxo what he used to chop the rolls in half.
I was thinking of a bread knife, though a printer‘s guillotine would be perfect for mass-production
chopping, but Myxo didn‘t have a knife that could do the job, his dedication to the planet went further
than that. He takes an empty roll and a full roll, and carefully tears and winds half the paper from the full
one to the empty one. Bog roll manufacturers around the globe should take heed, thanks to Swazi
genius we could cut down paper consumption and the number of blocked drains, although the deposits
left behind roadside bushes in lay-bys on long stretches of road without outlets of Little Chuffs and Julie‘s
Panties would be twice as less well-marked.
       Myxo also insists on enforcing the Swazi tradition of not wearing shoes in the house, which gave
me ample opportunity to try out my new flip-flops. I‘d never worn them since childhood holidays left me
with blisters inside my big toe, but they have provided much occasion for thought, and surprisingly,
research. I‘d never really given much thought to their onomatopoeic naming before, but why does one go
―flip‖ and the other ―flop‖? There is definitely a difference between the pitch or tone or whatever of one
step and the other. My first theory was that, despite being made from identical materials, the left was the
―flip‖ and the right the ―flop‖, but putting them on the wrong feet proved no conclusive evidence. Further
scientific trials, consisting of pacing back and forth with a notebook in one hand and a Dictaphone in the
other in front of Myxo‘s bemused family lead to the discovery that the first sound, whether it be made by
the right or left foot, footwear on the right or opposite feet, made a ―flip‖ sound. I will now have to test this
theory further by hopping on one foot then the other, to see if this holds true. I‘m buggered if I know why
this happens, but it would explain why no-one has ever endeavoured to call them ―flop-flips‖.


       We left Myxo‘s sun-filled valley after a lunch of pap and salad – we were actually getting to quite
like it, as I figured out how to make it so that it didn‘t remind me of semolina at school – and went to
Mbabane, the capital of Swaziland. Manzini is actually much bigger with 450,000 of the 862,000 Swazi
inhabitants living in or around there, compared to 60,000 in the capital. Manzini is down in the valley and
was set up by the Boers as their capital, but when the Brits took over they left the sweltering plain to the
workers and set up their administration 35 kms up the road in the cooler hills.
       One of our fellow residents was a driver on a very large and well-known cruise ship. He managed
to ensure I am never tempted to part with the £13,000 that an Atlantic cruise costs when, as an add-on


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         tradbartlett@hotmail.com                                              Tel:0027 82 493 6447
to answering in the negative whether he‘d ever had any near misses with boats, he added in his broad
Glaswegian brogue:
―but I am tempted sometimes, I‘d love to gee it a go, just to see worrit feels like‖.
       Whales are apparently a bit of a hazard though, as they don‘t get out of the way like dolphins,
and get impaled on the bow of the ship, affecting stability and steering, so they have to get a couple of
lifeboats down and lassoo the impaled cetacean and then pull it off; like pulling a cracker with the
lifeboats and the ship each reversing in opposite directions.
       A couple of Peace Corps girls informed us that 42% of Swazis are HIV positive, and that whilst
testing is free, education on how to live with HIV and counselling are almost non-existent. The HIV
restraining drug ARV is given free of charge apparently, though for how long the manufacturers are
willing to supply drugs that would cost £8000 per year per patient is unknown. (In 2006 South African-
manufactured generic ARVs now cost as little as £150 per year). Chris, a Londoner who moved out to
Mbabane six years ago, said that the doctors just handed them out without informing the patients that if
they discontinued treatment then they would be dead within two months. Given that they are only told to
wear a condom during sex, it could be argued that the end result is that people are being kept alive with
the result of infecting others, increasing the problem rather than dealing with it, or from a less
humanitarian and more Darwinian point of view, letting it sort itself out. two years ago condoms were
handed out for free, but the well-meaning officials stapled instructions for use to each individual packet.
       The problem is that with multiple partners on both sides, unsatisfied or jealous wives and
girlfriends also take casual lovers, and the Swazi tradition of getting completely pissed up on Friday
nights and Saturdays (Sunday is for church, the Swazi being very religious) making the use of rubbers
fall by the wayside, both sexes continue to indulge in rumpy-pumpy Russian roulette. Families have
been decimated, in some cases leaving a 6 year old to head the household and look after his siblings,
some of whom are carriers from birth. On top of this the average unskilled Swazi earns half as much as
their South African counterpart, around £35 per month. Despite this there is no problem in walking
around Mbabane at night, and I felt safe strolling to the only international cash point in the city (one of
two in the entire country) in a deserted shopping precinct, though I suppose the presence of a couple of
security guards patrolling the place helped.
       The HIV epidemic is not helped by the King – Swaziland has elections and a Prime Minister like
in the UK, but where as Lizzie‘s role is limited to indiscriminate waving, attracting tourists, and giving
visiting heads of state a cup of tea and a scone at Buck Palace, King Mswati III pulls all the strings and is
still the highest authority in the land. Unfortunately he chose to spend £2 million on healthcare last year,
and £47 million on a new plane to fly him to international conferences to do deals with the Chinese and
Taiwan, letting them come into Swaziland tax-free in return for favours abroad to the King. To compound
this, I heard from a friend of one of the King‘s eight doctors that he is also HIV positive but no-one has
wanted to tell him, whilst he thinks it is also likely but doesn‘t dare ask for confirmation. In the meantime
his harem gets ever bigger.

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         tradbartlett@hotmail.com                                             Tel:0027 82 493 6447
       After a first encounter with Mozambican officialdom that was less painful that queuing to get on
an international flight, and certainly without the daft security questions and searches, we found Craft
Market Heaven. 700 metres of stalls, selling ostensibly the same stuff, making negotiating a buyer‘s
dream. We bought all of the presents expected by Sandrine‘s sisters, and Sandrine herself even
managed to overcome her INPS, impulsive non-purchasing syndrome, and buy 3 bracelets for herself,
although she did regress and turn down an 80p pair of ear-rings made from porcupine quills because
one was a millimetre shorter than the other. One style of wooden bracelet curiously had Chinese
symbols and African animals painted on it. Walking to the end of the parade of shacks we saw a large
sign crowned with a pagoda-style roof indicating the way to the "Chinese Taiwan mission School for
African Arts and Crafts". Is African craft getting the mass-produced-cheap-tat makeover too?




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        tradbartlett@hotmail.com                                         Tel:0027 82 493 6447
6 – Kruger Capers

The drive to the South African border was made more interesting by a particularly bumpy, sandy,
winding track through Africa‘s largest man-made forest and past an asbestos mine (sounds healthy), and
then became rather irksome by a logging lorry impeding progress and resulting in our arrival at the
border post 15 minutes after it had closed. We returned back along the track to start a 200 kms detour
through another border post that stayed open later to finally roll up in Nelspruit, gateway to the Kruger
park and last Isuzu dealership for two months.
       We started taking Larium, an anti-malarial treatment that reputedly gives hallucinogenic
nightmares but has the advantage of being efficient and only needing to be taken once a week, four days
previously, but the only possible, though as yet unproven ill-effects, were on Sandrine‘s notoriously weak
bladder; from getting up twice per night to pee, she was up to 14 pipi breaks. All that I felt was a slight
return of flab, but this was more due to my discovery of Castle Milk Stout and Amarula chasers. Amarula
is a South African type of Bailey‘s, made with cream and the Marula fruit; hardly as recommended by the
late Dr. Atkins.
       South Africa is also pie-eater heaven. Not only do they make an awesome range of pies,
including the rare but available spinach and ricotta, but Indian influences have combined with the
traditional puff-pastry fayre to produce mutton curry pies and the oddly-named Bunny Chow stew. This is
a beef and veg stew served in a hollowed out cube of crusty loaf that transforms grandma‘s runny dinner
into a meal in one sarnie that can be eaten whilst driving. Dr Atkins would be impressed by the steaks
though; South Africa is NOT the place to be a vegetarian. The supermarkets have 2 and a half-kilo
steaks that would fill all but the most showy-offy European barbecues.
       After a protracted shop for tinned food and meat (Mozambique, our destination on exiting the
Kruger, is renowned for serving dodgy meat outside of the capital, Maputo) we went into the Kruger from
the east, through Numbi gate. Sandrine was like a little kid on Christmas morning; desperate to see the
goodies. Our first spot was a female Kudu, soon followed by a troop of Baboons lolloping along the
roadside, a family of warthogs out for a constitutional, wildebeest sitting in the shade of acacias, grazing
impalas, mud-bathing crocs, elephants wading across the Oliphants river, red saddle-billed storks,
metallic blue starlings, and vervet monkeys with bright blue bollocks. The number of free pints you could
get in a pub if you had a pair that colour! In camp that night we could hear the lions roaring just outside
the fence.
       We had post-prandial beers with a pair of South African twins, Jacques and Steve, who seemed
to sum up the 2 ends of the spectrum of South African opinion. One was quite happy to refer to 80% of
the population as Kaffirs and that he couldn‘t stand them, how they were lazy, couldn‘t run a country
(add stereotypes ad nauseum) and the other thought the country had a bright future and that progress

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was being made in education, health, economics, integration and so on, but was a little miffed about
Affirmative Action in employment, as any white South African is, and understandably so. (Affirmative
Action is a way of saying Positive Discrimination, without sounding discriminatory but remaining
affirmative. It is part of Black Employment Empowerment, BEE, where companies over a certain size
have to employ a certain percentage of non-whites at different levels of the company. The upshot is that,
basically, if two people, one white and one non-white, with the same skills and qualifications go for the
same job, whitey gets the "thanks, but no thanks" letter. To me this seems understandable enough albeit
highly discriminatory and basically racist, and is more or less accepted by a lot of white South Africans.
The problem comes when the philosophy is taken further and experienced, qualified, skilled whites are
made redundant to make way for illiterate incompetents whose only qualification is the colour of their
skin.)
         Before the crack of dawn, we were driving through the park to be dropped off for a morning game
walk with two rangers. They both puffed away on their cigarettes in the front, reminding me of going off
on exercise with the Army cadets with the cold air flapping against the canvas canopy cigarettes cupped
in hand to protect them from the wind and so Captain Brown, up front in the cab sitting next to his
favourite boy-girl nerd, could see the tell-tale glow. We waited to take in the moonset and sunrise,
listening to the bush wake up. Jannie and Meurwen, our 2 elephant gun armed guides, escorted us
around pointing out the uses of different plants and bushes that can be used for making a toothbrush,
toilet paper, shampoo, an aphrodisiac, for extracting quinine, and a natural breath-freshener that smells
like Pernod and liquorice. We walked past herds of impala, zebra, some giraffes, and a flight of vultures
perched in a tree looking as if they wanted some breakfast. We stalked through the scrub hoping for
elephant, rhinos, or lions, but we only saw ‗log rhinos‘, ‗bush lions‘, and a ‗rock elephant‘.
         Sandrine was also bit disappointed, but after breakfast we got back in the car and went for our
own prowl. Normally at that time of year the river beds are dry and the animals congregate around
waterholes but unseasonal rainfall meant rivers like the Timbavati were still running their course and the
game was still spread out. We stopped to take in the river and its sandy banks and islets, and, lo and
behold, on the opposite bank, stretched out behind a small dune crowned with a clump of grass, were 4
lions, basking in the sun. Another kilometre down the river we saw 16 hippos wallowing in the shallows
and sleeping on the sand as red ox-peckers picked insects off them. From time to time another hippo
would cruise in to join them, remaining almost completely submerged, exposing its nostrils to give a
mighty snort and breath in again, and then waddling up onto the sand and flopping down next to its
mates.
         In the supermarket in Nelspruit I‘d bought a 500g bag with ―Make your own beer in a day!!‖
emblazoned across it. At 60p to make 5 litres it was worth a go. Following the instructions I added the
powder, which contained sorghum and maize flower, yeast and sugar, to a 5-litre plastic mineral water
container with lukewarm water, and gave it a good shake. Fermentation kicked in almost straightaway. I
made a little hole in the top to let the CO² escape and put it in the sink. It fizzed away all night and the

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                         Sid Bartlett, PO BOX 131, 4184 Pennington, South Africa                     33
          tradbartlett@hotmail.com                                            Tel:0027 82 493 6447
next day, yeast and head froth were bubbling out of the hole. The manufacturer claimed it would be
ready after 24 hours, but to really let it ferment into something with a decent amount of alcohol, I let it go
for 48.
          We were planning to head for the border on Friday afternoon and spend the night in Maputo, but
the pick-up had been making a suspicious clunking for a couple of days, so we headed for a Supaquick
garage, a South African equivalent of Kwik-Fit, the nearest Isuzu garage being 100k away back in
Nelspruit. An enormously round Afrikaner, Henrik Swanapoel, managed the place and gruffly diagnosed
a duff universal joint in the prop shaft. It would have to be repaired before Moz, but it was Friday
afternoon and Supaquick only do wheels, tyres, and exhausts. It looked as if our run of helpful South
Africans had come to an end, until Henrik heard us speak French, and twigged we were tourists and not
Capetonians. He asked us where we were going and when we mentioned Zambia his face lit up like a
red pedestrian crossing beacon (and was about the same size) as he enthused about ―the best country
in the world‖, and told us about different roads and routes and things to see. Between the descriptions of
two dinners he had eaten up in ‗Zam‘ he slipped in that he could get a new universal joint for us
tomorrow at 7 am and change it as he used to have a ―prop shop‖ (appropriately enough for a man big
enough to hold up a whole opposition front row on his own). We‘d be out of Komatipoort by midday, he
promised.
          We were surprised to find a backpackers in our guide, the town being too far from the coast and
of no interest apart from being the last place to fill up before the border. Yolandi and Cameron, 31 and
32 respectively, had bought a house and turned it into a backpackers a year previously. We wanted to
keep costs down so asked to camp, but they said they were empty and gave us a double for the same
price as camping. We‘d had a few beers and were getting along well when a bloke looking like Ruud van
Nistelroy turned up in an orange t-shirt. I thought it was the horse-faced striker himself, but realised he‘d
only been knocked out of Euro 2004 21 hours before. His travelling companion turned up, and it soon
transpired they were French, from Marseilles but living in Réunion, and on a 3-week holiday. They
spotted Cameron‘s electric guitar behind the bar, and before the wind could cry Mary, he‘d pulled out two
amps, a bass guitar, and a drum. The 3 of them could all play, and we howled and wailed through U2,
REM, and Jimi Hendrix. The poor French lads hadn‘t eaten meat for 4 days so, in the party spirit, I
cooked Impala steaks and T-bones with mealie pap and tomato and onion gravy for 6. Pap and impala
was new to our compatriots, and the 5-litre bottle of jwala was new to everyone.
          It was reasonably well-received, only one of the frogs not being man enough to finish it, and to
my disappointment it tasted exactly like the jwala I‘d had in the Basotho village. The cheeky buggers
were going down to Superspar and buying the same packs as me.
          During post-prandial Amarulas, Cameron and I discovered a shared adoration of the Wedding
Present and Dinosaur Jr, and the others looked on, bemused and then amused, as he thrased out
‗Kennedy‘ and ‗Freak Scene‘ while I growled and bellowed in my best impersonation of the demi-god


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                          Sid Bartlett, PO BOX 131, 4184 Pennington, South Africa                      34
           tradbartlett@hotmail.com                                          Tel:0027 82 493 6447
called David Gedge. The evening wound down with a few more beers, the world was put to rights, and
we went to bed.
       At 7 the next morning I was at Henrik‘s and so was the part. 90 minutes later my prop shaft was
back on, minus clunking sound due to the bearings being dangerously worn; another 200k and the back
of the prop shaft would have fallen onto a Mozambican road. I left with a bill for £15 (£10 for the part £5
for labour), two addresses in Zambia, a partly used pre-paid Zambian sim card that has US$96 left on it,
and a firm handshake and a warm smile. Another lekker oke, or diamond geezer.
       We got to the South African side of the border post at midday, expecting to at least get to the Moz
side as easily as in Lesotho and Swaziland, where they just stamp your visa with an exit stamp, give you
a gate pass, and off you go. Here there was the additional procedure of registering the car for temporary
exportation, so we could bring it in again at a later date. It was also a Saturday, in the school holidays, so
every Boer and his bakkie with accompanying trailer stacked with booze, beef, diesel and water to see
them through the holiday was there too. We got back in the car at 12.20pm, and then waited in a traffic
queue for 50 minutes, slowly crawling the 150 metres to the Moz border post. This gave me ample time
to go and see one of the many moneychangers at the side of the road who give 10% more than the
banks. 1500 Rand, or about £130, was turned into a fat wodge of 5 million meticais (pronounced so that
it rhymes with ‗pettycash‘ – seriously). Pedestrians walked past with bags on their heads and, we
regularly saw them with enormous clear plastic sausage shaped bags at least 1.5 metres long filled with
cheese puff type crisps. Were there no aperitif snacks in Mozambique?




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                        Sid Bartlett, PO BOX 131, 4184 Pennington, South Africa                        35
         tradbartlett@hotmail.com                                            Tel:0027 82 493 6447
7 – Into Moz

We got to the other side around 1.10pm, which had given us plenty of time to feel happy we had bought
a bakkie with air-con, but also to work out that some night driving would be required as we‘d never get to
our intended destination, Praia do Xai-Xai, before sundown at 17.30. ‗Fixers‘ start proposing their
services as soon as you get out of your car; we were going to sort it out ourselves, but it looked like
chaos, and would only cost us £2 so we employed Simon. First we got the obligatory 3 rd party
Mozambican insurance, although we have fully comprehensive coverage in Moz on our SA policy. They
might as well call it entry tax, as the insurance is useless apparently. Whatever you call it, it costs 150
Rand (£13). Into the passport hall next, and Simon jumped in front of some women with kids strapped to
them African-stylee, we coughed up another £1.20 each, and then went to vehicle registration. A quick
stamp on our documents set us back £1.80 more, but these costs are all displayed on big signs and
everyone has to pay them. All that was left was customs. It was going well; we were cutting through the
amorphous mass, bundled together in jostling clumps in front of one desk or another, but with no real
queue discernable we didn't feel too guilty about our fixer‘s queue-jumping. Besides, we were in a rush,
we were travelling for a year.
       Simon found us a caricature of a customs official to authorize our passage: skewed cap, big gut,
mean stare that says ‗I love this power trip, you worm‘, beads of sweat running down the side of his
temples, with a little twitch on one side, just where Spock would apply his vice-like hold when
administering a Vulcan Death Grip. Dirty Fat Prick of a Custom‘s Official (DFPCO), as he shall now be
known, grunted that we had to open the boot. He spots the two containers of spare diesel. He wants us
to pay import tax. I say OK, how much can it be on 45 litres of go-juice. Simon says ―no, ‗import tax’‖ so
that you don‘t have your car held up and thoroughly searched at the gate. We hunch over a calculator
whilst DFPCO muddles his way through some bogus calculations involving ‗petrol duty‘ that mean that I
have to give him around 15p per litre, or about £7. He walks off to see another fixer, looking gruff and
self-important, with me wishing that Spock were here now to sort him out, the fat prick. Simon says that
all we can do is pay if we don‘t want to hang around any longer. We fork it over, telling Simon what a shit
start to Mozambique this is, and how I hope that the rest of his fucking country isn‘t as fucking corrupt as
that fucking fat shit-eating prick. And no he can‘t have £1 extra, I feel like giving him a £1 less and tell
him that I‘m not satisfied with his services, if he‘d got us through for less he could have had more.
       He apologises vaguely and goes off to pay Baboon-arse-face. As we crawl towards the open
road Sandrine points out that my rant may have upset him and that he may not give Cuntchops the
moola, or tell him what the nasty tourist called him, so that we get extra-special treatment. Fair comment
I thought, and vowed, solemnly, to put on my dog collar shirt for the next border crossing. Her fears were
unfounded and we sailed through, once one of the many pick-up trucks stacked high and brimming over



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         tradbartlett@hotmail.com                                            Tel:0027 82 493 6447
with stuff wrapped in woven plastic bags, pots and pans, sacks of onions, chairs, tables, and water cans
had been pulled over. I wonder what the tax on a half a cubic metre bag of cheese puffs is?
       We hit the 4-lane EN4 highway and headed for the capital Maputo, 90 k away on the coast,
where we would go through part of town and then take the EN1 north. We followed advice and stuck to
the speed limit of 80 kph, and every time I was tempted to go a bit faster I‘d spot traffic cops on the
horizon, inspecting another dodgily-loaded, mobile 'Tower of Pisa' impersonating pick-up or bus that
looked as if it was about to disgorge its load of goods all over the road. The countryside was open and
green and flat, with wisps of smoke from cooking fires here and there. It was also pretty empty. I don‘t
know if crops are grown in those fields or not, it not being the season, but there certainly is plenty of
space for agriculture, and the soil looks fertile. At this time of year the main activity was conducted by
groups of 3 or 4 people, sporadically dotted along the road, sitting down with plastic hessian bags full of
homemade charcoal logs to sell.
       Mozambique was a Portuguese colony until 1975 when, after a brief war of independence, the
Lisbon government suddenly dumped its African empire made up of Moz and Angola on the west coast,
leaving a shocking 5 percent literacy rate amongst blacks. The first Mozambican government (read
dictator) came from the Frelimo party, a Soviet-backed group of Marxists who increased secondary
school enrolment sevenfold. Their programme of immunisations reached most of the population and
drastically reduced infant mortality, but their crackpot economic policies were hopeless. Stalinist grand
plans, collective farms, and state owned industries. Even the smallest shop was nationalised, coupled
with the global depression of the mid 1970s and the exodus of Portuguese skilled labour and capital,
pushing the country toward ruin. Years of flooding and drought brought on a famine that left 100,000
dead. Mozambique was officially the poorest country in the world. But it got worse.
       After the war of independence a far more destructive civil war started, as Renamo, the
Mozambique National Resistance Organisation, a military unit of dissident Mozambican troops, waged a
war of terror with the aim of rendering the country ungovernable. Schools and hospitals were burnt to the
ground, educated members of communities executed, there were even documented acts of cannibalism,
including forcing a mother to eat part of her own recently cooked child. Renamo were initially sponsored
by Rhodesia to help them fight Mugabe‘s ZANU troops that were based in Mozambique. When ZANU
won and Rhodesia became Zimbabwe in 1980, Renamo found new patrons in South Africans who
wanted to keep the country unstable so that it, or the ANC leaders that it sheltered, could not pose a
serious threat. With training bases in South Africa, and just enough weapons to keep the country
paralysed, war was waged for 10 years. Children were kidnapped and turned into killers, often being
forced to commit horrific crimes against a member of their own family as part of their initiation process
into the guerrilla. Funding even came from Ultra-Christian organisations in the anti-communist US Bible
belt who wanted to support the fight against an atheist and Commie foe, little matter how or by whom it
was carried out, praise the lord, hallelujah!


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                         Sid Bartlett, PO BOX 131, 4184 Pennington, South Africa                    37
         tradbartlett@hotmail.com                                          Tel:0027 82 493 6447
         With the downfall of apartheid across the border, support for Renamo ended and the civil war
finished in 1994. The country‘s infrastructure was in a shit state, burnt out vehicles lay by the roadside,
the country was littered with landmines, over a million people had been killed and a million and a half
more fled to neighbouring countries. According to a South African travel writer of the 70s, Douglas
Alexander, ‗Coral-rimmed, palm-fringed Mozambique lures more holidaymakers than any other country
in southern Africa.‘ Nearly 100,000 tourists per year came to Moz in the early 70s, but by the early 80‘s
tourism had died. Frelimo‘ loony leadership was replaced at the same time as the end of the civil war,
with proper democratic elections being held for the first time. Life expectancy is still one of the lowest in
Africa, but the country is moving forward, and South Africans are returning in droves to the thousands of
kilometres of unspoilt beaches.
         Through Maputo‘s outskirts we were slowed to 40 kph by the trucks in front and the people milling
around the edge of the road in front of brightly-coloured single storey buildings that all seemed to be
selling either maize meal and cooking oil, or soft drinks and beer.
         The EN1 turned out to be a narrow 2-lane road bordered by grass verges that doubled as
pavements for the pedestrians who appeared on the outskirts of villages. An hour after leaving Maputo
the sunset and we were in for 2 hours of night driving. In the rare instances that there was not a pick-up
truck, passenger laden minivan or juggernaut coming towards us with full beam on, our full beam was
good enough to pick out the potholes and see the bends in the road; the rest of the time you just
clenched your jaw and brown-eye and hoped that you and the on-coming driver had both correctly
guessed where the middle of the road was. Add to this the confusion created by mopeds with their
headlights pointed skywards, broken down vehicles receiving repairs on the edge of the road, minivans
dropping passengers off and picking more up without using indicators or brake lights, cars with only one
headlight working that look like mopeds, cyclists without lights or reflectors cycling towards you on your
side of the road, and trucks that had not correctly guessed where the middle of the road was forcing you
onto the potholed edge of the road or the grass verge, and not forgetting the oncoming traffic that
overtakes clapped-out lorries round blind corners and over hills, and your jaw‘s twitching like a bent
Customs official on acid.
         We arrived in Xai-Xai in one piece, too thankful to regret passing over the mighty Limpopo and its
flood plain in the dark. We followed the vague directions to Praia do Xai-Xai (the beach) 10 k away and
looked for Terry‘s Backpackers, as recommended by Lonely Planet. Down a sand track we came to the
main square. Opposite was a hotel where a wedding party was in full flow, the bride making a brief
appearance in the car park, resplendent in white, to the sound of samba music. As we looked around for
some sort of sign two kids sporting straw hats shouted ―Place to stay? Place to stay? We know, we
know!‖
―Er, heard of Terry‘s?‖
―Sim, Sim, Terry‘s, Sim, we show you‖.
With this they jumped on the back bumper and held onto the roof bars yelling ―Go straight mister‖.

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                          Sid Bartlett, PO BOX 131, 4184 Pennington, South Africa                     38
          tradbartlett@hotmail.com                                           Tel:0027 82 493 6447
         So we did. They took us to a beach restaurant called Golfino‘s (Dolphin, not small golf course)
where they introduced us to rotund and smiling Mama. Her son Nico said he‘d take us to the
accommodation. We put the bakkie in four wheel drive and wound our way through the dunes and
puddles to a motley collection of thatch-roofed huts with the two kids and Nico hanging on the back. It
was the most basic accommodation that we‘d had so far, no hot water, no cooking facilities in the
‗kitchen‘, and a toilet that didn‘t flush, but the yellow moon over the dunes, the view of the Indian Ocean,
and Nico‘s friendliness, coupled with the fact we weren‘t going to look for anywhere else at this time of
night persuaded us to stay. We drove the 3kms back to the restaurant for a chicken and rice dinner and
to put our perishables in the restaurant‘s fridge. Dinner and a pint bottle of Laurentina Preta, the Moz
dark lager, set us back £4, and then it was time for bed, the tension of 2 hours of night-driving had wiped
us out. With no extra passengers to worry about, we gave the bakkie a good workout through the big
puddles before hitting our dusty bed.
         The next morning we missed sunrise, cooked up some porridge on our stove in front of our
shack, and headed through the dunes to the beach to watch the masochistic little crabs. At each wave
they were picked up and tossed up beach, about fifty times their body length, then would be drawn back
into the sea, only for them to come scampering back out for a few second‘s respite in which they
appeared to eat something only to have the entire process repeated. Crustacean Camus does seashore
Sisyphus. If I were a crab it would be fun to do it once, like a bungee-jump, but imagine if you had to
bungee-jump everyday for breakfast, grabbing a spoonful of Rice Krispies before bouncing back up
again.
         The camp‘s location was beautiful, the town relaxed and friendly, and all the South African
holidaymakers were in the municipal campsite or in chalets run by South Africans or ex-Zimbabwean
farmers, but Sandrine wasn‘t going to pay £8 a night for inadequate toilet facilities twice. I contemplated
telling Mama that a few basic improvements would make the place much better, but Nico wasn‘t around
to translate. She must care about it though, because in the morning we noticed that someone had
recently been out raking the long sand tracks in and around the place that we'd driven over the night
before….
         I didn‘t have any pressing work to do, so we decided to push on to Inhambane and Praia do Tofu,
a 250k, three-hour drive up the coast. It was Sunday morning and the locals were all togged up in suits
and ties to go to church. Some were riding along on pushbikes with knurled logs piled on the back, or
strolling about with 20-litre cans of water on their head, or selling grapefruit-sized satsumas at the
roadside. In daylight the road was bumpy but fine, vehicles halfway on the road and halfway on the grass
being easier to spot. In Moz each vehicle is supposed to be equipped with 2 warning triangles, to be
displayed in front and at the rear in the event of breakdown. It would appear that most locals don‘t have
them, or certainly choose not to use them, their preferred method being to chop down a few branches
from the nearest bush and make a small pile behind the car, then drive off without removing it.


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                         Sid Bartlett, PO BOX 131, 4184 Pennington, South Africa                     39
          tradbartlett@hotmail.com                                          Tel:0027 82 493 6447
       In daylight the roadside villages were reminiscent of towns from spaghetti westerns: dilapidated
old buildings from the Portuguese empire days along the main drag in the centre, a few cinderblock
buildings either side, and then a couple of wooden shacks, all just off the road, with nothing behind.
Though there wasn‘t the obligatory barber‘s shop and gunsmith‘s for cowboys and hustlers to hang out
in.
       Inhambane was established as trading port by the Moors in the 7th century, but artefacts from
China and India, dating back to the first century, have been found in and around the area. The bay
provided excellent protection for shallow draft dhows, but the larger European ships could only get in
during large tides. It was the most southerly of Arab trade settlements where cloth, salt, and beads were
exchanged for gold, ivory, and slaves. When the Portuguese arrived on the Victoria in 1727, re-
enforcements were sent down from the northern settlement of Sofala and the local Tsonga chiefs
executed, villagers rounded up and killed or made slaves, and villages razed in true European empire-
building fashion. From then on the Portuguese were permanently established, and Inhambane became a
major port for trading and slaves, attracting a number of Indian settlers who would trade with their mother
country. The town centre has a strong Portuguese architectural influence that didn‘t do much for us when
we first arrived, but by our third visit had certainly grown on us.
       We settled into one of the two backpackers with an authorised campsite, illegal camping being
made impossible by fines of £1000 per clandestinely pitched tent. The small village of Tofo is home to
two dive centres on what is reputedly one of the best diving areas in the world, with nearby reefs being
home to countless tropical fish, and attracting giant manta rays, dolphins, whales, and whale sharks.
       On my first dive to Crocodile Rock reef we saw its rare incumbents, crocodile fish – flat, bottom
feeders - and the mottled orange and white harlequin shrimps that eat starfish leg by leg so as to keep
them alive and fresh longer. One starfish will keep a pair of harlequin shrimp in breakfast, lunch, and
dinner for a week. An octopus rippled through a myriad of colours as we woke it from its slumber, and a
two-metre wide ribbon tailed ray fluttered off the sand and eased away into clear blue sea. We saw many
different species of brightly coloured fish, including boxfish that puff up like a porcupine to protect
themselves, angelfish, elongated trumpet fish, a massive moray eel, and so many more whose names I
don't know, including shoals of big-eyed thingamajigs and striped whatchamacallits.
       Two days later I went to do my first deep dive, 25 metres down to Manta reef. On the ride out we
stopped to watch 3 rare humpback dolphins cruise along beside us, and then down we went. I was a
little apprehensive about my ears due to the increased pressure at depth, but after 15 metres they were
fine. I was breathing slowly and giving myself a sub-aquatic pat on the back when I looked up to see how
the others were doing and nearly spit my regulator out as a giant Manta ray effortlessly glided overhead.
It looked like a Klingon spaceship; its two protuberances ready to fire proton torpedoes at us. No sooner
had it gently rippled its 6-metre span over us another one appeared. They like this reef because it is
home to a species of fish that live off the muck that builds up on them, creating Manta cleaning stations
around the reef. Back on the boat our dive master estimated we had seen 15 odd of the graceful beasts

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                         Sid Bartlett, PO BOX 131, 4184 Pennington, South Africa                    40
         tradbartlett@hotmail.com                                          Tel:0027 82 493 6447
and said it had been an exceptional dive. Elated, we settled in for the 30-minute ride back. Ten minutes
in a massive black tail breached the surface and splashed back down. Thar she blows!
―A Bryde‘s whale,‖ said skipper Luis, ―late in the year.‖
'Wows', 'brilliants', and 'corrs' were exchanged in scientific appreciation of this 70-ton mammoth.
       The beast obviously liked this as it put on a show slapping the sea with its tail, rolling over and
blowing fountains for 5 minutes. Then it started to come over, no doubt for its tip. Luis wisely decided our
seven metres and 170 horsepower were no match for lit‘s 15 metres and one whalepower should it come
to negotiating its fee. We set off home, following the unspoilt dunes and beach back up the coast.
       Night falls early in Mozambique, and by 5pm. we‘d be in the bar having a chinwag. We met Tom,
a one-armed American living in Sweden who was driving from Stockholm to Cape Town in a red beach
buggy and making a film of his adventures. Despite his shaven head and blonde goatee he still managed
to remind me of Lee Van Cleef. He was accompanied by Moshko, a Japanese diving instructor and
masseuse. Not a bad travelling partner. Though we shared a good few beers, I never had quite enough
to ask him whether the tattoo on his stump was pre or post arm-losing incident. Patrick, one of the
barmen, was a 27-year-old Zimbabwean who moved to Moz in 2000, being persona non grata back
home due to his fervent support of the opposition party. Despite only earning £50 per month he was
always well turned out, and would always be sporting a hat. Not a baseball cap, oh no, but a flat cloth
cap more often seen down the British Legion or on allotments. One day a colleague took it from him, but
rather than go bareheaded he spent the day in a forgotten souvenir – a Basotho chief‘s straw hat best
described as a woven Chinese-style hat with an ornamental top that copies the form of Queen Lizzie‘s
sceptre. Quite regal he looked too.
       Other companions for the evening were Doug and Nikia, 2 Peace Corps members who were on
leave from their projects in the back of beyond in northern South Africa. They were helping local schools
implement a new curriculum, but were called upon at all hours to deal with requests ranging from
medical questions to popstars‘ phone numbers, J-Lo and Snoop Doggy Dogg being the most popular.
We taught each other card games, all of which Nikia mastered the art of losing with alacrity. (I can
imagine her refuting this, bad loser stylee, when she next has access to a computer in 3 months time).
They were both from the same part of California, had been in the same bars and clubs, but had never
met. They had to come to Africa to do that, and they looked a good fit, despite Doug being about a foot
and a half taller and a not entirely willing follower of Nikia‘s vegetarian regime; whenever someone else
at the same table was eating a bit of meat he had picked up the doe-eyed look perfected by cute poor
kids around the third world.
       One evening we met Isabel, a Portuguese/French translator from Maputo. She warned us of the
folly of buying food from roadside shacks, cholera being a serious but unspoken of problem in Moz.
Conversation turned to food in general, and that the country had an excellent climate and soil for all
manner of crops, yet tomatoes for example were said to be imported from South Africa. Most people,
she said, were still only growing enough for their own subsistence, mainly out of laziness. Cattle is very

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                         Sid Bartlett, PO BOX 131, 4184 Pennington, South Africa                      41
         tradbartlett@hotmail.com                                           Tel:0027 82 493 6447
rare, and beef should be avoided outside of Maputo, as none of the numerous juggernauts of death that
carve up the road north appeared to be refrigerated. Alvin, a German NGO worker who had been in
country since 1994, had a rather less harsh opinion. He said that people are now starting to farm on a
larger scale, but progress is reliant on capital investment in seeds and equipment. Poverty has reduced,
and Moz is now ―one of the poorest countries in the world‖, rather than being the poorest. 10 years ago
the country had nothing, people had stopped growing crops as they would be destroyed by government
soldiers if they supported Renamo, or Renamo guerrillas if they supported Frelimo. They turned to eating
the wildlife, to the extent that monkeys and baboons appeared to no longer exist, at least around
inhabited areas. Alvin‘s NGO sold various seeds to would-be farmers and trained them to cultivate them
to have enough to plant in future years. Mozambique is also enticing farmers over from Zimbabwe, and
although they have had to leave their machinery in Zim, they bring precious knowledge and apparently
can obtain loans at low interest rates.
       We drove to nearby Barra, 12 kilometres away, which is on the point of the estuary leading to
Inhambane bay. The beach is immense, up to 800 metres wide and stretches as far as the eye can see.
The whole coast of Mozamibique seems to be white sand beaches, dunes, and clear blue sea, with
obligatory picture post card coconut trees. Slow investment, distance, and poor roads would seem to be
the only things sparing Moz from becoming the next all-in-one-drink-as-much-as-you-can-macarena-the-
knickers-off-your-neighbour resort hotspot. And long may it stay that way. Most foreign visitors are South
Africans, who are great lovers of camping and bed and breakfast establishments, and Tofo only has one
small hotel, and Barra a lodge. The few chalets and B&Bs around are mainly owned by South Africans
who don‘t seem too keen to fill up the beachfront with four-star hotels, but I can‘t helping looking at the
town and its dilapidated houses and drab concrete market that looks like a starfish shaped artillery post
and think that in 10 years time it will not be the same and will have lost some of its charm. Developing
tourism will certainly help the locals through job creation, but I get the feeling it won‘t be the locals
pocketing the profits.




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                         Sid Bartlett, PO BOX 131, 4184 Pennington, South Africa                    42
         tradbartlett@hotmail.com                                          Tel:0027 82 493 6447
8 - Antonio, Raphael, Simon and Claire

We had first bumped into Claire and Simon outside the Mozambican consulate in Swaziland when we
were applying for our visas. They were on their second visit to Tofo having spent 7 months there the
previous year, and had come back to capitalise on the South African holidaymakers who buy a lot of the
seashell jewellery that they make. Simon was a tall, slightly-built north Londoner with dreadlocks looking,
if not quite like Jesus, then Brian of Monty Python fame. Claire also had dreads and with her pointy nose
and new age clothes would pass for a modern-day sorceress. She was on the ninth year of an internal
voyage of spiritual discovery, was a Reiki healer and had met Simon four years previously whilst
travelling around southern Africa.
       The beach at Tofo is host to a motley crew of vendors, mainly kids, touting fish, mats, paintings,
baskets, bows and arrows, conch shells and the like. On our second day one little lad stood out from, if
not above, the others. Antonio‘s proud and upright bearing, his keen eye and charming wide-mouthed
smile created an aura that was hard to miss. He‘d be on the beach early, starting with a cup of coffee at
the backpackers, and would wind up the afternoon taking on a tourist or 2 at pool despite being barely
able to reach some of the shots without using an upturned beer crate. He looked about 9, albeit a very
independent and self-sufficient 9. His brother Raphael, 2 years his elder, also made and sold a bit of
jewellery and did odd jobs when he found them.
       I found out they had been abandoned by their mother five years before and that Antonio was
living with another family, whilst Raphael was roughing it. During their previous seven-month stay Claire
and Simon had taught them their trade in the afternoons when the boys had finished school and fed
them when business was slow. Prior to that they had been making 30p a day selling baskets for
someone else, now Antonio was making 10 times that, often more. The average unskilled Mozambican
adult who has an employer and doesn‘t rely on subsistence farming earns £30 a month. Both are bright
kids and good English speakers, Antonio coming top of his class the previous year.
       I couldn‘t figure out how he was going to school and working on the beach all day, coming into
the bar to buy a sandwich and a coke at lunchtime. One evening he saw me on the laptop typing away
and seemed interested. I asked him if he wanted to see some photos of animals and his eyes lit up when
he saw a hippo. I sat him down and gave him the mouse, and showed him how to move on to the next
photo, zoom in, zoom out, and go to another file. In no time he was moving through our holiday snaps
pretty much on his own. It transpired that neither of them had been allowed back to school since the new
school year started in December because they needed some paperwork that only their mother, whose
whereabouts were only known to be somewhere in the district of Zavala 150 to 200ks to the south, could
provide.


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                         Sid Bartlett, PO BOX 131, 4184 Pennington, South Africa                    43
           tradbartlett@hotmail.com                                        Tel:0027 82 493 6447
       I put it to Simon that we take the boys and try and to find her. The next day was a Sunday, so I
figured we might find her at church, if we could find her village, and I put my dog-collar on in order to
make our little posse look a bit less out of the ordinary.
       I have been a reverend of the Universal Life Church of Modesto, California since my sister's first
marriage in 1997. She emailed me some wedding pics from the big day in the North Carolina mountains
where she was joined in matrimony to a Seminole Indian 28 years her elder known as Marion Skydancer
by a woman in a shockingly bright red dress with a flame-effect pattern cut into the hem, and a matching
bandana tied kamikaze style. When I enquired as to what type of crackpot preacher had conducted the
ceremony she told me that the fiery kamikaze was a ULC minister, and that she was also ordained,
having taken the title of goddess. That she wanted to marry this grey haired old bloater who looked
about 70 I could understand. That she had changed her name to the equivalent of "Swims like an otter" I
could believe. But that you could get ordained on-line for free was beyond even my evening rum tasting
enhanced gullibility. So I checked it out on-line and approximately four minutes later my rum tasting
enhanced curiosity meant that I too was an ordained minister of the ULC with the power to marry any
couple of nutters that I could find willing to allow me to do so in 37 US states. Before setting out in May, I
added a pair of dog-collar shirts to my wardrobe.
       Given Simon‘s messiah-like appearance (despite him pointing out that Africans might consider
the Saviour to be black) this wasn‘t necessarily the case. On the way down Antonio said he was 12 or
13, and whilst Raffy might pass for 15, just, Tohinio (little Tony) would be hard pushed to get any Dutch
girl to believe that he was only 1 year away from being a legal shag. Then again maybe they were born 3
years apart.
       We drove through the main town of Zavala, Quissico, and Simon said that he though that it was
called Zavala. The boys shook their heads, and said to go further on. At the next village locals told us it
was further south still. After 200ks and nearly three hours driving on a road that had become
considerably worse after 5 days of rain compared to our drive up a week before, we were at the
southernmost limit of the Zavala district. We didn‘t have a lot to go on, and winning the lottery looked
easier that finding a woman called Joanna who had happened to abandon her first 2 kids. A miracle
would have been handy as the rain started to pour down. The crowds were asking the bemused Brian to
show them a sign. Brian looked at his feet. I looked out the window to contemplate the impossibility of
asking every person on the road for the next 50 or 60k if they new a Joanna who‘d told them she‘d
abandoned a couple of her offspring. I saw a bus with Zavala written on it. A sign, a sign! All the true
believers follow the bus!
       After three stops in 10k, each one lasting several minutes whilst the ticket collector scrambled
onto the roof in the lashing rain to unstrap bags piled up there, we asked the bus driver where Zavala
was. 25k, Senor. Exactly 25k later was a village. Was this it, we enquired. Nine kilometres further on,
Senor. Nine kilometres later we were back in Quissico. The church was closed, but at the end of the
street was a police station and store, both proclaiming to be in Zavala town. Our luck was on the up.

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                         Sid Bartlett, PO BOX 131, 4184 Pennington, South Africa                       44
         tradbartlett@hotmail.com                                            Tel:0027 82 493 6447
        The first bloke we asked knew someone who might know. We walked over to his hut. He didn‘t
know, but after much repeating of ―Jo-hanna‖ (I blame Eddy Grant) and protracted sucking of air through
the teeth, chin scratching and head shaking, he mentioned a man who worked out of the village who
might know. We strolled down the road through the market and over to his hut. He knew two ―Jo-
hannas‖, both outside the village. He and the boys threw a few names and dates around and he settled
on the one who lived to the north. Unfortunately he only had a vague idea where she might live. He
called over his neighbour who had lived there longer, and Simon, Tohino, Raff, the three blokes and the
neighbour walked back to the car back through the centre in loose procession formation, accompanied
by a few stares and laughs from the locals. We thanked the first two blokes who stayed in town, whilst
the last chap and his neighbour got in the truck and we headed north. After a couple of kilometres they
directed us off the road and down a dirt track towards a lagoon. Five minutes later they pulled us over in
front of a hut. The owner, a well-built stern looking fellow, had met Johanna once as she lived near his
cousin. He changed out of his Sunday best and took us back to the main road, with the truck now seven
up.
        Three kilometres further north we turned back onto a rutted sand track that twisted through the
palm trees until it started to peter out. I stopped at what would reasonably pass for the end of the line.
Stern cousin-of-friend insisted it was still the road, just a bit overgrown. He got out, kicked a few of the
piled up cut-off palm tree branches and bushes, grunted ―Sim sim‖, and got back in.
―Is it far?‖ Raffy translated.
―30 minutes walk to my cousin‘s‖.
        We ground over and through the undergrowth, not wanting to go off the ―track‖ and into the
adjoining crops, especially as the owner was tending to them with a rusty machete. After a couple of
hundred metres the obstacles cleared and on we went to the cousin‘s home. She piled in and the two
boys made room by standing on the back bumper and holding on to the roof bar. 800 metres later we
pulled up next to a field and a clearing where two young boys and a girl were running around. When we
had debussed Mr Stern cracked a big grin and told the kids to say hello to their brothers and sister. We
were there. Job half-done. Now, how would mum react to her abandoned kids turning up with four locals
and a couple of ‗murungos’ (a pejorative term for a white who thinks he‘s superior) or ‗blancos’ - one a
barefooted Saviour impersonator and the other a man of the cloth in trainers to boot?
        The newly found siblings ran off with Antonio, who was no longer little Tony, to find their mother.
Raff sat under the mango trees with us as another couple of blokes pitched up. We suggested that Raff
go on down the track.
―She‘s got to come to me now‖. Fair shout.
        It was now gone three, and we had a good two-hour drive back through the potholes; I really
didn‘t want to drive at night again, but how could I rush this along. Eventually the kids returned with mum
in tow, shaking her head laughing and beaming as she caught sight of us. A handshake to each of us
was followed by an apology that she had nothing to offer. Raphael didn‘t take the hand proffered but

Searching For Paradise
                          Sid Bartlett, PO BOX 131, 4184 Pennington, South Africa                    45
         tradbartlett@hotmail.com                                           Tel:0027 82 493 6447
pointed at his progenitor‘s bulging midriff with a stick and said she must be eating well. Another brother
or sister she said. She was no slacker when it came to procreation as this would be the 5 th since leaving
the boys in Tofo, having lost one just after birth on top of the 3 we‘d just met. Sunset was now 90
minutes away and Tonio decided to stay so he could get his certificate on Monday, rather than wait for
his mum to get round to acquiring it and posting it so that he could go back to school straight away. Raff
couldn‘t start again until December, so he was in no rush and it was clear he‘d rather rough it for another
night and hitch back than stay. Simon left Tonio some money for the paperwork, the bus, and a present
for his mother and we said our goodbyes. As he thanked us, all I could offer in return was a weak grin
with eyes clenched and lump in my throat. He and Raff engaged in some affectionate brotherly arsing
about on the back bumper as a beaming ex-Mr. Stern showed us a shorter way back. We dropped them
off and all that was left was another eye-straining, ring twitching 150k drive in the twilight.
       On the drive back, more broken-down lorries, half on the road, half off as per local etiquette
would seem to demand, were dotted around.
―Raff, if you could do any job in the world, what would it be?‖
―A mechanic.‖
He‘ll have plenty of work if he gets back to school.
As we got back to Tofo our headlights lit up the palm leaf-walled, grass-roofed homes of the locals.
―Why don‘t you build one, Raff, there‘s plenty of land around?‖
―I don‘t own any.‖
―Sure, but every Mozambican has the right to their own plot, no?‖
―I don‘t know‖.
       I was going to head up north the following day, but decided to hang around to see Antonio with
his paperwork and wanted to see if I could discover what paperwork Raphael would need to get a plot of
land; the materials to build with were all around. And to see Senor Antonio John Mazivali‘s smiles again.
       It chucked it down the following night, and we gave Raff dinner and let him sleep in the back of
the truck. The following day I donned the dog collar again and, after several requests, found the
Municipal offices that dealt with land claims. A quick flash of my Universal Life press card and a story
about researching an article for a church magazine got me an interview with an official who spoke
reasonable French. He explained that all unclaimed land belonged to the people, and that the local
secretary, a mayor of sorts, could inform Mozambicans of available plots. There was no fee payable to
the state for a land claim but he explained that whilst the land belonged to the people via the state, the
bushes, trees and grass on the plot might belong to someone. When this person is found, the claimant
has to negotiate an agreement for compensation for the loss of the trees, or to not touch the trees and
their fruit. The owner however, despite never using the trees may insist on selling them, at which point
one either pays up or goes to shop elsewhere. Quite how one establishes who is the rightful ‗owner‘ of
the coconut trees remained vague to say the least, and my questions as to what the compensation could
come to received a very French shrug of the shoulders with palms pointing skywards. However, once an

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                         Sid Bartlett, PO BOX 131, 4184 Pennington, South Africa                      46
         tradbartlett@hotmail.com                                              Tel:0027 82 493 6447
agreement is arranged, the two parties have to go to a notary in town and draw up their agreement and
then take it to the land claim office to have it ratified and registered. If the office feel that the claim is
valid; that is to say to build a home for residential purposes, a deed of title is issued. Once in possession
of the deed of title the new owner of the plot is free to build a traditional house without further paperwork.
The only drawback in Raphael‘s case is that a claimant must be 18 years of age or more. However, this
would not preclude him from finding a trustworthy local, and registering it in his name and then
transferring ownership on his 18th birthday. Another solution would be for him to find someone willing to
let him build on the edge of their plot.
       Foreign nationals have a harder time buying land here, with proof of residency and the setting up
of a business required, though existing houses can be bought on leaseholds. The idea is to stop
foreigners buying up the entire coastline; a beachfront plot and construction costs for a three-bedroom
house come to a total of around 40,000 Rand, or £35,000. There are beautiful spots all along the coast,
and from Inhambane upwards the main towns have airports with flights to SA several times a week, but
we didn't entertain thoughts of buying there for too long. We want to come back and explore the country
more, especially north of the Zambezi river that bisects the country in two; there is only one overworked
plank ferry to carry vehicles over, the average wait for the ferry being around five hours. The combined
lack of a cricket club, pies, sausages, a supermarket within six hours drive, and the threat of malaria on
our future offspring made us buying in Mozambique as likely as Colonel Ghadaffi buying Crystal Palace
Football Club.
       On the way out of town we went to the section of the market that sells building timber. All told the
wood for the framework for a five metre by three metre hut and cement for footings would cost about
£25. Walls and roofing are made from grass and woven palm leaves that grow in profusion. We told him
all this, and that if he could find a plot we‘d send money to the dive shop owners to buy him timber. We
bought him flip-flops, plus beads and string to make some jewellery with shells so that he could earn
some money and set off north to Vilankulo, 280k away. Maybe he sold them straight away to another kid
and went off looking for the next murungo suckers, but maybe he sat down to make some necklaces.




Searching For Paradise
                         Sid Bartlett, PO BOX 131, 4184 Pennington, South Africa                       47
         tradbartlett@hotmail.com                                            Tel:0027 82 493 6447
9 - More Moz: The young men and the sea, and wedding bells on
the beach

On the way to Vilankulo/Vilanculos we found more roadside stalls, all selling the same articles. Not the
same goods as in previous villages, but rather everyone selling pineapples. Further south there‘s a
stretch where everyone sells giant tangerines. This could be explained by crops varying from region to
region, though the climates are the same, but wouldn‘t explain why everyone in another village sold
bows and arrows, and everyone somewhere else sold earthenware pottery. It certainly wouldn‘t explain
why there was one place that sold sofas.
       Vilankulo is the main point for going to the Parque Nacional de Bazaruto, a group of four islands
between 10 and 40k away by boat. The market bustled, kids rubbing their thumbs and index fingers
together abounded, and I found the cheapest smokes I‘ve ever bought. A carton of 200 South African
‗Sahawi‘ that I‘d never seen in SA, can be bought for 80,000 Meticais, about £1.90, after negotiation.
Despite the lack of information about how much tar and nicotine are in them, they were a much better
smoke than the Moz death sticks I‘d tried.
       The beaches are protected by the Sao Sebastian peninsula and the islands of Magaruque,
Benguerra, and Bazaruto, creating a very shallow beach area where the sea recedes a good 300 metres
at low tide and exposes sand bars several kilometres out. The chalets were cheap and the bar cheerful,
and having no pressing commitments, we decided stay for a a few days at least. Amongst the staff were
three more black Zimbabweans, including the most affable Cleto, the pronunciation of whose name,
―Clayto‖, made him sound like a cunnilingual philosopher. Clara and Moffit made up the Zim contigent.
The bar at the Baobab Backpackers draws a mix of white business owners, local hustlers, beach
cowboys hoping to ride a female tourist back to Europe or the States, and SA engineers working on a
gas pipeline near Inhassoro, 70k to the north.
       On our first full day we went out with a dive charter owned by 3 English dive instructors. Despite
my feeling that nothing could be as good as Tofo and its giant Manta rays, the possibility of combining a
50-minute dive on the coral reefs, a visit to the Bazaruto, and snorkelling with Sandrine beat off a trip in a
dhow, a traditional boat. That and the fact that the dhow takes 3 hours to get out and another 3 to get
back and doesn't provide wetsuits for snorkelling. The dive was brilliant again. My lowbrow tastes in
aquatic life - I love Angel and Parrot fish as much as I love Antelopes, the most common animals above
and below sea level – were easily satisfied, and the bonuses were 4 eagle rays swimming in Indian file,
a stingray in a cave, another giant moray eel, a couple of big green turtles and a grey reef shark. I came
up wanting to go down again in the afternoon, but we didn‘t have enough air.
       That night I tried to get some of the local hustlers to find me a local fisherman to go out with.
Several said they could sort it and would be back the following evening to confirm, but despite the

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                        Sid Bartlett, PO BOX 131, 4184 Pennington, South Africa                        48
         tradbartlett@hotmail.com                                            Tel:0027 82 493 6447
pervading feeling given off by the kids in town that all pale faces are good for a bit of cash, none of them
came up with the goods. Mario, who drives the dive boat finally found a solution to my desire to re-enact
―The Old Man and the Sea‖. On his day off he would take me out with 3 of his mates in a dhow for £15. A
normal fishing charter costs £180 per day, though £100 of that goes in fuel costs.
          By way of celebration I went down the local nightclub with Samito, one of the hustlers, to meet up
with some of the SA pipeline engineers who‘d been in earlier letting of steam, and a bit of gas in one
case. What had been a friendly conversation turned into Samito unsuccessfully begging me to buy him a
beer, then asking for some cash for an ailing grandmother, and then for his allegedly starving kids.
Samito had paid his own way into the club, a paltry 80 pence for me, but a fair whack for him, and had
managed to pay for what appeared to be a substantial amount of booze up until then. The annoying
turned to the embarrassing as he got on his knees and tried to kiss my shoes. I didn‘t know whether to
shake him or punch him, and ended up wasting my breath trying to reason that he‘d be better off going
home and trying to wake up semi-sober and early so that he could try and earn some money for his
family.
          The contrast between attitudes in Mozambique is striking. Many kids are trying to tap tourists up
for money, but the ones who didn't couldn‘t have been more friendly and welcoming. Sandrine got talking
to some beach kids and I ended up buying a football and having a kick about with them, but even during
the game a couple asked me for a coin or two. The fact I didn‘t give them anything didn‘t stop me scoring
a hat-trick and saving a penalty in Arsenal do Vilankulo‘s 5-2 win, though the fact that they were all
between 11 and 19 might have had something to do with it.
          At seven the next morning I met up with Mario and his buddies and boarded an ancient looking
leaky six-metre dhow whose black and white patchwork sails had been stitched together out of plastic
sheets and empty mealie meal bags. Mario spoke a little English, but Ricardo, Fernan, and Arturo‘s lack
plus my smattering of Spanguese and non-existent Tsonga meant that conversation was a tad limited.
We set off with a couple of squid legs and a worm as bait, with me thinking this was not exactly going to
entice the monster of the deep of my dreams. 30 minutes out we stuck the squid bits on hand lines and
soon the water in the bottom of the dhow was home to about three dozen sardine-sized fish doing back
flips in their death throes.
          Half way towards the islands they had become bait, bringing in three squid and a dozen foot-long
red and silver fish called ―robar‖ in Portuguese. It seemed all too easy, and in the end it was. I rod-fished
off a sand bar between the islands for Kingfish, and we ventured out into the rougher seas beyond them
using a ―robar‖ as bait for “ngulu‖, tuna in Tsonga. Trailing lines behind us we bobbed around, Fernan
busy bailing out the water most of the time. Ricardo got a bite but missed the strike, pulling in the
remains of his bait; a full head with the bones stripped bare down to the tail; not dissimilar to the
animated fishy remains left by Top Cat, the undisputed leader of the pack; with the hook dangling
alongside the backbone.


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                          Sid Bartlett, PO BOX 131, 4184 Pennington, South Africa                     49
           tradbartlett@hotmail.com                                          Tel:0027 82 493 6447
       They‘d only just stopped taking the mickey out of him when my rod flickered in my hands. I struck
hard and felt the weight of the fish on the end. It wasn‘t going to break any records, but it might break my
line. We turned the dhow round to face the fish so that I could reel in a few easy metres before the prey
caught on and turned to run again. The metres gained soon spun off the reel as I set the clutch and
stopped the line from snapping. We manoeuvred round again, not an easy task five-up in a small dhow
that has a shallow draught, is simple to build, but does not handle very well. I pulled the fish in a bit
more, and the dance continued for a couple more rounds of running and turning and reeling in. And then,
and then, and then the line went slack. I pulled in the remains of my bait, complete with hook.
―Eesh, eesh, eesh‖ they squeaked, drawing breath over teeth.
―Big ngulu?‖ questioned Mario.
―Sim, Sim‖ said Ricardo.
―Eesh, eesh‖ we all said again.
It would have meant a good payday for the boys: tuna sells for £3 a kilo on the beach or to a restaurant,
a reasonable tuna weighing 20 kilos plus, a big one much more.
        We had more bait left, but the wind was turning, making for a quicker run home, but also bringing
heavy rain; not ideal in a dhow already low in the water, so we headed for home, two hours away and
ran six lines off the back all the way to the shore hoping for couta or grouper, but to no avail.
       On the way back the crew of the Skylark started getting curious about my lifestyle and had a few
questions for me, wanting to know whether the fights and battles in Hollywood movies were real, and
how did they do it if they didn‘t hit or shoot each other. They were also curious about life in Europe.
―What cost more, a wife or girlfriend?‖
       I explained that although you had to take the girlfriend out from time to time, she lived
independently and would often take you out too. If she wanted shoes, handbags and earrings she paid
for them herself, all you did was provide the occasional bunch of flowers and the saucy underwear, your
remaining disposable income being for beer, porn, and more beer. When you got married you may save
on the porn, but you are then buying half the shoes, handbags, and the like, plus household decorations,
scented candles, wind chimes, dinner services, furnishings and enough bed linen to fit a fit out a fleet of
dhows. Where shutting your eyes passed as bachelor curtains, and a fifth hand sofa was fine for
watching sport on telly with your mates, as a married man most quality sport watching time is spent at
Ikea, painting, decorating, choosing bedspreads, or mowing, and you are funding half of this too. I added
that I did the cooking and the food shopping, and occasionally helped with vacuuming. The boys figured
it was better being married in Mozambique.
       On shore Mario and Arturo insisted on sharing out the fish between the five of us, the other two
not being so keen, but Fernan, who looked like Nwankwo Kanu, accepted that I was paying them, and
only Ricardo, who looked more like a Mikael Sylvestre, wasn‘t happy but was outvoted. I said that I
would be happy with enough for Sandrine and myself, took some Robar, handed over the moola and left


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                         Sid Bartlett, PO BOX 131, 4184 Pennington, South Africa                      50
         tradbartlett@hotmail.com                                             Tel:0027 82 493 6447
the rest. I was a contented hunter-gatherer; I‘d been out and supplied for the family, now all I had to do
was return home triumphantly and beat my fists on my chest.
        Meanwhile, back at the hut, Sandrine had been busy chewing on the fruit of a baobab, assort of
hard fruit that produces a chalky, sour substance, and had learnt from Clara how to make it into a drink
by mixing it with sugar and water. Sandrine was addicted, but couldn‘t find anyone to share her passion
besides Clara and her two-year old daughter Melinda. Adding rum and ice would make it palatable, but,
in my opinion, any drink that requires 20 minutes preparation should be better than plain palatable.
Possibly inspired by Jackie, a South African jewellery maker who‘d given her a load of seeds to send
home to Papa, Sandrine cleaned up the baobab seeds and turned them into a necklace with some
baobab wood in the centre. Unlike many of Sandrine‘s creative ideas, she carried this one through to the
end, and resulting in a very attractive bit of craft. She even managed to finish a cross-stitch piece that
she planned to send back to Myxo‘s mum In Swaziland.
        Whilst I was in the bar having a celebratory Milk Stout and Amarula chaser, I overheard a fairly
pissed couple from Cape Town discussing their intention to get married the following Tuesday. I
enquired as to who would to officiating and they said that all they had to go on was the name of a gay
bloke in town called Louis who was put forward by the woman at the tourist information office, although
he had performed a wedding ceremony before and was not a priest or anything. Ronnie, the future
bridegroom, jokingly asked if I‘d do it if Louis wasn‘t interested, at which point I told him I was actually an
ordained minister of the Universal Life Church and, although a novice at conducting weddings, I‘d been
to a few and reckoned that it should be a doddle. They liked the idea of being wed by an agnostic
reverend as it fitted in with their own lack of holy convictions, and pretty soon I was off the bench and
into the starting line-up.
        On Monday evening, Ben from the dive school did the most un-Yorkshiremanly thing; he invited
us to a braai to celebrate Vicky‘s 31st birthday. They laid on the charcoal and salad, all we had to do was
bring our own meat and drinks.
        On Tuesday morning we convened on the beach with Vicky from the dive school, Holly, another
English lass with an accent that sounds like she‘s from somewhere grim up north, but that hasn‘t
dampened her chirpy demeanour, a couple of South African guests and the manager from the
backpackers. With a backdrop of dhows on the receding tide, the islands, and some bemused locals,
proceedings got under way at 09.30. I kicked off by telling everyone what they already knew: that we
were here to celebrate and witness the union of Ronnie and Vanessa, and that it was going to be short
and sweet. Ronnie and Vanessa exchanged a few words, expressing what the relationship and marriage
meant to them. During Ronnie‘s turn he was telling Vanessa that she shouldn‘t be fooled by the daft
shirt, he was sure he was making a real……………um………um……….
He looked at me, his eyes beseeching me to give him the word.
I smiled, opening my eyes wide. Should I, shouldn‘t I?
―MISTAKE‖ screamed the little devil in my head

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                             Sid Bartlett, PO BOX 131, 4184 Pennington, South Africa                    51
         tradbartlett@hotmail.com                                             Tel:0027 82 493 6447
―Say ‗mistake‘ arsehole, I dare ya!!!‖
I couldn‘t, not on my first wedding.
―Commitment‖ I whispered, the little devil seething at a golden opportunity missed.
Relief washed over Ronnie‘s face ―that‘s it, commitment‖ he said.
       I asked them if they accepted each other in matrimony, the necessity to avoid the word ‗lawful‘
meaning that Mini-Imp Me couldn‘t say ―awful wedded wife‖ either, and declared them, by the power
invested in me, husband and wife.
       The bride was kissed, champers popped, the couple toasted, and the bouquet handed to Holly,
she being the only singley female around with any desire to get married, although Vicky nearly shed a
tear. Ben, her boyfriend of ten years and business partner, had better watch out.
       Then we were off and up to Inhassoro, for our last dip in the Indian Ocean before heading up and
across to Zimbabwe. We went into the bakers and got hassled by some old git wanting money or bread.
When we politely declined he called us Murungos repeatedly, as if it were the words to a nursery rhyme,
like the hermit in the Life of Brian when his vow of silence is broken. During another game of football on
the beach one of the lads who thought he was a bit of a flash dribbler had said something about
murungo when I was facing him, and this got my goat up. Rather than standing off until he tried to pass
to someone else or move forward, I scythed in Tony Adams stylee, got the ball, set off à la Thierry
Henry, and scored my and my team‘s second goal.
―Dois – Zero por el Murungo!‖ I bellowed in his face, prodding him in the chest like Martin Keown when a
horse-faced Dutchman misses a penalty.
―I don‘t speak Portuguese or Tsonga, but I understand murungo‖, I said to him in Portuguese, leaving
him looking rather confused and suitably chastened.
       I was happy with the goal, but was still fairly seething inside. It‘s an odd sensation being on the
end of racism when you're not used to it. I debated giving him a Roy Keane ―Take that, Alfie!!‖ hack as
an excuse to punch him when the fight kicked off, but he was a little 17 year old, and I‘m not as big a
twat as Roy Keane. The odd colour-orientated insult in the UK or France always made me laugh, but
being in a country where whites are the minority creates a lot of anger in me for some reason. Why, I
don‘t know.
       Is it because I don‘t like being tarred with the same brush as the old colonials? Is it the same
feeling a German of my age has if you call him a Nazi?
       Is it because they are lumping me together with the other whites they know who are
predominantly South Africans? (Despite being very friendly, South Africans, especially Afrikaners,
behave as badly abroad as any other nationality, and their employee management techniques are
definitely old-school, especially when the employees are black or coloured – ―treat them hard, or they
won‘t respect you. Never say please or thank you, don‘t praise or reward or they‘ll walk all over you.‖)
       Is it the fact that these people cannot comprehend that being racist is not the way forward which
angers me?

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       It can‘t be the name-calling in itself. You can call me all the names under the sun and all you‘ll get
is a laugh and a shake of the head, unless something else has wound me up and it‘s a good excuse to
swear back. Maybe it's being wrongly associated with these people‘ plight. I‘m neither proud nor
ashamed to be white. I am and that‘s all. Unless I start to go all Jacko and have surgery and treatment
and develop an unhealthy liking for sleeping with children that are not my own.
       The old boy in the bakery, who looked a bit loony to be fair, got a burst of ―I understand, Mr small
testicles‖ in Portuguese and an index finger close to his nostril, and he deflated immediately, adopting
doleful, starving infant eyes.
       You may have gathered by now I do not hand out cash to beggars, or give them bread or
cigarettes or the like. Given that these items cost comparatively very little here, it may seem tight-fisted
or mean. I think I‘m doing them a favour in the long run. In all the southern African countries there are
associations and charities that help those in need and provide a network where they are taught to be
more independent without begging; food is supplied and clothing given. By succumbing to the doe eyes,
people are perpetuating begging as a way of life, when they would be better off giving the money to one
of the charities that uses its funds in a structured way to help. And if you give to one beggar then why
him and not the next one and the next? It creates more problems.
       We had a leaking water pump in the car and overheated. A guy working on road surveying came
over and told us to add more water, as the leak only being small we could get to our destination and get
it repaired there. I offered him a small amount of money for his time, but he politely refused, shouted at
some kids to bring over some water from the river, and went back to his work. The kids came over, we
filled up, and then they demanded money for water carrying. Unfortunately there were 10 of them, and
we didn‘t have many coins. Sandrine produced a couple of oranges, at least these could be shared out,
but they didn‘t want them, they had plenty already. So she gave one of the kids the three coins we had
(worth about four pence in total) and they started scrapping over them like Jack Russells round a bone
as we pulled away. It‘s going to be a long time before they stop believing that all whites are good for is
handouts, but as long as aid agencies keep doling out the freebees then it‘s going to continue. This is a
complicated issue, and much has been written about it already. I don‘t want to begin expounding my
views on it, but educating people to provide for themselves, in ways that suit them, is the way forward for
me - not handouts.




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         tradbartlett@hotmail.com                                           Tel:0027 82 493 6447
10 - Mugger Bob’s Zimbabwe

The drive to the Zimbabwe border was uneventful, apart from a stretch that was more potholes than road
including a couple that you could hide a hatchback in, and crossing into Zimbabwe expensive in official
visa costs, temporary vehicle road tax and more arsewipe insurance but free from bribes. It cost us a
total of £75 to get in, but we preferred this to the extra 1200k drive on even worse roads further north in
Mozambique through to Zambia and on to Victoria Falls. And we would get to visit a country that is
reputedly almost tourist-free, and check out a mate‘s old address for him. George was born in Poland but
moved to Rhodesia when he was an infant; he gets a bit misty-eyed when he talks about the place of his
childhood and adolescence, so we thought we'd try and bring back a few snapshots for him.
       Robert Mugabe became Zimbabwe‘s first president in 1980 and, for a long time, restrained from
exacting vengeance on the white minority that had ruled Rhodesia sine Ian Smith‘s Unilateral
Declaration of Independence from Britain in 1975, despite a bitter war between Rhodesian forces and
the military branches of ZANU and ZAPU, with the whites retaining 20 of the 100 parliamentary seats
allotted to them. Then, in 1998, despite the tragic consequences of single party socialism in other states,
he abolished this law and brought in strict foreign currency controls and the government was implicated
in several scandals and rumours of corruption where ministers and officials were said to be lining their
pockets in age-old fashion. Student demonstrations were sanctioned by the suppression of university
funding and dissidents were made to recognise their ‗erroneous‘ opinions. In the 1990 elections the
ruling ZANU were challenged in several constituencies by Edgar Tekere‘s Zimbabwe Unity Movement,
who believed in a multi-party democratic state and a liberal economy. Mugabe, who sports a mini Hitler
moustache reminiscent of a small leech stuck vertically in the cleft between his top lip and his nose,
chopped and changed the constituency boundaries and won the elections, and the ZUM kept its head
down after the attempted assassination of one of its leading candidates. Despite this, parliament voted
against Zimbabwe adopting Marxist policies.
       In the 1995 elections Mugabe overcame his declining popularity, helped by an increasing number
of voters staying at home, by outlining a 160 million US Dollar plan to fight poverty and reduce
unemployment. In 1996 war veterans discovered that government members had emptied the coffers of
the War Victim‘s Compensation Fund and embarked on a series of demonstrations, the culminating point
being on Heroes‘ Day (Independence Day) in 1997. After promising to increase their pensions Mugabe
announced increases in Income Tax and taxes on fuel. In the same year he married his young secretary
in front of 20,000 guests, and the enormous expense of the post-nuptial piss up set the civil servants on
strike. They were sacked as a result. Common Zimbabweans rose up in countrywide pacific protest,
boycotting work and won parliament over, although Mugabe and his ministers rejected their demands for
the tax increases to be abandoned. At the same time the Zim dollar‘s value dropped by 50% making the
price of imported and basic goods rocket and the people took to the street again. Several civilians were

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killed by the Police and the Army in demonstrations that caused damage estimated at several million US
dollars. The tax increases stayed in place. In March 1998 the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions
asked the government to resolve the deepening economic problems of the country, but Mugabe
obstinately refused all dialogue and a two-day general strike ensued, costing millions in lost revenue.
The Police came out in force, but everyone stayed at home. 1999 saw the formation of the Movement for
Democratic Change, backed by the ZCTU and lead by Morgan Tsvangirai, who stated that they were a
social democratic party with a manifesto based around defending the interests of workers. In 2000 a
referendum was held on land redistribution and Mugabe suffered the first major setback in his 20-year
reign despite allegedly spending 50 million US dollars from the public coffers on his campaign. He threw
the proverbial toys out of the proverbial pram.
       In the 1980 declaration of independence, the Lancaster House Agreement guaranteed that
privately owned property and land could not be nationalised without proper compensation. In 1996 the
IMF agreed to finance the payment of indemnities to private landowners whose land would be
redistributed, on the condition that Mugabe put his personal finances ‗in order‘. In 1998 the government
announced it was taking back 1503 plots from white farmers. At the same time rumours abounded
concerning the 2 million US dollars that Mugabe was receiving annually for supporting the regime in the
Democratic Republic of Congo, formerly Zaire, and then the government declared that compensation to
farmers would not be based on the commercial value of the land, but only to improvements made to
houses, buildings and barns. The IMF pulled out, leaving some farmers to hand over their livelihood,
often built up over generations, for nothing, and others to try to take the government to court for short-
changing them. After his defeat in the 2000 referendum Mugabe still believed this ‗agricultural reform‘
would increase his popularity and drew up himself the constitutional clause authorising land to be taken
from the whites.
       The results have been well documented. Farmers have been forced to leave at gunpoint or have
been killed for refusing to do so, sometimes by the police, and the land meant for the people was not
given to the black employees of the white farmers who would have known how to use the machinery and
technology to carry on production. Oh no, they were collaborators and were kicked off the land that their
families had often occupied for generations too. The land has been given to Mugabe‘s cronies and Army
commanders to curry favour and support. These upstanding members of Zimbabwe high society
consider farming a poor man‘s lot, and have no interest in cultivating the land. In some instances
peasants have been forced to occupy land by armed militia, once anything of value had been sold for
scrap. From a country that was still known as the garden of Africa in the late nineties, exporting maize
and other vital crops to its neighbours, playing a key role in worldwide tobacco production, and even
exporting tulips to Holland on a large scale, in 2003 Zimbabwe had to, according to sources such as the
National Geographic Society and the Guardian, import the majority of its food supplies. The government
promised to supply seeds and fertiliser to the new incumbents who have turned back to farming small
areas, leaving most of the land fallow, but failed to deliver. A 2004 United Nations report states that the

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situation was worsening. According to Joseph, a black Zimbabwean who worked at one of the
backpacker‘s we stayed at, in rural areas a bucket of tap water now costs 300 Zim dollars, and people
can no longer afford firewood and are burning plastic bags as fuel and drink from unclean sources of
water, adding the risk of cholera to those of malnutrition and the omni-present HIV. In typical Zim fashion
he chortled as he said it. They got to that point where it‘s so bad all they can do is laugh.
       In the 2001 parliamentary elections ZANU PF declared that they had won by 52% to 48%, and
shortly after the MDC leader was arrested on a charge of treason. His legal counsel got him off this
charge, but since then he has been in and out like David Beckham with a personal assistant. In the
following presidential elections Mugabe put his goons to work to make sure that it wouldn‘t be such a
close call. The Shona, the most populous tribe in Zim, also believe that leaders in their society are
relatively untouchable, and the elders only hand over power when they are too old or die. Mugabe was
supposed to retire when he was 80, but has, so far, celebrated his 79th birthday three times. He is
reputedly one of the richest men in the world, is said to own mines in the Democratic Republic of Congo,
one of the 10 most mineral rich countries on the planet, and has nowhere else, apart from the DRC, to
go. Without his presidential immunity he fears he could be tried for crimes committed in the interests of
maintaining his stranglehold on power.
       The cost of food is so high for the majority of the population that rice and cooking oil is cheaper in
Mozambique. We know because Clara from Vilankulo was delighted when we offered to drop of a 30 kilo
sack of rice and 6 litres of oil at her sister‘s in Mutare in preparation for their mother‘s birthday in August.
Mutare is Zim‘s 3rd largest city, and has all the mod cons and stores that, surprisingly, were well stocked.
We had been led to believe that fuel was scarce and expensive when available. Every major southern
African petroleum company has several stations in Mutare, selling leaded, unleaded (a rarity in
Mozambique) and diesel at prices 25% lower than in South Africa.
       Once again, thanks to a punctilious custom‘s official, we had to look for our chosen
accommodation in the dark. Even though our fellow road users employed a most civilised driving
etiquette that Parisians could learn a great deal from, our task was hindered by dim or non-existent
street lighting and a distinct lack of road signs. This is often due to people half-inching them to sell them
for scrap. Matters were further complicated by street names having been changed since our map was
published; roads named after 19th century explorers and adventurers have been replaced by those of
modern day African heroes, such as the spurious Namibian President-for-life Sam Nujoma.
       Along the excellent 300k stretch from Mutare to Harare the capital, billboard posters advertising
cell phones, new 4x4s, computers, and household appliances preceded arrival in small towns, including
a service called ‗cell money‘ that I have yet to see in Europe where a cell phone can be used to pay in
shops. The once rich fields lay fallow, the majority of the population are skint, yet hoardings proposed
services and goods that the populace could only ever dream of affording. Wages in all sectors are fixed
by the government; in Harare an employed unskilled worker is considered well paid on £6 per week by
the rural population. Despite the Marxist theory, education in a government school costs £20 per term,

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but where 2 teachers may have to look after the education of up to 7 grades of children; potentially 350
pupils.
          David, a friend of a friend of a friend from France, used to work in media, but the industry has
almost disappeared. His company used to supply news feed to Reuters and South African television, but
Mugabe has clamped down on unfavourable press, culminating in the banning of the Daily News,
considered too anti-Bob. It is now illegal to say anything anti-government, irrespective of holding tangible
evidence of the story, and citizens can be locked up without trial for telling the wrong truth. Only Bobbie‘s
truth is true. Such is the vigour with which journalism is monitored that even Zimbabwean journalists with
all the written authorisation necessary for filming approved stories have been arrested, severely beaten,
and spent time behind bars.
          The most frustrating thing is that all the infrastructure is in place and in good condition. Harare is,
if not picturesque, a clean, functioning, modern capital. (Apart from a few missing street signs that have
most probably become someone‘s saucepan.) There are major brand name stores (no doubt to keep the
elite in the style they have become accustomed to) a plethora of supermarkets and banks, and a distinct
lack of tramps, beggars, and shifty looking characters – apart from the chauffeur-driven, Merc-riding hob
nobs. The wilful destruction and rape of an economy and the suffering it induces is invisible in Harare.
It‘s a stark contrast from Mozambique that has nothing but is slowly but surely going forwards. Zimbabwe
had everything and it‘s all gone to shit, but you could fly into the capital and not see it. The whites,
around whom the agricultural strength of the country was based, have left in droves, and the ones who
haven‘t are planning on doing so.
          We stayed at what was once a beautiful, thriving hostel in the suburbs that is now dying a slow
death, tourists being few and far between. A German couple we met claimed that when they visited the
great Hwange National Park, the wardens told them there was only one other visitor in the place. The
owner‘s parents were born here, as she was, and her pain at seeing what has happened to her country
was visible. She knows she is beaten, that she will have to abandon the only home she has known. Like
her mother, she was born in the house. Her only solace was that her children have already left the
country and are working abroad, but she was greatly concerned about the future of her two employees
and the families their meagre income supports. It‘s too sad to think of a witty quip to make light of it.
Maybe my imagination got the better of me, but there was a pervading feeling of evil that made me keen
to get out of the country.
          The high point of the day was going to the Harare Cricket Club to meet up with George‘s first
love, Lesley. It is a haven of peace right next door to Bob Mugger‘s Presidential Residence. We walked
into the Keg and Maiden and into the beer garden on the boundary fence next to the sightscreens. India
A were playing Zimbabwe (effectively Zimbabwe A since the white backbone of the side were sacked by
politicians and their black team-mates who subsequently supported them were given the chop). The
pointlessness of the game with it‘s allegedly complicated rules, and the ritual of bowler against batsman,


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created a calming serenity just a Viv Richards six hit away from the plotting room of the Sauron/Darth
Vader-esque tyrant that is Bully Boy Bob.
       The next day Lesley invited us to luch at home in one of Harare‘s plushest suburbs. Once
through the security gate we walked through the exquisitely decorated house, through ornate pillars and
onto the veranda overlooking a tidy private garden with pool and 5 acres of landscaped park shared with
the other 11 houses in the complex. The house would probably be worth over £750,000 in southern
England, a larger one in the complex was recently sold for £100,000 but would fetch less now. Despite
this we remained convinced that Harare was not the place to be buying at the time. Her 92-year-old
husband hailed from Slough, but he was still compos mentis enough to realise he was still better off
staying here than heading back to his roots in David Brentville.
       We had tea with a charming couple of retired Poles, Karl and Bronia, who had moved to Africa
during WW2 and settled in Rhodesia. Karl had been a Company Director of what was once the 7 th
biggest company in Zimbabwe. He told us how raging inflation had made his pension worthless.
―Then I received a letter announcing how pleased they were to inform me that my pension was being
increased by 150%. So now I can buy 2 stamps to send letters to Poland each month.‖
       Hyperinflation kicked in in 2000. At one point the official exchange rate was 80 Zim dollars to 1
pound, whilst the black market rate was 6000 to the pound. Officials were changing Zim dollars into
foreign currency at the government rate and then taking it out of the country, despite strict foreign
currency regulations. Comrade Bob made scapegoats of a couple of functionaries that were getting too
big for their jackboots, and then blamed the outpouring of currency on British colonial machinations
masterminded by Tony Be Liar or Blair Toilet (a brand of outside lavvy in southern Africa) as he calls
him. At one point in 2003 there was virtually no money in circulation and people were queuing overnight
at cash points to try and get some folding stuff to buy food. Eventually disgruntled queuers started
smashing bank windows and the Police came in with tear gas and batons. Bob the banker set the
printing presses rolling and started knocking out notes that are not accepted outside of the country,
being the equivalent of a bearer‘s cheque. All the notes currently in circulation were no longer valid after
December 31st 2004, though notes that technically expired on June 30th were still being accepted in July.
       Zimbabweans are extremely keen to have foreign currency despite the black market being illegal,
and punishment severe; you can be locked up for 30 days for no reason before the authorities have to
notify anybody of your custody. I went into a bank in Mutare to change my remaining Rand into Zim
dollars. The foreign currency exchange rate board was blank so I enquired at the appropriate window.
The lady politely informed me of the current bank rate; it was acceptable, but then she said she could
give me 15% more and that I wouldn‘t have to pay commission if it wasn‘t more than a 1000 Rand (£80)
and then proceeded to get the requisite sum out of her handbag. I got 900 Zims per Rand. 10 minutes
later a bloke in the street offered me 1000. So I‘d made 15 percent and she‘d made 10. I may have lost
10% too, but at least I knew she couldn‘t run off halfway through our transaction, or be acting as a Police


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informer on a kick back. People caught changing foreign currency illegally have the sum confiscated ―as
evidence‖. By the time they‘re let out, they‘re not that fussed about getting it back.
       Like many retired Zimbabweans, Karl and Bronia rely on money from overseas sent by family and
friends. Despite a budget stricter than a cane-wielding headmistress in woolly tights and horn-rimmed
glasses, Bronia brought out plates of sandwiches and cakes and biscuits, insisting in her unmistakable
Polish accent that we ―eat, eat, you must finish all‖.
       Many people in their situation cannot leave. Their savings have become worthless due to
inflation, as have their pensions, their houses are worth very little, and where else do they have to go?
75 years of age is a bit old to start over.
       Karl and Bronia said they had been lucky. Their car had been stolen a couple of months
previously and they had scared off a couple of burglars by hitting the panic button on their alarm. As their
gardener had not shown up for work since the day of the theft, and was the only person apart from Karl
who knew how to start it, they thought it was probably him. Their neighbour, a middle-aged black
businessman, wasn't so lucky; in two months he was burgled 5 times despite having electric fencing and
barbed wire. The ground floor of his house was emptied after the 4th incursion, his fridge and cooker
were saved by moving them to the first floor, and the 5th time all that was downstairs were eight plates.
They went too.
       Three hours to the southwest of Harare is the town of Gweru and the nearby Antelope Park
Reserve. We‘d seen a few photos on the wall of a hostel advertising walks with lions and elephant rides,
and being on our way to Victoria Falls we decided to pop in. Half an hour after our arrival we were
playing with 5 five month old lion cubs. Normally visitors go into their enclosure to get close to them, but
as we were about to go in with Ed, our ranger, another ranger arrived to take them out for their afternoon
constitutional, so we got to play with them out in the open. To begin with they were happy lying on our
laps, but then a horse with young girl in the saddle caught their attention and they were off like a shot.
Even though they were young and semi-tame, instinct and curiosity kicked in and they circled round the
girl, whose ride was over quicker than a Britney Spears marriage. They crouched down and stalked
menacingly towards the horse, whilst the rangers, Sandrine, and I shooed them away and rounded them
up. The technique was to grab them by the base of the tail and then the scruff of the neck and chuck
them over a shoulder. Easier said than done, because they already have a powerful nip and very sharp
cutting teeth at that age. Still, it's not every day that you get to grapple with the king of the jungle (or his
little cub), so my t-shirt took one for the team.
       After the cubs it was time to walk with a pride of four 14-month-old lions. Greg explained that
whilst walking the lions would treat us as part of the pride, then he gave us a brief talk about the do‘s and
don‘ts: don‘t crouch down when there is one behind you, it‘ll think you want to play wrestling, don‘t back
away if one starts to run towards you, point your stick towards it and give a positive and firm ―No!‖, don‘t
look them in the eye or they‘ll take it as a challenge to play fight and pounce, do feel free to stroke them
but when they‘re lying down stay away from their paws, don‘t lag behind the group, you‘ll become a

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target for lion WWF. The lions had just been fed so were pretty lethargic to start off with, but this gave us
time to give them a stroke whilst they were lying down. It was an odd feeling, squatting next to a beast
with such a ferocious reputation. Even though they were half tame, they were also half wild; the owner of
the park, who has been working with lions all his adult life, only had one arm following an incident with
one of his fully-grown charges 10 years ago. The lions would walk along with us and then wander off to
inspect something in the bush, stalk each other, and then come back to us.
        I was at the back of the group counting how many of the cats I could see, and could only get to
three. As I turned round there was the fourth, Tomba, the male and biggest of the group running towards
me. Ooooh shit!
―Turn round!‖ said one voice in my head
―Ruuuuuuuuuuuuuuun!‖ said the other
I managed to turn round to face him.
―Lift your stick and shout ‗No‘.‖ said the voice of reason
―Ruuuuuuuuuuuuuun!‖ said the voice of human nature
―No!!!‖ I said in my best father-scolding-offspring-with-hand-above-blender voice, pointing a large twig at
the 80-kilo predator.
        He slowed to a lollop and walked round my legs, disappointed I hadn‘t let him rugby tackle me
and have a roll on the ground. I gave him a stroke and tried to convince myself he was just a big fluffy
pet. The lions stopped on top of a mound and lay down in photographic poses, their fur turning gold in
the setting sun. Tarts. Then it was back to the enclosure and an exhilarating, unbelievable hour was
over.
        Round the campfire that night I met Victor, an Ndebele cattle breeder. In a low voice he lamented
the current situation, told me how black and white farmers had always got on well, that he had learnt
much from them and owed his success to them. Now that they were gone the cattle market was going
downhill as there were less people to buy his stock. He used to re-invest most of his profit, but since
2000 had been illegally taking it out in foreign currency to invest in a property in South Africa. He couldn‘t
see an end to the problems here in the foreseeable future, reckoning that the illustrious comrade had got
the 2005 parliamentary elections sown up already, with his successor lined up for the presidential
elections in 2007.
        On our last morning in the park we went for an elephant-back ride. I was on Tombi with Richard,
the driver, and Sandrine on Amia with Jealous piloting for her. The elephants were two 13-year-old
females who had been orphaned in the droughts of 1992 and had been hand-reared since then. By dint
of rewards (horse food pellets) they had been persuaded to respond to their trainer‘s commands, and
indulged in kicking a football back and forth to show us. After each kick they would lift their trunk over
their head and open and close their prehensile tip requesting a treat. Their skin is rough with sparse thick
black hairs; I‘m sure that if Sandrine had had some tweezers with her she‘d have started plucking. After
a walk round the park looking at the antelope, zebra, wildebeest, and giraffe we alighted from our

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mounts and walked around like John Wayne with rickets. The elephants were extremely gentle and let
us sit on their knee and stroked their cheeks against us like 4-kilo moggies.
       Jealous was the first negative ‗adjective forename‘ that we had come across on our travels. In
Zim we had met a Victor, a Happy, a Joyous, a Fidelity, and a couple of Hopes, but never a Misguided, a
Treacherous, or an Evil, although these would seem more apt given the current situation. The idea has
many possibilities, as long as you believe the offspring will develop the given trait: Determined,
Successful, Hardworking, Honest would all have been on my Dad‘s list had British culture embraced it.
Sandrine and I had had the baby name conversation several times though none were in the pipeline at
the time, and despite my insistence, until the last discussion Sandrine wasn‘t having Wilburforce as a
first name. We decided that names that were more or less bi-lingual, or at least possible to pronounce in
both languages, were a must. I like historical names and we both went for Arthur. As a concession (I‘m
not sure to what, probably to stop me banging on about Wilburforce) Sandrine accepted Wilburforce as a
second name. So AWB. Then we thought about a girl, and eventually came up with Angèle or Angel. It
seemed obvious to give her a second name with a W too. Our first thought was Wendy, which is pretty
naff, but Sandrine eventually came up with Wellingtonia! Then we though of Winston for another second
name in the same historical vein, and Sandrine likes Andrew but that is far too Scottish. However, we
both had one brainwave left up our sleeve each: Sandrine said ―What about your Grandad‘s name,
Aubrey, it‘s not a historic name, but you want to remind the kid of his Welsh ancestry, it‘s perfect‖.
Perfect it is, especially when associated with the middle name ―Wonkenobe‖. Fucking brilliant !!!!! Aubrey
Wonkenobe, the first Bartlett jedi. With the new angle of adjectives and living in an English speaking
country we could have Artful Winner, Athletic Wonderboobs, Aromatic Windy, Adventurous Wanderlust,
Adored Womaniser, Awesome Wicket-taker, or Arduous Wanker, to name but a few. OK, some of the
W‘s are nouns, but if we also met a Blessing and a Benediction, so they pass.
       Whilst Antelope park seemed like a tourist attraction, the purpose of its activities is in fact to fund
and conduct research and a breeding program to counter the effects of FIV, a feline HIV. It is estimated
that 100 years ago there were 230,000 lions in southern Africa, but today their number has dwindled to
23,000. Whilst this decline was due in part to hunting for trophies and livestock protection by farmers,
FIV has had a major part to play. With the decreasing number of animals males have been forced to
breed with cousins and aunties, thus weakening the genetic pool and making them susceptible to bovine
tuberculosis. The park's objective is to create separate and distinct pure bloodlines by controlling who
humps who and then releasing the genetically stronger animals into the wild. The majority of the cubs do
will not come into contact with humans and will evolve naturally, but with the males being put into areas
that contain no female relatives.
       The next day we went to the Matopos National Park, south of Bulawayo, Zimbabwe‘s second
biggest city with 900,000 inhabitants. Upon arrival at the park entrance we were informed that we had to
pay for entrance and accommodation in US dollars, otherwise we could not enter. After a short and
ineffectual explanation that she couldn‘t come to our country and pay in foreign currency, I was prepared

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to leave, as we had no other choice. The parks were desperate for tourists to come back - we‘d have
been the 9th, 10th, and 11th visitors (with John, a Kiwi we‘d met in Harare) to the park that day – but
wouldn't let them pay in local currency. Fortunately John found a $100 US note in his bag and we got in.
After day of driving slowly round the park, we wished he hadn‘t found it; we saw very little game. In fact,
so little that we could count it all: 4 kudus, 15 baboons, 5 giraffes, 2 klipspringers, a hippo, 4 warthogs, 7
impala, and 2 rhinos so distant they were mere specks on the horizon, and a zebra‘s arse. There was a
fair amount of rhino dung around, and we saw some rhino spoor at a waterhole, but that was it. Who
knows where the rest is, probably in a pot somewhere. It‘s a shame, as the park has some stunning
balancing rock scenery (as depicted on the old Zim‘ bank notes) and is one of Zimbabwe‘s most
important archaeological sites with San rock painting sites dotted around the park. Sadly, without money
coming in, the National Parks Board doesn‘t have the funds to maintain waterholes, perimeter fences,
and effective anti-poaching measures.



11 - The smoke that thunders

I‘d visited Victoria Falls, or ―Mosi oa tunya‖, 6 years previously and had decided to return one day and
spend a night in the Victoria Falls Hotel, the oldest and most reputed hotel in the area. When Sandrine
and I were married we didn‘t have a honeymoon but spent a week with my mother, sister, future brother-
in-law, aunt and uncle who had rented a house down the road near the seaside. We had promised
ourselves one night in a luxury hotel on our trip, and this was going to be it. We booked in as South
African residents and got the room at £200 instead of £300, and were then upgraded to a deluxe room
as they had the space and it was our honeymoon. We checked in at 9 a.m. to get full value for money,
and the porter carried our rucksacks in and served us orange squash as we signed in. The enormous
porter in his top hat and tails then escorted us to our room with a view over Livingstone Bridge and the
smoke that thunders.
       It was like stepping back in time; the hotel was built in 1904 and improvements made have
remained faithful to the original style. The walls are decorated with advertising posters from the colonial
era and cartoons and sketches from periodicals of the era. One cannot help but be taken in by the
atmosphere; I wouldn‘t have called the doorman/porter a chap if I wasn‘t writing this in the Bulawayo
room with 3 sets of kudu horns and stuffed wildebeest head watching me as I write. The room was top-
notch, the bed enormous, and the bathroom a delight for Sandrine; she would like one just like it.
       We lazed the morning away at the hotel (apart from 20 minutes when I did our laundry in the
bath), soaking in the spacious tub, athletically celebrating our marriage in the 180cm wide bed safe in
the knowledge that this time my dad was 10,000 miles away and could not interrupt us to ask for
directions back to his hotel 800 yards from the reception, and taking afternoon high tea on the terrace.
After an assortment of sandwiches, scones and pastries each we decided that a walk was in order to

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make room for the blowout dinner that I knew was coming up 3 hours later. A hotel security guard
escorted us to the Falls National Park entrance, although we were still offered an array of carved animals
and masks by illegal street vendors. I found that the best way to stop them pestering you continuously
was to proclaim a dislike of whatever animal you were offered. It worked every time and I have yet to find
feigning an allergic reaction to a proffered carved animal necessary.
        The Falls were very noisy and wet due to the river still flowing well, and whilst in certain parts all
we could see was the spray surrounding us coming back up the 100 metres of gorge and creating a
small rainforest, it was great fun seeing nature at work. These are the 13 th Victoria Falls according to
scientists, the previous ones having occupied the gorges downstream that are so popular with white
water rafters, and in several thousands of years they will have moved back again. A far-sighted
businessman should figure out where they will be and buy the adjacent land…..
        On our way out of the park we got talking to Hans and Kirsten and their son, Dieter, who, believe
it or not, were German, and who worked for an NGO in Zimbabwe providing training in and supplying
irrigation to the blacks who were given land whites didn‘t want in the days of Rhodesia. The conversation
quickly turned to politics and I showed them an article I had read in the Herald, one of the two state-run
Zimpapers publications. In the article, comrade Professor Jonathan Moyo, Information Minister (a cross
between big brother and spin doctor) said that ZANU(PF) ―would win the 2005 parliamentary elections
with an overwhelming majority owing to the confidence had in the ruling party coupled with the
recovering economy‖. He added ―the agenda of the proponents of change collapsed with the failure of
last year‘s push instigated by puppets of the British government.‖ He told a bunch of student teachers
during his address to them ―Zimbabwe had won the battle against the neo-imperial intrigues of the British
and American governments [………..] bent on reversing gains of independence and the right of the
country as a sovereign nation to have control over its resources‖. He went on to add ―There will be no
regime change, never. The values of the liberation struggle are indelible. What is special is that we are
prepared to die so that the totality of our culture and norms in the regime remain unchanged‖. He went
on to define ‗regime‘ as not being a leader or a government, but a system of values that define who
people are and what they cherish about their heritage, history, social struggles and aspirations as a
people‖. Maybe he should send this definition into the Oxford English (non-neo-imperialist) Dictionary for
certification.
The Germans had a different take on it.
―Of course they‘ll win the elections, they control them. They buy votes with food. The economy is getting
worse, not better, and food is being secretly imported and stored by the government, who will distribute it
to ZANU voters before the elections as proof of the great harvest‖ said Kirsten.
This was the third time I‘d heard this. So much for the secrecy of the smuggling, unless it‘s a rumour
being spread by that neo-imperialist puppet Tony B. Liar.
―Maybe he‘s getting it confused with the Zambian economy," said Hans.


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―3 years ago they were reliant on food aid to feed the people, then they encouraged the Zim farmers to
go there, and now they are already producing 60% of their food requirement in-country‖, he added.
―Village chiefs draw up the electoral lists in rural areas, so they give the chief a new car if he omits
known MDC voters from the list‖ chipped in Dieter.
       Add to this that Prof. Moyo controls all the media (in the column next to the piece quoted was an
article about four journalists from a now-banned paper having their remand period prolonged until
October, for having written a defamatory article about ole Muggers and his use of Air Zimbabwe jets).
       The braai at the hotel that evening lived up to expectations; Sandrine loved the setting: romantic
lighting, a roof on turn of the century columns, open walls, ceiling fans, a waiter to push your chair under
your bum and an Ndebele floor show. She got stuck into to the fresh vegetables and the giant mussels,
and I had a go at the game. It took me three attempts to sort out the winners, but I eventually decided
that crocodile tail was my favourite main course, followed by impala stew, and then kudu. Fortunately the
portions were quite small and, after eight helpings, there was still room for some dessert: a proper
chocolate cake, banana and toffee cake, cheesecake, and two flambéed crepes with pears, Amarula
liqueur and triple sec. We decided to give the fruit salad a miss. With a decent bottle of wine the bill
came to £40. We waddled back to our room like a pair of pregnant hippos.
       On a shopping trip in the supermarket I came across a screw-top bottle labelled ―Altar Wine‖ that
I thought every man of the cloth should give a go, especially given that it rates at 18%. Just in case it
was undrinkable I also purchased a large bottle of Zimbabwean ―Admiral‘s‖ rum for £1.50. Despite
claiming to be a blend of the finest Jamaican rums, after 2 ―Admiral‘s‖ and coke I could feel a headache
coming on already so I opened the wine to accompany dinner. The label gave no indication as to why it
was called ―Altar Wine‖, but one sniff of the bouquet made me spurt out an ―Oh my God!‖, and a fellow
novice spluttered ―Jesus Christ!‖. If only this blasphemy had been in praise, but unfortunately the
beverage was more befitting of Sarson‘s than parsons. When sipped with nose pinched, the sweet
medicinal flavour is vaguely reminiscent of a bad port, but the wine is probably equally as useful as
paint-stripper. It was so bad that I had to go back to the rum.
       What with both the regime and the refreshments leaving a bad taste in our mouths, we left Zim
across the Livingstone Bridge, a massive arch of green metal latticing,also used as a bungee jump, over
one of the many gorges of the Zambezi downstream from the falls. After a cursory bit of hassle we were
into Zambia and drove the 10k to Livingstone just in time to meet my mother‘s flight, as she was joining
us for 17 days. We‘d asked her to travel light as it would make organising the car and our stuff easier,
but she still turned up with a large carry on bag and two suitcases including three pairs of flip-flops. I
thought this was to test out my theory on different brands, but her reasoning behind her choice of
footwear was too female and beyond my comprehension. We had a late lunch (it would‘ve been almost a
normal lunch, but service in Zambia is as slow as in Zimbabwe) and headed through town to the falls.
       Livingstone has really started booming since 2000, picking up tourists by the overland truckload,
and is now a lot busier than Vic Falls. Reservations were a must six years ago on the Zim side, now

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everything we saw was at least 2/3rds empty, sundowner booze-cruises regularly go out with five
customers. Now Livingstone is the place to see the Falls from, and to fly over them, bounce above the
first gorge, or raft down all of them. The Zambian side opposite the Falls is shorter than it‘s Zim
counterpart, but is wilder. In most areas there are no barriers and it is possible to peer down the 108
metres to the bottom of the chasm. It is also wetter than the Zim side and we got drenched, Ma‘s hair-do
making her look like a spaniel getting out of the bath.
       The next morning we left mother to catch up on the sleep she missed flying over from the States,
and went white water rafting on the grade VI and V rapids of the Zambezi. We were into the 2nd rapid of
the day, the first of the three ugly sisters, the raft at a 45° angle to the main wave. I was at the front,
setting the stroke, when our guide told us to make like James Brown: ―Geddown!‖. The nose went down
into the dip and then the swell just flipped us over, catapulting me out of the raft. We were just getting
back in by the time we had reached ugly sister number two. I was holding onto a frightened teenage girl
(with her father‘s approval), trying to reassure her that it was perfectly fine to go through the rapids with
only a life jacket, all she had to do was keep calm, put her feet out in front of her to fend off any rocks,
and enjoy the fun. With a bit of a splutter and some gulping we made it through, though the girl looked
whiter than the water.
       As she was being pulled into the raft before sister three, a whirlpool ripped me from her and I was
sucked under. I hadn‘t caught much of a breath and had to keep my eyes shut so not to lose my contact
lenses. The sensation was totally disorientating. I wanted to let go of my paddle and claw for the surface;
I was flapping a bit. In one of those moments that seems to last for 15 seconds, but is really over in a
fraction of one, I told myself to stay calm, hold onto the paddle as it provides buoyancy (and you look a
twat if you come up with out it), and that the whirlpool would eject me at some point. Shortly after (the
whole thing probably only lasted 10 seconds but seemed like minutes) I was spat out into some surging
waves, gulped a bit more air, had another set of white water crash over me, and carried on downstream
at a serious rate of knots. I tried to guess when I could open my eyes to look out for rocks and open my
mouth to breath, often feeling more like I was being pulled than pushed. Every time I thought I was
through the rapids I‘d be pulled down or swamped again. I lost all notion of time despite not banging my
lid on anything, and when I was finally in calmer water all I could see ahead of me was empty river. I
turned and looked around and saw that I‘d overtaken the three rafts that were now coming downstream
to pick me up. I tried to swim upstream, but couldn‘t even hold station despite giving it my best Johnny
Weissmuller. A rescue canoe saw my predicament and caught up with me and I grabbed the back with
the hand holding my paddle. The combined efforts of his windmill paddling and my manic kicking and
one-armed thrashing meant I could be hauled aboard a raft before bouncing through the next rapid.
       The rest of the ride seemed uneventful, despite a few near flips, and on the penultimate rapids
the guide said we could swim through it if we fancied. A couple of us dived in and, whilst fun, it was a
tamer rapid and nowhere near as exhilarating as the ugly sisters. As we got to shore everyone was
pretty pumped and a few beers were cracked on the hour's drive back to Livingstone. As we passed

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through villages the kids would come running alongside the big old UN army truck smiling and shouting
―icey, icey‖ at which one of the guides would reach into the beer fridge and chuck lumps of ice out into
the dust alongside the dirt track. By the time they had been washed there couldn‘t have been much of an
ice-cube left, but I suppose that this was as close as they'd get to a 99 flake.




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12 – Botswana, eco-paradise

The next day Mother had caught up on her sleep and we caught the pontoon ferry to Kazangula in
Botswana. The customs and immigration officials at the Botswana border post were the anti-thesis of
anything we had come across so far; smiling, friendly, and willing to laugh at a crap joke about nothing in
particular. We spent the night in Kasane at one of the few places that accepted campers and set Ma up
for her first night of camping ever. The small tent that she had bought looked more like camping kennel
than a tent, and one of the resident warthogs looked on with amusement as she set it up. The campsite
sits alongside the Chobe River and the girls watched the sun go down over Namibia on the opposite
bank as I prepared dinner. A choir of what seemed like a thousand toads heralded the sunset and then
the baboons and vervet monkeys started having a barney in the trees and we fell asleep to the
intermittent trumpet calls of one of the 45,000 elephants that reside in the neighbouring National Park.
       At 0530 we were woken up by a group of 20-odd Spanish and Italian overlanders making more
noise than a yodelling competition whose opening was announced by a 21-gun salute and a Marimba
band. They were a mixed bunch – from a pony-tailed male 50-something in a hooded sweat top with
Gucci Goebbels glasses testing the stitching of his designer safari trousers, to a Gustavo Kuerten
wannabe teenager complete with middle-aged American golfer sun peak on his poncey bushy curls
before sunrise – but none of them could speak under 90 decibels. I‘d prefer the barking mad dogs of
Harare as neighbours any day.
       After a day looking for game in the park in the car and another spent on a river cruise, both of
which brought us close to some of the plentiful herds of elephant and antelope we decided to head down
to Moremi and the Okavango Delta. Several other independent British travellers had spoken of the sand
track through Chobe with a mixture of awe, fear, and relief, but their descriptions must have contained a
large helping of British understatement although a certain amount of ―digging out‖ was mentioned.
       The 300-kilometre drive started on shallow sand that was easy going, but turned to a gravel track
that felt like driving over corrugated iron sheeting. 200 more kilometres of this isn‘t going to be fun we
thought. We‘d obviously thought it too loudly as it petered out and we hit sand tracks. We were slowed
down to 40 kph as the 4-wheel drive ploughed us along. ―Not too bad‖ we thought, not having learn our
lesson about loud thinking. The sand got deeper and the track turned into a roller coaster ride, the only
thing keeping our heads millimetres off the ceiling being the seatbelts. We were thrown about like rag
dolls and I slowed down to a crawl. The crawling almost got us stuck, and only low range, diff-lock and
serious engine revving saved us from getting out the saucepans to dig our way out. I didn‘t want to ease
off the speed for fear of getting bogged down again, so we crashed and bumped down the road, me with
clenched teeth wondering when we would inevitably break something, Sandrine laughing and whooping
with delight. The bumps were perfectly spaced so that at anything above 15 kph had a trampoline like
effect, each successive hump sending us a bit higher.

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       After a couple of hours, Sandrine, sitting in the back next to the camera battery charger, thought
she could smell something odd. Multiple sniffs of the batteries were inconclusive so we opened the hatch
to the boot thinking it might be one of the spare diesel cans leaking. A strong smell of chutney invaded
the cab so we assumed that the chutney bottle had broken. When we eventually got through to the end
of the bone-shaking road an hour later we stopped for lunch and opened the boot. It looked like an
impressionist artists convention had been painting with our food. Ketchup, tomatoes, bananas, fish,
basil, pumpkin, and beer had been mashed into an indescribable mess. Somehow an avocado had been
peeled and stuffed into a smashed tin of baked beans, yet the chutney had survived. Unfortunately, with
the heat, we had also made our own.
       After five hours driving we pulled into Moremi North Gate campsite and drove over the river
Khwai on a wooden bridge; my references to David Niven were lost on the ranger who booked us in.
Around our fire I read that our drive should have taken at least seven hours, but all the bukkie had to
show for my rally driving was a slight squeak. From our spot on the edge of the river we heard hippos
feeding and grunting but weren‘t brave enough to go and establish eye contact. 10 minutes later a
spotted hyena didn‘t give us much choice as we saw his squat, sloped-back form wander past turning his
green eyes into our torch lights on his way to the bin. They really are an odd, evil looking animal that
remind me of the malevolent kid at school who would grass you up for some minor infraction of school
rules that he would have frequently contravened had he had the courage. On their own they scavenge
for scraps, in small groups they steal other half-eaten kills, and only in their large clan do they hunt other
game. They even have their own way of recognising their clan by licking each other‘s genitals. I can‘t see
this catching on at the cricket club, though I suspect some opposition rugby clubs may indulge in this sort
of greeting.
       During the night, like in the Orpen bush camp in the Kruger, lions mewed and roared, but unlike
the Kruger campsite there was no fence around us to keep them out. Despite this, the Reverend Mother
had her best night's sleep so far, and the closeness to nature made up for the lack of shower facilities.
She was so into the experience that she even tuned the bakkie for the next day‘s drive through Moremi.
This involved getting out her tuning forks and placing them all over the car, inside and out, to release any
built up negative energy and accord the vehicle‘s shakras to get us through the rest of the tracks to
Maun, the town that would provide us with fuel, supermarkets, and showers. Hey, it was free, and
couldn't do any harm.
       Her perseverance paid off as, with the anecdotic help of some oil, the squeaking stayed away for
most of the following day, and we drove through a herd of over 300 elephant unscathed, and spotted a
couple of lions in the late afternoon. At the Fish Eagle rest camp in Mataplaneng, 10k from Maun, she
was so into camping that she forwent the option of a large bedded tent and set herself up in her kennel
next to us, as any obedient mother should. Unfortunately we were next to another overland truck full of
noisy gits, English this time, who liked to shout from tent to tent at 11 in the evening, oblivious to the fact


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that other people around them may be trying to sleep. Do they show the same lack of consideration and
respect for local people and the environment as they bomb around in their truck ―doing‖ Africa?
        Four hours to the northwest of Maun, round the Okavango Delta and to the left a bit, the Tsodilo
Hills rise out of the flat lowveld plain, and are a World Heritage site due to the 400 plus sites of Bushman
rock art. There were many more, but rain and wind have eroded the oldest examples of human finger
painting, but those that live on are over 3,000 years old. The hills are also a place of spiritual power for
the Bushmen (also called San, Khoi-khoi, or Khoi-san) and their spirits and those of their ancestors are
reputed to live in the animals that live around the hills. Laurens van der Post referred to them as the
Mountains of the Gods. I remembered reading about a group of SAS soldiers using the hills on exercise
and one of them killed a snake. For the next couple of days freak accidents happened, killing one
member of the party and seriously injuring another. When their local guide found out what had happened
he made them write an apology to the Gods and place it in a special place to appease them. Once this
was done, they continued to train without further incident.
        We arrived as the sun was setting, highlighting the different colours that look like they‘ve been
splashed onto the four hills (Male, Female, Child, and Grandchild) in some type of tie-dye pattern. Apart
from the predominant brown and black, there are pink and red bits of stone, with wide bands of green
lichen, and the odd spot of purple. After a night camping at the foot of Female Hill we set off on a walk
with a guide from the local village who seemed to be trying to beat his own personal best for the two-
hour walk around and over the rocky hill. My mother, Sandrine, and an overweight South African family
were soon trailing in his wake. He‘d let them catch up, panting and sweating, and then charge off again,
giving me the spiel and hoping that I‘d pass it down the bedraggled line. Near the end he even asked me
to tell the others what he‘d told me.
―It‘s your job, mate, you‘re the guide, not me.‖
―I‘m too tired now. Please.‖
So I pointed at the mountain face in a surly fashion and said, ―Here are some more paintings‖ before
loping off down the mountainside.
        Unfortunately the San tribe responsible for the paintings who lived in the hills were chased off
some 150 years ago, and none of their Humbukushu or !Kung replacements know much about what
went on here or the different San rituals that took place, so many of the place's mysteries will remain just
that for eternity.
        We climbed up to an eternal spring, whose water is said to have special powers, and that is often
used as a place of prayer by visiting church groups. On the way up we were continually pestered by flies;
we seemed to have one each that would fly around our face trying to land in an eye or up a nostril. The
spring was about 60 metres up the mountain, sunk into a rocky recess that sloped down like a well on a
45-degree slant, with enough room for a couple of people to sit in the shade and look and the dirty water.
This had made the place popular with animals too, and I don‘t think that they only drink from the water,
but use it for less than sacred rituals. Despite the muck floating on the surface, it was a calm and serene

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                         Sid Bartlett, PO BOX 131, 4184 Pennington, South Africa                     69
         tradbartlett@hotmail.com                                           Tel:0027 82 493 6447
place to think about the people who had drunk from this source tens of thousands of years ago; even the
flies had stopped bugging us, albeit momentarily. THe San are widely accepted as being the original
inhabitants of southern Africa, but how many had there been before the Bantu tribes began their
migration south 200 to 300 years ago? How many of the diminutive, pacifist, hunter-gatherer nomads
had been massacred? There are numerous accounts of Bushman hunting taking place as recently as
the early 1900's. Like much of the San's legacy, no amount of thought would bring concrete answers,
and it was time to get back to the ground. As soon as we started the descent, the little flies got off the
rock they were resting on and were back trying to get into any orifice available.
       Close to Tsodilo, at least in Southern African terms, is the ‗Panhandle‘ of the Okavango Delta.
The Okavango river runs into Botswana at its northern border and starts spreading out southeast down
the panhandle until it fills the rest of the frying pan shape, petering out in Maun to the south and Moremi
to the east. Several camps have been set up where the water is at its widest where the handle meets the
pan.
       We turned off the main road and headed east over a couple of sand ―bridges‖ to Nguma Island
camp, an isthmus 13 kilometres down a sandy track. In the rainy season the bridges are washed out,
and only the camp's four-ton truck or light aircraft can get in. Our camp site was 10 times the size of any
we‘d had before, and was equipped with a large table, a fire pit and a huge stack of wood, our own toilet
and shower, and a waist high barbeque that had been lit for us. An enormous water monitor, a lizard
basically, the size of a small croc waddled past, its belly full with a recently devoured rodent. We set up,
cooked up, and settled down to tune in to the noises around us. A frog chorus heralded sunset, hippos
chomped the papyrus, and in the distance elephants trumpeted and lions mewed.
       Early the next morning we boarded a small speedboat with Mike, a Humbukushu, and Colin, a
Bayei, and motored through the main channel to an island out towards the middle of the delta to board
two mokoros, a dugout canoe made from a sausage tree. Once on the mokoros our guides poled us
through the papyrus beds and hippo grass. As we silently made our way around they‘d point out
antelope, red lechwe and the rare sitatunga, grazing on islands. Fish eagles squawked and swooped
down from the treetops to plunge into the water for a late breakfast. The papyrus and hippo grass
alternated with lakes filled with lilies and lily pads. In most places the water was no more than between
50 centimetres and a metre deep, and was sometimes only just deep enough for the shallow draught of
the canoe to pass through. At least if we capsized we weren‘t going to drown, and the lack of depth
meant that there were no crocs around.
       After a couple of hours we landed on an island, pitched our tents and had lunch. We whiled away
the early afternoon under the shade of the trees watching the vervet monkeys going about their business
overhead. A quick inspection of the island showed some large elephant footprints but Mike was quick to
point out that they were very old. When the heat was more bearable we poled over to a larger island,
alighted, and set of in search of game. There was plenty of spoor, including some from lions, but no
game to be seen. There is game out in the delta, but they have so many islands to choose from it is

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                        Sid Bartlett, PO BOX 131, 4184 Pennington, South Africa                      70
        tradbartlett@hotmail.com                                            Tel:0027 82 493 6447
more common to not see any than it is to get lucky. Mike occupied us with his knowledge of indigenous
trees and bushes, much to Sandrine‘s seed-collecting pleasure. With the day's finds added to her
previous finds, she had over 30 different tree seeds to send back to her green-fingered father.
       Our mild disappointment was soon forgotten when we poled out into an open area covered in
lilies to watch the most amazing sunset. In fact we watched two as the perfectly still and clear delta water
reflected the pink and orange orb and shed its glow all around. Sandrine had forgotten her water bottle
and had just asked for mine when Mike pulled a lily bud, complete with a metre-long stem, out of the
water, removed the bud, and started sucking on it. He invited us to copy him, and we were soon sucking
in cool, clear water through natural filters. Even Mum, who up until now had refused to drink tap water,
was sucking like a gold-digger keen to impress on a first-date.
Night fell quickly and we got the fire going on the island. During conversation we told Mike and Colin
about European and oriental superstitions, which they both found extremely amusing, asking what would
happen if you walked under 13 ladders. I found out that Mike was only six days younger than me, and
told him that made him a bull in the western world and a rat in China. Like most people with an ounce of
sense he found this hard to fathom. We hit the sack early and spent a night undisturbed by dogs,
overlanders, and malfunctioning cockerels.
       The following morning we were up for dawn and off to another island. Red lechwe grazed around
massive baobabs and Sandrine exhorted us to knock some of the fruit down for her. Colin and Mike
threw sticks and stones enthusiastically, but lacked the hours of break-time practice of stick fights in the
woods at school to compete. In one over from the Acacia end I picked off three tail enders and we
sucked on the tart chalky fruit on the way back to the pavilion thankful that the owner of the size six lion
prints hadn‘t put in an appearance.
       When we got back to Nguma Island we were told of a path that follows the edge of the delta from
the camp, where we might see elephant, hippo, and other game. Off we set, initially with no thoughts of
the lions that we had heard on the first night here. Then I heard something in the bushes 50 metres to
our front. We would have to walk right alongside the same bushes if we wanted to follow the bend to the
edge of the swamp. I stopped and we listened: nothing.
Mum and Sandrine cannot spend more than 15 seconds together without speaking and broke the silence
with some pointless chit chat. ―Shhhusssshhhhhhhhh‖ I sussshhhhhhhhed
―I can‘t hear anything. What are you listening for?‖
―To make sure that I can‘t here anything.‖
       I couldn‘t, but armed myself with a piece of elephant dung, bullshit no doubt, and we moved
forward. The girls were straight back into a conversation about bugger knows what, but it had nothing to
do with Africa, animals, or man-eating lions licking their lips in anticipation. To be fair, this thought had
only vaguely crossed my mind. Most lions won‘t attack a human unless they or their offspring feel
threatened, they have eaten a bloke before, or they are old males that are too weak to chase proper


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         tradbartlett@hotmail.com                                            Tel:0027 82 493 6447
game. I was also feeling fortified by my experience with the lions in Zimbabwe, and Macho-me and
Mother-me were locked in conversation in my head.
―They were used to human presence and were only playing‖ said the mother in me.
―They were still half-wild as the one-armed owner proves, and anyway, the technique and principals are
the same‖ came the reply ―If one does come out I‘ll rush it and lob this bit of dung at it, it‘ll be totally
thrown, and the dung won‘t hurt it so it‘ll bugger off‖.
―Whhhhyyyyy can‘t we just go back?‖
―Imagine how great it would be to see a lion, or a pride of lions, on foot.‖
―That‘s what I‘m doing, and that‘s why I want to go back. Noooooowwww.‖ Mother-me warbled.
―Come on you poof, the girls haven‘t even heard it, they‘d think that you‘re a nonce if we turned back
now‖.
So on we went. Right up close to the tree line. We couldn‘t see more than a metre into the bushes as we
walked along the right of it, with open grassland and then swamp to our right. Round a corner the path
led us away from the tree line. Phew. And into some tall clumps of elephant grass that were large
enough for a rhino to hide behind, though fortunately there were none around here.
―This is getting silly, even the girls have stopped talking‖
―Just a bit further‖
I looked at my watch.
―The bar will be closing soon,‖ said Macho-me
        We turned and had got past the bushes in the tree line when we heard a deep growl. There was
no mistaking that its owner was a lion. We stopped and looked around. Nothing in sight. The grass was
short here and it was empty. I wiggled my throwing shoulder to keep it limber. All was quiet. We walked
on, with me spending as much time looking backwards as forwards, occupying my mind by wondering
whether elephant dung would swing in the late evening air. The dung was quite old; would I get reverse
swing? When we got back to the bar we‘d actually seen sod all, but it had been one of the most exciting
game experiences we‘d had.
        Two days later at Nxai Pan, 150 kilometres to the south of Maun, the lions did put in a prolonged
appearance. Other tourists had heard that lions were often present at the only waterhole in the 4,000
km² Nxai Pan National Park and they turned out to be better informed than a tabloid reporting on the
latest Paddy Viera transfer dealings. We arrived at 11.30 and the lions were just finishing off a spot of
springbok. Once full they lazed in the sun, only getting up to find keep the other springbok around the
waterhole on their hooves.
        Groups of the cute little buggers would approach the waterhole from over the grassy veld and
then stop 100 yards from the hole, put off by the presence of lions awaiting table service. The herd
leader would cautiously edge forward alone, checking out the reactions of the felines. First up it would
appear to be a very one-sided contest, but a springbok can muster up 88 kph over a sustained burst
and, like impala, can put in an astounding 3-metre high, 11-metre long jump. Slowly but surely, they

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                         Sid Bartlett, PO BOX 131, 4184 Pennington, South Africa                      72
         tradbartlett@hotmail.com                                              Tel:0027 82 493 6447
passed through what looks like a perfect trap with lions forming the three points of a triangle. We sat in
anticipation of seeing our first kill. The lions remained motionless, either lying on their front, or
sunbathing on their side. Cunning, we thought; act like your not interested. The herd edged towards the
water, looking understandably nervous. So nervous in fact, that when they reached the water‘s edge,
they wouldn‘t drink. Then one of them bent his head towards the muddy pool and a lion moved. But
rather than adopt the stalking position that any house cat takes up when going after a bit of rolled up tin
foil prey, it just slowly sauntered towards the boks, making them scamper away, as if to say ―Are you
looking at my pint?.‖ It‘s not as if the boks need to drink and by depriving them the lions make them
weaker; springbok get enough moisture from grass to survive for long periods without drinking. Then
again, I could survive without a pint, but after prolonged abstinence I would be willing to go into a dodgy
pub to get a draught or two.
       A while later three elephants did turn up for a pint, and lined up at the bar, sucking up big
trunkfuls and then downing them in unison, like three mates celebrating a win on the zebras. By mid-
afternoon the pride of seven lions and three cubs were drowsy that they even let some passing giraffe in
for a quick drink. The lions were by now lying on their backs, paws up and legs akimbo, only arousing
themselves out of slumber temporarily when a massive male turned up and his offspring decided to
show off in front of dad by indulging in a bout of wrestling and giving him a friendly nip. We left them at
sundown, as they watched yet another herd of antelope wander around the waterhole.
       At seven the next morning they were still there, contentedly moving the impala and zebra on in a
restrained and unhurried manner, much like a doorman giving it ―Sorry mate, no trainers‖ to an
astronomy student, knowing that no-one in their right mind would argue. The lions shifted from place to
place around the waterhole, occasionally looking like they were going to go for a snack, but most of the
time to show their authority. There were a couple of half-hearted chases, but the antelope escaped on
both occasions. Smith's Field Guide to African Mammals informed us that lion chase small prey such as
springbok and impala individually, sharing their kill with the pride, and only hunt larger animals like zebra,
buffalo, wildebeest, giraffe, and larger antelope together. Add to this the fact that are only active two or
three hours every 24, and don‘t seem to be in any great rush when they are moving, means that lion
watching requires patience, time, and a well-stocked fridge.
       In mid-afternoon an enormous storm arrived, the air smelt heavily of rain, and the antelope
wandered off. The sky behind the waterhole turned dark grey, a 20-second peal of thunder rolled from
west to east across the veld and lightning flashed and stabbed into the ground on the horizon. As the
heavens opened and the rain poured down, the lions sat stoically. Set against this backdrop, a solitary
bull elephant strode majestically to the water, his skin light grey under the bright sunlight streaming
through the clouds from the northwest. The unseasonal downpour only lasted five minutes and as soon
as it was over the cats got up, shook themselves off, and started ambling towards us. The rain seemed
to have woken them up, as the cubs started a three-way wrestling bout, and then the females rolled onto
their backs to let the cubs pounce on them. They kept this up as they made their way past the bakkie

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                        Sid Bartlett, PO BOX 131, 4184 Pennington, South Africa                        73
         tradbartlett@hotmail.com                                            Tel:0027 82 493 6447
and through the grass to the south. They continued arsing around, much to the pleasure of the three
other vehicles watching, and we crawled along the road parallel to the track the pride was on. After 10
minutes of lazy pursuit, it dawned on us that, because the waterhole was lion-free, maybe some cheetah
would appear, so we went back avoiding the lemming-like francolin birds that run along the tracks just in
front of crunching vehicle tyres, swerving into the vehicle‘s path as it tries to avoid them, only using their
wings or dodging to the side of the road when death seems a certainty.



       The impala and springbok were back in quantity but, alas, no cheetahs were in view so I got out
and went to the fridge in the boot and got out a beer and a cider. I opened a packet of cigarettes,
sparked one up, and took my time. The lions demeanour was rubbing off on me, and after all day sitting
in the car, I was in no rush to get back in. A puff of wind blew a credit card receipt off the dashboard and
onto the ground behind me. I bent down and half-turned to pick it up and got a surprise so big that I can‘t
find a simile for it – it wasn‘t a receipt for a surprise present, oh no - two metres away, coming round the
corner of the car, was a lioness that was making her way back to the hole. My desire to be up close to a
fully wild lion on foot had come true. The lion stopped, looked up at me with surprise and did a little half-
jump away. I did a big jump back into the car. I have since made a mental note that next time I harbour
unspoken desires to get close to dangerous mammals, I will specify that close means close enough to
be able to exaggerate the closeness in the pub after, but not actually within pouncing distance. (Unlike
my oft-spoken desire to get close to enormous mammaries, where close means definitely within
pouncing distance.)
       That evening our camp neighbours, a 4-bakkie group of large and loud South Africans, invited us
to join them for a few Saturday night drinks. Sat around a large pile of burning tree trunks that we‘d seen
them drag back with a 4WD earlier in the day, we found out that they were from Umtentweni, a small
town south of Durban that we had stayed at and liked. John lived next door to Umtenweni‘s best
watering hole, and ironically, whilst he had been on holiday in France, I had been making room for beer
against his fence. When we told them of our house-hunting expedition and that, so far, their neck of the
woods was top of the charts, Nic and Christa insisted that we must come and stay with them if we
decided to settle on that stretch of the coast. Earlier on we‘d spoken about holiday acquaintances and
false offers of hospitality, of the type where the bloke who‘s revealed his most intimate secrets to you
over several holiday piss-ups fobs you off with some crap excuse as to how he‘d love for you to come
and visit next weekend but his grandmother‘s colostomy bag is playing up and he won‘t be able to have
you over. Their offer seemed entirely genuine and was the best example of the excellent welcome we‘d
received from South Africans.
       On the way back to Maun we took a detour via Baine's Baobabs and Magkadigkadi. The
baobabs, made famous by the painter Baines, are particularly twisted and knurly, some looking more like
a collection of huge, odd, root vegetables on a BBC Sunday evening show that trees. They sit on the
edge of the grass plains overlooking a pan; an ancient lake that has dried out and is a hard crust of
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                        Sid Bartlett, PO BOX 131, 4184 Pennington, South Africa                        74
         tradbartlett@hotmail.com                                            Tel:0027 82 493 6447
brilliant, sun-baked whiteness. The bulbous, dark, leafless trees were set off magnificently against the
cloudless, blue sky and the glaring, white ground.
       Once we‘d dropped mother off at Maun airport for her marathon trip back to Florida, we stocked
up on essentials in the Discount Pula Bottle Store, where genuine Bells whisky and Pastis 51 costs less
30% than it does in France, we headed back round the delta and up the panhandle towards Namibia. On
one of the shelves I spied a brand of rum that had to be bought. It‘s name smacked of reverse
psychology marketing, like ―Death‖ cigarettes, where the idea is to have the naffest name possible to
catch the punter‘s eye, but closer inspection of the back label explained that the founder of the South
African company gave his name, Mullet, to his product.
       Despite not quite living up to claims of being blended from the finest Caribbean rums, it was
eminently more drinkable than Zimbabwean Admiralty, and just as good as all the more expensive South
African brands. As I sampled Stan Mullet‘s produce on the banks of the delta after a pub-style Sunday
roast dinner on a Wednesday evening, Charlie and Phil, our hosts at the campsite and old hands in
Botswana, regaled us with stories. Charlie used to be the volunteer groundsman at Maun rugby club, a
bare dirt pitch with a breezeblock hut. He used to mark out the lines on the rock hard dustbowl with the
only white substance available in abundance, maize meal. Whilst being effective given the conditions, it
would attract a herd of local donkeys who would make the white lines disappear faster than Robbie
Fowler and Lawrence Dallaglio combined.
       The camp is sometimes used by younger members of the royal family and the British special
forces, though not at the same time apparently. The best story did not involve two brothers smoking
dagga dagga and getting smashed as any teenager should be able to do free from having their every
puff photographed by lurking paparazzi, but rather an impromptu stopover by some heavily armed men
in motorised canoes.
       The bar overlooks the main stream at this point of the panhandle, and one afternoon, as Charlie
and Phil were serving a truck of Spanish overlanders with three coffees and fourteen straws, a group of
ten Rambo look-a-likes passed by, did a u-turn, and stormed the bar in search of liquid lifesaver. After a
coded order over the radio another group turned up on desert buggies bristling with anti-tank missiles
and grenade launchers and set about emptying the fridge on Her Majesty‘s Secret Service. Needless to
say that the Spaniards soon retreated to bed and the bar‘s takings went ballistic. Since then the regiment
use this as their accommodation when on training courses in the area and Phil can claim to have the
best protected bar in Southern Africa.
       It was to be our last evening in Botswana, Namibia beckoned the next day. We had thoroughly
enjoyed our stay. It is a beautiful country with the contrasts of the bone-dry pans and the lush waterways
of the delta, the dusty Kalahari, and the verdant banks of the Zambezi. The locals are very friendly and
helpful, and crime didn't appear to be such an issue as elsewhere. It is a fantastic place for a wonderful
holiday, but we couldn't imagine living so far from the sea, despite top pies and Stan Mullet's finest


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                        Sid Bartlett, PO BOX 131, 4184 Pennington, South Africa                    75
        tradbartlett@hotmail.com                                           Tel:0027 82 493 6447
blended Caribbean beverage. It was, however, an added bonus for Mozambique, South Africa, or
possibly Namibia.




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                      Sid Bartlett, PO BOX 131, 4184 Pennington, South Africa                76
        tradbartlett@hotmail.com                                      Tel:0027 82 493 6447
13 – Namibia, nowhere like it

       The next morning we sailed through Namibian customs and immigration in a matter of minutes
and drove 700 kilometres to the edge of Etosha National Park, the largest game park in southern Africa,
5/6ths of the size of Belgium. We stopped off on route to visit the Ombili Foundation where 400 of
Namibia‘s 30,000 remaining San people live. (Just under half of the estimated total of 65,000 in all of
southern Africa). In return for one member of the 120-odd families working in the community fields each
morning and accepting a ban on alcohol, the children attend the foundation‘s school and the family are
supplied with 3 meals per day.
       The foundation was set up in 1990 with the aim of helping the San come to terms with modern
living and to help them to help themselves. According to an EU survey of ethnic groups in southern
Africa, the San are some 50 years behind the second last tribe, Namibia‘s Himba.
       The San are widely recognised as being the first inhabitants of southern Africa, and once
inhabited an area from the Natal coast up to the Angolan border. Over the last 2 centuries these slight,
nomadic hunter-gathers and renowned trackers have been pushed further and further north into
Botswana and Namibia, at one point in the early 20th century being, themselves, regarded as fair game
for hunting. Added to their being widely considered as a sub-species by other African tribes (―You
Bushman‖ is considered the worst form of insult in Namibia), the routes that they traditionally followed
with the seasons are now on privately-owned farmland and the abundant game that they used for food
and clothing is far rarer. If they cannot be brought into the 21st century their impending demise as a
people is guaranteed.
       It is a sad that their traditional way of life is no longer suited to modern times, yet this did not stop
the state-of-the-art digital photography and feature-length movie making equipment-laden family on our
visit bemoan in the same breath the current 90% illiteracy rate amongst adults of 30 and above and the
fact that the kids could no longer make poison tipped arrows and track a kudu for 2 days. My ancestors
were no doubt proficient foragers and obviously great hunters with amazing stamina, but I don‘t think I‘d
have fitted in on the Reading pub scene in a bearskin loincloth on a Friday night (though some
inhabitants still maintain a more than passing resemblance, in behaviour at least, to Neanderthal man).
The teenage son of our fellow visitors was astounded that we weren‘t flying around Namibia in a
privately chartered light-aircraft, yet seemed to resent that his San peers were getting an education, that
would allow the brightest of the bunch to be able to spell ―pampered git‖, and would no longer wear
bones through their noses so he could take pictures of them on his £1000 digital reflex.
       Progress is steady but slow, said Susan, the head of gardening and our guide for the afternoon.
The major brake on progress is that the San are used to living off of ―what the day provides‖ and have
little inclination for forward planning and building up reserves, and traditionally they have never had to
take responsibility for anything other than the daily needs of their immediate family. The foundation‘s

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                        Sid Bartlett, PO BOX 131, 4184 Pennington, South Africa                         77
        tradbartlett@hotmail.com                                               Tel:0027 82 493 6447
shop sells all the handcrafted goods that are put in it, and could sell more to other retail outlets in
Swakopmund and Windhoek, the two Namibian cities most frequented by tourists, if only they had them
to sell. The villagers make enough to have the income they need to buy tea, tobacco, sugar, and, Susan
said, soap if there is any money left. They have a house and food, so why do more, is their point – you
can only smoke so much cheap baccy and drink so much tea in a day. This seems fair enough, but I
would rather work a bit so that I could afford a pipe to smoke my baccy with rather than using a spent
ammunition cartridge with the end sawn off. Maybe I‘d like to eat more meat than giraffe once a week
too, but for them the day always provides some sort of sustenance, three times daily, if it's not gemsbok
t-bone, well, that's the days problem, not theirs.
         There are also cultural differences too. Susan told a story about teaching kids new to the
foundation how to use a toilet. The staff found that the newcomers would put their feet on the rim and
squat, bush style, so one teacher took the girls aside and demonstrated using the seat to sit on and
flushing. Problem sorted she thought. The next day she noticed damp patches on the backsides of the
girls who had been to the loo. Being a tad shy or maybe not needing a leak during the demonstration,
she had sat on the throne with her knickers up, and the girls had diligently copied her.
         I asked Susan how the villagers felt about having groups of foreigners coming round and looking
at them. She said that the foundation needed the donations, the foundation shop needed the customers,
and the villagers found the visits a great source of entertainment.
―They think of it as their television. Make no mistake, they‘re looking at you as much as you‘re looking at
them.‖
         The 16-year-old daughter of the digitally deranged family and her Britney Spears wannabe best
friend gave the San women plenty to chatter about. The girls had on their best bright pink with blue
piping skin-tight hipster hot pants and strappy boob tubes, showing off plenty of puppy (or should that be
yuppy) fat. A small girl, apparently 14 years old, though she was more like a 10 year old, was crushing
some millet with a giant wooden pestle. Countless practice made the rhythmic movements look lazy and
easy, as she chanted away in rhythm with her pounding. The family‘s personal guide insisted that the
friend give it a go. Needless to say she had even less rhythm than the reality TV talent competition
tossers that no doubt adorn her bedroom wall, and struggled to lift the pestle more than a few inches.
The guide encouraged her to move her hips back and forth, and I couldn‘t help thinking that he‘d had
enough of the spoilt brats too and thought that what she needed was a bloody good shagging. (Which is
what most uptight people do need, and if you don‘t believe it, it‘s because you do to.)
         They were a fairly irksome bunch all told, though I wonder if the locals could tell the difference
between them and us. What was the difference between us? What made us ―good‖ tourists, you may
quite rightly ask? Well, we bothered to find out and tried to pronounce the words for hello, please, thank
you, and good-bye, I tried to be as open as possible when taking photos and said thank you each time
afterwards, and we didn‘t leave without making a donation. Still, donations aside, it is hard to see the
remaining San adapting to the 21st century. Other communities in Botswana are being moved off of

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                         Sid Bartlett, PO BOX 131, 4184 Pennington, South Africa                    78
          tradbartlett@hotmail.com                                          Tel:0027 82 493 6447
traditional routes as they will become diamond mines, with the government building them schools and
shacks as a buy-off. Not being accustomed to a sedentary lifestyle, the San appear to have lost much of
their will to live, and are often entrapped by the same problem as the Aborigines in Australia, alcohol
addiction. Someone in the relocated community purloins a large plastic drum, adds a mixture of alcohol,
water, berries or fruit, and sugar to it, gives it a quick stir, and is straight into free market economics.
Unfortunately the deregulated nature of the community, and total ignorance of alcohol means that young
children are being turned into the future thieves and tramps of their clan. Hence the Ombili foundation's
insistence on a n alcohol ban. Susan told us many single San men worked on farms and were paid in
cheap wine and a bed in a bunkhouse. The only positives here were, thanks to the sterling work of
Susan and her colleagues, the families at Ombili had some hope of making the first steps in the
transition from nomadic hunter-gatherer to CEO of a multi-national .
       Our hosts that night were a German Namibian couple who ran a lodge, campsite, and farm on the
same premises. Gurt told us that whilst cattle farming and passing tourists brought in a fair income, his
biggest money-spinner was eland hunting, with German customers willing to shell out 2,000 Euros to
bag a trophy.
       Whilst technically an antelope, the eland is more of a large cow with straight horns. And if
shooting a wild cow doesn‘t really seem much like hunting, it is even less so when you consider that Gurt
breeds them on his farm and they just stand around in groups 30 yards from the house. Gurt defended
his new cash cow by claiming that he only lets his brave punters shoot old or sick eland, and that he gets
far more money giving them the head stuffed and mounted than he would by selling them to the butcher,
and can give the meat to locals. Besides, he informed us that they were only antelope and elsewhere
businessmen in Gucci safari dress fly in to indulge in what is known as ―canned hunting‖ of lion or
cheetah where the skilful city-slicker gets to poke his gun through a wire fence and pop the king of the
jungle from 20 yards.
       We went to Etosha National Park the next morning, hoping to see the uncaged version one last
time, Etosha being our last park in Africa. We saw plenty of zebra, springbok, elephant, giraffe, kudu,
and oryx, another type of antelope specific to Namibia and the dry Kalahari in Botswana. The oryx can
survive in extreme conditions, not actually needing to drink water to survive, the moisture in the plants
that it eats sufficing. The cats remained elusive, but the sun was out in full force and after feeling it
reverberate off the enormous salt pan that is the central feature of the park, we decided to hit the
poolside bar at Okaukuejo, one of the Park‘s three rest camps. Okaukuejo is the westernmost of the
three, but has the best waterhole in that can be viewed 24 hours a day and is generally teeming with
wildlife. In the late afternoon herds of elephant splash around in the water and at night time black rhino
and lion come out to drink, making it the best place to see game in the park.
       We spent the following morning there, and again saw everything but cats without having to
trundle round the park in dust and heat. There is plenty of shade, the bar and shops are not far away,
and if it‘s quiet you can pull out a book or go to the pool. The only drawback is that the scenery doesn‘t

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                        Sid Bartlett, PO BOX 131, 4184 Pennington, South Africa                      79
        tradbartlett@hotmail.com                                            Tel:0027 82 493 6447
change and the area around the drinking spot is somewhat reminiscent of a air bombed countryside, with
trees uprooted and stripped bare by elephants being the main feature. At midday the number of viewers
dwindled, partly because the animals are scarcer, preferring to find a bit of shade to keep out of the
blazing sun, and partly because the South African rugby team was taking on Australia in the Tri-Nations
Series decider. I decided to go and see if a springbok could stuff a wallaby.
       At the bar I got talking to Dawie (―Darvey‖), and Jacques, 2 South African doctors in their late
twenties, and Duan, a dentist. The three of them looked like a typical South African front row from the
1970s with plenty of beef and beer gut. They were quietly confident following the Springboks‘ progress
over recent matches under new management, but were a little on edge. I pointed out that I had wanted
England to beat France in the World Cup semi-final (they did), France to beat England in the Six Nations
decider (they did), and the last time the Springbok XV won the Tri-Nations in 1998 I watched the game in
Namibia, and as I was going to watch this afternoon, it was a shoo-in. My luck continued and the Boks
did the business, doubtless motivated by my new mates screaming at the TV. The medics were so
pleased that they invited us to a traditional South African potjie (―poiykee‖) that evening.
       I turned up with the Mullet that, to my surprise, they had already heard of and had adopted as
their favourite brand of rum. 20 seconds into the first glass, Dawie and Jacques got their pipes out and
we were bonding instantly. Unfortunately they weren‘t Arsenal fans, but as the potjie, a sort of beef and
vegetable stew cooked in a special 3-legged potjie pot also know as the Mandela Microwave, was
cooking slowly over the fire, Dawie told me that he had lived in north London for six months working in a
hospital.
       In South Africa he received a salary of £18,000 per annum, but could get far more working
abroad. At the end of their holiday in Namibia he and his wife were flying to Canada to check out a job
that he had been offered in Alberta, with an annual pay package totalling £120,000. He didn‘t want to
leave the country he loves, but the financial rewards were too tempting to turn down he said, adding that
many of his colleagues have been faced with the same quandary, most of whom who have opted to take
the cash abroad. On top of the extra money there was also the added bonus of the type of work and the
hours involved. All of his work time, generally 17 hours per day, is spent on emergency surgery, mainly
gunshot and knife wounds, but also car smashes and rape victims. When he had it easy in a maternity
ward he performed 50 caesarean sections in a month. Elective surgery rarely happens in a government
hospital and although the stress created by such conditions is hard to really imagine, Dawie‘s accounts
of certain cases brought the frown and worry lines back to his face, in spite of a fair few Mullets.
       Jacques said that a US survey from 2001 estimated that, due to the ravages of AIDS, in 2011
there would be more whites than non-whites in South Africa, despite the whites only making up 1/9th of
the current population. A recent article in the International Telegraph spoke of testing amongst 1,000
soldiers in the South African Defence Force showing that 800 of the sample group were HIV positive.
Dawie used to work in Kwazulu-Natal and said he wouldn‘t be surprised if the figures carried over to the


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            tradbartlett@hotmail.com                                          Tel:0027 82 493 6447
civilian population of that region. This is a far higher percentage than the ones that we had heard before,
and the doctors had an explanation.
         ―There is an enormous stigma in having a relative pass away in an HIV-related death‖ said Este,
Duan‘s wife, who was an ER nurse.
         ―When someone dies their relatives beg us not to tick the box on the death certificate linking the
death to HIV,‖ added Dawie ―so the database used to compile statistics is flawed.‖
         ―In other cases it‘s because the insurance companies sometimes have clauses where they are
exonerated from paying out life assurance if the deceased dies from AIDS‖ Jacques pointed out ―but its
very difficult to know if the family are concerned about being cast out of village society or whether it‘s to
get the insurance to cough up‖.


         The scams don‘t stop there either. From time to time they have examined ladies coming in
claiming that their husband or boyfriend has raped them. Upon examination they find that sex was no
doubt consensual, but that the supposed perpetrator has already turned himself in, hoping to get put
away so that he can have a four concrete walls and free meals which is more than he has in his village.
According to the founder members of the Stan Mullet Appreciation Society, some poorly misguided
people deliberately contract HIV to receive a £25 a month government grant designed to improve the
quality of sufferers‘ nutrition, saying they prefer to live a short life with a full belly than a long one with
little food.
         After midnight we wandered over to the waterhole to have a nightcap and watch the elephants. A
few other guests were occupying some of the benches, contemplating the clear starlit sky in the chilly
night, enjoying the silence broken only by the tusked ones chomping on the few remaining bushes. And
then broken by Jacques who, in the words of Aussie folk-singing hero Rodney Rude, ―let a bluuddy
ripper go‖ that rent the night apart like a bed sheet being torn in two. Jacques me mate the master farter
– it was pure class.
         After another day in Etosha it was time to leave the animals behind and go and visit a cheetah
sanctuary on our way to Kaokoland, in the northwest corner of the country. The ―Save the Cheetah‖
Cheetah farm does exactly what it says on the packet. Tollie used to run his farm in the traditional way,
breeding livestock for sale. He also had the traditional problems of predators having a go at his
livelihood. Like most farmers, he considered the cheetahs as pests, and set traps for them. One day they
managed to catch one but, not having the heart to kill it, they built a pen for it and fed it. Word got
around, and another local farmer asked him if he could catch a cat that was taking his livestock, and
Tollie started building up a collection. ―So I thought ‗If you can‘t beat them, join them‘‖. He farms very
little now, and has built up a business out of the cheetah-based tourism.
         Mario, Tollie‘s 31 year-old son, greeted us at the gate flanked by 2 guard cheetahs. They had
been orphaned just after birth and hand-reared, and looked far more effective than a Doberman or a


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Rottweiler. Mario directed us past the lodge to our campsite next to the swimming pool and told us to be
ready at four to pet the guard cheetahs and feed the wild ones.
         Despite them living with the family and weighing less than the semi-tame/semi-wild lions that
we‘d walked with in Zimbabwe, the pet cheetahs made us more nervous than the lions did. Maybe it was
because we weren‘t armed with a twig, maybe because a cheetah‘s claws are always out and are a
constant reminder that they‘d only be one winner in a fight…. whatever, they were certainly impressive to
be close to, and apart from being attracted to Sandrine‘s flip-flops, were perfectly well behaved, once
we‘d removed our sunglasses. (The cheetahs see them as big threatening eyes and like to have a go at
them.)
         We hopped onto the back of a bakkie with a dustbin full of zebra meat and drove to the male
enclosure. As soon as we‘d entered the 4 km² pen, the first cheetah turned up for his tea. As we drove
around slowly more came out and trotted along parallel to the pick-up, conditioned by the daily dinner
run. When they were congregated somewhere near the middle and had finished posing for the camera,
Mario parked, sauntered round to the back, and began lobbing steaks around. Although there was one
for everyone, there was a bit of competition to get the first feed, but nothing that a couple of left hooks
from the dominant male couldn‘t sort out. Then the cats showed their athleticism by leaping off the
ground to catch the up and under and sprint of into the bush in a burst of speed and a puff of dust that
made an Olympic sprinter look like me runnig for the bus. 0 to 110 kph in four seconds is impressive in a
sports car, exhilarating on a motorbike, but seeing a fluffy puddy tat with his cute tear stain from the
corner of his eye to the corner of his mouth take off almost as fast as Michael Schumacher is incredible.
         The Namibian government treats the cheetahs as pests and advises farmers to shoot them on
sight. Officially ―Save the cheetah‖ have 19 of the beautiful beasts on the property, and are not allowed
to save anymore, and have been told to make sure that they do not breed. The Ministry of Agriculture
suggested sterilising them, but apparently this would take away their will to live, so the males and
females are kept in separate enclosures. I thought that with a world population of 7,500, of which 2,500
are in Namibia, that is constantly decreasing due to weaker gene pools, lack of prey, most of the country
being fenced, and farmers being encouraged to kill, that National parks would have been more than
happy to take them in. In the whole of Etosha, 3 hours up the road, there are only 55, and the Kruger
Park has only 200. The Wildlife and Conservation Department apparently feel that it is too much hassle
to take any in, and whilst foreign parks are willing to pay to have them, the pontiffs in the Namibian
government have forbidden the export of live wild animals (although trophy heads and skins are fine, of
course.)
         After a night out under the stars, we headed towards Epupa Falls on the Kunene river, that
separates Namibia from Angola, in the remote area called Kaokoland. After 350 kilometres of northerly
travel on decent gravel roads, and a fruitless stop for meat (that should be a meatless stop then –
Sandrine wasn‘t too keen on the goat on display) in the regional capital of Opuwo, a dusty ramshackle
place of 2,000 souls, we came to a fork indicating Epupa Falls to the right, going past the ―Good Road

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           tradbartlett@hotmail.com                                        Tel:0027 82 493 6447
Shop‖ and ―Good Road Bar‖. Two kilometres later we were down to 30 kph and were wondering what
the bad road must have been like.
         Kaokoland is a wilderness in what is one of the most sparsely populated countries in the world.
The inhabitants are the Himba people, a Herero tribe that sought refuge in this remote corner in the early
19th century. The women still wear traditional dress of a goatskin skirt and cover themselves from head
to foot in a red cream made from butter, fat, and ochre earth that protects their skin from the sun. Their
bare breasts droop down their chest and ribs and shine like the reflection of the setting sun on a muddy
lake, and their hair is modelled with the paste into an array of fashions, like Morph meats J-P Gaultier.
Bits of leather and fur are added, with married women having one style and single women sporting
others. Young boys have a cloth-covered single plait, like a Mohican tail, across their heads, which is
split into two when they are considered old enough to marry.
         The 70 kilometre track, alternating between stones that looked like they want to slash your tyres
and rutted sand modelled into corrugated sheeting across the line of advance that judders and shakes
the car like a washing machine on spin cycle, winds through the hills and crosses numerous dried out
stream and river beds. Despite no signs of water, the hillsides and valleys are full of small, almost
leafless trees, like someone had planted thousands of dead branches in the ground. Sandrine was
feeling paradoxical and said that the openness of the flat areas was suffocating and that she could
drown in the dryness. I suppose that if you can be deafened by silence, then why not? The little foliage
they had was red and yellow and green and brown, all on the same tree, like they didn‘t know which
season it was. Eventually, and none too soon, we rounded yet another bend in the red, orange, yellow,
and white landscape to be met by an oasis of green Makalani palms bordering the Kunene river.
         The campsite was 50 metres upstream from the top of the L-shaped Falls, which stretch out over
600 odd metres. We hadn‘t been out of the air-conditioned car since Opuwo, and 200 kilometres further
north it was palpably hotter and muggier. White Namibians and South Africans wandered around in
swimsuits and the locals that owned modern clothing did their washing in the rock pools at the top of the
falls.
         Outside the campsite, on one of the craft stalls, we met Venomambo, a 25-year-old Himba in a
basketball singlet and jeans. He offered as his services as a tour guide to go and see his village. We
were a bit surprised by his attire, as most of the Himba that we had seen previously were in traditional
dress, but he reassured us that he was a real Himba by showing us his gap-toothed grin. At around 12 or
13 years of age, when a Himba is considered ready to become an adult, their four bottom front teeth are
removed with a stone and the wound dressed with hot meat to cauterise it. As we looked more closely
we noticed that the same orthodontics were applied to the girls.
         We negotiated a fee with Venomambo, which means "many people talking", for his services and
went to the little general store to buy some gifts for the head of the village. More than suitably equipped
with five kilos of maize meal, a big bag of sugar, a packet of tea, a one kilo bar of soap, a large bag of


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          tradbartlett@hotmail.com                                         Tel:0027 82 493 6447
boiled sweets, and some snuff that Sandrine had bought for herself but unsurprisingly didn‘t like, we
drove to the village.
       The village was on a small plateau, seven kilometres from the river, surrounded by hills on three
sides and a larger mountain, known as the Eland‘s breastbone, a bit further away to the west. There was
a central cattle kraal with a series of sacred fireplaces around it, and 20 odd main huts spread around
the fire place. The huts were bullet-shape, or vibrator tip-shape, depending on whether you‘re a lover or
a fighter, about six feet high in the centre, and made from branches bound together with leather strips
covered in a thick coating of mud. Some deluxe versions also had a sort of front porch entrance area,
but that wasn't really enough room to hang your jacket and store your football boots, let alone a set of
golf clubs and a mountain bike.




The village chief was away looking after cattle, so his wife officiated in his absence. We stood back while
Venomambo asked permission for us to visit and presented our gifts. The snuff and boiled sweets
seemed particularly welcome and we were bidden to join them around the fire by a collection of gappy
grins. By the way the boiled sweets disappeared the adolescent tooth removal ceremony looked like a
pre-emptive measure against tooth decay. The ladies of the village were busy making jewellery, cradling
toddlers, and since our arrival, sucking on boiled sweets like they were Hugh Grant‘s todger.
       We were taken to see one of the huts, occupied by a young woman who reckoned that she was
about 16, who was with her two-month old son. Venomambo explained that for six months after giving
birth she wasn't allowed to leave the hut, meals were brought to her, and that her husband was not
allowed to sleep with her either. He could come to visit to see his wife and offspring but had to sleep
elsewhere, which was generally out with the goats or cattle, or with a casual girlfriend in a village near to
where the animals were at pasture. Before getting his extra-marital relief he would describe his
prospective partner to his wife who would give her approval or tell him to find someone else more
suitable. When asked about the risks of HIV and siring a large, illegitimate family, Venomambo said that
the Himba were condom-wise and these problems were not common……
       We wandered across the village past the men‘s sacred fire and a pile of cow skeletons that were
the remains of the last village feast from nine months previously when the previous village chief passed
away. People came from far away and 20 cows were braaied up, and the bones would stay scattered
around in memory of a great feast until the next wedding or funeral. The horned heads were stacked up
on his grave outside the village to help carry him to the place where spirits go. The central area of the
village was a mixture of hard, dry mud and hard, dry animal dung, which meant that there were a fair few
flies about. One of the ladies had a seriously red and weeping eye, it looked like fairly advanced
conjunctivitis (it makes my eyes water thinking about it now) so we got her to wash her hands and
applied some anti-bacterial ointment. (I don‘t know whether conjunctivitis is bacterial, but I used the stuff

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         tradbartlett@hotmail.com                                            Tel:0027 82 493 6447
when I had an eye infection and it works a treat). The relief appeared to be almost instantaneous and we
left her a few more shots for later on, plus some water with which to wash her hands. Venomambo said
that the nearest doctor‘s clinic was two hours drive away back towards Opuwo, where the Good Road
meets the real gravel road and that it was difficult to get a lift there.
There is really nothing much in Epupa apart from two campsites, a luxury lodge, two shops, the four-stall
craft market, a small collection of houses, and the falls. The nearest is primary school is also near the
Good Road Shop, and Venomambo had to go to Opuwo for his secondary education.
        In the evening I got out the football from Mozambique and we had a pickup game with the locals,
who have their own team and pitch, but no one to play against. Sandrine bought herself a quarter cow
horn of Himba Body Shop red skin cream, and was beset upon by five little girls who wanted to play with
her fine blonde hair. She agreed to let them braid it in exchange for food (the remains of our maize meal
–about three kilos - as the store was shut) but when they were ¾ of the way through and I got the meal
out three of the girls said that they wanted sweeties instead, whilst the two who were doing most of the
braiding still preferred meal. We didn‘t have any sweeties, and thought that meal would be more useful,
but the three sisters either had a tooth sweeter than their tummies were hungry, or had plenty of meal at
home. To avert a dispute I got out the laptop and set up an impromptu slide show, which caused an even
bigger scrum until one of the old ladies brought some kind of order to the seating that was more effective
than my attempts at gentle persuasion (my ex-students would not have recognised me, and it goes to
show that a hearty bellow and a thinly-veiled threat of violence is still by far the most effective method of
classroom control). When given the choice of seeing African animals or France, they all wanted to see
the animals, I don‘t suppose that they have any idea of what or where France is. They shouted out the
names of the animals that they knew, and practiced pronouncing the names of the ones that they didn‘t. I
also had a few shots of Opuwo, and these are the ones that caused the most comment as most of the
kids had only heard about this big city called Opuwo. The photos of the falls got a good cheer too,
especially the ―action‖ shots of the footy. (Generally a shot of someone‘s back, a load of dust, and a
flurry of limbs).
        After spending the following afternoon kayaking on the Kunene and "accidentally" going
overboard through the last rapids so I could touch Angolan soil, we set off back through Kaokoland. We
went past more Himba boys herding goats and cattle, running alongside the car saying ―Sweetie,
sweetie, mister, sweetie!‖ Others would ask for t-shirts and others sugar. The 700 kilometre drive took us
through the Zebra, Giraffe, and Etorocha mountains, and over the Joubert Pass and into Damaraland.
The pass has a one in four gradient making it inaccessible to caravans despite being paved in both
directions. At the top we stuck the truck in neutral and rolled down, getting up to 140 kph before the
tarmac started to run out and the hairpin bend at the bottom loomed up.
        Damaraland was full of more stunning scenery and the Uniab valley wound through chocolate
coloured mountains sprinkled with wispy lemon cream icing (we drove through there in the late afternoon
so I was a bit peckish) and pulled in at Palmwag Oasis Lodge and Campsite. We went for a sunset walk

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         tradbartlett@hotmail.com                                            Tel:0027 82 493 6447
across around the oasis and saw some kudu grazing on the grass and milk bushes that grow out of the
red rock-strewn ground. The resident desert elephant paid the campsite a visit after sunset, and as we
drove off the following morning we saw oryx, springbok and even black rhino having breakfast.
       We spent a night at the Brandberg Mountains and paid a visit to the White Lady San rock art site,
saw the rock engravings at Twyfelfontein (some of which are an estimated 20,000 years old), and then
drove across the desert to the Skeleton Coast and suffered the stink of hundreds of thousands of seals
and the accumulated odours of decades of fish-diet piss at the Cape Cross seal colony. The landscapes
were more varied than I have adjectives to describe, and even Sandrine was lost for a Blondism, but it
was surprisingly cold when we got out to see the sea for the first time in 39 days or 6,000 kilometres. I‘d
been to the seal colony six years previously and knew what to expect, but Sandrine looked like she was
going to bark on the spot, and only stayed outside for five minutes before the appeal of fresh air
overcame the desire to watch the boisterous but smelly mammals flop and wallow and squawk on the
beach, or dive and gambol and play in the 14°C surf of the Benguela current. They were surprising noisy
too; they made even more noise than Old Trafford when Shrek or Donkey (sorry, Wayne or Ruud) trip
over their bootlaces in the box and the ref dares to not give a penalty.
       Our destination was Swakopmund, the largest coastal town in the country, and as unlike Africa as
it‘s possible to imagine. There was no hustle or bustle, the streets were empty on Saturday afternoon as
most shops shut at 1 pm., and, car park security guards aside, there were very few blacks around. Given
the cost of housing there, it was a situation comparable to South Africa, plus cold weather in the winter. It
was like being in a European resort in the autumn, or in Skegness if the Germans had won the First
World War. But there was a cinema and shoe shops for window-shopping so Sandrine was happy, but
we were keen to get back to the ―real Africa‖.
       We got back on the tourist trail and down and across the Namib Desert to the world‘s tallest sand
dunes at Sossusvlei, stopping off to see a 2,000-year-old two-leafed plant called the Welwitschia
Mirabilis that is unique to the Namib. After more great landscapes we came to the stunning dunes, and
spent the day surrounded by the orange mounds of sand frequently used in TV commercials and added
a few more little tourist stickers to the flank of dune 51, allegedly the most photographed due in the
world. We set of for Mariental some 300 kilometres away, but the hard graft that we‘d been making the
bakkie do for the previous months finally took its toll as the engine overheated and blew the piston rings
60 kilometres out. We eventually trundled into town and the following morning, after the required amount
of chin scratching and sucking in of air over the teeth, Frikkie the Isuzu mechanic told us that it would
take three weeks to overhaul the engine due to parts coming from South Africa, and bits being sent off
for calibration and so forth and would cost at least £2,300, so we decided to call up a transport company
that came through from Cape Town every week and have the old girl trailered back with us in the lorry
driver‘s cab. Mariental is a tin pot stop off for truckers on their way from South Africa to Windhoek, the
Namibian capital, and during the five-day wait for our lift we had time to inseminate, incubate, and hatch


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         tradbartlett@hotmail.com                                            Tel:0027 82 493 6447
(there were lots of chickens around) an insurance scam that would see us get rid off the car and make a
small profit by getting the car stolen in Cape Town without having the repairs done.
       At a roadside craft stall met a sculptor called Lovemore Charlie, Charlie being his surname, who
was unaware of the mirth that his moniker could provoke. The combination of a verb with a quantifier and
a noun gives endless possibilities to our future offspring‘s‘ nomenclature. Sandrine thought that it could
be used as an affirmation to correct alleged paternal defects, with Drinkless Ale being her first idea. I
replied with Eatless Fibre and Washbetter Dishes, and we both thought that Spendless Earnmore Money
would please my father and Watchless Telly would correct any problems inherited from her dad. The
Olympics would have passed by without our knowing it had her mother not emailed us to give us an
update on family matters in France:
―Euro 2004 had just finished, but before your father had time to get out of the sofa, the Olympics started.
I fear that he has literally become part of the furniture.‖




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                         Sid Bartlett, PO BOX 131, 4184 Pennington, South Africa                    87
         tradbartlett@hotmail.com                                          Tel:0027 82 493 6447
14 – Back to the Cape with the Bakkie on the back

        After an 18-hour drive only broken by a stop at the border, we pulled up in Cape Town, paid
Drives van der Merwe his £250 fee, and gave Ronnie and Vanessa (the newlyweds from Mozambique) a
call. Thinking that we might get a free dinner out of it, but just happy to see them, we went out for a beer
that night, and ended up spending the next 17 nights in their spare room. Sandrine painted the doors
and cupboards, and I helped Ronnie run a few errands, but most of the time we chilled and visited Cape
Town. Ronnie works in the film and advertising production industry and it was the quiet season so he
had plenty of spare time. We were invited to his German-immigrant parents‘ house for an official
wedding celebration dinner with Vanessa‘s slightly batty mum who likes a drop or two, and her anorexic
younger sister. Ronnie‘s mother-in-law, who never goes to church, expected me to say grace as I was in
my dog collar and she hadn‘t really caught on to the, shall we say, light-heartedness of my religious
conviction, and was a bit taken aback when I complied by ordering, Sergeant-Major style,
―Eating irons at the ready
Preee-ssssent yaffle spanners
Attack!!!‖
        The previous evening Ronnie had taken us down the Swiss club for some bloke‘s leaving do and
I‘d had the opportunity to explain to Hans and Annie Weber (Ronnie‘s parents) how I became a
Reverend and that although their son‘s marriage would have been official in the US, I wasn‘t to au fait on
Mozambique matrimonial statutes but it was the symbolism and the commitment that mattered, adding
that they should nip down to the CT registry office to dot the I‘s and cross the T‘s.
        So the Webers weren‘t too surprised by my ministrations, and we all dug in, apart from Vanessa‘s
sister of course, who politely pushed the food around her plate whilst keeping on her overcoat. Even Mrs
Sixsmith (Vanessa's ma) got over it after a couple of slugs of Han‘s best red.
        Ronnie kept us busy walking up Table Mountain, driving us around the Cape Peninsula National
Park, visiting penguins in Simonstown, and just occasionally popping into his local, the Perseverance
Tavern (probably named after a ship but definitely after the characteristic required to get a smile out of
the Yorkshire born and bred landlord). We then took him to Robben Island, one of the stops on the Cape
Town tourist list of things to see. The island is most known for being the home to Nelson Mandela during
his 27 years of incarceration by the apartheid regime, but it‘s history as a penal colony is almost as old
as that of the Cape. Just five years after Van Riebeeck‘s arrival in 1652, he banished exiles and slaves
there to quarry its white stone, and apart from two brief pauses, one from 1846 to 1855 when it became
a hospital, and the other during the Second World War when naval defences were built to protect the
Cape, the island has always served the Government as a place to isolate unwanted prisoners. From




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                        Sid Bartlett, PO BOX 131, 4184 Pennington, South Africa                      88
         tradbartlett@hotmail.com                                            Tel:0027 82 493 6447
1959 to 1990 over three thousand politic detainees were locked up on Robben, their only ―escape‖ being
hard labour in the dusty quarry.



        Xiphile, ex-freedom fighter-cum-inmate was now a guide:
        ―They wanted to break us, we had less food than the coloureds or the Indians, had no shoes or
socks, and no writing materials. But our leaders were strong and whenever there was a break in work in
the quarry they would teach us a few letters and then words in the dust on the ground. I learned to read
and write here. Then I learnt about politics and history. The regime wanted to destroy us but despite
them I came here as a soldier and left here an educated man‖ he said with perfect intonation, but also
with the odd pause to make it sound like he hadn‘t said it to everyone of the 300,000 visitors who have
visited this UNESCO World Heritage site.
        He said that he felt no bitterness at spending 20 years of his life locked up, that the sacrifice had
been worth the resulting freedom, and that whilst people should not forget, the only way forward was to
look to the future and continue building on the foundations of the Rainbow nation laid in Robben island‘s
cells. And these were sentiments echoed by many black South Africans we met. Sure, financial
inequality still exists; most of the shops and small businesses are owned by whites. Yes, educational
reform is a slow process. Undeniably, the majority of black South Africans don‘t live in anywhere near
the same comfort as their white compatriots. Yet the country is building on its natural resources and
labour pool. Investments from foreign companies are creating employment opportunities and economic
growth. Education is available to all, although, like in the UK, the better schooling you can afford, the
better education you get, generally speaking. South Africa is on the up-and-up, and will continue to
strengthen its position as the economic powerhouse of sub-Saharan Africa and whilst many whites are
tempted away by higher salaries in first-world countries, people like Ronnie and Vanessa have chosen to
stay to build part of the future of the country (and possibly because of the price of a pint) and they are
being joined by fellow South Africans returning from overseas.
        One weekend our hosts took us up to the Weber family holiday home at Langebaan, an hour up
the east coast. Ronnie and I found that we shared a love of decent beer, dark rum, and talking bollocks
into the middle of the night. I introduced him to Mullet, and I think I made another convert, though he
wasn‘t too keen on the 3M cocktail. He was also as honest as they come, and slowly but surely his
honesty wore off on us and we bottled out of doing something reasonably illegal for the first time in our
lives (speeding and recreational drugs do not count). The car was to be stored in a garage, awaiting
repair at a later date.
        We figured that South Africa was going to be high on our list of places to buy a house, given the
combination of low prices, great weather, excellent diving, cricket, rugby, pies, volunteer organisations,
the wild animals, and places to visit. If it turns out that we don‘t decide to move here, then we‘ll get the



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                          Sid Bartlett, PO BOX 131, 4184 Pennington, South Africa                     89
         tradbartlett@hotmail.com                                            Tel:0027 82 493 6447
car fixed, have a couple of months‘ holiday in South Africa, and then sell it and move to wherever our
paradise is.




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        tradbartlett@hotmail.com                                        Tel:0027 82 493 6447
15 - Strayer!
Happy families in the Sydney suburbs, and Melbourne: Culture Capital

       We landed at a surprising cool Sydney; with over four million inhabitants the biggest city in the
home of marsupials, Neighbours, fair dinkum Occas, Abos, didgeridoos and Rolf Harris. The Occas, salt
of the earth Aussies who drive a ―Ute‖ (originally a utility vehicle of the flat bed car variety, now a gas-
guzzling sleek two-seater sports vehicle with room for fishing rods, chairs, and 12 crate of beer) are
quick to call their Antipodean neighbours sheepshaggers, but Australia is also home to 156 million baa-
baas, more than three times the ovine population of New Zealand.
       Janet, my elder sister and Sydney suburb resident, got the barbie going and cracked open the
stubbies (beers) and we settled in to the back room. The following day I went to the park with my two
nephews, Jimmy (12), and Charlie (six), to have a game of cricket. They were okay at slogging, but I
wanted to try and teach them how the game should be played. We set up a short wicket so that the boys
could get some runs and they had a fair go, but they couldn‘t quite beat me despite my bowling
underarm only. I think it was my 24 off one ball broke their spirit. It only seemed fair to the boys that we
had the same length wicket, so two strides and a good reach, a quick transfer of the plastic bat to the
other hand, another stride and a reach would see another two added to my total. After a lusty blow down
the ground I made the most of the boys arguing about whose turn it was to go and fetch it and
scampered up and down, putting runs up faster than Shane Warne downing pies at a pie warehouse
closing down sale. I declared a couple of overs later on 200 and something, it seemed like a safe total
and I could always come off my long run up if necessary. After all, learning to lose graciously is all part of
growing up, and I liked to think that I was contributing to their education. In the end I didn‘t need to give
them any West Indian chin music, the match coming to an end when Charlie started to get grumpy at his
brother bat-hogging. We went home for some nerve soothing ice cream and a celebratory beer, no
victory over the Aussies is too cheap, even over pre-pubescent half-English Aussies. I'm sure it will stand
them in good stead one day, they may even thank me for it, though I'm not sure their mother will when
she reads this. After all, it was an Antipodean cricketer who said "show me a good loser and I'll show you
a loser". Though no doubt he pinched it from a far more erudite British ancestor.
       That night another great Aussie sporting event took place, the Australian Rules Football Grand
Final. Aussie Rules is a mixture of rugby and Gaelic football, though having ―rules‖ in the name seems to
be a bit of a misnomer. I had watched a bit on Channel 4 as a kid, so had a fair idea of what was going
on in the oval; it‘s not quite the 36-man free-for-all for men who like to wear hot pants that it appears to
be at first glance. Kneeing and punching seem perfectly acceptable, the ball is passed by being punched
out of the hand, kicked and caught cleanly for a mark, or a player can run with the ball as long as he
bounces it every 15 metres. Punting the ball through the centre posts gets a goal worth six points, whilst
sticking it through a centre and outer post scores a one point ―behind‖ for your team.
Searching For Paradise
                        Sid Bartlett, PO BOX 131, 4184 Pennington, South Africa                        91
         tradbartlett@hotmail.com                                            Tel:0027 82 493 6447
        Aussie Rules is the most watched sport in the country, despite the majority of the teams in the
championship coming from around Melbourne. Sydney and Brisbane are the homes of Rugby League,
whilst the Union players come almost entirely from Sydney, or Polynesia when they can pinch them
before the Kiwis do. The 2004 final was the first to be held without a team from province of Victoria being
present, the favourites, Port Adelaide Power, overcoming 2003's winners from Brisbane, despite being
labelled as chokers by some sections of the press in the pre-match hype. In an interview just after the
final whistle, in the greatest moment in sporting diplomacy since the Australian cricket captain Mark
Waugh said what everyone else thought when he called his Indian counterpart Saurav Ganguly a prick,
the winning captain was asked how it felt.
―I dunno mate, it‘s a bit unreal. I probably shouldn‘t say this mate, but to anyone who doubted us, they
can stick it up their arse!‖
        Professional sportsmen in Australia would appear to need even more coaching in
communications than English Premier League prima donnas. A week later the rugby league season
came to its climax with their Grand Final in Sydney. The winning captain‘s post-match on field interview
went:
―It‘s unbelievable, mate, I can‘t believe it, mate, it‘s unbelievable. Awww, mate, I don't believe it.‖
The more they get paid, the dumber they seem. At least fast bowler Jason Gillespie used his mullet-
covered bonce when asked to comment on what was one of the worst test match wickets of all time in
the third test in Mumbai, India, where 20 wickets fell on the third day of five.
―You know I can‘t comment, mate, but I just spoke to a mate of mine and he said he thought it was an
absolute shocker, but like I said mate, I can‘t comment….‖ And then he chortled into his shaggy beard
before the mike was turned off.
        As well as having a wide range of mullets still in fashion (having two of your top cricketers
sporting mullets of varying disgrace – Glenn McGrath is having a bit of a go too – can‘t help stamp out
this vile ―hairstyle‖), the Aussies have an enormous choice of baked beans. Now I thought that the
mighty fartleberry was a British invention, but, just like cricket, the Aussies have made it better. Heinz
isn‘t far off from having 57 varieties of the student‘s staple diet here. As well as the usual health
conscious crap like no salt, low salt and flab fighters, they have chunky tomato, which can come with
bacon bits or garlic and onion, BBQ, Ham sauce, cheese, and cheese and ham. Woolworth‘s
supermarkets (no link to the awful high street shop of my youth that was absolutely the last place you‘d
go for anything) also stock a great range of fresh cakes, which may go some way to explaining why
Aussies nippers are quickly closing the gap on British kids in the flab stakes. We adopted chocolate mud
cake and thick cream as our staple breakfast and afternoon snack.
        After a couple of weeks of knocking around the Sydney ‗burbs, it was time to move on. Despite
the temptation of being close to my sister‘s roast dinners, possibly the finest in Australia, this really was
not the place for us to settle down. Although 50 kilometres out of the city, Ingleburn is still part of the city,
and takes an hour-long train ride to reach the bright lights of the harbour and downtown Sydney. The

Searching For Paradise
                          Sid Bartlett, PO BOX 131, 4184 Pennington, South Africa                         92
         tradbartlett@hotmail.com                                              Tel:0027 82 493 6447
cities four million inhabitants stretch out another 10 kilometres to the southwest in single story houses,
most of which are prefab concrete slabs on top of small brick stilts clad in fetching wood look-a-like
plastic. The cheapest that we could see within our budget only had two bedrooms, and was in Ingleburn
itself. Now, Ingleburn isn‘t a bad place, it‘s no more unattractive than the rest of the ‗burbs, it‘s clean and
tidy, but is just a collection of streets around a mall and a station with a business park here and there
that spread out until they hit the next ‗burb and its collection of shops, offices, and streets. There is no
nightlife and no local pubs, you either drink at home or get on the train for an hour to the city centre. This
would be like Reading not having any pubs, and the all the residents getting on the slow train to London
for a few jars.
        We hopped on a plane, having got the ticket as part of our round the world package, and went to
spent a few days in Melbourne with a mate that I‘d made in France playing cricket. Bryce and I used to
knock over old codgers who came over to play friendly matches against our club in the Loire valley. We
had planned an on-pitch comeback revival, but Bryce was turning into an old codger himself and couldn't
sling ‗em down anymore. It‘s a shame as his best ball, in his opinion, was the one that broke our wicket
keeper's nose. It‘s hard to believe that he‘s a research scientist; his hobbies being woodwork,
homebrewing, and unsuccessfully requesting blowjobs from his wife over dinner.
        We went for a bike ride to hip St Kilda Beach and rode around Melbourne central on its old
1920‘s tram. Melbourne has more charm than Sydney, its Gothic-style churches, neo-classical public
buildings, and iron-decorated terraced houses giving it a more homey feel than it‘s more modern looking
rival in New South Wales. We had a look at Melbourne‘s ‗burbs, each one reminding me of another ARF
team from my adolescence. Unfortunately even the distant suburbs of Hawthorn, Geelong, Collingwood,
Carlton, and Essendon were all out of our budget. If we‘d have wanted to become St Kilda fans we‘d
have had to shell out £300,000, triple our budget! Despite being the home of Aussie Rules, Melbourne is
also the self-proclaimed culture capital of the country. Large numbers of southern European immigrants
followed by waves of Asian migration have revolutionized the city's cuisine, style, and atmosphere, and
Melbourne has become an important city of multi-cultural Australia with the highest concentration in the
country of Australia's Italian population and significant numbers of Lebanese, Vietnamese, Greek,
Chinese, and Irish immigrants.
        Much to Sandrine‘s delight, rather than going downtown and getting a large shot of cosmopolitan
culture most of the weekend was spent tasting and brewing beer, and, of course, talking about cricket.
Bryce had to stay home and look after his three kids whilst Sheryl worked and as I hadn't seen him for 5
years, culture came second. I was keen to stay an extra couple of days go to the theatre and fill up on
foreign fodder, but time was pressing on and the Great Ocean Road followed by the outback were
waiting for us.
        We signed up on the Qantas Frequent Flyer program and got a discount on our rental, and the
£300 fee for leaving the car in Alice Springs, right in the middle of the country, was waived. As an extra
bonus they upgraded us from a class B car to a class E V6 Mitsubishi wannabe. The Great Ocean Road

Searching For Paradise
                         Sid Bartlett, PO BOX 131, 4184 Pennington, South Africa                        93
         tradbartlett@hotmail.com                                             Tel:0027 82 493 6447
took us along the coast, around the bays and over its headlands, twisting through Eucalyptus and Pine
forests, alongside the cobalt and turquoise blue of the Southern Ocean. We stopped along the way to
look at the 12 apostles, a series of sandstone stacks sticking up out of the sea. We were accompanied
by several hundred other disciples who were also after the picture postcard holiday snap.
       The night was spent in prison, though this had nothing to do with the Magna‘s V6 turbo and my
heavy foot. Since closure in the mid-1990s, Mount Gambier‘s gaol had been turned into accommodation
for backpackers, and a self-guided tour before bedtime gave a little too much information for light
sleepers. The gaol started of with a fairly relaxed regime; at the beginning of the 20th century prisoners
could nip over the low wall to buy a few beers in town. Later on however, it became a maximum-security
gaol, housing up to 30 detainees, three of whom were hanged and buried in the exercise yard. We went
to bed with the door locked.
       We were up and away early, and motored through more pleasant coastal scenery, stopping to
test the water at the town of Kingston, which claims to be the home of Australian lobster fishing, with a
15-metre high and 17-metre long fibreglass lobster standing at the entrance to the town. Unfortunately
the water temperature was as low as the house prices were still over budget, so we sped up to Adelaide,
once considered a city of churches. In today‘s climate of waning mainstream spirituality, the city is also
known as the city of pubs, but we were too tired to check out more than two and had another big drive
ahead. Our trip to the pub did highlight the differences between states, however. In NSW and Victoria a
pint is 500ml, a schooner 425ml, and a midi 275ml. On ordering my first pint in South Australia I received
a 425ml pot, a schooner being 275ml, and a midi not even worth ordering to brush your teeth with.
However, SA is also half an hour behind NSW and Victoria, so I got an extra 30 minutes drinking in as I
was still on Victoria time. The time differences are further compounded as Tasmania move their clocks in
September, SA, NSW and at the end of October, and Northern Territories, who apply the same half hour
difference as SA, choosing to not apply ―daylight savings‖, just like Queensland that has the same time
as NSW and Victoria from March to October. Confused? We were.



Outback, men at work

       500 kilometres out of Adelaide we went past Woomera, once a base used to launch top-secret
British experimental rockets, and more recently home to the controversial Woomera Detention Centre.
When an asylum seeker comes to Australia they present their case to an immigration officer. If their story
is deemed too weak, they can appeal. Whilst waiting to overturn a decision they are put into ―mandatory
detention‖ in places like Woomera.
       There are currently around 1300 refugees, including 139 children, who have been locked up
without committing a crime and have no idea when they will be released. Hundreds of them have been
held for over 12 months, and those that cannot be returned to their homeland due to a lack of diplomatic

Searching For Paradise
                        Sid Bartlett, PO BOX 131, 4184 Pennington, South Africa                    94
        tradbartlett@hotmail.com                                           Tel:0027 82 493 6447
arrangements have been held for up to four years. Under international conventions everyone has the
right to seek asylum in any place that they can reach, there is absolutely nothing illegal about this,
especially when considering that the most recent arrivals are mainly from Afghanistan and Iraq, two
countries where Australian troops have subsequently participated in the fighting. It‘s not as if the country
was awash with boat people, arriving in Australia is extremely hazardous given its distance from the
world‘s trouble spots and its geography. Whilst Africa has over five million refugees and Asia eight
million, the greatest number of informal asylum seekers reaching Australia in any one year was 4100 in
2001.
        After another 360k through the outback we hit the Opal capital of the world, Coober Pedy. The
drive was surprisingly easy given that the roads are pretty straight and, apart from the 50-metre long
road trains, lorries pulling up to five trailers, there is little traffic and no speed traps. With the cruise
control set at a reasonable speed it only took six hours of driving. Getting out of the air-con luxury of the
car on one of her frequent pipi stops, Sandrine looked like she‘d walked into a wall. 300 k out of Adelaide
the heat felt stifling, and our picnic lunch was taken inside the car in a air-con heaven.
        Rather than driving we could have also taken the train to Alice. The Ghan, a service from
Adelaide to Darwin, took one hundred years to complete. It‘s construction started in 1877 in the south
though, rather unfortunately, in the wrong place. The track went right across an undetected floodplain
that would fill and simply wash the tracks away. To compound this, the foundations were flimsy, the
sleepers too light, the grading too steep, and it meandered hopelessly. Top speed was 30 kph and in the
beginning travellers went part of the way on broad gauge, then onto narrow, and the last 600 k to Alice
were completed by camel train, the Afghani camel drivers being the source of the train‘s name. The line
to Alice was finally completed in 1929, 52 years after work started. Heavy rainfall would strand the train
in the outback requiring supplies to be parachuted in. Even British Rail would find it hard to beat the
Ghan‘s record of coming in 10 days late. In 1982 the old Ghan and its full complement of 140
passengers made its last 50-hour run to Darwin, as a new standard gauge track had been laid over a
more appropriate route, carrying twice as many passengers to Darwin in 20 hours. But with tickets at
£160 each from Melbourne to Alice Springs, it worked out cheaper to rent and drive at our pace, seeing
the sights along the way.
        We checked into an underground backpackers‘ hostel; most of the 2,600 inhabitants of the town
preferring to live in dugout homes that are much cooler. The name of the town comes from an aboriginal
language and is said to mean ―White man‘s hole in the ground.‖ The settlement of the area started in
1916 when the first opals were found, and people of 45 different nationalities, making up 60% of the
population, have been lured here by the dream of making a fortune mining opals. The town, which has
been described as the ugliest town in Oz (despite its hotchpotch assembly it‘s so ugly that it must‘ve
been planned, with grey and green metal fences being predominant amongst the hillocks of sandstone
and the dust), has developed into Australia‘s main source of the precious stone, making the country the
world‘s leading producer accounting for 70% of the planet‘s production.

Searching For Paradise
                        Sid Bartlett, PO BOX 131, 4184 Pennington, South Africa                       95
         tradbartlett@hotmail.com                                            Tel:0027 82 493 6447
       Gary, who looked very much like an overweight Shaggy with his upper front teeth missing
(Scooby Doo‘s master and sidekick, not the neverwasbeen gravel-throated ragga star) moved to the
town also famous for being the location for Mad Max 3 in 1995 with exactly that in mind (making his
fortune opal mining, not having two top twenty hits). I asked what was required to become an opal miner.
―Go to the doctor‘s and get your head examined‖, he said before adding that he‘d had to give up after 3
years and take up his current position working in a hotel to pay off his debts.
        Mining is only done on small plots with between one and a handful of miners working the claim.
Gary explained that De Beers have pushed the value of the opal so low that, compared to diamonds,
there is not enough profit in it to create the massive mines and security used to extract a girl‘s best friend
from the earth. One miner or digger can only hold a couple of 100-metre by 100-metre claims at a time,
and major corporations couldn‘t get in if they wanted to. The town is littered with the debris of digging
and failed diggers with mounds of excavated sandstone and rusting equipment and vehicles dotted
around the place.
       The dusty town is full of characters. Crocodile Dundee was based on Coober Pedy‘s Crocodile
Harry, but the real hunter beats Paul Hogan‘s down-to-earth hero hands down. He is a Latvian baron
who came to Australia at the end of World War 2 and started hunting on the north coast. His cave has
many faded photographs bearing testament to his prowess, a muscled and tanned Harry sporting
nothing but a loincloth and spear standing over a pile of huge dead saurians. He came to Coober Pedy
in the 70s hoping, like so many others, to find his fortune and, like so many others, failing to do so. In
fact he put everything he had into his operation and ended up so broke that he couldn‘t afford to move
away. It was then that he started digging his own dugout house and collecting things.
       The walls of his enormous cave, which was also used in Mad Max 3 as the chief villain‘s lair, was
festooned with ladies‘ undies. The bedroom walls were covered in signatures of either adult virgins or
Harry‘s conquests, depending on whom you believe. The 80-something charmer still appeared to have a
silver tongue as he showed us two g-strings that had arrived in the post from some Canadian visitors,
one that was ―hot and humid‖ according to the accompanying note.
       Harry looked frail and old, there wasn't much left of the bronzed Adonis in the photos learning
how to hunt with a boomerang, but he kept a fire burning in his eye that he ogled Sandrine with as he
skittled into the shower. Maybe it was due to the pile of empty Cooper‘s Sparkling Ale bottles that made
a small mountain outside the front door.
       In the Italian club at happy hour (there are also Serbian, Greek, Hungarian and Returned
Servicemen‘s clubs, and a handful of pubs) was Jody, washing back the dust with a continuous supply of
Cooper‘s Pale Ale. Beards are big in Coober Pedy, and Jody‘s was a big Bin Laden beard, inversely
proportional to the amount of hair on his shaved pate that was peaking out from under his leather
cowboy hat. He looked, as far as I could see, to be in his late 20s. As he was rolling a smoke with his
thick, gnarled, grimy fingers, I asked him why he was drinking from a bottle and not the Cooper‘s draught
Pale Ale that was also available.

Searching For Paradise
                        Sid Bartlett, PO BOX 131, 4184 Pennington, South Africa                        96
         tradbartlett@hotmail.com                                            Tel:0027 82 493 6447
―‘Cos summa them brewers put arsenic in the draught to make it brew quicker you see, so it tastes better
in a bottle.‖
Having been a brewer for 5 years I knew this to be complete bollocks, but a quick look at the large paring
knife in Jody‘s hatband and the size of the rest of him helped me refrain from correcting him although
this meant that I had to forego the draught and order a bottle myself. Despite appearances he was a very
chatty and went on to explain in far more detail than I could comprehend, how opal prospecting works.
The basics involve registering as a prospector for £15, buying 4 marker pegs, buying the right to work a
claim for between 2 weeks and 2 years, marking it out, and getting stuck in. The bits about lines and
strata and bugger knows what went over my head and I was struggling to keep up, the knife looking
sharper every time a sneaked a peak.
―But it‘s 95% luck anyway‖ he chucked in as I bought him a beer.
        We got through a couple of rounds and Jody reckoned that a reasonable miner who put in the
graft could do okay. He said that he‘d brought in £20,000 in the last 6 months, starting at 7 and finishing
at 4 in winter, doing 5 till midday in summer when the temperature gets up to the mid-forties.
―The only danger in stopping early is that night shifters get tipped of by a gem purchaser that you‘re onto
a vein and they come and work it in the afternoon and the night‖ he said.
―What happens if they get caught?‖ I asked.
―If they‘re lucky the Police catch them. If a miner catches them, well….there are lots of holes around
here, and we all use explosivse to dig underground. I know a bloke who‘s sorted out three night shifters
on his claim, the cops watched him shoot one. He‘s normally in here on a Thursday, must have
something on tonight.‖
―So he‘s out of prison already?‖
―Never went in, mate. Cops were only there in case he missed.‖
I suppose it‘s one way of keeping crime down.
I enquired whether he‘d had any problems on his claims.
―Naah, we open mine, above ground, see, across a 100 metre face so they‘d never know where to start,
it‘d be pot luck. You should come down tomorrow and have a look and have a go at swinging the pick
and playing with the gear.‖
        Result. We‘d been down an old mine earlier in the day, but the museum entrance fee didn‘t cover
playing with massive power tools and dynamite. We said we‘d pop by on the way north, said our
goodbyes, and went off to eat. After dinner I went to the Underground Hotel‘s bar, that improbably claims
to be the only underground pub in the world, and got talking to Michael.
        Michael came from Austria on holiday with his girlfriend 15 years ago and was only supposed to
stay one night. He met two Hungarians who, no doubt reminiscing back to the good old days of the
Empire, offered to show him their mine the next day. When he emerged he was a partner with a third
share. His less than impressed girlfriend changed her tune when, three days later, he came home with


Searching For Paradise
                         Sid Bartlett, PO BOX 131, 4184 Pennington, South Africa                    97
          tradbartlett@hotmail.com                                          Tel:0027 82 493 6447
£2,000. Unfortunately for the Austro-Hungarian alliance, that was their only major find, and six months
later Michael‘s fraulein moved on.
        Although Michael hadn‘t lost much of his accent his English is very much ―Strine‖, Australian
English, liberally smattered with ―mate‖ and ―fuckin‖.
―I ayte all zem fuckin Ossey rules and rugby and football mate, why don‘t zey just fucking gif zem all a
fucking ball and zen zay stop fucking fighting for it? Eh, mate?‖
It‘s certainly a novel idea, but beggars the question as to why he‘s chosen to live in a sport mad country.
―I don‘t like fuckin‘ cities, so zis place is perfect.‖
―But what about a small coastal village?‖ I asked.
―Awww, I like all ze fuckin‘ fishin‘ anzat, but after a couple of weeks I miss zis fuckin‘ place, mate. I don‘t
miss ze fuckin‘ flies, but I miss ze heat and dust, and ziss iss home now.‖
And 15 years of digging haven‘t dampened his enthusiasm much.
―Ve all dream of finding dat one big pocket or a great vertical seam, the one to retire on, fuckin‘ uzzers
have, why not me mate? It could even happen tomorrow.‖
        It certainly wasn‘t going to happen this evening, Mick‘s slurring was, by now, more pronounced
than Nena‘s when she sang ―in a werry werry super scurry‖ in 99 Red Balloons. Mick preferred to
reminisce on how he joined the RSL (Returned Servicemen‘s League).
―Youze godda haff a family member who wass in ze serfices and zey was so desperate here zat ven I
said zat my dad was in fuckin‘ SS, they said ‗fair enough mate‘‖.
        The next morning we were off early, a bit too early for my fuzzy head, but not early enough to
avoid the orifice invading flies that plague the outback. We decided not to take Jody up on his offer, just
in case we were bitten by opal fever too and ending up doing a Michael. The dugout houses were
interesting but not that interesting, and the junkyard charm of the town is probably short-lived.
        Uluru, the iconic red mountain in the middle of Australia was another 850 kilometres from Coober
Pedy. The aborigines have two stories explaining its creation, one of which cannot be told to non-
aborigines. Pete, one of the Park Rangers, told us that in the dreamtime, the period of creation, two little
boys started building a sandcastle and did not stop until the orange lump was built. The aborigines prefer
that visitors do not climb the rock as it is one of their most sacred sites and is against ―Tjukurpa‖,
aboriginal laws, religion, and customs. A long long time ago, two Mala, red wallaby haremen, were
carrying out a ritual when another tribe used powerful magic to create a devil dog to attack the Mala in
order to stop their ceremony. The two Mala were killed on the rock.
        However, local wishes are not respected by the average Aussie, who figures that he has the right
to climb it, it being in Australia. I wondered if they went into mosques at prayer time with shoes on and
with a tin of VB in their hand. Only the weather keeps the number of climbers down, summit winds over
75 kilometres per hour, temperatures over 36°C, and rain the previous day closes the steep climb up the
bare, round rock. Despite being closed as often as it is open, 43 people have died on the rock, 13 from
falls and 30 from heart failure, and, according to the Park Rangers, plenty more have died of heart

Searching For Paradise
                           Sid Bartlett, PO BOX 131, 4184 Pennington, South Africa                      98
         tradbartlett@hotmail.com                                             Tel:0027 82 493 6447
related problems after leaving the climb area, but do not therefore get put into the statistics. There are
also a considerable number of non-fatal falls, but these go into the "injury" box, quadriplegics and
cracked skulls being counted alongside sprained ankles and grazed knees.
       Closing the walk completely is apparently a very sensitive issue, many consider that doing so
would be giving into the local aborigines, feeling that land claim settlements have already given too
much, whilst others are worried that tourist numbers would drop, despite having increased from 250,000
in 1990 to 400,000 10 years later. A couple that we chatted with said that they wouldn't have come if
they had known that they couldn't climb the rock (it was 38°C) though the Ranger that we spoke to was
of the opinion that the Park would be better off without the patronage of this type of visitor. Several of the
accessible ancient rock art sites have been graffitied and footprints through the delicate and out-of-
bounds bush are far too common, and, as there are no facilities on the top of the rock, people answer
nature's call alfresco. I can't imagine an American tourist pulling her knickers round her ankles at the
altar of the Sistine Chapel, or a Pole purging the python from the top of St Paul's Cathedral.
       We avoided the would be desecrators, who had to content themselves with the 10-kilometre walk
around the base accompanied by coach loads of OAPs, and drove 50 kilometres to Kata Tjuta, a group
red sandstone conglomerate monoliths that are 200 metres higher than Uluru. As the sun drops the rock
became brighter and brighter, the wind whistled through the valleys and gorges like thousands of
ancestors whispering, becoming a burnished orange mountain arising out of the green outback. The
sides are so steep that no one even thinks of flaunting the Tjukurpa to clamber over the sacred sites that
are more stunning than Uluru.
       Ancient aboriginal rock art here is very different to San rock art, most of it is monochrome and
looks like it has been daubed on with a finger rather than painted on with a brush. Snakes are also a
common feature in "Dreamtime" or creation stories. One of the most common ones at Uluru is about a
fight between a price on and the venomous snake, their battle shaping part of the rock. Both peoples
seem to auto-destruct when mixed with booze too, alcoholism amongst town-living aboriginals is rife and
has led to tribal leaders declaring this part of the countryside as "dry". Most liquor stores comply and
refuse to sell booze to Aborigines, or First Australians as they are also called in these PC times.
       The sites were well spread out across the outback and we didn't have enough time to visit the
apparently beautiful Kings‘ Canyon, the next stop being Australia's most central town, Alice Springs. We
arrived before the end of the Alice Masters, a mini Australian Olympics for over 35 year olds, also known
as the Friendly Games. For nine days Alice‘s population of 25,000 swells to 35,000, as it is invaded by
40-somethings let off the lead away from their partner and kids. Bobby, a local barfly didn't have a very
high opinion of them.
"They're a bloody pain in the arse, they drink all the beer and use up all the condoms."
       We handed in our Mitsubishi mean machine, and had three days to wait until picking up a
campervan for 40p a day on a relocation deal to Darwin, 1500 kilometres to the north. Just to pass the
time, Alice not being a particularly interesting place, we looked at house prices but they were no cheaper

Searching For Paradise
                        Sid Bartlett, PO BOX 131, 4184 Pennington, South Africa                        99
         tradbartlett@hotmail.com                                            Tel:0027 82 493 6447
than in the Sydney suburbs, due to a lack of available land despite a being in the middle of the desert.
Alice has a busy programme of events in October. No sooner had the friendly games competitors
finished their beer-up, bun-fight, bonk-fest, than CROC 2004 started. Unfortunately crocodile Harry was
not going to be called out of retirement to wrestle again, CROC has nothing to do with scaly saurians,
being a three-day event to promote culture amongst "da yoof". From our roadside bedroom opposite the
stadium the only music we could he was coming from the megabass sound system in some adolescent‘s
hotrod and teenage girl shouting ―moy mate fancies yooo‖. Alice may also be the capital of the Occa
culture; most cars have coloured alloy wheels that are a different colour to the bodywork, obviously, the
summit of good street cred‘ being to have a rear spoiler matching the alloys.
       As soon as we could pick up our camper van we were heading north. Since we'd been in the
outback roadkill kangaroos had been frequent roadside decoration, but as we headed towards Elliott
there were even more. Most of them fall foul of the road trains that continue driving at night, the roos
sleeping in the shade of a tree during the day. Driving at night is a dangerous business in a car, an adult
male kangaroo weighing over 150 kilos, and even following a road trains to clear a path for you is no
guarantee of safety, the juggernaut trucks occasionally sending a freshly-splattered ‗roo sailing into the
vehicle behind it. (And we all know how easily a Roo goes down, especially when there‘s a big black
man in the vicinity.)
       Elliot is a traditional outback roadhouse, with a wooden bar and big ceiling fans slowly swinging
round. Jody had suggested that we pay a visit there, it being one of his favourite pubs. We said hello to
the boss on his behalf and they all seemed surprised that I had had a quiet drink with him.
―Aww, good old Jody, big bastard eh, mate?‖ said one local dotingly.
―Mean hard fucker is Jody‖ said another, almost with a tear in his eye.
       A quick glance around the pub gave an idea as to why he was so revered here and why he liked
it so much. The wall behind the bar had signs up naming customers that had been barred. 20 locals had
been barred so far in the year, 10 of them for life. In 15 years half the adult population of 600 could be
refused patronage forever!! Abuse will see you barred for 4 to 6 months, refusing to leave three months,
and threatening staff and fighting will see you permanently kicked out of the only pub within 100
kilometres. One woman was barred indefinitely for starting a riot, but Jody‘s name wasn‘t up there.
Maybe he drives the 1400 kilometres from the mining town to come up here for a bit of rough and tumble
during his holidays.
       The next morning we stopped for coffee in Daly Waters‘ only pub, home to Australia's most
remote traffic light that would also appear to be Australia's most ignored traffic light as it seemed to stay
permanently on red. We went into the ramshackle pub, made of chunky stone walls and sheet metal
roofing, to have a morning coffee. At 10 a.m. it was already a muggy 34°C outside, and maybe three less
inside, and the locals were already on the beer. Most looked as if they had been weaned on it, unless
high humidity gives you a big belly and splits the capillaries in your nose, of course. The heat is
impressive and we had to stop off at a rock pool in Mataranka at lunchtime to have a dip. Even though

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the pool was thermal and the water at 34°C, it was still refreshing. By the time we arrived in Katherine in
mid afternoon the thermometer was showing 42°C and it was also steamily humid. The only respite was
in the air-conditioned shopping mall or in the water, so we went for another dip in some hot springs
outside of town that flow over a one metre waterfall and into the main river. The springs were surprisingly
quiet and we cooled down looking at the trees full of fruit bats that were chattering away.
"Ere mate, look at the tits on that Sheila."
"My bloody oath, they‘re a right nice pair."
"Oh struth mate, look at the bloody joker she‘s with."
"He‘s another bloody tourist, mate, look at that roadkill leather bush hat."
       At the Nitmiluk National Park campsite we finally got to see some living indigenous marsupials as
in the evening hundreds of kangaroos hopped around looking for dinner. When we got up in the morning
only a few remained, had the others gone off to play chicken in the middle of the night on the highway?
We had awoken to another stinker, the mercury had never dropped below 27°C during the night anyway,
so we went for a canoe trip up the first and second gorges of the Katherine river. Apart from affording
great views of the cliffs and sandy beaches where freshwater crocodiles (allegedly harmless) had laid
their eggs, it also meant that we could have a dip whenever we felt hot. The water was beautifully clear,
despite its depth and the dark rocks making it look murky green, and tasted good too.
       After a morning of splashing about we hit the road north, as the camper van had to be in Darwin
on the north coast the following day. An hour out of Katherine and hour from our destination of Litchfield
NP, we drove into a storm even bigger than the Old Trafford Soupgate media frenzy. At 40 kilometres
per hour, with the windscreen wipers going faster than referee Mike Riley pointing to the spot, we were
even blinder than him. Cars in Australia don't come with fog lights, but we ploughed on slowly down the
highway that looked more like a river in places. Lightning streaked out of the sky overhead and struck
the ground around us. At one point there was a flash every two seconds, and several multiple bursts to
one spot. It felt like we were driving through an artillery barrage, and the chances of being hit on the
move being equal to being hit while stationary, we pushed on, hoping that we were driving through the
storm rather than following it. Our luck was in, despite my irrational logic that we would suffer some
heavenly retribution for not putting the previous night‘s £7 camping fee in the box for late arrivals, and 30
minutes later we were through it and at the next campsite.
       The storm lingered nearby, and as I listened to the Aussies win their first test series in India since
1969 the horizon glimmered with lightning strikes. Jason ―Mulletman‖ Gillespie attempted to take 10
wickets for the first time in a match and the Indian tail were smashing the vaunted pie chuckers around
the park when the broadcast was interrupted by a severe storm warning for the area just to the north.
Shane Warne managed to not get hit for 6 for once and the last Indian was out, and the storm left us
alone. We were left wondering what state we‘d find Darwin in after reading about the effects of cyclone
Tracy on Christmas Eve 1974. Before Santa had time to pop down the chimneys, peak wind speeds


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were up to 280 kph and by the time the turkey should have been in the oven 50% to 60% of Darwin‘s
houses were either totally destroyed or damaged beyond repair and only 400 survived relatively intact.
       After a morning dip in the idyllic pool under Florence Falls, we went to have a look. Fortunately it
was still all there, and the locals seemed very pleased to have had some unseasonal rain. Darwin was
pleasantly surprising, being a green, clean town of 70,000 odd souls. We had access to the laundry in
the backpackers‘ hostel and Sandrine pulled off another stunner by mistaking the tumble dryer for the
washing machine and loading it full of detergent and coins.
       Darwin has an excellent history and art museum with a fine collection of aboriginal art. The
stories depicted by the paintings gave an insight into Abo beliefs and culture, although some of the
explanations were even more contrived and the worst examples of modern European art. You know, the
primary colour geometric shape shit that a six-year old with a ruler could paint, where the red circle
represents the warmth of the universality of life, the green upside down triangle the fertility of the womb,
blahdi blahdi blah. Well the First Australian equivalent tells the story of a specific old lady who was the
snake God "Oojamaflip" who crossed the river to meet her uncle and they caught a croc and…..all I can
see is a load of random dots that would look nice on an apron or a bedspread. I think the real art is
getting someone to shell out £600 for it. Fortunately this was not representative of the majority of the
work on display, some of the traditional paintings on tree bark canvas with natural pigments, painted with
brushes made entirely from wood, showed remarkable finesse. A trip into Kakadu NP to look at rock art
highlighted the complexity of aboriginal art; some looked like finger painting by acid freaks, whilst some
of it would have made Picasso proud.
       The natural history section also had a stuffed saltie, or saltwater crocodile (the nasty variety),
called Sweetheart on display. Alive, he weighed in at 780 kilos and was nearly six metres long before his
penchant for overturning dinghies in the harbour led to his downfall. The museum also explained that we
wouldn‘t be going for a swim. After 5,000 kilometres across the outback, and with the mercury touching
38° C, we were ready for a dip in the sea. An exhibit explained that swimming is off limits between
October and May as the Timor Sea is full of box jellyfish, apparently the most poisonous animal known to
man. The squidgy transparent bastards have more than enough venom to kill a man a minutes. Diving is
also restricted due to large tides varying in depth by up to 10 metres twice daily that stir the bottom-up
into an impenetrable soup. SCUBA is only possible twice a month and our visit coincided with a non-
diving window, making a visit to one of the many World War II wrecks in the harbour impossible. Darwin
bore the brunt of Australia's effort against the Japanese in the Pacific conflict and the bay is littered with
aircraft and sunken shipping that are now the happy homes to lots of reef fish.
       We left Darwin in another dollar-a-day rental, this time a new Hyundai Beemer wannabe with all
the toys necessary to eat up the tarmac to Cairns, 3300 kilometres away.
       We‘d been trying to counter the chocolate mud cake and cream breakfasts with tuna and cheese
salad lunches. We noticed that the cheapest cheeses were just called "tasty cheese". It was essentially a
Cheddar but Australia must have some regulatory body that stops producers calling it "Cheddar style",

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much the same way that Europe is afflicted with bored Brussels desk jockeys telling us whether we can
call a ham from a pig raised around Parma, butchered in Palma, and cured in Palma, but sliced in a
supermarket deli in Scunthorpe, "Parma Ham". Personally, I couldn‘t give an EU regulation toss (from an
illegal alien Brazilian transvestite behind a wheelie bin along the canal, as opposed to an EU regulation
VIP toss which is administered by a barely legal, heavily made up, abducted Albanian in the back of the
EU commission for Workers Rights limousine) where the stuff was sliced. Does this make the ex-Parma
Ham Scunthorpe Ham? No. It just makes it plain old ham, along with the budget muck that contains 30%
water and enough lines of cellulite to have been sliced off (insert fat B grade celebrity name) ‗s arse. Just
that it tastes 10 times better and costs five times as much. Instead of wasting their time and our money
on this they could be clamping down on far more misleading names for comestible products, such as the
"hot dog". Imagine the thousands, nay millions, of camcorder toting Oriental visitors who have ordered
one and, instead of receiving a bit of spicy chow bow-wow, end up with tepid mechanically removed
chicken meat in an artificial casing and last week's winning lottery draw in E-number additives.
       The Lonely Planet guidebook describes Mount Isa as a town of striking beauty. I think the
reviewer had a strikingly warped mind. The approaches to the town, abrupt red ridges covered in green
spinifex, made a pleasant change from the rest of the flat outback, but the town itself is, at first glance,
an eyesore due to the mine that is its main raison d'etre, being the third largest silver mine and one of
the 10 largest copper mines in the world. After a short drive around the town however, you realise that
this place would win Ugliest town of the year in Uglyland. It's not just because you can see the 270-
metre stack from the lead smelter (that is also mined here in great quantity) from everywhere in town, but
because the town must have been laid out by a glue sniffing drunkard born to a lead-mining inbred
mother. Maybe it is so that you can see the place of his conception from every angle. And maybe there
is a reason why concrete or wooden prefab seem to be the only authorised home building materials. It
was like walking around a 1960s army barracks. Coupled with the 46°C heat, I was expecting one of the
cast of "It ain't half hot Mum" to start barking orders. The heat was making us a bit delirious and at 11
pm. it was still 34° C. The old night manager started to look like the radio operator with his little round
glasses and sweaty hair. It was time to move on and head for the coast.
       The outback certainly has a rugged charm, but after 18 days it was wearing thinner than an Olsen
twin. Some people live out here forever on the stations or farms. The Royal Flying Doctor Service is well
known for providing assistance to people in far away locations but the Mount Isa School Of The Air is an
equally meritorious organisation, providing lessons over the air for 230 students in a catchment area the
size of France. The little yokels get an education in the usual range of subjects through coursework that
is sent to them and lessons that, until the previous week, were carried out on HF radio. We took part in
one of the first lessons to be carried out over the phone on conference call, and the pseudo-headmaster
said that he couldn't wait for everyone to be on the Internet with a webcam. I say pseudo-head because
he just oversees administration and logistics, and a bit of staff punctuality really. It's not like he can catch


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anyone smoking behind the bike sheds or vandalising the bogs. What chance does he have being
accused of lingering looks at boys‘ scrotums or handing out detentions for dirty shoes?
       Just before dark the ‗roos started coming out of where ever they sleep during the day and
hanging around under the trees near the side of the road in 20s and 30s.
―Good kip mate.‖
―Yeah, you?‖
―Yeah, wotcha doin tanite?‖
―Aww, bitta chicken ya know mate, you?‖
―Yeah, reckon oi‘ll get meself splattered if oi caaan.‖
―Sweet as.‖
―Yeah sweet mate.‖
       Why, with about two roads covering an area 30 times the size of Switzerland, do they love to try
and cross them? Sure, there are 90 million of them in the country but the amount of roadkill here would
make a redneck slather. On some stretches there was a corpse every 50 metres. There was even a
dead wombat, a rare ocelot (a feral cat), and a rare honey possum, a small marsupial that, despite
getting all of its nutritional requirements from pollen and nectar has a sperm bigger than the blue whale.
It has a pair of nuts so big that if ours were proportionally the same size they'd be as big as a four-
kilogram bag of spuds. Fortunately this one had died of a blow to the head and not a flattened scrotum.



East Coast

       900 kilometres, 10°C, and 30 years away is Townsville, a town of 150,000 inhabitants on the
Pacific Ocean. Much less known than smaller Cairns, Townsville has plenty of attractive old buildings,
with artistic modern street lighting and a busy nightlife. We had left the outback and, despite clocking up
over 6,000 kilometres in it, hadn't met any traditional aborigines. Less than 2% of Australians claim
aboriginal roots, around 400,000 people in total, but many only have one aboriginal grandparent. (And
there‘s nothing wrong with that – my granddad was Welsh and I'm proud to cheer on the Welsh XV even
when they're on another hiding to nothing.) Those that have 100% aboriginal blood seem to be, in the
most part, either of the wino/welfare sponger variety, or living in traditional areas. Having seen what
booze has done to some of their kin, and the overtly racist policies pursued in Australians until 1970, I'm
not surprised that the traditionalists stay far away. Museums and rock art sites were the only real insight
into the aboriginal customs and beliefs.
       From 1918 to 1970 the Australian government forcibly removed almost 100,000 aboriginal kids,
nearly all of whom were under the age of five, from their families. They were relocated hundreds of miles
away in either institutions or with white foster parents, and told that their parents had died. Education



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was kept to a minimum, as was food, though hard work was plentiful and sexual or physical abuse
common. This "Stolen Generation", as it has become known, is still waiting for an official apology.
          On the way up to Townsville we drove past the Big Brolga, a brolga being a type of stork and the
emblem of Townsville and Queensland. It was yet another of Australia's "Big Things" that would be
passed on our travels. In Melbourne we had seen the Big Abalone, a 4m x 3m oyster, in Kingston the
massive Big Lobster, a behemoth at 17 metres high and 50 metres in length, the Big Winch in Coober
Pedy, Adelaide‘s Big Scotsman, a Big Cornish Miner, the Big Barramundi in Katherine, the Big Boxing
Croc, the Big Buffalo and the Big Stockwhip in the Top End, and recently the Big Cassowary in Mission
Beach.
          Australia's passion for Big Things started in 1964 when the first one, the Big Banana, was built in
Coff‘s Harbour, NSW. There are now over 120 Big Things around Australia including the Big Mower,
three bananas, three apples, a mango, two oranges, two pineapples and a fruit bowl to put them in no
doubt. There's even a Giant Worm to throw in. Churchill, Victoria, has a 32-metre high cigar, although it
looks more like a handle of a fly swatter. Victoria‘s Myrtleford has a 24.5-metre cigarette, and for
armchair athletes there are three big wine bottles, a big wine cask, a big beer can, a big stubby and a big
rum bottle.
          In his introductory essay to David Clark's "Big Things" Dr Stephen Stockwell, a senior lecturer in
communications at Griffith University, when comparing Aussie Big Things to earlier US counterparts
whose sole purpose was to attract punters says:
"In Australia, Big Things have always had higher purposes. They celebrate notions of regional identity,
often with an aesthetic sensibility."
          I think he'd had a couple of tokes on Nimbin‘s Big Joint in NSW.
As we moved up the coast to Cairns we passed the 10-metre high Big Marlin, and a 14-metre reinforced
concrete Captain Cook, whose outstretched right hand has temporarily held a yo-yo, a beer can, and a
reefer.
          The North Queensland coast made a wonderful change to the flat outback. The mountains were
covered in tropical greenery, with sugarcane aplenty. The palm trees and banana plantations alongside
the white sand beaches and the blue sea had us dreaming of Fiji already. However, house prices and
box jellyfish mean that Northern Queensland was crossed off the ―Possibles‖ list.
          As we pootled the last stretch to Cairns, the kangaroo remains disappeared, only to be replaced
by antechinus. These oddly-named nocturnal rat-size creatures seemed to be partial to a bit of
lemmingesque tyre hunting too. They certainly have an odd lifestyle and it may be their lack of stable
relationships that does their head in. Males only have an 11-month lifespan. After spending the first 10
eating and growing, their last month is taken over by procreation. Their testicles swell and they become
so preoccupied by shagging that they forget to eat and literally bonk themselves to death.




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       The outskirts of Cairns are pretty "American" in layout, logical, easy to navigate blocks and
avenues of stores and car dealers, boat fitters, lawnmower and chainsaw suppliers and takeaway king-
size buckets of fast food places.
Unlike Townsville that has its own industries, Cairns' economy is based almost entirely around tourism.
In the city centre every third shop sells all the different tours out to the Great Barrier Reef and trips to the
outback, Darwin and Brisbane, helicopter rides, rafting, parachuting, bungee jumping -- anything that can
make a tourist dollar, euro, pound or yen from the 800,000 visitors that it attracts each year. They were
more didgeridoos for sale than you could shake a stick at, and more Japs than you could shake a jumbo
didgeridoo at.
       Backpacker hostels were cheap and plentiful but house prices were still out of our league if
Sandrine wasn't to work. One would need to spend at least 160,000 pounds to live around here. The
diving on the Great Barrier Reef wasn't bad, but I'd dived in better places already, and the best reefs are
long way out, making it more costly to dive here than elsewhere. Once we'd spent a day out on the reefs
it was time to jump on a plane to Brisbane to spend the last few days with Sandrine's mother‘s cousin,
Danielle, and her 2nd husband, André.
       They are both in their late fifties and have been living in northern New South Wales, in or around
Murwillumbah, since the early 1970s and have picked up a dunny full of Australianisms that sound
fantastique when said with a hint of a French accent. André had had more professions than I could keep
track of, but being a chef and a patissier were two of them that we appreciated greatly. Every day started
with homemade pastries and a lot of his mornings were spent in the kitchen lifting lids, sniffing sauces,
and slurping spoons.
―Good shit?‖ he‘d politely enquire at the table.
―Ymmm, hmmm, great‖ we‘d mumble through mouthfuls of great tucker.
―Bluddy marvellus‖ he‘d say happily, like Paul Hogan thinking how Fosters‘ lager might like him to do an
ad or two for them.
       When he wasn't cooking he was telling jokes. I tried to give as good as I got but he had an
unbeatable selection and if you did manage to tell a funnier joke than his he could pull out 50 more not
quite as funny ones.
       An overweight scraggy looking slapper is walking down the street when she sees a man selling
perfume outside a fashionable store.
―Wassat? Let‘s ‗ave a squirt‖ she drawls without removing the cigarette from the corner of her mouth.
―Viens a moi‖ says the demonstrator
―Eet eez Frrrrench for ‗Come to me‘‖ he explains as he squirts a dab on her flabby wrist.
―Come to me…..‖ she repeats as she sniffs
―Don‘t smell like come to me. Ere, Beryl‖ she says to her pushchair-wielding mate
―Does that smell like come to you?‖


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       We were invited round to have lunch with some of their ex-pat French mates, who also put on a
good spread. Jeanneau and Janine have been up and down the east coast more times than Paris Hilton
on a grainy home video and were full of stories from the good old days of smuggling cigarettes across
the NSW/Queensland border, or another old Frenchman who was getting 11 unemployment benefits at a
time thanks to poor administration and a few handy name changes. On the way back we drove through a
hamlet called Bartlett‘s Creek, so we stopped to see if we could find out more about the place, but no
one from the three houses there was in to offer us tea and biscuits and answer our questions about how
the creek got it‘s name.
       Every morning we‘d be awoken by smell of freshly baked pastries and would sit on the wooden
verandah and look out over the green and hilly Border Ranges to Mount Warning, the first place in the
country to see the rising sun. Although I've seen green mountainsides in the Highlands, in the Pyrenees,
and in the Austrian Alps, none were quite as green as here. And I don't think it is the subtropical
vegetation, maybe it's the light, maybe it's less pollution, maybe we'd spent too much time in the
outback, but it was strikingly green. Around every fourth bend in the mountain roads there is a road side
self-service fruit and veg stall with an honesty box selling five avocados for 50p, bananas and paw paws
are almost free. By the Big Avocado in Durambah there is an exotic fruit shop that sells the smelly but
sweet Jackfruit and Chocolate fruit, which looks like a cross between an avocado and an apple, with soft
and creamy brown flesh inside, that does taste a little chocolately.
       Danielle and André moved into this little corner of paradise (if five acres is a little corner) when
they remarried each other four years ago. (you did read that right!) They bought the land for £30,000 and
then bought a wooden Queenslander home that had been removed from its original site to make way for
office blocks for £10,000 and spent another £10,000 extending and improving it.
       They took us to Nimbin, a small town another 20 kilometres further inland, which holds a
"Mardigrass" festival every year. It looks like a stereotypical stoner town from The Simpsons, but it is
real. All the residents look like they've had a few too many tokes on the Big Joint that hangs in the Hemp
Embassy and shuffle or glide around the quiet streets with their eyes half-closed. Some of them bore a
striking resemblance to the spaced out Koalas that we saw in a nearbly wildlife sanctuary, though if you
ate eucalyptus all day and had a brain like a shrivelled walnut that rattles around a fluid-filled cranium
you might look a little spaced out too.
       Andre and Danielle were doing a good job as ambassadors for Australia and took us to the
beaches at Byron Bay and Surfer‘s Paradise (it may have been a Paradise 20 years ago but it is now full
of high-rise apartment blocks, hotels and imported German cars - and I don't mean Volkswagen combis).
We also drove past the Big Prawn at Ballina, and the Big Pie in Yatala. Underneath the Big Pie is one of
the country‘s most reputed pie outlets, and we had to concur despite the continued absence of puff
pastry. In fact André and Danielle were doing such a good job that we decided to look up the company
that had sold them their Queenslander and enquire about the cost of a plot (preferably within driving
distance for breakfast.) The Queenslanders were still being bought and sold for anything between

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£10,000 for a 2-bedroom house that required a bit of work and £50,000 for a 5 bedroom one. As they are
erected on stilts most people built a double garage, laundry, and a 2-bedroom flat underneath them too.
Bargain. Unfortunately the housing boom had already been through the Gold Coast and the Border
Ranges 30 k inland. For £80,000 we could have got 650 square metres of land in a development….Out-
priced again.
         All things considered, Australia wasn‘t going to be the place for us. Apart from family and the
residents of Coober Pedy, we hadn‘t exactly been blown away by the much-vaunted Aussie hospitality,
the diving isn‘t great value for money, swimming in the warmer parts is a pain because of the stingers,
and property is expensive. If it were to be a choice between Australia and France, France would
probably get the nod. Still, we‘d had a good time and didn‘t regret coming, not even the long drives
through the outback to see very little; at least it improved our geography and gave us a sense of scale
that for some reason the 18,000 kilometres around Africa hadn‘t. Anyway, we new that our next stop was
cheap and had plenty of swimmable places……so it was with much excitement that we boarded our
flight to Fiji.




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16 - Fiji –The Friendly Islands
―Bula!!!‖ is what hits you as soon as you step into Fiji, and that‘s still on the tarmac at Brisbane airport.
Bula means welcome in Fijian and should be said as loud as possible without quite deafening the other
person. Bula is also the name of the Magnum PI shirts that everyone related to tourism, and many who
aren‘t, wears. In fact native Fijians wear only Bula shirts and rugby jerseys, I‘m amazed that no one has
ever thought of combining the two into a thick cotton t-shirt with a hibiscus flower motif.
         On arrival at Nadi (pronounced ―Nandi‖) there were plenty more ―Boo-Laaaaah‖s and more shirts
and a trio of big Fijians wearing skirts singing for us as we queued for passport control. One was playing
a ukulele that was about the size of his mit. Fiji certainly seemed to deserve its nickname of ―The
Friendly Isles‖, though I hoped the big blokes in the skirts weren‘t too friendly. We had booked
accommodation but no one from Cheap and Cheerful Backpackers was there to pick us up. No matter,
as soon as we stepped into the arrivals hall we were assailed by people touting the different hostels and
hotels who all had transport waiting outside.
―Booooolah my friend, where you staying?‖
―Dunno yet‖
―We have Nadi Bay, Nadi Resort, Nadi Bay Resort, Bay Hotel, Bay Backpackers, Bay Hotel
Backpackers, Travellers‘ Backpackers. Which one you want?‖
―Errrr….‖
―We have air-conditioned transport outside, how about Traveller‘s Backpackers?‖
―Have you got Backpackers‘ Backpackers?‖
―Eh?‖
―I‘m kidding, how much is Nadi Bay Resort Hotel?‖
―56 Fiji Dollars‖ (£18)
―With air-con?‖
―Sure‖
―Is it far?‖
―5 minutes‖
And there you have it. It existed and it was reasonably priced. When we turned up it was more like a 4-
star hotel and where continental breakfast includes paw-paw, pineapple, watermelon, and mango
(though I suppose it depends which continent‘s breakfast they were imitating). They would even store
one of our rucksacks filled with winter clothes for three weeks free-of-charge.
         We caught a minibus taxi to the south of the island, the Coral Coast. The driver must have
passed his test in Mozambique, as overtaking round blind corners with double white lines in the middle
of the road seemed to be his chief pleasure. That, and sticking good luck charm stickers all over the
partitions and ceiling in his bus. I imagined the thick grey carpet with red and yellow tassels hanging of it
that covered the entire dashboard bit at the front was there to soften the impact should the adhesive gri-
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gris fail. Where was the ―Fiji time‖ that we‘d heard about? Having raced ¾ of the way to our destination,
swaying round the bends and flying down the hills, Drives decided to stop at the market so we could get
some lunch, and then proceeded to chat to his mates for a further 15 minutes.
       On our second day Nadro (pronounced ―Nandro‖) the Fiji Premiership Champions (rugby, soccer
is not big here) from the Coral Coast and its hinterland were taking on the boys from the big smoke,
Suva. At £4 for a VIP Grandstand ticket and access to the only beer in the ground, it would have been
silly to refuse. We were shouting for the home teams and country bumpkins of Nadro, figuring that with a
population of only 9,000 they‘d need the help against Suva and the resources of its 370,000 inhabitants.
       On the way to the game we went past the market and sampled some Saturday lunchtime eats.
There was a selection of Indian nibbles at three pence a vegetable fritter or sweetmeat, and the pies
were top value at 30 pence for a proper homemade pie. But the best were the ―rotis‖: a sort of chapatti
filled with curried potatoes and meat or fish; a sort of Indo-Fijian pasty. Fiji was scoring points fast, aside
from the men in skirts. I‘ve got nothing against blokes in skirts, I have been known to make appearances
in public in a dress, but I‘m just worried that they might suddenly turn all Scottish and turn me into a
Fijian haggis, after all, cannibalism only died out here at the end of the 1800s. Officially. Maybe it‘s the
secret to the great pies…..
       As it turned out Nadro didn‘t need our help, no more than the lady selling Nadro T-shirts for £3
needed my money, as they were both onto a winner; Nadro running out 20-15 winners in a mad game of
rugby where it appeared illegal to let the ball go into touch no matter how dangerous keeping it in play
was for your team, and every third person in the 4,000 who came to watch the game sporting a black
and white Nadro Stallions t-shirt of some description.
       Navola and Votua villages had some great characters who kept us busy. Mali the gardener would
let us taste the fruit in his tropical garden as he showed us round dipping into a custard apple with us
(now Sandrine‘s favourite fruit) and Old Napoleon had Sandrine and the other girls at the hostel making
coconut jewellery in the afternoons whilst I went diving with the enormous Wali.
        Obviously Wali used to play rugby, and given his size he looks like a natural prop. He used to
play outside centre, number 13. All I can think is that he is so big they reckoned that he could play prop
on both sides of the scrum on his own and stuck 1 and 3 on the same shirt for him. Although the muscle
tone has gone a bit at the age of 35, he wouldn‘t be out of place in lycra trousers smashing a plastic
chair on a be-mulleted yank‘s head in whatever wrestling is called since the World Wildlife Fund realised
the harm that was being done to animals‘ reputations. That was until I told him one of André‘s jokes and
he giggled like a little girl. The boat was an old wooden cruiser, and with the palm trees in the
background and Wali by my side I felt like I was in a James Bond film and we were going to find some
WMDs at the bottom of the sea. He would have been the ideal island sidekick for 007. Fortunately there
were no submerged nuclear missiles, but lots of colourful coral and two fully-grown reef sharks and two
juveniles to keep us amused. The coral was recovering from disastrous bleaching that occurred six years
previously and that was directly linked to the increasing hole in the ozone layer and there was a myriad

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of forms and colours and little fish feeding. At 28°C, the water is gorgeous, and the colour changes from
turquoise to green to cobalt and to iris depending on the depth and matter below the surface.
       Free scones and tea at 4 pm were followed by beach volleyball with the staff and their families
making teams with us tourists, with much leg pulling and squealing and cackling being the order of the
day. Once the sport was over and an early dinner digested we could either join the fire on the beach, the
card games and drinking games at the bar, or go to the bula hut for Fijian music and Kava.
       Walking into the hut it was customary to give everybody there a handshake between songs, the
handshake lasting longer the more the participant hand drunk seemed to be a rule of thumb. Fijians are
generally keen on a longer-than-normal-in-Europe handshake, unless you‘re in the Bois de Boulogne
where you should be careful of what you‘re shaking after dark, 10 seconds not being abnormal. A polite
―Do you mind if I have my hand back, I need it for the rest of my holidays‖ always did the trick for me. It is
rather uncomfortable having a big bloke in a sarong holding onto your mitt forever, especially when he‘s
been numbing his feelings with kava for four hours.
       Kava is the local brew, made from the ground roots of a pepper plant, called yaqona, mixed with
water in a wooden bowl called a tanou. It looks like dark grey dishwater and is served in a coconut half-
shelf, or a bilo. It is not alcoholic, but is a mild narcotic and has been used as a diuretic and stress
reliever for pharmaceutical purposes. It is supposed to combat depression, reduce anxiety, and lower
blood pressure and had its heyday in Western alternative medicine circles in the 1990s. When trade
peaked in 1998, Fiji and Vanuata exported 25 million US dollars of kava. However, a German study in
2001 indicated that kava could cause liver damage and by November 2002 most of Europe as well as
Canada and the USA had put a ban or severe warnings on kava products, making trade disappear faster
than a Kava-ed up tourist‘s energy. Research into these studies later showed that the vast majority of
people examined were using other drugs that affect the liver, and pro-yaqona activists claim that the
positive properties are proving to competitive for major pharmaceutical companies.
       Sitting cross-legged facing the tanoa, I copied the locals. On being proffered a bilo I clapped once
and said ―bula!‖, took it in both hands, and downed it in one. The slightly and medicinal taste and gritty
mouthfeel are best dealt with quickly anyway. As I glugged the others clapped three times to chivvy me
along, and having finished I clapped 3 times in thanks, but not for the olfactory experience. The first bilo
gave me a furry tongue. The second and third numbed my lips. The subsequent cups of mud, washed
down with Fiji Bitter, made me stop counting.
       After Nadro‘s victory over Suva I wore the t-shirt into the village on a shopping trip and every car
that passed me, without exception, slowed down amidst happy horn hooting, the passengers waving out
of the window chanting the team‘s name. The shopkeeper didn‘t normally sell dalo, a local root crop a bit
like potato that is also known as cassava or manioc, but rather than disappoint me he gave me some of
his for free, and insisted that I have his paper so that I could read the match report too. It didn‘t matter
that I told him that I‘d been to the game and he hadn‘t and hadn‘t had time to read the article.
―There‘s a photo of the crowd, maybe you can spot yourself in it‖

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―I was in the other stand, and took plenty of photos in colour‖ I was thinking, but took the paper
graciously he was obviously keen on me having it.
         We‘d intended to stay on the Coral Coast for just a couple of days, but the place was so friendly
and the beach so picturesque that we only managed to drag ourselves away after six nights. After two
hours on a windowless bus that sounded more like an old Chieftain tank than safe public transport, we
arrived safe and sound, if partially deafened, in the capital, Suva. It was bustling and humming, and a bit
smelly and fairly dirty, litter lying in the gutter and a layer of grimy dust floating in the air, the bus station
and the market conveniently next to each other creating an interesting symphony of honks and haggling.
Whilst savouring, I shit you not, marlin and chips, I spotted a poster promoting a forthcoming match at
the National Stadium, with the Army and the Police facing up in their annual challenge match. To
Sandrine‘s obvious delight it was on the following afternoon.
         She chose to give it a miss, but at £3 for a VIP ticket in the National Stadium, no amount of
nagging would keep me away, my only problem was who to support. On the way to the match I asked
the locals who I should shout for and although the Police probably shaded the vote, the Army had a late
surge and given that I used to be an Army Cadet, and took the Queen‘s Oath as a trainee officer, albeit
for all of two months, I was going to be yelling for the Pongos. (Wherever the Army goes, the pong
goes).
         The capacity is not quite Stade de France, the acoustics not quite Cardiff Arms Park, but you can
see the Pacific over the palm trees behind the far corner flag, and you need sunscreen if you‘re not in
the grandstand, and the reggae and calypso was provided by the Police (Fiji‘s coppers, not a trio of
ageing, skeletal, Brits). The pre-match ents‘ commenced with a tug-o-war between each service‘s
champion rope pullers and pie eaters, the Police sticking a girl in for good measure. The Police even had
a bloke in a banana leaf skirt to take the piss out of the Army, but the soldiers won three tugs to nil. Then
the Army band came on to perform à la Welsh Guards‘ Band, except they Fijied the show up. After a
march or two they went into a medley of popular tunes. During the Scottish jig the trombone players
stuck their instruments on their shoulders like bagpipes and high-kicked around the square and then
went into an intricate pattern forming the 12 points of a clock face and a second hand going round whilst
the Sergeant-Major conducting the band did Elvis-like moves on his tiptoes in the centre. They would
certainly brighten up Trooping the Colour.
         The match was just as good, the Army roaring into a deserved lead, cheered on by their
supporters whose job it is to bawl as loud as possible, only to be thwarted in the second half by a ref who
obviously had a few fines he wanted forgetting. At half-time I went in search of a beer and ended up in
the officials' bar next to the Chief of Police and Commander-in-General of the Army who were most
impressed by my special Zippo for pipes. In fact they both needed it as they got out the A-Team
Hannibal Smith stogies at full-time as the boys in blue levelled the score with the final kick off the game.
The Army still got the trophy, a giant kava bowl, as they were the holders and would remain so until
defeated.

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Bright and early the next morning, well early anyway; it was raining as it often does in Suva, and I‘d had
a few celebratory Fiji bitters too many, we were on a little 12-seater aircraft for a 14-minute ride over to
the island of Ovalau and the old capital of Levuka.
       Fiji, 3000 kilometers to the east of Australia and 2000 kilometers north of New Zealand, is made
up of a group of over 300 islands, with around 800,000 inhabitants, 49% of whom are ethnic Fijians, 46%
Indian Fijians descending from the indentured labourers brought in by Britain after succession in 1874,
and 5% from other islands, China, and Europe. Up until 1800 Caucasian visitors had been few, the
treacherous reefs, warring tribes, and tales of cannibalism keeping European sailors away.
       However, shipwrecked sailors discovered sandalwood on the islands, and their tales told upon
rescue soon brought other sailors and beachcombers looking to collect the precious scented wood for
sale to the Far East and to fish for beche-de-mer, also known as sea cucumber, a commodity highly
prized for its gooey insides that are used as a thickener. Despite the growing popularity of the islands
with traders, the Fijian King, Chief Ratu Cakobau, began to build up debts with the USA, mainly relating
to extravagant compensation claims for the looting of the American Consul‘s residence after it had burnt
down during the 4th of July celebrations. In 1870 he offered to cede to the US government in return for
having the debt cancelled, but the USA already had as many coconuts as they wanted in Hawaii and
turned the offer down.
       The King struck a deal with newly arrived Australians from Melbourne looking to make their
fortunes after the end of the gold rush, hoping that they would generate enough income to pay off the
debt. Unfortunately the scheme failed, and in 1874 he offered to cede to Great Britain in return for the
Crown paying off the debt to the US. On the small island of Ovalau, some 20 kilometres to the east of
the main island, Viti Levu, where the then capital of Levuka was located, the 800 leading Fijian chiefs
signed the act of succession.
       The islands remained part of the dwindling Empire until exactly 96 years later, when Prince
Charlie came out to hand back independence on the same spot, though Queen Liz remained the
figurative head of state.
       Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara became the first Fijian prime minister, and his Alliance party—which was
mostly made up of ethnic Fijians—governed until 1987. After this, a coalition led by the ethnic Indian
National Federation party won a majority in parliamentary elections.
       This new government was short-lived, and two weeks after the elections Lieutenant Colonel
Sitiveni Rabuka led a military coup to restore control to native Fijians. Britain‘s Governor-general
assumed executive control and negotiated a settlement between the Indians and Fijians. Rabuka wasn‘t
too keen and staged a second coup, establishing a civilian government dominated by Fijians. The
Queenth ceased to be head of state and Fiji was expelled from the Commonwealth by its member
nations. Rabuka re-appointed Mara prime minister. A new constitution was ratified in 1990 that favoured
indigenous Fijians over Indians, and this has been a continuing source of tension between the two
groups, coupled with the fact that native Fijians own most of the land and rent it out to Indians to grow

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sugar cane. 50 and 100 year leases are now coming up for renewal and the landowners, fancying a bit
of the pie themselves, are considering not renewing the leases and working the land themselves. The
Indians claim that in the instances where this has already been the case, the native Fijians only see the
income but not the investment in labour intensive farming and are soon deterred, the land quickly
become wild bush again. The net result is that two families lose a source of income and sugar cane
production is reduced, thus creating potential job losses in processing.
        When general elections were held in 1992, Rabuka was elected prime minister. His government
collapsed in November 1993, but in elections held in February 1994 Rabuka was re-elected. In
December 1993, Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara was elected President by the Great Council of Chiefs, which
represents the traditional tribal leaders of Fiji. Then, in July 1997, the implementation of democratic
changes to the constitution meant that Fiji was formally readmitted to the Commonwealth in October,
1997.
        Labour Party leader Mahendra Chaudhry was sworn in as Fiji's new prime minister in May 1999,
becoming the first ethnic Indian to lead the South Pacific island nation. Chaudhry's election was widely
hailed as a major milestone toward multi-racial government in Fiji. Parliamentary elections gave the
Labour Party 37 seats in the 71-seat House of Representatives. With its coalition partners—the Fijian
Association Party and the National Unity Party—the government claimed 51 seats. Rubuka's Fijian
Political Party was reduced to 8 seats, the indigenous vote being split between numerous parties.
        Chaudhry's coalition partners initially warned that an ethnic Indian prime minister could threaten
political stability in Fiji and demanded that an ethnic Fijian be chosen for the post. Chaudhry, a former
finance minister in the government ousted by the coup, maintained that his Labour Party could form a
government on its own. Chaudhry's coalition partners put their demands aside, and Chaudhry appointed
two ethnic Fijians as deputy prime ministers. Convinced that their traditional land rights were at stake,
indigenous Fijian protested and many refused to renew leases to Indo-Fijian farmers. The government
lasted until May 19, 2000. Armed men, mostly defectors from the antiterrorist unit under the command of
failed businessman George Speight, took over Parliament and 30 hostages including Prime Minister
Chaudry. The revolutionaries demanded the resignation of both the Prime Minister and the President
and that the 1997 multiethnic constitution be abandoned. The coup was a relatively peaceful affair, only
minor looting took place in Suva as some individuals took the opportunity to fill their pockets with lifted
beef and stereos. Eventually Speight and 300 of his sympathisers were arrested and Speight charged
with treason, to which he eventually pleaded guilty. Within a day of being sentenced to death his
punishment was commuted to life imprisonment, due to fear of further protests and rioting by
sympathetic indigenous Fijians. In an amusing twist of fate he is serving out his sentence on a small
island that was once a quarantine station for the indentured Indian labourers coming to Fiji.
        Nobody came out of the business any better off; trade sanctions, farm closures, a slump in
tourism and government cuts cost approximately 20,000 jobs, thus increasing poverty. A lot of Indo-


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Fijians, especially the professionally trained, are continuing to leave the country and hospitals and
schools suffer shortages in qualified staff.
       We checked into Fiji‘s oldest hotel, the Royal, full of rattan and rosewood furniture, high ceilings
and whirring fans, and fresh flowers in polished brass shell casings. A 100-year-old snooker table sat in
the games room, and the staff were not much younger. We only managed to check in after vigorous bell
bashing and loud coughing and ―Booooolahs‖. It felt like being in Fawlty Towers; any minute we
expected Polynesian Basil to come goose-stepping through reception in a sarong. The staff, it turned
out, could have entered for the Friendliest Inhabitants of the Friendly Isles competition (Fiji having been
elected Friendliest country in the World by some organisation, according to some guide book), they just
are the perfect definition of doing something in ―Fiji time‖. Only one table‘s breakfast order can be
prepared at a time, so if the table before has got 6 people on it, all having a full heart stopper, then you
have to wait half an hour before you can have a cup of tea. Fortunately for us the table ahead of us in
the queue only had three people in it unfortunately it was occupied by three nouveau Essex girls that
we‘d met on the Coral Coast and they were leaving on a trip to a village in the centre of the island with
us. The three of them were fresh out of ex-polytechnics, yet when it came to splitting the bill didn‘t know
what 25 minus 18 came to. They also spoke rather loudly and Katie, despite claiming to be madly in love
with her boyfriend, let the whole truck know that she had shagged a Fijian just to find out what it was like.
A guide took us round his village showing us the different foodstuffs that grow naturally in the jungle and
explaining how to prepare them. On seeing a sweet potato for the first time she squeaked excitedly:
―Oooh, that‘s a bit folic (sic), me knickers are getting squidgy‖.
       Levuka stayed overcast the three days that we were there, and there was no beach there either.
Although a bit run down, it had kept a rugged charm and it was not difficult to imagine it at the end of the
19th century full of rogues, swashbucklers, and more dodgy seamen that Katie. There was a Masonic
lodge that was burnt down in the 2000 coup by a group spurred on by the local clergy who claimed that
underground passages led from the lodge to the Ovalau club, the Royal Hotel, and to Masonic HQ in
Scotland. The big attraction for me was the tuna-canning factory in the town. Well, not so much the
factory, but the fact that the waste scraps were pumped out into the lagoon about 500 metres out and 60
metres down, attracting huge schools of barracuda, trevally, and some shark species to the reef.
Although visibility was poor it meant that the fish got closer too, the barracudas coming almost within
arm's reach, and a 4-metre barrel-chested bull shark drifting by six metres away.
       At the end of the afternoons workers and schoolboys would turn out on the rugby pitch to play
touch rugby and invited me to join in. Within 15 minutes of starting we were playing 25-a-side across half
a pitch, with the ball being turned over to the opposition at each touch as opposed to every three touches
in the rest of the rugby-playing world. This is like trying to get a good start in the London marathon when
you‘re 80 rows back and have your laces tied together. Yet somehow we did manage to score tries,
almost as many as would be scored anywhere else, through a combination of swerving and bending and


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acrobatic passes and catches, the most outrageous of these being met with high-pitched girly squeals of
delight. (Though you‘d never say so out loud).
       After a couple of days we went back to the mainland via a bumpy ex-army truck, an old wooden
launch that looked like the one from the WW2 film where the Greek bloke gets it at the end, another
truck and a bus all packed with islanders on their way to market with sacks of vegetables, yaqona roots,
and dalo. After three hours we were at Ellington Wharf awaiting another boat to take us out to another
island whose names sounds like an 80‘s girl band from Egypt or Mork from Ork speaking latin, Nananu-I-
Ra. Guess who were sitting at the bar as we turned up? The nouveau Essex girls.
       Nanananananu-I-Ra would be a perfect island haven if it wasn‘t for the south-easterly winds that
get channelled between the main island and Ovalau making the white sand beaches tad too blowy for
Bounty adverts. A plot of land starts at £20,000, but apart from reef diving and windsurfing, it would be a
pretty isolated place to live. We‘d intended to stay for 4 days, but an uncooperative ex-Farmer from New
Zealand who owned the backpackers meant our stay was curtailed. I‘d received a call for some much-
needed work, and we‘d chosen the place as it boasted Fiji‘s second-fastest Internet connection.
Unfortunately the firewalls set up by the absent administrator meant that it was impossible to download
my work on the guest workstations and Mr Kerr, the luddite owner, was unwilling to let me use his. The
lure of our potential bar tab and 4 scuba dives were not enough to sway him. I can only surmise that his
first name was Wayne.
       It looked like we‘d have to head back to Nadi and rethink from their once I‘d done my translation.
On the off chance we asked the old lady who ran the small store at Ellington Wharf id she had Internet.
She did, and she also had a brother down the road who had an unofficial homestay for £6 a night each,
including meals, and it meant that I could spend the evening working rather than sitting on a bus.
       Our hosts were a tall, grey-haired, 61-year-old Jo, and his wife Tarusila. Our home for the night
was a breeze block and tin roof abode with a turquoise interior in the living room and bedroom, the rest
of the inside walls were unrendered. Taking our shoes off, as is the custom, we were soon made to feel
at home. Dinner was simple but delicious Fijian fare of lentil soup, fish, onions, greens and tavioca. Jo
told us that he had spent his career in the army. He had wanted to retire at 60, but the army had refused
to accept his resignation letter, so he just walked out. Tarusila had worked for Court‘s the furnishers
earning £180 per month, but a recent merger with Home Centre and Office World had made her surplus
to requirements. At 51 she found it hard to find another job to the desire to leave Suva and return to the
village. Despite having little income they have a big vegetable patch at their Suva house that their
youngest daughter and her family now occupy (they have 10 kids altogether) and they borrow a brother-
in-law's boat a couple of times a week.
       It was a peaceful spot on a black sand beach with a wonderful view of the islands to the north
and the Highlands to the south. We decided to stay for a few days as art received extra work, and would
be giving our money to a charming couple that needed it. Besides, there was no chance of bumping into
the Essex girls here.

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          It proved to be fortuitous decision as Jo had given his permission to allow a school trip from the
interior to use his beach and garden for out in the next day. We spent the day with the infectious smiles
and laughter of the kids, Sandrine dancing and singing with them, encouraging them to put on show, and
showing them naff card tricks. I went on to the beach having spied a couple of rugby balls. I happen to
be wearing my Nadro T-shirt and within 30 seconds surrounded by budding 5 to 10 year old rugby
players who all wanted to high five me.
          It transpired that Jo was the local headman, being the owner of all the surrounding land. The
government this is a previously had even seen the Prime Minister come to see Jo to officially give him
back the titles to Nananu-I-Ra with its 4 backpackers and one large hotel, and the neighbouring island of
Nananu-I-Cake with its luxury private residences. Jo was to clear specifics, and didn't seem particularly
concerned either, but around 150 years ago the land was taken by the old king who exchanged titles that
one his of guns and gunpowder. Since then the titles were various plot had been exchanged, many
times, each successive leaseholder believing themselves to be the rightful owner. Now it transpires that
Jo owns one of the prettiest islands in Fiji, with some decidedly rich residents. I asked Jo if he was going
to get any compensation.
"Maybe" he said, expressing neither hope nor doubt.
" The government is sorting out, I don't want to get involved".
I pointed out that there were plenty of tourist operations and second homeowners making the most of his
islands; shouldn‘t he?
"Hmmm….I s‘pose I might get enough money to buy a small boat."
          Financial riches were obviously not top of his agenda, but they would go along way towards
fulfilling his dream of turning the brick shell on top of the hill above the village into a church. Given the
turnover of the establishments on the island he could build two. 10 days later an advert in the Air Pacific
in-flight magazine was showing a large undeveloped plot being sold by a Nadi realtor for £50,000. I sent
it to Jo.
          We completed our loop of the main island in a 1964 Leyland bus whose dashboard was stuck on
200,000 miles and 6 mph. The rev counter must have given up due to constant revving at bus stops to
chivvy customers along. It was a windowless affair that kept us cooled by the perfumed breeze, but left
us open to attack by carbon monoxide every time we were behind another bus. Still, it was a fun way to
travel.
          We made a brief stop at the grave of Ratu Udreudre, an early 19th century chief of the area.
According to the writings of Rev. Richard Lyth, Udreudre‘s son explained a long line of stones as
representing the chief‘s victims - one stone for one victim. Ratu liked to eat every bit of his enemies and
had an enormous appetite, as the 872 stones showed.
          Cannibalism was widely practised in Fiji from around 500 years BC to the end of the 19th century.
In a culture that believes strongly in the afterlife, cannibalising an early was considered to be the ultimate
revenge, a disrespectful death being a lasting insult to the enemy‘s family. If bodies were not consumed

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on the battlefield, they were brought back to the village spirit house, offered to the local war god and then
stuck in the pot or on the barbecue. Men performed a death dance and women an old-fashion type of
booty shaking in which they sexually humiliated corpses and captive. If that wasn't enough various
methods of torture saw captives thrown alive into ovens, being bled or dismembered, having to watch
other people eat their body parts, or, worst of all, having to partake of one of their own grilled members.
How would you like yourself cooked, Sir?
       Of course not all captives were eaten, some were used as slaves to tend fields and build drua,
enormous catamarans. A drua could carry up to 300 people and construction often involved ceremonial
human sacrifices, whilst the completed a vessel was launched over the bodies of the slaves that had
built it. Why waste wood on rollers after all.
       Nadi is the third biggest town, but its location next to the international airport makes it an
important trade hub, and downtown Nadi is buzzing with stalls and stores representing Fiji‘s cultural mix.
Christmas had come to town, with every restaurant and shop playing Christmas songs remixed Fiji style.
The effect in a Chinese restaurant run by Indians is slightly incongruous. Hark the Herald Angels Sing on
a ukulele is not quite the same as it was a cold English church on the last day of term. We‘d heard that
Indian traders hated to lose the first pitch of the day as it would mean bad luck until closing time so we
gave it ago. The Indian Fijians also have a healthy clothing manufacturing industry, and a lot of the
stores act as factory outlets so finding a good deal was a swizz. Getting the 2 bula shirts, 5 t-shirts, Fijian
rugby jersey and 2 sarongs into our rucksacks was not so easy.
       As we‘d been short of Bounty advert locations since the Coral Coast, we splashed out and the
last 2 days were spent on a little island called Mana, part of the Mamanuca group. The palm-fringed,
white sand beach island only took 20 minutes to walk across and was surrounded by pristine reefs,
making sure that we had definitely had our last taste of tropical paradise.
Could we afford to live here?
       Yes we could. A ¼ acre beachfront plot on the Coral Coast costs around £30,000, and a typhoon
proof 4-bedroom home could be built for £25,000. A plot a bit further back costs between £8,000 and
15,000.


Would we want to live here?
       Whilst Fiji doesn‘t have the infrastructure of South Africa, or the cricket (there are only 10 clubs,
mainly in Suva), the people are rugby mad and very friendly, the pies, fish, and roti parcels are
scrumptious, the diving excellent, and the weather and scenery beautiful. As far as safety is concerned,
it is advisable to catch a cab in towns after dark rather than walk around, though we had no problems,
any country that stages virtually bloodless coups as often as Fiji does can‘t be bad.


Is Fiji now number one on the list?


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       Not quite, but a definite number two. Its drawbacks, apart from being a tad dirty and about as far
away from friends and family as it would be possible to be without moving to Antarctica, are the lack of
wildlife and the lack of cultural diversity that South Africa has. You can‘t just jump in the car with the kids
and go off camping in the bush or the desert. Still, should we change our minds about South Africa,
we‘ve got a back up paradise up our sleeves.




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17 - New Zealand: not all about sheep
North Island

           New Zealand; land of sheep, mountains, Maoris, the All Blacks, and, according to the inhabitants
of the neighbouring country locally referred to as West Island, sheep lovers. Rugby is the country‘s main
love though, each All Black defeat creating flooded lines on radio phone-in shows, and each failure to
win the World Cup since lifting the inaugural Webb Ellis trophy in 1987 causing collective national
depression and requiring careful comment from leading politicians wary of making incorrect criticism.
When the All Blacks choked against an inferior Australian side in the 2003 semi-finals Brad and Richard,
2 kiwi mates living in Brittany, went into a 2-week funk and were often found hunched over the bar
staring into pint glasses that were certainly of the half-empty variety.
           The annual Daily Telegraph travel survey found New Zealand to be the top world travel
destination in 2004, and we had been told that house prices were within our budget. It most certainly had
rugby, cricket, pies, horses, and diving in the Pacific Ocean, could it topple South Africa from its number
one spot on our list?
           We arrived the land of the long white cloud, or the ―land of the wrong white crowd‖ as the first
Maori I spoke to called it, in Auckland. We weighed up buying a banger and reselling it with the inherent
danger of it packing up and needing repairs to finish the trip against renting for 6 weeks. As we couldn‘t
find anything particularly cheap to buy that looked like it might make it through 5000 k and we‘d found a
rental at £9 a day, we took the safe option for once. We knew what it was going to cost us, if it broke
down we‘d get a replacement, and we wouldn‘t have to spend the last week back in Auckland trying to
sell it.
           We perused the Auckland area estate agents‘ glossy magazines that looked more like fashion
show catalogues, and found that the world property boom had found its way the remotest corner of the
Commonwealth. It wasn‘t as pricey as Sydney, but there was nothing decent for under £150,000. The
further away from Auckland one was, the cheaper it was, we were informed.
―And it‘s a lit bliddy noicer tee‖ said the estate agent
―Nin of these bliddy Jaffas to pot ep with‖ she added, confusing us thoroughly.
I found it hard to imagine that even copious sheep worrying would render anyone impotent.
―A jaffa?‖ queried Sandrine
―Jist inother fucking Aucklander. They‘re always in a rush to get something done, to get from here to
there. I‘m from down south, we take the time to live buck home.‖
           Auckland certainly appeared to be the heartbeat of the country, with over one third of the
population living in the area. But the heart didn‘t seem to have much beat in it. It was two weeks before
Christmas and no lights were up in the streets, the bars were quiet and the streets pretty much empty
after the shops shut. The waterfront and its yachts and bars might fill to brimming on Americas Cup
Searching For Paradise
                           Sid Bartlett, PO BOX 131, 4184 Pennington, South Africa                  120
            tradbartlett@hotmail.com                                        Tel:0027 82 493 6447
days, but in mid-December there was more chance of requiring hospitalisation from hypothermia and
boredom than from being crushed by drunken revellers.
        Despite every guidebook in the world clearly stating that summer had started in NZ, the weather
clearly couldn‘t read. That or thought it was over Scotland. As we drove up into Northland the mercury
hardly troubled 15°C, and we broke out the Gore-Tex and long trousers from the bottom of our
rucksacks.
        The two-lane main road wound round its way towards Pahia and the Bay of Islands that looked
like a smaller version of Brittany‘s Morbihan Gulf and the town of Russell. When Britain first accepted to
rule New Zealand in 1840, Russell was the fledgling colony's capital. Unlike the colonisation of other
parts of the Empire, New Zealand's took 70 years of informal trade before the Maori chiefs and the
Crown, having overcome its reluctance to get involved in a potentially expensive enterprise, accepted to
draw up an agreement.
        The first fleeting contact between the islanders and Europeans took place in 1642 when the
Dutch explorer, Abel Tasman, sailed south from the Dutch East Indies looking for the "Great South
Land". The brief contact with the locals left four Dutchmen dead and resulted in the Maoris being left in
peace for another 127 years. From 1769 expeditions, firstly by Captain Cook, came frequently buying
flax and timber and exploring, or for R&R for whaling and sealing boats. Between 1833 and 1839 it is
recorded that 271 Whalers from New England alone stopped at Russell, which became a lively mixed-
race settlement. Missionaries once described it as the "hellhole of the Pacific" due to its popularity with
whaling crews as a decent spot for some a-whoring and a-boozing, much like Levuka in Fiji. And much
like Levuka, things had calmed down considerably. Stately colonial buildings, gift shops, and cafes
belied Charles Darwin's 1835 description of Russell as being full of "the refuse of society". And there is
little chance of the 1830 War of the Girls kicking off again amongst the placid locals, who number around
1100.
        Back then, two pairs of Maori girls, one from the north of the Bay of Ismlands, the other
predictably from the south, were trying to get into the breeches of one whaling captain by the name of
Brind, presumably to get on the end of his moby and get married into a bit of moolah. However, the
competition got to the lovely ladies and when they met on the beach verbal insults were exchanged
before they came to blows. Rather than just forming a circle around the hair-pulling, shin-kicking girls
and shouting ―fight, fight, fight, fight‖, their ―rellies‖ joined in and set off a series of battles over a 2-week
period that left hundreds dead and injured before the missionaries managed to come up with a truce.
History did not record whether one of the sweet club wielding angels became Mrs. Brind. I‘d have
thought that having in-laws prepared to go to war for you must be both flattering and worrying. It would
certainly put you off divorce, and woe betide you if you forgot Mothers‘ day.
        Other than that, relationships were relatively trouble free, the greatest conflicts were inter-tribe.
As the northern tribes received muskets they attacked their neighbours to the south. As the Europeans,
or Pakeha in Maori, moved south these tribes received arms and repeated the process. Between 1818

Searching For Paradise
                         Sid Bartlett, PO BOX 131, 4184 Pennington, South Africa                          121
         tradbartlett@hotmail.com                                               Tel:0027 82 493 6447
and 1836 these Musket Wars accounted for 20,000 dead locals. Missionaries, who had first arrived in
1814, claimed to have put an end to the bloodshed, but the end coincides neatly with the arrival in the far
south of musket bearing settlers re-establishing an equal distribution of modern weaponry.
       The 1840 treaty of Waitangi has a standing similar to the Constitution, but is far more contested.
The source of contention arises from the differences in each language‘s version. The British version
promised Maoris full equality as GB subjects in return for full governance. The Maori version also
promises retention of traditional chieftain ship, and thus local governance. Initially this posed no problem
as the British version was applied in the limited number of coastal settlements and the Maori version
across the rest of the country where there were no Europeans. But as settlements increased disputes
over land rights escalated into open warfare (which was also inter-tribal), the British pitting traditional
enemies against each other to do the dirty work that settlers and the army found too hard to do. 5 distinct
conflicts, in different regions, each lasting a couple of years, took place between 1844 and 1872.
       Despite winning several battles, the opposition forces were ground down by weight of numbers
and technology, and saw huge swathes of native land confiscated. Today's government is struggling to
meet compensation payments are rewarded for illegal appropriation of land. Needless to say these
"handouts" create resentment and animosity amongst a certain number of whites who consider the
Maoris to be a bunch of "lazy thieving bastards" the return consider their antagonists as the progeniture
of thieving bastards. In fact some Kiwis wouldn‘t appear to like many folk different from themselves. The
campsite owner warned me about wearing my Springbok rugby jersey out at night as many Kiwis hadn‘t
forgotten the 1995 Rugby World Cup final defeat and associated food poisoning allegations and
considered South African as bastards of the dirty, cheating variety.
―OK, I‘ve got a Fiji Sevens one‖
―That‘s even worse‖ he countered
―Why? They share the same cultural roots with Maoris and there are plenty of Fijians living here‖
―Job-stealing bastards‖
―British Lions?‖ I offered meekly
―Pommie bastards‖
―Otago Highlanders?‖
―Southern bastards‖. Here, have a beer, at least no-one‘s going to steal your laundry.
It was an introduction to the one-eyed nature of the Kiwi sports fan. Whatever jersey I wore, people
automatically assumed that I came from there. A Kiwi will only ever wear an All Blacks or his home town
jersey. They still whinge about the 1983 Cricket World Cup semi-final when the Aussie Bastards bowled
the last ball of the match underarm to make sure that a match-winning six could not be hit by their
neighbours. I didn‘t have a conversation about cricket where this did not come up, even with a 20-year
old who obviously wasn‘t even born when it happened. My Austrian step-mother, despite being slightly
touched, has never once railed on about the Serbians and the Black Hand gang assassinating Archduke
Franz-Ferdinand in 1914.

Searching For Paradise
                          Sid Bartlett, PO BOX 131, 4184 Pennington, South Africa                    122
         tradbartlett@hotmail.com                                           Tel:0027 82 493 6447

				
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