THE GREEN DIARY :               T A B : That’s Africa, Baby!

Our arrival in Cape Town was spoiled by the non-arrival of Tony’s luggage, which BA neglected to load at Heathrow where there was chaos. About a hundred other passengers were similarly affected – so, chaos in Cape Town too with bewilderment at the lost luggage office; nobody knowing what BA’s intentions were.

It took two full days to catch up with us with Tony in borrowed clothes. We were getting ready for a retail therapy session on Easter Monday at the V & A Waterfront but in the end two dusty bags were delivered to the house first at 2.00am when no-one heard the doorbell and then on Easter Sunday afternoon.

 All my luggage was intact, popping onto the carousel in a neat group. It has always been a cause of wonderment to us that though we check our baggage together, in all our travels over nearly forty years, it has never once popped up together. Go figure!

Lovely to see friends again here after so long and sadness that we have not seen everyone.

We have been royally treated at Kirstenbosch – thank you Conradies; and with a wonderful lunch out at Marina da Gama – thank you Ross and Charles; and Jane F. and Jenny R. and Sarah C. and Chris and Liz W. So sorry Jane A. could not make it.

We loved Muratie and Delheim on the wine route, which unaccountably we’d never before visited, and such a fine day too – thank you Jane F, again, we’ll not forget Sneaky in a hurry.

Jane. F with Tony and ‘Sneaky’ our Sommelier and guide at Muratie

And thank you Damon, Riaz and Tabassum for sharing your home with us in Greenpoint, for the cooking lessons and immaculate and tasty currys. I have taken you advice and bought a Wusthof knife!

In complete contrast to the awful news of floods in Durban, the weather here has been warm and sunny with barely any wind, almost too hot for April in the Cape though we are certainly not complaining.

I was born in Cape Town, in Rondebosch, and went to University here.

I started my acting career here. 

I left for London on a one way ticket forty-two years ago to escape Apartheid and its conscript army which obliged me and many others to parallel a civilian life with a military one, posted twice to the Angola border, to D-Formations and riot control in Durban, to monthly shooting parades, guard duties at obsolete vehicle depots and oil storage installations.

Somewhere on the Border!

I hated it and emigrated with relief.

But I have always come back. Friendships and Family are precious. 

The landscape works on your soul. 

Die Aarde.

On the many visits I have always felt a connection here, an attachment; gone out of the way to explore old ground, familiar landscapes; felt comforted by the familiarity, the memories, the sense of being home. The hard thing about this visit for both of usis that we no longer feel any sense of immediate connection, which has coloured everything.

This time there is a detachment, there is no curiosity, no desire to revisit old haunts that we no longer care and with these feelings an intense sadness, which has underlined our time in what is perplexingly the most beautiful country.

In Cape Town, surely one of the most lovely of cities, lying under that iconic mountain, we found evidence of the tragic path this Kleptocracy is treading. The hours of load shedding, the tent cities of homeless, the squalor of the city, the burnt out parliament cocking a thumb at democracy, open talk by many of failed states, of decaying infrastructures, of corruption and outright robbery and a people utterly failed by their greedy leaders.  

The rail network has collapsed; in November 200 kilometres, yes 200 kilometres, of track and about as much overhead wiring was ripped up and stolen. The railways cannot function, cannot repair the network fast enough and those called in to investigate are usually the perpetrators. All the public services are failing and the money for their maintenance gone into the pockets of corrupt politicians. Where will it end?

The obsession with security, the endless barbed wire, electric fencing and big bunches of keys to lock and unlock almost everything it seemed, the fear of violence which can come and go in seconds, randomly, and leave a wake of irreparable physical and emotional damage.

On our last day in Cape Town we picked up a car and with dire warnings from many friends about potholes and fake road blocks, we set off for Arniston driving the coast road through Gordon’s Bay, Rooi-Els, Hangklip to Onrus for a wonderful lunch with Tessa and Ben.

Thank you so much both. How lovely to see you and what a beautiful, panoramic drive it was, the blue of False Bay on our right hand and the rearing mountains on our left, the Hottentots Holland, the Overberg and that rolling stretch of farmland across to Bredasdorp down to Arniston on the Cape Agulhas with always the Langeberg to the north. A landscape of fynbos and farms, the cold green of the Agulhas current, the crash of white surf on bleached beaches, the high blue heavens and vast multi-patterned cloud formations grip the soul and choke the heart.

The Beacon

From Arniston the drive is easy, the traffic light and not a pothole in sight! 

The roads are perfect – past Swellendam, through Riversdale, by-passing Mossel Bay, The Garden Route opening before us and now the Indian Ocean on our right showing a warmer blue, to Wilderness for the warm embrace of Hugo and Helen in their lovely home right on the lagoon. Thank you friends. Lots of stories and never enough time.

In Okavango three years ago on an afternoon drive searching for game, Tony lost his Panama, blown somewhere into the savannah, never to be seen again except perhaps, hopefully, on the head of a prancing baboon. Now in Wilderness we have heard of Patti Zway who, can you believe, is an importer of genuine Panama hats.

We find her and her collection and Tony now has a new one for our onward journey to Knysna and a brief brunch with friend Caro down at the Heads, the sun shining and the lagoon still, reflecting the hills and forests around. 

Still no potholes, the N2, modern and smooth, runs eastward, swinging by Plettenbergbay, Gqeberha – aka Port Elizabeth or, even, PE – to Port Alfred on the Kowie River where we de-camp for three generous nights with Judge Kathy S. and friend Carol, aka Mrs Hayman, who has joined us from East London. Much discussion ensued; the environs were toured and remembered, for this is 1820 Settler country; the beaches visited, a sunny day spent in the Judge’s motorboat on the Kowie river, lined by rocky kloofs covered in Euphorbia. High blue skies and tall, billowy white clouds lent a deceptive peace to a troubled land.

Kowie River

Then onward to East London via Bathurst where we found the Toposcope, site of the scattering of Tony’s Father’s ashes many years ago – such a long way from home – as were all those settlers in times gone by.

Still no potholes, Friends! We by-passed a dusty, chaotic and unattractive East London, crossing the Buffalo, Nahoon and Gonubie rivers through a lush landscape, to find Carol H. in her lovely new home tucked under the dunes, 300 metres from the beach at Sunrise-on-Sea, part of the East London Coast Nature Reserve and the southern most end of The Wild Coast which we walked back in 2007.

HERE’S THE SCAM!

Northward, staying on the N2, still no potholes, crossing the Kei river, we arrive at the first set of traffic lights, late-morning in Mthatha, once the capital of the erstwhile Transkei, that infamous invention of Dr Verwoerd and his madcap band – and here everything went pear-shaped!

The SatNav showed that there was some kind of traffic upset jamming the exit, on the other side of the town onto the road to Port St. Johns where we are headed for one night.

Tony is driving.

The hundreds of taxis, all obeying different rules have produced a dusty, milling chaos and we are inching towards a set of lights.

Tony sees in the rear-view mirror an official looking man carrying a walkie-talkie and a cell phone coming along the line of vehicles. He is bending to talk to the drivers.

He reaches Tony and asks where we are going.

“Port St. Johns.”

“There is a bad traffic jam and you have to detour through a special road to get through. This is a private toll road and you need a card like this one.” He briefly brandishes a card with a bar code on it. “It costs R70.”

We are uncertain about this.

“Can you sell us one of these cards?”

“No – you must go to a special place to get it and you must follow that car, they will show you the way.”

How stupid could we be? Here is the anatomy of a scam.

But the uniform looks genuine.

The SatNav shows that there is indeed a jam of some sort on the other side of town.

£70 seems a small sum of money.

We do not obey.

We inch up to the lights. There is chaos. 

Two men in a white car have swung round to the left, blocking the traffic, indicating they want to turn across us and go left.

There is much shouting.

We think they want us to yield and let them through.

We indicate for them to pass in front of us but they keep waving, gesticulating and shouting. The mini buses are hooting.

There is dust. Chaos.

It dawns on us that they want us to follow them.

We don’t. Tony pulls ahead and drives straight on as indicated by the SatNav.

We inch forward to the next set of lights.

The official with the walkie-talkie catches up with us and tells us that we need one of these cards.

We ignore him and follow the traffic round through various lights, through crowds of people, markets and mess.

Eventually we reach a corner where we must turn left. On our right there is a petrol station and a SparShop. It is on the corner of Madeira and Victoria Streets. We are boxed in by traffic and our officials have once more found us and caught up with us. 

“You will be fined if you do not get this card and you will not reach the Port St.Johns road. You can park here and come and buy a ticket here.”

It seems that is what we must do.

The SatNav is burbling away; there are swarms of people; we are conscious of being the only whites in the whole place: two older men, one wearing a conspicuous pink shirt and driving what is clearly a rental.

It is frightening. The scenarios are playing in our minds.

Tony gets out of the car, goes with the man round the corner onto the petrol station forecourt and the entrance to the SparShop.

I cannot see him.

A minute later he reappears.

“They don’t take cash. Have you got a card handy?”

We are by now very uncertain of our situation.

But in these Covidly days and in high crime areas cash is often not accepted.

I hand Tony my EasyFX Card, which is one of those cards you load with money when travelling, to get better exchange rates in any currency and pay no charges.

He knows the PIN.

He is gone quite a few minutes.

Suddenly there is an impatient knocking at the passenger window.

“Your friend does not know how this card is working. You must come.”

I get out of the car and follow this new man round the corner where things have suddenly got stressful and there is arguing. The temperature is rising.

“The card is stuck in this ATM and won’t come out…….”

“You must push that button with ‘International’ on it,” the man is now right on top of us and there is loud explaining going on, “it is an International card. Tell your friend to push the international button, put the PIN in and the card will come out.”

We do this and it doesn’t.

Only now are we certain this is a scam. What to do? We need the card back.

We are shouting at each other. I demand to know what has happened to our card.

“Have you another card?”

And here is the stupidest thing of all!

“Yes I do.”

“You must put that in, put in the PIN and then cancel the transaction and both the cards will come out.” He snatches my second and only other card out of my hand, shoves it into the machine and shouts for me to put the PIN in. He is leaning over us both. I try to conceal the PIN but to my horror it does not come up as four **** but shows the actual numbers.

The card does not come out after we press the cancel button.

I go ballistic. Tony goes ballistic.

“What the fuck do you think you’re doing here…….you fucking scammers…..you are scammers. I am phoning the police…….and our bank…….”

“Do not worry. You will get your cards back. We are not scammers.”

A small crowd has gathered in the background.

“Come with us and we need to talk to the supervisor. He will get your cards out of the machine……..”

“No, we will not budge from here. Tell the supervisor he must come here now.”

I call up the emergency number for our Lloyds Joint Mastercard.

The connection is poor. The SatNav on the phone is still telling us to turn right. There is yelling, dust, traffic and suddenly we are frightened and alone and white. It is in just such situations, often, that here is when the guns/knives/machetes get taken out and you are dead.

I finally get through to Lloyds. In the melee and panic I cannot remember all the many security questions or their answers and “No, I can’t remember Aunt Barbara’s birthdate…..please can you just block the card……”

“I’m afraid you must go through all the security questions before…….”

“Please take the next turning to the right……” The SatNav chips in.

“For goodness sake we are in a mugging situation here…..just take the number please…..”

“No it is not…….”

“Take the next turning to the right…….”

Tony meanwhile has succeeded in getting one of the cards out of the machine, which is almost snatched out of his hand but there is no sign of the other card which we think came out first and was somehow palmed.

“Tone, please speak to this man in England he is not being helpful…….”

“Please turn right at the next exit……….” Why does the SatNav not shut up?

Music is now playing somewhere. The stress and noise is overwhelming.

“Hello…..hello are you there….I’m Tony Peake the lead name on this joint account……..”

Suddenly two men come round the corner shouting, “Here is your card, you see, we said you can get them back…….”

“Please turn right at the next exit…..” The SatNav again!

“Hello….hello…..yes, Tony Peake…..they have given our card back….we think it has been cloned….just block everything……hello…….”

“Has he gone?”

“The call’s dropped, we’ve been cut off.”

We are alone now and the event is over.

An old man shuffled by, “That is a very bad machine. Do not use that machine. It never gives you money.”

We are both in shock. 

And feel very foolish. 

And it dawns on us that this whole horrible moment could easily have been far, far worse. We could easily be dead.

They say bad things happen in threes. We have two more to go.

Round the corner we get back into the car, which in the haste of the moment I’d left unlocked, the windows open. Thank god, no-one had noticed else there’d have been more tears.

We slowly made our way through the weekend traffic jam to the Port St. Johns road which we discover is new and has no potholes but there is another jam. There is a motorcyclist in FedEx uniform lying dead in the road; he has just been clipped by a speeding car; his motorcycle is a wreck. A few people mill around but there seems to be no feeling of tragic urgency. Just indifference. Lethargy.

We inch by, the road clears and I pick up speed, it’s my turn to drive. A mile or so further along there is what looks like a brown rock in the road, which I have just enough time to steer over.

It’s not a rock, it’s a dead dog and I have miscalculated. There is a sickening wrenching sound and something tears away the underside of the car. In the rear-view mirror I see the dog rolling out from under the car and immediately there is a vibrating, clattering sound.

On inspection part of the exhaust casing has been torn off but the car works and we decide to carry on to Port St. Johns, to some WiFi, to a phone connection, to EasyFX and Lloyds and, now, to Avis as well.

On arrival in Port St.Johns we both wondered why we bothered to put this stop into our itinerary. Perhaps it was because neither of us had ever been there or perhaps it’s because its part of the spectacular Wild Coast, its lovely river and the enormous kloofs it flows through to the sea; but otherwise it is a dump. 

I have already had a text from EasyFX telling me that two attempts at withdrawing 49,999.00 Rands (about £2,700.00) have been made and blocked; but the scammer’s tried several lower amounts which have succeeded and the whole account cleared – about £350.

Attempts at phoning them fail. It is the weekend, the connection is bad and I could only email them.

Tony had better luck with Lloyds and he re-established contact with them to block the account from which they had succeeded in withdrawing round £7,000.00. Lloyds have said this will eventually be restored.

Our Data and Cell phone usage soars. Later we discover these calls and attendant access to websites on G4 have cost round £300!

With Avis we had little luck. The nearest office was in Mthatha, which was closed as it was a weekend. They want to know where we are going next. To Pietermaritzburg I say, a six hour drive away via Lusikisiki, Flagstaff and Kokstad along roads so indescribably badly maintained that we feared the car would literally be shaken to pieces and the tyres shredded. 

The next day was a Sunday and the Avis office in Pietermaritzburg is at Oribi Airport, open only between 1.00 and 8.00pm.

We clattered our way there the next day across the Transkei and got to the airport at 2.00pm to find the Avis desk unattended.

Potholes. So far only between Lusikisiki and Kokstad, from there to Pietermaritzburg a few but not too bad. It seems the main routes are being cared for. The Hertz man told us the Avis man didn’t bother pitching up if there were no scheduled drop-offs or pick-ups.

I phoned the central office in Johannesburg who has arranged a car swop, which at the time of writing, can only be three days hence.

It has not been a pleasant weekend and we have both been shaken by the experience and the realisation that things could have been far, far worse.

With huge relief we collapse into the arms of friends in Pietermaritzburg for the next venture!

Next with friends Bobbi, Kippie, Vonnie and Mike; Lorenza and Michael C. not to mention Sarah vd M., we venture to Lotheni in the Drakensberg, along appalling roads, to Symes Cottage for three nights in a new landscape no less inspiring and peaceful than any before: clear blue heavens and unpolluted starlight; grassland and streams; baboons, monkeys, eland, jackal are around. Gaslight and oil lamps; candles and matches – why are they so difficult to strike? LPG fridges and freezers, the lingering smell of paraffin, good food and wine and such wonderful company: thank you dear friends.

Then it’s time to replace the broken Toyota with a Suzuki ‘Desire’, and head for the family in Durban. A great reunion; it’s been several years since we have embraced and we are set for two more adventures to replace the cancelled repositioning cruise that was to have returned us to Europe via Suez, a sudden and unexplained end to the grand idea of three weeks at sea. MSC cite only “operational difficulties” and return our money.

But another Jane, Jane B., has in the meantime flown out to discover her roots and was to have joined us as part of a group of nine returnees who in the past months have dropped out one by one, usually because of Covid, so that we are now a party of three. 

Plans are hatched. First the Suzuki ‘Desire’, an under powered little thing, needed to be replaced by something higher off the ground, more powerful and robust. To Avis we go for our third vehicle in a month while  Bro-in-Law Alan invokes his membership of the Bateleur Club and manages to get us all into the Phinda Mountain Lodge (https://www.andbeyond.com/our-lodges/africa/south-africa/kwazulu-natal/phinda-private-game-reserve/andbeyond-phinda-mountain-lodge/  ) for three days of  game drives, luxurious comfort in a setting beyond dreams.

Good eating and drinking, great companionship and above all some of the best game viewing ever. We’d stayed once before in the Phinda Forest Lodge and had been spellbound by that, but did not see as many animals then. Now we were wowed by leopard, lion, elephant, rhino., cheetah, warthog, hippo., crocs., baboons, monkeys, every antelope you can imagine, birds of every kind in “seven distinct habitats, a magnificent tapestry of woodland, grassland, wetland and forest, interspersed with mountain ranges, rivers, marshes and pans. Home to 1 000 hectares (2471 acres) of Africa’s remaining rare dry sand forest, the reserve is situated in close proximity to the unspoiled beaches and spectacular coral reefs of the Indian Ocean, offering an unmatched combination of bush and beach adventures…….” 

Game drive with Jane B. & Alan Bro-in-Law

You get the drift?  

https://vimeo.com/713650271

We didn’t want to leave but of course there are endings to all things and now Jane B., nursing a terrible cold but bravely missing nothing for this her 80th birthday treat, we set off together on our last adventure, back to the Drakensberg, this time to Champagne Castle, for the last four nights of our stay.

View around Cathkin and east towards the hotel and the Midlands. With friends Charné & Johann Prangley

Champagne Castle Hotel was where as children we were often taken, usually in the middle of winter, in the July school holidays, dry and sunny but cold too then with sometimes snow on the mountains. There are a lot of memories here, most of them good. The last time we were here was in 2006 when we brought my mother for a week. It was Tony’s first visit and we never saw the mountains at all nor did we walk. It was February and it rained the whole week, with clouds covering the mountain. Mother fell and cracked her skull and we played endless games of Scrabble with an Afrikaans language set that had no ‘c’s but lots of ‘y’s and plenty of ‘k’s!

This time it was glorious and a cure for Jane B.’s nasty cold which, thank heavens, was never Covid.

Down from the Underberg through Winterton, Loskop and Estcourt to the N3 toll road, no potholes but terrifying drivers, down onto the Midland Meander past Mooi River and Nottingham Road to Rawdons for tea, then a short visit to my old school Michaelhouse in Balgowan, onto the dusty Curry’s Post Road to Howick stopping for lunch at Halliwell’s.

On to Hilton for last farewells with friends there; down Town Hill by-passing Pietermaritzburg, crushed almost by vast undisciplined container lorries and more scary traffic, slowed by jams in an early dusk and the heart-stopping drive through Camperdown, Inchanga, up under Botha’s Hill to Kloof in time for showers, gins and out to Lupa for the Last Supper with family, Jane B. feeling much better.

The Last Supper.

We three flew out from Durban with Emirates via Dubai, to Gatwick and courtesy cars to take us home.

It’s been fantastic. Much in South Africa shocked and saddened us but much else was beautiful and friendships endure. We are sad we did not see everyone, did not get to Johannesburg but it’s not possible to do everything – und vee vill be beck!

A day after we returned Durban was struck again by more floods and massive rain storms.

THANKS DEAR FRIENDS ALL

13 Replies to “THE GREEN DIARY :               T A B : That’s Africa, Baby!”

  1. Thank you for sharing your journey. The scam sounds very frightening and it is so sad that people cannot always be trusted.
    I was also struck by the sense of ‘no longer’ having that feeling of belonging you write about. I was in London this week and have always loved being in London. This time it felt like an alien land and society seems to be crumbling into the dark ages. I wonder is it the process of ageing or is something happening right now that society is breaking down?

  2. That’s a totally thrilling episode, Peter, but most frightening in parts. You and Tony are truly intrepid travellers and I admire you for that!
    England must seem rather tame. ( albeit SAFE ) after all that drama, some of which was…ALARMING, to put it mildly…
    We await the next adventure with ….pleasure and some horror ?
    Very many thanks ( and squeaks ) xxxxxx M.M

  3. Thanks chaps! Great essay – viva SA! Notwithstanding all its problems. But the past is def another country and your eye is spot on Pete.

    We have just returned from two months in Provence. No potholes and no scammers. Ukrainian refugees gave our house a deep clean. Swam, walked, 37 on the day we left via Paris to catch up with friends.

    Joy’s ankle replacement op now lies ahead.

  4. A wonderfully evocative account Peter… I was with you all the way and am so glad that meeting with old friends and that amazing land compensated for the ghastly ordeal you went through; terrifying!
    Thank you so much for allowing me to vicariously live your life xxxxxxx oh and love to Tony 😂😂😂😂

  5. Oh Peter, thank you so much for this beautifully written account of your travels. The older Alistair and I get, the less we want to travel. It is wonderful to live vicariously through Tony and you. Much love and admiration always.

  6. Wow Peter and Tony, you saw some of the best and some of the worst. What a trip. You’re both looking wonderful. I’m so pleased to be able to share your adventure.
    Love to you both

  7. Thank you for the lovely blog Peter! Truly an event filled holiday!
    For us Capetonians, you two were very brave to drive all the way from the Cape to KZN, and especially brave to do it through the E Cape!

    Great that you arrived back safe and sound and that your trip was “fantastic”!

    When planning your next trip, please steer clear of Eastern Europe.

  8. Petrus, excellent reading. Stalwarts you are! Oh man do you make me homesick for the ‘berg and beaches whilst we wallow in a droll Victoria spring of 10 degrees, rain and snow on the mountains.
    Oh well!
    Hobart

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