I waved goodbye to my buddies in Cape Town and hoped onto a city bus towards the end of the line. (The bus line, not my life). I normally use this time to prepare my hitchin' boards and today was no exception - in big childish letters (part of my strategy to look less of a murderer/robber/rapist) was scribed - NAMIBIA!!
My gloogle maps research for a good departure point didn't really work and it took me hours to get properly out of the city.
Firstly 3 black dudes in a transit van picked me up. I didn’t quite get what they were saying but after slow start I thought fuck it and I hoped in the trailer. They unexpectedly dropped me 5km further outside the city in the middle of a motorway. I looked around as they drove off towards the next exit munching on the biscuits I'd given them (general rule of thumb, black people who pick you up expect something ie. $$) - they had dropped me right next to a township.
For those who don't know what a township is, it's essentially a ghetto - a village constructed outside of the city during the apartheid to remove black people from the centre of Cape Town. It was a strange site seeing the ramshackle sea of tin huts shining in the sun with NOTHING else around but a dry, barren Sergio Leone style landscape. I seriously wondered how the residents actually survived; what they did for work & entertainment - It all looked so arid, so waterless. But this wasn't a moment for pondering or taking pictures, my presence had pricked the ears of two locals who suddenly turned into three. They had a curious yet menacing look to them and began walking parallel on the other side of the slip road as I headed for the grassy opening 100metres or so further on. All of a sudden it felt sketchy - a shark kind of sketchy as it circles its pray sussing it out before chomping a leg off - and I felt like lunch. I still had guard up from my ATM robbery/car chase drama the week before in Jo-berg and I wasn't taking any chances. I capitalised on the 'sussing-out' period and confidently stepped up my pace, straightened my posture and never looked back. All ok.
A cute old couple next gave me a ride a further couple of km’s to the next exit and told me there was a petrol station 'just around the corner'. Hmmm, I got 'around the corner' which was already half an hour in 30oc with 25kg on my sweaty back/crack and BOOM! was faced with a classic desert wavy horizon landscape thing straight out of that 80's Milky Way advert - with a tiny speck in the distance. It took me almost an hour to get there and I hoped and prayed something would happen when I made it.
Sure enough, it did: I walked into the courtyard of the petrol station about to go and grab myself a strawberry milkshake when I saw a middle aged black guy also hitching. This must be a good spot, I thought. I went over to say hi and he told me he’d been waiting already a couple of hours. Bummer. In that moment I looked over his shoulder and saw one truck, with a plump fella getting out.
I shuffled over quickly “I’M HITCHING TO NAMIBIA!" I said raising my sign, with a cheesy smile on my face.
He looked me up and down, and amazingly said “HOP IN” =D
His name was Andre.
As we pulled out of the courtyard the black hitcher dude was looking hopefully into the cab - that I would put a good word in for him. Sorry man - this cab ‘aint big enough for the 3 of us. Actually it was, but I was about to take a crash course in South African history and cultural divides and would later realise - there was no fucking way Andre would have ever picked him up.
So off we rode, further up the wave desert road, whuuuu ..and no more than five minutes later Andre was offering me boiled eggs from his mobile kitchen (a cooler box in between our seats) and we were NAMIBIA bound YEA :) Ooooon the roooad agaiiiin…
Well, kind of - Andre had a pick up to make in Upington and drop his load off the next morning on the Namibian border. This meant a 400km detour for me - coming into Namibia from the other side. Whatever, I was moving and actually, Awesome! I'd get to sleep in a truck in the desert - Look mum - I'M A TRUCKER =D (for a day). Andre would be smokey, ‘cos he smokes, and I would be the bandit. 10/4 good buddy.
We spend the next 20 hours 'getting to know each other'. Andre drank a lot of Coke that's the first thing I got to know. A LOT. He could have been a record breaker. He also loved this game called Invasion, it was constantly on (with theme music playing the background which eventually became undetectable as a clock ticking) as he was battling other warlords 24/7 via his mobile Wi-Fi connection, which he was very proud of. Andre gave me a tour of his cabin, which he was also proud of and I must admit it did feel pretty spacious and homely. Being the designer I tried to make a few suggestions
“Andre, why don’t you install a white screen that rolls down in front of the windscreen, then buy a projector for films (porn) - it will be a pippin mobile cinema Andre!”
He'd been there and done that. Nah, Andre was happy with Invasion as his primary source of entertainment and a make shift fridge to supply his commodities. And it worked. He told me that he loves being on the road. A simple life, time to think away from the family, beautiful views, be in nature [via huge petrol guzzling industrial metal box].
I told him I'd spent the last year in Sweden working for Volvo on the new FM/X truck range and he began telling me why Volvo is shit. I recorded him in order to create a little case study and relay it back to Volvo's chief designer Rikard as a kind of South African case study (listen above).
Andre seemed pretty happy to have company. It must be a lonely job I thought, on the road for weeks on end and for me it was incredibly insightful so my questions just kept on coming, which he loved answering - in great technical detail. Andre told me about the fruit industry as we passed though fruity landscapes, the tea industry as we passed though, well - herby landscapes (I had a eureka moment as a realised rooibos and red bush are the same thing) and about some farmland quarrels between blacks and whites. The black community complained that it was the white farmers who had a monopoly on the industry, and so the Mandela government gave farmland back to black residents in the 90’s. The primary problem is that they simply didn't know how to farm - the whites being far more business minded and the industry began falling into disarray and was eventually sold back to the white farmers, who today again have a monopoly, echoing the black community to complain that the farming industry is dominated by whites.
It would be easy to misconstrue that Andre or other (generally middle-aged) white South African men I met were racist, initially for me due to the constant referral to ‘the blacks’ however it’s important to understand that the racial divide in SA is VERY apparent and the population have grown up all their lives with that division. I was trying not the be judgemental for the simple fact that my information was second hand whereas his was first. It hard to come from a politically correct western Europe and make judgements where race is a taboo subject. The very fact that you refer to the colour of skin ALREADY puts you in racist territory, and probably as you were already reading this article my referral to ‘blacks’ probably already sounded an alarm. But that’s political correctness and to be honest - it drives me crazy. In stark contrast to Sweden - where political correctness defines most peoples opinions, here race is not a taboo, it’s in your face and a normal part of everyday life. Unfortunately SA is a very complex nation and has a long road ahead to create equality. Most crime is in fact conducted by the black population, simply because they are massively underprivileged, struggling to survive and have no other option/nothing to loose. It’s a vicious circle. And so the way they solved it, currently, is to not mix. It’s sad and upsetting to a visiting outsider, because the locals have lived with it all their lives and that’s ‘just the way it is’.
The truth is, Andre was a guy with a good heart and I really felt like he was looking out for me - not just by the amount of eggs he gave me either. It why hitching can be such a magical experience - you can enter somebody's life for a short time, like a little porthole into their life. It all boils down to sharing and this is certainly not an experience you can book through a travel agent or an online 'adventures' company. You have to get up, go outside and make it happen. You have to get stuck in and be willing to make sacrifices, have faith and go with the flow. Hitching is not always fun. You fcan ind yourself hungry, tired, losing hope, desperate and then BAM! Time and time it has amazed me, and looking back over my last years on the road - some of my most memorable experiences have been born from sticking my thumb up.
I wrote to Andre via Whatsap as I'm sat here in the library writing this article, sending him these pictures and asking if he's on the road at the moment. This was his exact response:
“No. at home and playing now my game.got 4devices. “
Great guy, great ride.HERE'S TO HITCHIN'!