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Reports

Tuesday, 20 November 2001
Mpande --> Port St. Johns (SA)

On the road again, from the serene Mpande to the active town Port St. Johns. With an internet cafe in the jungle, my portrait drawn by the in-house architect of the lodge I was staying at and my stomach was playing around with me.
After a second night at The Kraal backpacker in Mpande I travelled, via Tombo, to Port St. Johns. If there was a direct road, it would take me only half an hour in a car. But there was not even a road. It took me over four hours.

I was brought to a junction at Tombo by the shuttle driver who had to drive to Umtata for some new guests. He paid the taxi that would take me to Port St. Johns and he even paid the taxidriver the money for my next taxi that would take me to my next destination.

And a South African taxi is something else than the taxis I am used to myself in Europe. The first car was a roofed pickup truck with small wooden benches on the side. A neat dressed businessman and a lady with dozens of shopping bags were the other passengers.

At the market place in Port St. Johns I transferred my belongings to another taxi, the wellknown Volkswagen mini-bus. And while enjoying the local economy and the way the people do their businesses on the street, I was amazed that I could see anything around me when the bus got packed up with 14 (!) other passengers. I mean, I had my backpack in my face and a music speaker right next to my ear.

The taxis brings around the locals to their places, for only 2 Rands a person. Of course I was an exception, the person who paid for my ride here, had to pay 10 Rands. Hey- it's a tourist, they must have thought, they have money.

Where exactly Port St. Johns got its name is a mystery. The Portuguese named the Umzimvubu River after Saint Christovao, whilst the first English named it Rosebud Harbour after the schooner that first crossed the sandbar at the mouth of the river. Other ships followed and despite many of them being wrecked, the harbour became the accepted port of call for trade with the Pondo and other local tribes.

The British decided it was essential to exert control over the area, especially in view of the possibility of foreign powers landing there and the harbour being used by gun runners. In July 1878 an agreement was reached with the Pondo chief, whereby the harbour and surrounding land was ceded to the British. The last coaster called in the harbour in December 1944 and ended the town's days as a harbour. Port St. Johns now totally relies on small commercial businesses for the locals, farming and a lot of tourism.

I arrived at the Amapondo Backpacker in Port St. Johns, beautifully situated on a green hill, surrounded by bright green nature and just a short walk from the beach. I was invited by the owners Greg and Erika, who have been running this place for only nine months and they are still very enthusiasticly waiting for the busy summer season to start in a few weeks.

Greg took a few new guests and me up to the Lily Lodge, an exclusive restaurant with a bar that gave us an satisfying view, through the densed forest, to the beach. And a lot of rain.

Greg has been a computer system engineer and never wanted to get stuck in a business like that. After he was asked to help Microsoft to get a bug fixed in their XP server, he received enough money to travel around for a while and he got himself to Europe and Australia. And bought this backpacker's lodge in Port St. Johns.

We had a few beers at the Lily Lodge and headed back again. One of the German guests was feeling terribly ill and didn't appear for tonight's dinner.

And that was an interesting dinner. At the first bite of the food, prepared by Greg and Erika, the electricity got cut off. And it was raining hard, it had been since I arrived here.

In a hurry candles and lanterns where hauled together to lit up the things we were about to eat.

Strangely, natural lights attracts a lot of strange bugs. Not musquitos or something, but I had almost also eaten several crickets, rocket bees and those green sticky creatures that kept landing on my fork.

Amapondo, a good place to become a vegetarian?

To be honest, after this dinner I didn't feel that well either, but I kept ignoring the issue around my stomach.

I met up with Adrian Van Der Merwe, who is the in-house architect and artist, who had created the zappy bar at Amapondo and was now ordered to create a new internet lounge at Amapondo's. And internet is very rare here, I can tell you.

But I did notice Adrian's notebook and stumbled on some awesome portraits. And believe me, he was good. Before I knew I was telling him about my travels and how I got around in South Africa, and he was portraiing me from the other side of the bar. We got into deep talks about his life as a portrait, living on the streets of London and Paris and how there always is some magic thing between the person who gets himslef portraied and the artist.

After half an hour I was stunned again. One of the guests passed by and told Adrian that there was more off me on paper than in real life. And examinig the drawing he made of me, I totally had to agree. I have to watch my ego now, haha.

But still it was a big thing for me to see myself portraited like this. It was so real and someway to unreal. It was me there. Wow!

Around 10pm Adrian took me along to get me to an internet cafe. I was getting desperate as I had not been able to update my website for over seven days now. I was out of disks for my camera and really had to process emails. They had been piling up for days!

We walked the half an hour to a little house in the middle of the jungle, but along the beach. One half-stoned man called Adam was using one of the three computers that were connected to a laptop. This was the local internet cafe and probably the only one in a 100-km area. And only one computer worked.

Adam was quite addicted to his chatting, so Adrian and I had to talk him in to letting me use the connection for a while - oh please? It's so important to Ramon. After a while, after he had made us coffee, Adam walked outside the house for a pee in the garden and never returned.

So I settled myself behind his computer and checked some 500 emails and read some very inspiring postings on the messageboard. I wasn't going to be able to upload my photographs as there wasn't a floppy drive around. And writing a report would take me to long, I didn't want to let Adrian wait on me that long.

When we got ready to leave, Adrian suddenly appeared again. "Ready?" "Yes, thank you."
"It's okay," he said and without any further contact he settled himself behind his chatbox again. When we had just walked some 25 meters from the internet house, we heard a big scream, followed by some interesting swearings that even taught me a few new words... "Probably he lost his internet connection," Adrian laughed.

Back at the lodge, I told Grec I would be on my leave again tomorrow. And I saw he was a bit disappointed with that. I arrived here late in the afternoon and would leave again somewhere the next morning, without seeing anything of the area - except from the Lily Lodge. "Stay another day and you can go to the beach tomorrow or take a hike to the Blow Hole. And I am sure you'd be able to use the internet all day tomorrow."

And with these words in my head I decided to stay. And it wasn't only because of his words, it was also my stomach.

Later in bed, in one of the dorms, I felt my stomach creating human milkshakes and I was sweating my head off. This wasn't a good thing.

And I didn't know if I had to puke soon or later. Or not at all. Or would I. Or not? Aaah!

G-g-good night Port St. Johns!

Ramon.


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