Praia do Jacaré, Paraiba

Vila dos Pescadores

To travel is to discover that everyone is wrong about other countries.

—Aldous Huxley

We sailed into Cabedelo on February 8, a Saturday morning. The entrance to the harbour is the mouth of the Rio Paraibo, so we crept painfully against the river’s current, tacking back and forth, being honked at and abused by angry water taxis and inter-island ferries, stopping a couple of times to wait for a change of tide or wind to help us along. It was dark by the time we reached Praia do Jacaré (Alligator Beach), and gratefully dropped our anchor in front of several small sailing clubs.

Cabedelo, Paraiba

Praixa do Jacaré

We were finally in Brazil. We gazed at the mile-long strip of brightly-lit restaurants, bars, dance halls and nightclubs along the praixa…each one a riot of flashing neon and ultraviolet lamps, boasting a live band at full volume. Water-craft arrived at the restaurants’ jetties all night: two-storey ferries (their decks crowded with drinking and dancing people), sleek speedboats and small sailboats, luxury motor yachts…a party in full-swing on every vessel, their speakers blasting a cacophony of sound across the river, into the dark mangroves, through the coconut plantations, and out over sleeping hillsides of sugarcane.
Cabedelo, Paraiba

Amazingly, It was the start of Carnaval in Paraiba…we couldn’t have arrived at a better time.

In The Belly of The Whale

South Atlantic Ocean

Olá!! We’re back on terra firma!

It took us forty days to cross the Southern Atlantic, from Saldanha in South Africa to Paraiba, Brazil.

The first three days at sea were spent cutting across the Benguela Current…a hundred-mile wide strip of Cold & Nasty that runs along the West Coast of South Africa, starting at the Cape of Good Hope. I was oblivious of this part of the trip, alienated from the land of the living and set adrift in my own little personal hell of mal de mer. Once past that rough patch the worst of the seasickness subsided, though it was another week before I felt well enough to eat a small cooked meal, or drink a whole glass of water in one go. Some things I never did feel strong enough to go back to, like coffee, oatmeal, or anything made with onions, chillies. A typical day’s intake would be: one apple for breakfast, a cup of rice with one sardine (in tomato sauce) for lunch, two small chapattis with a tablespoon of peanut butter and drizzle of honey for dinner, and about three cups of water spread through the day. No appetite for anything.

Life in a boat on the open ocean is very physically demanding, too. I had forgotten about the way our sailboat, running dead before a trade wind, hurls itself from side to side without a moment’s peace. There is no standing still, no time at which your body can go slack and just relax. One moment you are pushing against the kitchen bench, trying not to tumble forward into the pot of boiling pasta; the very next instant you are clinging for dear life to the same kitchen bench, as the boat tries to slam you, hard, against the opposite wall. Every activity, every minute, every step in the boat, is accompanied by a slight clenching of muscles and a persistent struggle to remain upright and uninjured. Even sleeping is like being strapped into an amusement park ride: legs locked and holding the body when it swings into an almost-upright position against the hull; the next roll has you lying with your feet higher than your head, and it feels like all your bodily organs have slid into your throat. In the other sleeping position you roll like a log from one side of the bed to the other every 3 seconds, unless your bunk is very, very narrow (a coffin would make a perfect bunk) or you sleep with your legs and arms spread far apart, like a starfish.  I lost 7 kilos (15 lbs.)

South Atlantic Ocean

South Atlantic Ocean

I didn’t manage to do anything “creative”. Concentrating on fine work immediately brought on feelings of nausea, and if I so much as set anything down on my desk for one second, I lost it the next. A Go Pro mount, a couple of pens, an ink bottle, an iPod shuffle…all were hurled across the room and vanished in the bilges of the boat. I gave up after that, and did nothing better than read during the entire trip…not a bad thing, I didn’t read enough in 2014, so it was good to catch up a little.

1. A Brief History of Nearly Everything, Bill Bryson
2. The Search for The Rarest Bird in The World, Vernon R.L. Head
3. The Name of The Rose, Umberto Eco
4. The Scar, China Miéville
5. Birds Without Wings, Michael de Bernieres
6. Inside The Whale, essays by George Orwell
7. Congo Journey, Redmond O’Hanlon
8. The Odyssey, Homer (E.V. Rieu, transl.)
9. Chronicle of A Death Foretold, Gabriel Garcia Marquez
10. Krakatoa, Simon Winchester
11. The Best of Saki
12. The Holographic Universe, Michael Talbot
13. The Iron Council, China Miéville
14. The Outsider, Albert Camus

Cape Town Leftovers

Cape Town streets

Some leftover pictures of our last visit to Cape Town, South Africa.

Cape Town streets

The oldest city in South Africa has a vibrant and beautiful centre that looks and feels like nowhere else. Lots of grand old colonial buildings have been given a quirky modern twist with fresh coats of paint in bright candy colours, the sleek finishing touches of trendy cafés and boutiques, and street art.

These were taken two days before we left the country…
Cape Town streets

Cape Town streets

Cape Town streets
Cape Town streets

Cape Town streets
Cape Town streets

a last walk around Saldanha

around Saldanha, Weskus, South Africa

This lovely harbour has been so good to us. A friendly yacht club, a small, quiet town, just the sort of place you need to get mentally ready for the next big passage. We are off tomorrow. It will be very quiet on here until we arrive in Brazil (there’s a brief interval in Cape Town, but I have no idea whether I’ll get ashore to connect to the internet.) but hopefully sooner, rather than later!

around Saldanha, Weskus, South Africa
around Saldanha, Weskus, South Africa
Took one last walk around Saldanha with a camera, yesterday. Climbed Hoedjieskop to the lookout at the top, and then some flowers and buildings on our walk to the supermarket. Our boat is circled in the photo, below.
around Saldanha, Weskus, South Africa
around Saldanha, Weskus, South Africa
Kris is addicted to the local focaccia, and I developed a strange love for plain old chocolate-frosted doughnuts. Good thing we are leaving, or I would eat one a day for the rest of my life, maybe.

around Saldanha, Weskus, South Africa

A small fire

25 December 2014 a small fire
Just filling a deep need to see hot colours. The 25th was grey, cold, and it drizzled, so it was extra dreary on the water. F**k this for the middle of summer.

I painted wet blobs of colour in my journal as one might stoke a small fire in a brazier, trying to get warm.

Seal of approval

Earl, the sealI call him Earl, because it’s the sound they make when they bark (Earl-earl-earl!), and because of John Irving’s book, The Hotel New Hampshire, and the seal, Earl, that was a family pet in the book.
Earl, the sealThis sleek sea-puppy decided to perform his morning yoga stretches next to our boat, so I got hundreds of photos, and some movies of him, too.
Earl, the sealThe story plot is a bit thin, I’m afraid…several minutes of him floating in circles, around and around the boat, holding both his hind paws with one forepaw, and steering himself with the other. A seal’s favourite asana, in these parts, it seems. I will post the video when I have edited it.
Earl, the sealThat said, most of the photos I post here feature the rare times he struck a different pose…looking less like a leather doughnut, and more like a seal.
Earl, the seal
Earl, the seal
Earl, the seal

Saldanha Bay

Table Mountain, CapetownWhen I got to Joburg I heard from Kris that he had rounded the Cape of Good Hope by himself (and lit a candle to the gods of the seas in thanksgiving for his relatively trouble-free passage through this exhausting part of the world’s oceans) and was waiting for me at a friendly yacht club in Saldanha Bay, a 165km. drive from Cape Town. I hurriedly bought a ticket to Cape Town, then jumped into a dilapidated Mercedes taxi, with a wonderful driver called James. The drive was long and fairly monotonous, except for the parts where we passed Table Mountain, or some animals appeared in the scrubby distance (lots of springbok round these parts). It would have been boring, had James not been a great guy with a fantastic sense of humour. We roared with laughter through the entire trip, which took nearly three hours through flat scrubby land punctuated here and there by rocky outcrops. We talked about jealous women and relationships, raising kids these days, dishes made with pap and samp (a traditional porridge or polenta made with finely ground maize meal…the staple food of South Africa’s Bantu), corruption in government, the importance of helping your fellowmen out and treating strangers with the same respect you accord your friends and family, how many ways there really are to skin a cat, and why anyone would want to skin a cat, in the first place.
He consoled me for the endless, flat highways and hours in the car with the promise that once I reached my husband, I could look forward to “kisses for breakfast”. It made the drive extremely fun, and James exclaimed when we reached Saldanha that he was sad, because now he would have to drive back the way he came by himself.
The long drive to Saldanha

Saldanha is a large industrial fishing port; it is also the site of a large steel and iron ore processing plant. The small township is dominated by a bare hill, with huge boulders poking out of it. Streets are very wide, clean, and the architecture is a strange hybrid of European A-frames, chimneys, and the worldwide vernacular style of cheaply built concrete cube housing. Nothing is over two storeys high. Sulfurous yellow street lights are everywhere, blazing up into the sky and lighting up the bare hill at night.
Baby seagulls on a neglected boat

It’s bloody cold. At least to me…I am a child of the tropics, and I will never love the cold. A chilly gale blows in from the South, Southeast, all times of the day, and windchill on the boat can sometimes bring the temperature down to 8ºC at night. Hundreds of seagulls wheel and shriek overhead, cormorants swim, their snaky heads above the choppy, white-edged water, and sometimes we see fat, unconcerned seals near the rocks, or across the bay in the Langebaan wildlife park. I wear two jumpers, and sometimes a pashmina scarf around my neck, when the locals are out sailing their boats in shorts and T-shirts! I sleep inside a sleeping bag, under two heavy blankets. Even so, by Monday I had come down with a cold. What a wuss!

A neglected boat

Suburbia, Johannesburg

Sunrise over Madagascar
The moment it first really hit me that I was going to be in Africa, was 7 hours after leaving Singapore, at dawn. As the first blush of rosy light crept up from behind the horizon, we were soaring over the huge, seemingly endless island of Madagascar. What a rush! I wanted to squeal like a pig at the sight, but the oh-so-cool, very handsome 16-year-old boy beside me prevented me from behaving like a silly old goose.
At the airport I was preceded by a distinguished looking gentleman in a silk suit, and his retinue of plump, corporate-styled women. As we emerged into the vast arrivals hallway, a brass band like a small army struck up some rousing music, and a hundred people in bright clothes, beaded jewelry, and head cloths, surged forward to greet the man. I was stuck, smiling politely, behind this mob for about 20 minutes before I found a way, in the opposite direction, around them and out of the airport. My taxi driver, Albert, told me the dude was some homecoming preacher. Welcome to Africa!
Suburbian Lodge
These next photos are taken from around the lodge I have been staying at. You can’t really tell I’m on the continent of Africa, by these pictures…The Suburbian Guest Lodge is, as the name promises, tucked away in a respectable (read “white”) neighborhood of manicured gardens, gorgeous flower beds, high walls topped by razor or electric wire, and remote-controlled gates festooned with notices of the various armed response security agencies employed by paranoid owners within.
Suburbian Lodge
underneath a fig tree
I never expected the air to be so chilly. I set off on foot for the nearest shopping centre, on a mission to buy a universal adapter for my various gadgets and gizmos, and also a South African sim card for my brick phone. My hostess—who seems a nice lady, otherwise, and very helpful—gave me a street map with highlighted areas that she said were “black areas”, and told me to avoid them. She also told me not to carry my camera openly on the streets because of “the blacks”. How do you use a camera when it’s in a backpack? I set off, and noticed right away that I was the only “non-black” walking.
Frederik Street, JoburgFriedlaan, Joburg
But everyone I came across said hello, and when I stopped to ask for directions people were gently friendly and helpful, and whole gangs of construction workers or ditch diggers called out “Good morning!” I never felt threatened or unsafe.
shopping center promenades
shopping center promenades
The air was so dry and cool, it was a pleasure to walk the 4.8 km. to Eastgate, except that half the walk consisted of a very long, very steep hill going UP, and the other half was a very long, very steep hill going DOWN, and my knees and feet were killing me! I stopped to rest often at many beautifully maintained parks and promenades along the way…the Agapanthus lily was EVERYWHERE.
At some point, I came upon Joburg’s Chinatown. I love Chinatown…it’s not a place, really, it’s a state of cultural being. No matter where one goes in the world, it seems, the Chinatown is essentially the same, and therefore a comforting, familiar place to be.
Joburg Chinatown

Joburg Chinatown

Joburg Chinatown
At the shopping center I found my adapter, but no luck with the sim card because I hadn’t thought to carry my passport with me, and you can’t buy a sim card without ID here.
I had a big breakfast and excellent coffee at a place called Nino’s. It was 8 in the morning and most of the shops in the mall were not even open yet, but the smoking area at Nino’s—a little glassed in room to one side—was packed with fat old Italian men. They were set out in twos and threes, at different tables ranged around the room, but were all engaged in the same conversation. I really had no choice but to eavesdrop, since they were shouting across the room at each other. The topic of conversation was one that fat old Italian men probably started in the 1600s, and have carried on with until the present: “Things just aren’t the way they used to be…back then, life was really good. Today’s world is shit, and nobody is doing anything about it. Italy, of course, is still the best country in the world…” I think someone should make a recording of this timeless, monotonous conversation, so that cafe’s everywhere in the world can play the track continuously, and save the fat old dons the trouble of opening their mouths.
I could not resist a few pieces of Zulu beadwork, for sale at the Bruma Lake flea market, and these were my only concession to the world of souvenir shopping.Zulu beadwork
Back to the lodge by 1pm, to shower, change, and share my lunch—a box of nectarines, some freshly baked loaves of dark bread, some nuts and dried fruit, a tin of sardines in olive oil—with this fine-looking fella here. He liked the sardines, of course, but also the roasted almonds. Lupo di delicatessen.
"Free wolf with every room"
After lunch, I drag a chair out into the courtyard, to sip a coffee and smoke underneath a small fig tree growing behind a garden gate that leads to the staff members’ quarters.
That brisk walk up and down a mountain (that’s how it felt to me!) has tired me out and I will happily fall into my huge, soft, clean, fluffy white bed, to sleep through the nightly torrential downpour and mighty thunderstorms that rake across Joburg at this time of year.

Tomorrow I am heading, very early in the morning, back to the O.R.Tambo airport, for the last day of my journey toward Kris: a flight to Capetown, and then a taxi to the Saldhana Bay Yacht Club.