The Mahala Odyssey: part 109.06.2009
Over the next few weeks Mahala is going on a road trip to gauge the pulse of our people, surf some waves and eat some peri-peri chicken. From Cape Town to Johannesburg the easy way, strapped down in the bowels of a big metal bird. Then from Jozi to Maputo, through the bush to Ponta do Ouro. From Ponta across the border into Zululand, through the Makhatini Flats down to Durban just in time for the British & Irish Lions vs The Sharks rugby match and then to prepare for the party we’re throwing in Durban in order to collect second hand surf equipment for the non-profit Mahala Surf Co. More on that here. After the jol we plan to deliver some of the boards to the Umthombo project, a group that works with street kids in Durban central. And then we roll down the South Coast, dropping some boards at the Mqadi twins’ surf project in Umzumbe before swinging through to the Transkei to Port St Johns where we’ll deliver more boards and equipment to the Iliza Surf Academy and spend some time with the kids and check out the shark situation. Iliza has been hit hard by two fatal shark attacks this year – and now all the kids surf with shark shields (electronic devices that emit an electric field around the user that sharks don’t dig). But I digress. Then it’s East London, Cradock, PE, JBay, Plett, Knysna, Mossel Bay, Stilbaai, Caledon and finally Cape Town. Where we’ll deliver any left over boards to the Palama Metsi surf project in Muizenberg.
So after almost two weeks of steady Jozi shmoozing, meetings and a few too many lunches at the Shwarma Co. in Norwood. I broke like the wind for the coast. The car even sounds like hot flatulence, roaring in my dad’s borrowed diesel Land Rover. It’s strange how Maputo is just as far as Durban and twice as nice but fewer people South Africans go there. I mean Maputo is a holiday, it’s a world away from South Africa, but only six hours drive. From Johannesburg, locked in that dry altitude that turns your sinuses into a hard packed dirt floor, all you need to do is let gravity roll you down the escarpment to the town formerly known as Lourenço Marques. Soon enough the dry planes give way to rolling hills. Flora changes from burnt grass and spewing smoke-stack power stations to aloes, fruit trees and the odd palm. Dik bos. Jock of the Bushveld bushveld. All of a sudden you’re in a queue at the border. Stamp stamp. Another queue, a different queue. At once chaotic, warm and easy. I mean even the flies don’t really bug you in Maputo, they seem to know there’s no point landing on your face just to be chased away. So they wait on the table. Relaxed. Tudo bom. Tudo melo. Some food will fall from your lips soon enough, my friend. Then bazza bazza. Things are like that in Moz. There’s a laidback inevitability. An inevitable laidback-ness. Even the mosquitos bide their time.
And so after busting down the hill to this other world of Latino Africans, dodging the cops and their pit-stops on the streets of Mapootsh, we ditch our stuff at my friend Pedro’s house. Nice neighbourhoods in Maputo have dirt roads. All the houses are three storey. It’s warm. Everyone drives newish 4x4s imported from Japan, second hand. We can’t get the same deal in South Africa because of some dodgy government policies designed to protect our car manufacturing industry, otherwise we’d all be pimping in brand new second hand Japanese Toyota Rav 4s and Mitsubishi Pajeros. But perhaps that’s a polemic for another article. Tonight we’re cruising Maputo for some prawns. End up in a little resto on a big colonial stoep, on the beach overlooking the bay. Costa Do Sol. Camarão, prawns my bru, prawns and beer. Dois M or Manica. Laurentina too, but you get that in SA, so it’s nothing special. The prawns are fresh. The beer is cold, the peri-peri spicy, the people friendly, the beggars restrained, polite even, the crime, petty, the fear is gone. Laidback. Mozambique, just six hours from Jozi.
After dinner we trawl a few bars. Some live music, but the vibe wasn’t right. We did however stick our head through the curtain at Rua De Arte, an Italian food and movie night. Then to a sweet little bar, Kampfumo, perfectly situated on the platform in Maputo’s central train station. Some whiskey and small talk. Then to Mafalala Libre for a quick dop before a final stop at For You Lounge to check in on how the Frelimo Youth League gets down. Sunday morning was spent sleeping followed by an Afternoon braai at the da Silva Pinto’s. It was Pedro’s mom’s birthday and I got to grill the Frango Zambeziana (chicken marinated in coconut milk, garlic, lemon and paprika) over a charcoal fire. Salad days in the back gardens of Maputo. A small cup of coffee before heading to the ferry to cross the Baia de Maputo to Catembe from where it’s just a quick 70 kays through the Maputo Elephant Reserve to Ponta do Ouro. We wait on the side of the road for the ferry for about an hour. Finally we see it making its way across the choppy water towards us. I drive the Landy onto the old rusty Bagamoyo ferry. Slip it in first and pull up the handbreak, I head onto the jetty to take some photos of the mighty Bagamoyo rusting ferry. Im about to walk a few steps backwards to get a better shot when I see the gangplank raising. Fuck. I run and grab the metal drawbridge and haul myself up like a ninja, the gangplank does the rest and catapults me into the boat. Shee-it. Adrenaline is coursing. It’s laidback in Mozambique, but the ferry leaves on schedule.
From Catembe it’s a wide corrugated, red dirt road. Following red tail lights, like eyes, through the spewing dust. An owl startled for a moment looks up before flying away. The road gets worse before it gets better. Just before Salamanga it turns to tar. Through the joint South African/Mozambican police control gate that attempts to stem the tide of stolen cars steadily making their way on back roads from South Africa into Maputo and beyond. And then immediately downgrades back to corrugated dirt. By now it’s dark. But the roads are empty. Hell they’re not even roads. Tracks through the bush. The Landy is eating it up, loving the soft sand, doing an honest day’s work for once in it’s life. The road winds through the bush like freedom. The kiss of tropical beaches on the wind. We pass a sign that says Fronteira 15KM and we know we’re close to Ponta. Then we see a light in the road. People standing in the bush. A South African crime scenario plays out in my mind. We’ve arrived on a stuck stolen SUV. But it’s just a bunch of shoppers returning from Empangeni who managed to get their overloaded Kia flatbed bakkie stuck on a sand dune. I’m surprised it has made it this far. I’m impressed they’re even trying this route in a two-wheel drive. We tow them out and there is genuine relief. Apparently they had been stuck there for seven hours, sete horas. Obrigado. De nada. And then it’s a maze of sandy roads until you think you’re lost and Ponta is never coming and then around the next corner you stumble upon it. A huge billboard that says ‘SWIM WITH THE DOLPHINS’. Aaah Ponta!
Tune in for more next week. Northern KZN, Durban, the Mahala Surf and Music Festival, Transkei.