Mozambique #16, South African Road Trip

For the holidays I had the opportunity to road trip from Mozambique to South Africa, stopping along the way to visit my colleagues’ friends and family members. We ended up spending almost two weeks in and around Jeffreys Bay, where I surfed, cycled and enjoyed the change in scenery. We then drove back to Mozambique, passing through and spending a night in a gorgeous park in Swaziland.

South Africa is an incredibly diverse country, with 11 official languages, 3 racial delineations, countless tribal allegiances and of course tons of European cultural influence. One South African told me that her country was a country with first world infrastructure and economy combined with third world poverty and crime. Another called South Africa “a piece of Europe lost in Africa”. Based upon the little that I saw, these were accurate statements. There were times when I easily could have been anywhere in the US; beautiful roads, infrastructure, strip malls, luxury goods, homes, and probably the most obvious of indicators, fat white people everywhere! Yet what was startling about this was that right next door was some of the poorest, hastily constructed shack villages I have ever seen. Literally I saw Ferraris driving down highways lined by “houses” built out of cardboard boxes where entire families were living. And im sure you can guess the skin colors of the respective owners. The demographic breakdown is something like 80% black South African, 8% percent white, 3% colored (which is a mix), and 9% other, such as Indians, Mozambicans, Zimbabweans etc. If someone could find the statistics for the socioeconomic status of the population, sorted by race, I think that would be a telling figure.

People that I spoke with, both blacks and whites, complained the most about crime. Mostly theft/robbery type crimes, but also violent crimes and carjacking seemed fairly common. From my very limited experience and solely based on what I saw, there were very definite trends in socioeconomic status based on race. White was usually comfortable if not wealthy and holding positions requiring higher educational levels, whereas black and colored appeared lower on the socioeconomic ladder, occupying lower sectors of the service economy and labor. I think anywhere where there is such a discrepancy and disequilibrium in economic status, especially when race and tribal cultural influences are factored in, the kindling is primed for an explosion of crime and social unrest.  The fear of crime unfortunately was quite palpable; bars on all the windows, alarm systems, high tech fencing systems, security cameras and companies everywhere etc. I am not condemning this at all, as based on what I heard the security measures were quite justifiable. I got a good dose of political information from talking with people and it seems that social unrest and turmoil is exactly what is happening. A lot of finger pointing, race issues, tribal and political party loyalty etc. Basically just humans being human; quite stupid, selfish, prejudiced and disorganized. The situation is very complex to say the least.

It appeared to me as well that all the racism and racial profiling that goes on is actually quite justifiable. Statistically speaking, you will practically never be robbed at gunpoint by a white South African male, whereas being approached on the side of the road by a black South African male is statistically speaking much more dangerous. So then the question is how do you live in a society where the vast majority of crimes are committed by one specific racial group, and avoid racism and racial profiling? I do not have an answer to this question.

Geographically speaking, South Africa is incredibly diverse as well, ranging from tropical, with massive banana and mango plantations, to desert, to Mediterranean complete with wine vinyards, snowcapped mountains and beautiful coastlines. We explored a bunch of different types of terrain while driving around and I would love to go back to explore more. As the pictures will show, it is a very beautiful country. The park infrastructure is fantastic as well. There are state run parks like Kruger, that are huge chunks of land with regulated game populations and strict visitor rules and then there are private game parks, where people stock their own pieces of land with African game species in the hopes of attracting tourists. There are also loads of cycling opportunities, water sports and awesome hiking. South Africa is actually a mecca for outdoor activities and I felt quite at home. I surfed perfect 6-8 foot J-bay, a world renowned surf spot that I have been have wet dreams (sorry I just couldn’t resist) about since I was 14 years old. All in all it was a wonderful trip and I can’t wait to go back.

When I first got to ZAF I went through a bit of a culture shock with the amount of stuff that was available and how nice it was to have running water and reliable electricity. I must say that the amount of absolute shit that is produced in the developed world and is available to buy in shopping malls and stores is atrocious. Cute little candle holders, napkin pins, ornaments, you name it… it just disgusts me the amount of energy and resources that is devoted to producing these completely unnecessary goods. But I digress. It surprised me at how quickly I re habituated to and took for granted the conveniences of the developed world. After spending 3 weeks living in luxury, I was almost dreading returning to my reed house where the roof leaks, I hand pull my water from a well and have inconsistent electricity. It was a bit of a shock the first day being back in Manjacaze, however I can now say that I am completely re adjusted and quite happy to be back. There is a wonderful simplicity and tranquility that comes with being in Manjacaze. I don’t want to stay here forever, that is certain, and I do like to leave once in a while when the village becomes too small and different flavors of experiences are needed, however life is good here, there are plenty of projects and work to do and there is so much to be grateful for and enjoy.

Photos: Mostly scenery, waves, mountains etc. I took advantage of the well stocked super market to make a Mediterranean themed dinner: All home made: ratatouille, cucumber yoghurt salad, hummus and pita. It was delicious and I had the pleasure of making it for 8 wonderful new friends we made in Jbay.

Mozambique #15 Jumping

I am now on my way back into Mozambique after traveling around South Africa for almost three weeks. I will write a short account of my experiences in South Africa later, however I had the opportunity to jump off of a bridge and afterword wrote up a short account of my experience:

“I am fully committed; in my mind I’ve already jumped” I told my friends and colleagues as I stepped into the harness at the world’s tallest bungee jump. Two hundred and sixteen meters separated me from enjoying an incredible river gorge overlook and becoming a bloody pulpy mess should there be any equipment malfunctions. I breezed through the safety briefing and walked out onto the jumping platform with the other would be jumpers. The view from the bridge was absolutely incredible; a beautiful forested river gorge stretching up into mountains on one side and a clear view of blue waves crashing in the ocean on the other. The time was late afternoon with a few patches of sunlight peering through the cloud layer allowing for momentary warm interludes to the otherwise cool and gusty conditions on the bridge. Like in my experience of skydiving, the gravity of the situation of what I was about to do didn’t hit me until people started falling out into the abyss.

Our jumping order was assigned based on a number system, and the man in charge of the operation was constantly busy seeking out the next in line. His eyes roved the crowd of 20 jumpers as I coolly watched him check the number written on each hand. I glanced down at my number, 161F, knowing that number 160 had just jumped. The choking feelings of anticipation, fear and excitement swelled up into my chest and neck as the boss man laid his eyes upon my marked hand. Our eyes met and we held the gaze for a split second, in which I felt an amazing calming feeling; as if he was communicating with me and telling me “trust me, you will be ok”. He signaled for me to cross over into the staging area and I was fitted with ankle pads and a safety line. The boss man asked me my name and where I was from. I said “does it matter? I am going to die right now!” He laughed, hooked the actual bungee cord to my ankles and told me that I was now the safest man in the world. Two workers picked me up from the arms and lifted me to the edge of the jumping platform. They said to me “you will jump in ten seconds”.

I must say that those ten seconds, standing on the edge of the bridge, were some of the most intense ten seconds I have ever experienced. First off my body was in a state of absolute panic. “No way!!” it said, “You absolutely must get away from this ledge, this is very dangerous!” The adrenaline was shooting into my veins like an IV drip, my palms were sweaty, my heart beat rapidly and my senses were absolutely alert and ready to spring, cat-like, in order to evade this most atrocious situation of falling from such a height. My body was doing everything it should have done at that moment to avoid certain death. My mind however was resolute and clear, and it said: “You are jumping; you know that you are safe, you are committed, you are calm, you are the Buddha, you are but a drop of water in the ocean, you are trusting, you will do this, you are jumping and you know it.” And as this war was waging between my mind and my body, between my physiology and my resolute will, the seconds slowly ticked off the clock as they inevitably always do, and the moment of truth arrived, as it inevitably always does.

The instant my feet left the platform the extreme acceleration began. Wind whipped my falling face and body as my stomach and vestibular senses were sent haywire. The monkey body is simply not meant to fall through the air in such a way! As I sped downward with my hands outstretched above me I immediately felt an uncontrollable urge to scream. This scream drew its power from a source deep within me, as my most profound existential fears were ripped out of me and exposed during this state of absolute surrender. As I hurdled towards the ground I screamed my guts out in utter terror as I felt my imminent death approaching on the dry river bed below. In an attempt to better describe this almost superhuman howl that I unleashed the phrases “heart wrenching”, or “soul shattering” come to mind but just sound cliché and trite in comparison to the strength of the emotions that precipitated it. And just as the fire of fear burned its brightest blazes in my experience of free fall, and I had accepted my gruesome fate on the rocks below, the bungee cord began to stretch. My fall began to slow as tension built up in the cord, the feeling of gravity grew and blood began to rush into my head and arms. In my moment of profound existential reckoning I had of course forgotten that in fact I was safe and secured in my fall. The cord stretched to its limit and I began to rebound, up towards the precipice from which I had fallen. I was going to live!

The next 2 minutes of bouncing on the line followed by being reeled up back onto the bridge were enjoyed in a state of mental peace and tranquility rarely found in everyday experience and routine. I felt the breeze, observed the gorgeous scenery and bounced my body around is if for the first time. The man who helped my back up onto the bridge greeted me; “well, how was it?” All I could reply was a dazed smile, probably still with a little drool hanging from the corner of my mouth and a word “dude….”

He laughed and said “first time eh?”  I mumbled some response concerning the state of my soul and the terror that gripped me as I was forced to come to terms with my impending doom. He gave me a blank stare and said “dude….” Clearly everybody’s experience is different.

So why do we seek these adrenaline filled brushes with disaster? Why is it that in these moments where we are closest to death and destruction do we feel so alive? And where does this pursuit for novelty and excitement end? Will I have to seek out a higher bridge to satisfy my craving for adrenaline? These are questions that for me inevitably loop back to my mental conditioning that says bigger, better, faster, more exciting is always better. I believe that two forces within the psyche are at work, firstly that human beings can habituate and addict to practically anything, and secondly the human desire to transcend one’s self. I think that if you examine any culture in the world you will find these two ideas at play in various degrees. But looking at the Universe on a macroscopic level tells a similar story. Why didn’t life stop evolving after the formation of the first self-replicating molecule, which existed in perfect simplicity? Since its formation (which nobody really knows anything about) the whole strategy of the Universe has been to construct more and more complexity and more and more novelty. Is there some transcendent goal to the Universe itself in which one individual human life of novelty seeking is a fractal representation of the whole? These questions obviously have no correct answers.

Or perhaps simplicity can still be a virtue after all, and people can go jump off bridges and then just go out for beers and cocktails without writing up philosophical treatise and posting them on the internet.