After spending so long in remote places it was a shock to the system to be finally in South Africa. Shopping malls, proper roads, lots of traffic, fast internet and a huge selection of food, the likes of which I hadn’t seen since Darwin back in July. It was quite overwhelming for the first few days and took me quite some time to adapt. The wharf at Tuzi Gazi became a hub of international cruising yachts, mostly comprised of friends I had met in Madagascar. A really nice and sociable time was had by all as we caught our breath and relaxed after being on edge for the passage through the Mozambique Channel. The best part of being moored at Tuzi Gazi, apart from the fact the pub was 10 metres away, was that it was completely free for up to one months stay.
Des Cason and his wife Nell made a trip to see us cruisers one Saturday. The help Des had given us all with weather and routing info for the last months, offered free of charge, had been invaluable and incredibly reassuring. It was nice to finally meet him and say a personal thank you. A bottle of rum didn’t really feel like a fair trade but he wouldn’t except anything else. Thanks so much Des! Many boats had arrived at Richards Bay with breakages and with serious repairs on the cards but touch wood Fathom seemed ok, just the normal routine maintenance to keep on top of. Everyone helped each other by lending tools, offering advice and sharing sundowners at the end of the day.
South Africa is such a complex and interesting country a few of us thought it important to try and learn a bit more about the local history by going on a Township tour. Quite humbling to see the contrast between the waterfront area we were in and the township. We learnt that in the 1970’s the local population in an area close to the port were uprooted, stripped of their possessions and dumped in the wilderness many miles away to build their new shelters with only a few nails in their pocket. The British had moved them to clear land for an industrial area. We then stopped by the Zululand University and were shocked to hear that even today the local students spend much of their time in fear of being robbed. Armed men regularly turn up at night demanding phones and wallets so the students gather together in the library after dark for safety in numbers. The student accommodation comprises of a mattress on the floor surrounded by crumbling brick walls and a holed tin roof above their heads. Another part of the tour was a visit to some voodoo stlye fortune tellers. After going into a small room and sitting on the floor, two men threw some bones in front of me and by studying their order talked to the ancestors to read my fortune. I don’t normally believe in this sort of stuff and after he told me my life was a failure and I spend my life constantly afraid of being shot, even more so. Alan was next up and came out five minutes later saying he was told he has a gift and his life is a success. A complete waste of 50 rand. Overall, my general impressions of being in South Africa were that progress is clearly being made in some areas but the level of racism that still exists is quite shocking. Never have I been anywhere that it is so blatant and in your face.
The highlight of my time in Richards Bay was definitely a couple of days safari at the Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park. Seven of us salty sailors, a 12V fridge, and lots of food, packed into a large car and set off for the parks one weekend. We were lucky to see nearly all the animals we wanted except the cats which are notoriously hard to find. The back of a lions head 200m away doesn’t really count. We stayed the night at a self catering lodge within the park and while cooking a BBQ after dark were lucky to spot a large hyena crouched 6 feet away from us in the shadows ready to pounce. Annie quite surprisingly, and impressively, managed to imitate the sound of a roaring lion and scared it off. A quick relocation was made inside once the meat had cooked and while we ate and looked out through the glass doors the huge hyena retuned to lick the remains of the BBQ. The whole safari worked out amazingly good value, about 170 US dollars each including the hire car, park entry, one nights accommodation and food. A really great experience.
Once back on our boats it was time to start thinking about heading off down the coast towards Cape Town but not before I had six onboard Fathom for drinks and dinner. Kiwi Dream, Uno Mundo and Roke would be heading the same way but for now it was sadly time to say goodbye to Max and Tania and Alalila. We had spent so many good times together since meeting in Madgascar but i’m sure our paths will cross again.