01 July 2009

Day One and a Half: Druglords and the Karoo

We left yesterday afternoon, so I am not sure if this counts as Day One or Day Two of the trip, so, let's call it Day One an a Half... There was a lot of last minute stuff to arrange before we could leave Johannesburg to be homeless for six months, from receiving last minute parcels to shipping belongings to Germany, from cancelling gym membership to fitting a steering guard - some of those things warrant their own blog entry, so look for those in the next few days, data plan allowing. We finally took off at 2pm, having only just decided not to go towards Kruger and Mozambique, and instead head straight down to Addo Elephant Park and Cape Town (we misjudged our leaving date when returning from Maputo a few weeks ago, so I ended up with a South African visa that runs out on the 7th of July. We would not like to test the first border guards' anti-corruption resolve with an expired visa, so hopefully we will make it to the Namibian border by then). While we have a route worked out for most of our 35,000 km, we somehow never decided on the direction to take on our first leg through South Africa. I guess we thought since it'll be easy to come back to Joburg, with less chance of ever visiting such remote places like Zambia or Uganda again, we never really got down to working out where exactly we wanted to go in South Africa. Yesterday was a day of saying goodbye: we had already had our last gym session with Supermario, our training guru, and Monique, the awesome Frontrunner car fixer upper organiser. We had been kindly invited by Garth for dinner and Paolo and Daniella for afternoon tea as well as Graham and Santa for breakfast in the last few days, but all of them showed up again to wave us goodbye, and then some! We have been so lucky to make fab friends in Joburg, even though we were only there for such a short time. Ok, so we leave. I get out to film Stuart driving the Landy through the Melrose Arch gates (for the documentary) and we are on the road. Well, not quite. Because within 500 meters, just as we turn onto the motorway, discussing what to say when people ask us where we are going (would people think they have misheard us if we say "Tunis"?), we are stopped by what at first look seems to be a police control. A guy in a car flashes his badge through the window. We stop. He gets out, walks over, asks for Stuart's papers. But there is so much wrong with the picture: the car is a bashed up sedan with plates from the Northern Province, crammed with shady looking guys, the 'cop' wears a shiny suit that's a size too big, his tie and shirt don't match his suit and his centre parting is decidedly sleazy. It's when he starts telling us that they have had trouble from some Dutch people who had stolen heroin, and what nationality were we? and then started to SNIFF Stuart's phone, his camera, his passport and wallet, that I am starting to wonder whether this is one of those situations that everyone has warned us about where you roll down your window and suddenly you are hijacked or someone runs off with your wallet or snatches your camera. But after 5 minutes of sniffing and snatching and frantic questions ("Do you have heroin? What's in your pockets? Do you have heroin?") he walks away, gets in the car and is gone. Cop on patrol or drug lord looking for a stolen stash? You decide. Stunned, we drove on, to fetch up in Clarens for the night, and eventually in Cradock today, in a pretty Victorian villa. The Karoo is really an amazing landscape, empty and spare, wide open like the mid-West of the US, only with Lesotho cowboys instead of Western ones. More on that from Stuart.

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