Two nights and one day in Kruger National Park and we were off to Durban. It was the one and only time on the trip that I DJed during the car ride. We were confident now that we could make it anywhere despite the predicted time allotment via Google Maps or any GPS System. Our route appeared to be much like PCH in California but the amount of greenery that South Africa has to offer blocked our entire view of the Indian Ocean until our arrival.
Our arrival wasn’t easy however. We woke at Kruger with the morning camp call at 5am and had tea with the camp butler while our guide packed our bags to go back to the main camp to retrieve the Merc and sign our papers saying we’d paid properly and be let out across the Crocodile bridge once more. From there we’d be on our way and within the hour (minus border crossing) find ourselves at the capitol of Mozambique, Maputo.
There are two things to remember about Mozambique. One, it is the only place we were that we had to pay someone to guide us through the border patrol which included watching our car so that it wouldn’t be stolen. A very friendly British fellow who parked next to us very nervously said something (in his own slang) about how they’d rob you here. They most certainly would. Every time I’d peek out the window I half way expected to see our car up on blocks or entirely gone. I imagined it would only take them 20 minutes. However, we were the only 4 people in the immigration line and it was taking them what seemed most of an hour. We found out at the end it was because not only did we get a stamp of entry, we got an entire sticker – photo and all. Be prepared to have an entire page of your passport highjacked by Mozambique. I wasn’t prepared at all. I didn’t even smile for the photo and my hair looks like… well, it looks like it’s sweated two nights in Kruger National Park is what it looked like. It’s beyond the point of humidity where it has a cute natural curl and it’s just flat out stuck to my face making me seem 10 pounds heavier in the cheeks and grossly unhappy in my photo. It begins…
We paid over $80US per person to jaunt through Maputo on our way to Durban and it was… delightful. Mozambique is by far the poorest seeming country we visited on our tour of Southern Africa. Even downtown seemed to make any New York City or sub-Detroit projects look like heaven on Earth. There was obviously no air conditioning of any kind for these people. Their clothes hung outside. There windows were barred. Just like the townships even the “high rises” were made of cinderblocks and no other insulation. Luxury seemed to be anything with a window or a roof on it. Trash resided everywhere. The entire city had a stench. There were few places we could go and park safely so we circled many times looking for a place to go for food, a bathroom, and an ATM if we dared.
“I feel sorry for the sucker who valet parks their car in a city like this,” I said. I actually knew people who would do such a thing and think that these people offering to wash cars and valet park for free were probably the nicest people ever. Maybe some of them were, but most of them wanted more than just tips. The only nice building in the place was a local mall with a cinema. We were able to park and yet the four of us still watched the car like hawks as we took turns in a still disgusting bathroom and grabbed food to go, getting back on the road as quickly as we could. There was no reasonable ATM. Mozambique was a bust, but that is ok. We still had yet another border crossing to go through and another country none the less before we made it to the Four Seasons in Durban.
The next country on the list was Swaziland. We exited Mozambique straight on into Swaziland which was entirely peaceful, rolling hills of mostly nothing but bad roads. We drove straight through aside from one stop forced upon us by a hundred ill-placed speed bumps and rumble strips which ended with the local police who looked like they’d received hand me down Army shirts from a United States charity and were enjoying interrogating people with them. The police asked us to exit the car so they could search it. Our officer was an overpowering woman who nearly shoved me to the curb insisting multiple times that she needed space. The more entertaining part is that she did all of this with the attitude of being disgusted at the idea of touching me and I spoke to her with much gratitude and respect. I thanked her for opening my car door and when she insisted I “go over there by the shade” I said something about how nice that would be and went and stood by the other two officers who were obviously entertained by her power trip. They finally called her down after she had made fun of Shaun’s accent for saying we were on our way to “Duh-ben” and she left us alone. Our visas were free and we were on a mission with no sense of stopping anymore. It was Four Seasons or bust.
Not being able to see the ocean from our drive grew disappointing so the music was all we had to rely on. I went through the list playing one, two, or three songs from anything I thought kosher for the four of us. Not all of us like the same things and I definitely have a more broad aspect of musical tastes than most in the car. Thankfully I had a mid range of what was reasonable “liked.” Towards the end of the trip and the end of my alphabetical playlist I found myself at the familiar Verve Pipe, Urban Hymns.
When I was preparing for my trip to Disney World 15 years ago my brother warned me that I couldn’t go on a trip with a bunch of 8th graders without something “cool.” He took me to Sam Goody’s at the mall, armed me with a hand-me-down cassette player (which in hindsight was anything but cool, it’s not as though CD’s had been around for ten years by then) and bought me a handful of tapes. The gesture was still long remembered since music was becoming the prevalent part of my life from there on after. As a young, broke college student tapes was the most he could afford and he bought me about half a dozen of them. The Verve Pipe was one of them – mostly for the song we all remember and can admit to love, Bittersweet Symphony.
I listened to that tape and others on the 12 hour bus ride that met early in the morning at my school. I remember listening to Urban Hymns when we drove up to Epcot, our first stop on the list. It was almost immediately thereafter that I ran into my long-time penpal and friend, Tommy Pullen and his group where I then spent the afternoon with the South Africans. Together we went around the world, disappointed that Epcot only had a small display for Africa and not an actual dedicated spot for anything genuinely African. We spoke for hours about everything I knew and I questioned things I didn’t know. I began to learn parts of their language. The entire experience was more enchanting than Disney itself as it sparked my already long-standing fascination with the country.
I hadn’t remembered that connection with the song and with that album until we were driving into the Durban area and I laughed at the irony of playing it once again. I don’t think I have played more than that one song off the album since.
We drove straight to the Durban Four Seasons where we had to have a laugh. The Four Seasons was not a proper one and was met with a hot pink neon sign and a turn dial to enter the lobby. We quickly rerouted to the Durban Hilton, disappointingly off the beach but at least something we could trust. The sun was setting and dinner was to be had! Unfortunately Hilton was anything but a good experience – molded carpets, blood on the towels, flooded bathrooms, having to change rooms multiple times, not assigning our rooms correctly, not putting us into the system correctly, etc. etc. etc. We received no compensation for the discomfort. Again, appetite suppressed, I ate only two or three pieces of my individual pizza at room service and crashed for the night. Something about going through three countries in one day will do a person in. We were all down and out.
Next stop, Lesotho. We had another early morning ahead of us.