My journey started in South Africa, here is an intro story.
I met Gil, a Jewish vagabond from Johannesburg, in Observatory one week before we decided to travel up the coast along the Garden Route together.
Three days after we left Cape Town, I paid my first of many visits to Knysna, a tourist town known for its lagoon, and the lumber industry that founded the town in 1804.
It was in this town where I eventually bought a little wooden hut for USD$150, and for the first time spent extensive amount of time alone. It was the first month after the new millennium(the reason why I came to South Africa), I just turned 23.
Knysna sunset, the most beautiful I've ever seen.
It’d only been 4 years since the Apartheid was abolished. People tried to maintain certain normalcy but they were still much segregated. Township, once a no-entry zone for Whites, was still rather restricted for Whites and Asians. Much like it is in the States, you just don’t go into certain neighborhoods. Though it was not my decision, I spent many of my nights in townships during my first visit to Knysna.
The first night upon our arrival, we met a black man, Edgar, and his gang of black and color males in dreadlocks. They claimed to be Rastafarians, friendly, outspoken, though some with concerned eyes, many were calm and at eased, all high up in the sky. Perhaps Gil had talked them into giving us a place to stay in the township in exchange for, perhaps, being their driver.
I remember we were driving down the windy dirt roads that weaved around the township, night has fallen and street lights were dim. People of unrecognizable faces dawdling on the streets where shacks and make-shift houses are up against each other. Street after street you only see dark shadows. A lone shack standing at the corner lit by a tungsten light bulb, was in fact their general store. Dogs barking dogs near and far. I did not know where we were heading.
The ride was long and slow. Our car was packed with people. Though unclear about our destination, I was trying to be patient and enjoy the moment, the novelty and new friends, that I had never knew existed or thought about. The ghettos in Fillmore district in San Francisco, or those in West Oakland seemed like filling with luxurious homes.
Eventually, which felt like hours, we stopped in front of a shack that bore no difference from the hundreds we had seen along the way. Edgar got out of the car and asked me to come with him, by myself.
Though confused, I was eager to follow him to the back door of a house. He knocked on the door and we stood for a few moments. A black man slid open a wood eyepiece and took a long look. It was so dark I could barely make out his face. Edgar started to converse with him in their dialect, which later I found out it was Xhosa. There was a lengthy conversation with multiple exchange of nods. I remained silent as I was being scrutinized, at least that was how I felt. The conversation suddenly ended and we got back in the car and drove to Edgar’s house.
I had never found out what that meeting was all about. Was it gang-related, was he a chief? Who can you trust and how much you can trust someone? The line between good and bad is not always clear in foreign places.
That night Gil and I slept in the same room with two single beds.Gil (Right 2), Edgar (Right 1) and his gang.We took advantage of the much developed tourism in town by trying to make money off of the tourists. Gil would busk in touristy area similar to a Fisherman’s Wharf by lying on a bed of nails, doing card tricks in bars, or blowing fire on the street in the middle of the night. We spent the rest of our time ‘missioning’ around with Edgar and his gang, visiting their friends in different townships, camping out, hanging around in the market where many Rasta brothers and sisters sold vegetables along with their spiritual herb. We spent everyday together until I parted with Gil to travel on my own after 2 weeks.