Friday, 17 June 2011

Delightful Cape Town, Difficult journey

Cape Town was a blur of many beautiful memories. We began in Constancia with friends of Bill & Joyce, welcoming the latter with much excitement! After four months we were very happy to be with family again and sped off for lunch on a farm surrounded by pecking chicks. Our stay in Contancia was lovely, and we had some good conversations too.

We hired a car and our next stop was Newlands, staying in a very pretty cottage with the majestic Table Mountain watching over us. We took a very untaxing cable car to the top and witnessed stunning views of the beach below, with seemingly tiny ants sunbathing and moving around in miniscule metal cars. Braving an explosive ocean, we made it to Robben Island which for me was as solemn as it should be, but also inspiring as to what a person’s heart and will can achieve. We also ran around Kirstenbosch and there we drank the sweetest, deepest, thickest hot chocolate on earth.

Cape Town’s other side didn’t hide itself during our trip, for which I am glad. In fact visiting our friend Pete in Manenberg was a sheer delight, painting his house in bright colours and bible verses. Despite much fearful advice from people who look like us saying we mustn’t venture into the infamously dangerous Cape Flats, we met the friendliest Capetonians there and had a lot of fun. We also ate local African food in an informal settlement, met the children in the local nursery and asked ourselves questions. It takes forty minutes to drive on one road from the glossiest of wealth to the very hungry. Why on earth does Cape Town look like this? Why does the world look like this? Who will wade into this dynamic, be unafraid of its mess and love unceasingly? Am I willing to face these questions and not flinch? Are you?

We finished at Fishhoek, one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen, perched at the bottom of the earth. Surrounded by sea views, I spent much time snuggled in a rug on our veranda watching waves crash in the wind and drinking coffee. It was delightful to be with Bill and Joyce, who always love us so well and make us laugh. We had real conversations and thoroughly enjoyed each other’s company. It is really these rich days together, full of time and talk and sharing, that make up for the distance.

Our time together came to a close and a long journey north hung in the horizon. We had to make it all the way back to Iris in the Northern Mozambican town of Pemba, our chosen place to settle. Cape Town to Bloemfontein was the first stretch and we arrived at 1am into Bloem. Praying for a safe taxi, we had to trust a stranger with an unmarked car to take us in an unknown city to an unknown hostel. Considering all this, we arrived safely into a dingy warehouse and slept for five hours in a room with things like ‘Chris loves Stacey 2002’ ebbed in black marker pen on the wall.

Regretting our unrefreshing stop and vowing next time to sleep on the bus, we were back on a new bus to Johannesburg. We arrived drained to a perfect and invigorating stay with friends of Bill and Joyce. They looked after us so thoughtfully, fed us delicious food and sent us to Maputo cheered up with a gigantic bag of snacks.

Across the border to Maputo we felt a surprising sense of relief. Relief from what is still a great divide in South African – although there are differences in Mozambique, the stark separation is gone and in its place the warmth of mixture. In Maputo we checked into a backpackers and celebrated Nick eating fish again by going to a smart poolside restaurant and ordering the cheapest fish on the menu.

It was the following day that we realised we were very much behind on bookkeeping. The concerning conclusion was that we barely had enough money to eat, never mind make it to Pemba. Suddenly immeasurably grateful for the big bag of food our friends in Jo’burg gave us, we sat down to the share a little spinach salad in our hostel, and went to bed wondering what on earth we were going to do.

Quickly our imagined beachside amble north to Pemba, stopping in at little lodges to snooze, was forgotten. Our goal was to get to Pemba fast (because fast meant fewer hotel bills). We spent the next day brainstorming in the local bus company’s office. At 3am that night we boarded the bus to Beira, alongside weeping wives waving goodbye to working husbands, and 17 hours later we emerged at Beira utterly exhausted. I’m sure many enjoy their stay in Beira. What we read about it was it was a malaria hotspot and had an unpleasant night scene. What we experienced was a long and hungry day wandering around, with not a lot to eat, hoping someone might hand us a wad of cash. (Before you all start to worry, we are doing much better financially these days, but forget I told you for the moment, so you can really enjoy our tumultuous tale.)

Another middle-of-the-night awakening and another 17-hour bus journey awaited us. By this time we were really having to pull ourselves on the bus, pull ourselves north. The bus was unbearably cold with the AC pulsing freezing jets all night long, so I wore my scarf wrapped around my head for pure warmth and again felt grateful for the nuts and raisins to nibble on through the night. Finally in Nampula, friends of friends kindly took us in and fed us hot bean stew – and I am unsure if I have ever been so thankful for a hot meal! We spent a day resting at their place as I was feeling a bit unwell, and the next day spent seven hours on a bumpy ride up to Pemba. The last seven hours of a much longer trip that took seven months: England, France, Germany, Austria, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Turkey, Syria, Jordan, Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, South Africa, southern Mozambique, central Mozambique, northern Mozambique… Pemba. And this time to stay.