Monday, April 2, 2012

surfing on the Wild Coast

photos courtesy of allie and ellie

Mathieu is swearing up and down the longest streak of French Canadian religious terms I've heard in a while. All of the curses are being directed at the rental car, which has suddenly decided to stop working, right there in the middle of the dark gravel road.

It seems like everything that could have gone wrong on our journey to the Wild Coast has gone wrong. Mathieu and Carolyn, while driving from Grahamstown to East London to pick me up, were caught first behind a slow car and then the thickest fog you'd ever see, so dense you couldn't see metres ahead of you. Meanwhile, while waiting for them to pick me up at the East London airport, I went to the bathroom, and discovered when I got back out that I had been inadvertently locked in the airport. This is not the first time I've been locked in an unusual place.

Eventually though, we stop off at a McDonalds in East London, which has real ketchup, unlike the rest of southern Africa, and everything seems to be a bit better. Especially once we arrive at the cottage.

Our cottage faces the Indian Ocean. All I really wanted for my final days in Africa was to have a relaxing vacation, preferably involving the ocean, and preferably involving beaches and me lying on them. Renting a cottage with my friends in Chintsa on the Wild Coast in South Africa seemed like the perfect solution.

view of the beach from the cottage

Ellie and I start our day going for a run in the morning down the winding dirt path that connects our cottage to the rest of Chintsa. And by "the rest of Chintsa" I mean the paved road. Chintsa is a tiny village (population 400) in Xhosa country of South Africa. You don't go there for the crazy night life. You go there for nature.

houses in chintsa

horses on the beach

ellie on the beach

And surfing.

It's more or less my first time trying my hand at surfing. This is because I am somewhat afraid of water, which is kind of a big deal when you're surfing. Also, before I came to Africa, I watched Shark Week on the Discovery Channel, and the basic theme seemed to be that sharks have a refined taste for surfers on the South African coast.

everybody's gone surfin',
surfin' in S.A.

But, gosh darn it, I'm not going to spend my day sitting on the shore watching my friends being cool, so I slip on an extremely flattering wetsuit and hit the waves.



trying to look like i know what i'm doing

It's not too bad for my first time surfing, although I also wasn't too good. I may or may not have swallowed half the Indian Ocean. But whatever - I was surfing! Like the Beach Boys! Who also didn't know how to surf!

me not falling

me falling

friends laughing at me falling

i'm better at posing

The next day, Mathieu and I went back to try to tackle the waves again, but were disappointed to find the waves were too small. Trying to surf on a small wave kind of reminds me of an Etta James song called "Wet Match":

your love is like trying to light a fire with a wet match
you won't even get a spark like that
your love is like trying to light a fire with a wet match
you won't even get a spark like that

waiting, and waiting, and waiting

eventually I had to give up surfing, not because I was tired of wet match metaphors, but because Allie and Ellie started noticing bluebottles in the sea. At first I thought they were talking about dolphins, but as it turns out they were talking about Portuguese man-of-wars....the venomous jellyfish things.

I too read "Starring Sally J. Freedman as Herself" by Judy Blume and therefore have a healthy fear of man-of-wars

In the evening, we head for the bar nearby for a delicious braai that the staff is cooking. This is South Africa, so dinner means the most minimal serving of salad and at least three cuts of meat. I love it. afterwards we play poker with a young gay couple from East London, and then shoot some pool. One guy tried to teach me to speak Khosa.

At that point there is a power outage, and Chintsa is engulfed in complete pitch blackness. I've been in tons of power outages before, but I have never been this far out of the city in this much complete darkness. There is no moon, no city lights nearby, just clouds blocking the whole sky, and darkness. You literally cannot see your hand in front of your face, or your friend (or stranger or psycho killer) standing next to you. The residents make do, though, and soon we have a guitar and conga singalong. I'm handed a guitar and luckily I can feel my way around the fretboard with my fingers in the dark. We sing typical bar standards like Mr Jones, Hallelujah, and also the South African national anthem. Once in a while there's lightning and the whole world is lit up in a freaky streak of whiteness. It's quite the lightning show across the bay over the mountains. It makes the night feels like magic.