Tuesday, June 22
Hermanus - Knysna
I reckon the breakfast at the Potting Shed B&B alone is probably worth 200 Rand each.
It sets us up nicely for the majestic views that await us on Hermanus harbour front.
Unfortunately, prime whale-watching season does not begin for a few more weeks so we are not going to spot any of the ten or so whales that are currently resident in the watery neighbourhood. In October they often get 150 whales here at one time.
This obvious disappointment aside, we are compensated by one of the most fantastic coastal views I have seen anywhere in the world. I would liken it to an other-worldly scene from Avatar mixed with the highly imaginative artisitc skills of a New Age painter. The sea roars; the fjord-like mountains are wrapped in fairytale mist; the heart is lifted while the imagination begins to build castles in the sky. Hermanus is a magical place.
We could sit here in silent admiration all day; staring out at this wonder of nature, but we have several hundred kilometres of travel ahead of us if we are going to make it to Port Elizabeth in time for the decisive England match. The way it's going I'll even end up resenting the England team for stealing an afternoon spent in Hermanus from me.
Friday, June 11
The Johannesburg fan park is awash with colour; fans of every persuation flocking in their tens of thouands to watch the opening match of the 2010 World Cup finals.
I haven't managed to track down a ticket for the opening ceremony but, after meeting my mate Robin, who has just flown in from London, the Johannesburg fanfest is arguably the second best place on the planet to watch South Africa begin their campaign.
The noise levels are off the scale. The World Cup has arrived and South Africans are reacting like it is the most exciting day of their collective lives.
South African Air Force helicopters buzz the fanfest. Below them 100,000 men, women and children scream, cheer, frown, laugh, gasp and blow into their vuvuzelas as Mexico and South Africa go toe to toe.
Truthfully, most locals do not believe their team will be good enough. But, sometimes in football, it is not that straightforward. South Africa appear to have a twelfth man.
When Siphiwe Tshabalala is released down the left channel and powers the ball into the top right hand corner of the net it is not just Soccer City that erupts. The Johannesburg fanfest goes wild. Fans climb into trees; onto the roofs of buildings. And there they sway, dance and celebrate in unison South Africa's 1-0 lead.
But the South African defence looks suspect. This is not a team that will kep clean sheets. As the sun dips below the Johanessburg skyscrapers to the west of us, Mexico get the equaliser they deserve.
For the first moment in weeks the vuvuzelas are silenced throughout South Africa. It is accompanied by a huge collective gasp of disapointment.
But as we all trudge back into central Joburg the South Africans know their dream is still very much alive. A point means the group is wide open. It is good news not only for them but also for the tournament.
There's a party in Nelson Mandela Square. Nelson is stood there, 20 feet tall, laughing. Fans from Paraguay, Japan, Argentina and South Africa dance around his statue singing, downing pints and waving their various flags.
Robin has only been in the country for about 7 hours so he still hasn't lost enough of his hearing to become assimilated to the vuvuzelas and needs to escape to the sancutary of a vuvuzela-free-zone. Montego Bay Pub is also an ideal spot to meet another English friend, Nick, who Bjorn and I met on the Botswana border several weeks ago. Nick flew into Joburg from Cape Town this morning where he picked up his camper van, which will serve as his house and home for the coming weeks.
90 per cent of those present, the majority of whom are English and American, are cheeing on Uruguay to beat France. This is not because any of us have any affinity towards Uruguay but because France should not be at the World Cup after cheating their way past Ireland in the Play Offs.
Nick finally manages to track us down as goalkeeping legend Bruce Grobbelaar (who must rate as the world's second most eccentric goalkeeper of all time after Columbia's Rene Higuita) makes a brief appearance in the pub. Bruce takes one look, sees all the English lads present, and probably realises if he stays it will all end in half of us taking the Michael out of him.
It might sound foolhardy but we have decided that it's a good idea to drive overnight from Joburg to Rustenburg.
Setting off at around 11pm after the Uruguay-France match ends in a stalemate we reckon Rustenburg is about two hours away. Given that we are struggling to find our way out of central Joburg and don't even own a map, our chances of making it to Rustenburg without incident seem slim...
Wednesday, May 5
Monkey Bay, Malawi
Another crack-of-dawn spectacular sunrise. I awaken feeling the most relaxed I have since I left Birmingham on April 9.
The Lake Malawi scenery is as amazing as ever as we dock at Chipoka. When we finally pass Mumbo Island (real name) and turn into the southern most section of Lake Malawi I feel sad to be leaving the MV Ilaya. It has been three days of magnificent fjord-like scenery in a corner of the world where few outsiders visit.
The feeling of absolute freedom and being far removed from the modern world has also built in the past 24 hours.
The peninsula is home to Lake Malawi National Park, dramatic rock faces soaring out of the lake as we pull into boat’s final stop: Monkey Bay.
We are greeted by two uniformed customs officials, who have probably been sent to check whether we have genuinely had an ATM nightmare or are taking the Michael.
We are also greeted by the world’s worst wide boy, Shaun. You know the drill: overly friendly local wants to be your best mate within three minutes of setting foot on dry land. He wants to help you find accommodation, transport, marijuana…love. He reckons that you are so wet behind the ears that you believe it costs 30 quid for a room in a crap motel and 10 quid to take a bus one hour to the nearest village.
We dump all our things in a room at the Ilaya Village and set off on a 120-kilometre round journey to the nearest ATM. Yes, a whole afternoon of travel and an almost 100 mile return journey just to take cash out of an ATM.
Our unwanted trek does have its reward however. The local bus ride from Monkey Bay to Mangochi conjures up some of the most unique and inspiring scenery I have seen anywhere in the world on my travels. I see at least four types of tree I have never set eyes on before; there are ancient rock formations jutting out of the landscape in all shapes and sizes; giant termite mounds dot the fields like mole hills would in the rural English countryside. I know nothing about this place but it feels remarkable. Unique;
Truly ancient and inspiring to the imagination.
The ATM trip proves to be a success. We manage to withdraw the necessary cash, narrowly avoid a tight spot with some local lads and get back to Monkey Bay before sundown.
The fun is not over though. Wells, a member of the MV Ilaya’s crew, asks us to join him at his favourite local Monkey Bay bar so that we can try a dram or two of Malawi’s favourite beer, Chibuku.
Chibuku is sold in one-litre milk cartons. It costs a fraction of the price of local beers, and discarded containers litter the floor of the bar and its environs.
Chibuku is the pride of Malawi. It is made from a combination of ingredients including maize, starch, sugar cane and sugar. It tastes like a mix of home brewed beer, milk, vegetable pulp and spirit. I know that sounds a bit all over the place but, believe me, this stuff is all over the place.
“How strong is it?”
“It depends on which day you open it. It gets stronger and better with time…but then gets worse,”
We spend some quality hours with Wells and some of his mates discussing subjects as varied as techniques for the measurement of Lake Malawi lake floor and England’s likely chances of winning the 2010 World Cup finals…then break our don’t-walk-home-alone-in-the-dark-rule.
Safely tucked up in bed, Bjorn grabs the copy of the Gideon bible that lives in our room.
As I have mentioned before, Bjorn is not a religious man but seems increasingly interested in the bible, particularly when he has had a beer or two:
“Justin! Tell me when to stop.”
“Tell me when to stop and I will open a page in the bible.”
“Now say stop again and I will select a verse.”
“You OK mate? Err, stop.”
“Ezekiel chapter 1, verse 20:
Wherever the spirit wanted to go, they went, because there the spirit went; and the wheels were lifted together with them, for the spirit of the living creatures was in the wheels.”
I kid you not. Surely the only bicycle reference to be found in the bible. The way it is going Bjorn will become a missionary by the time he reaches Johannesburg.