Mike's ...it was so long ago that I've forgotten most of it!
I've had a few interesting journeys, well, interesting to me! My first was by ship, the Athlone Castle, from Tilbury Docks to Port Elizabeth in South Africa soon after the end of World War 11. Although I'm sure it was great, it was so long ago that I've forgotten most of it!
I do remember seeing Cape Town for the first time. There were shouts on the deck as Table Mountain came into view and we rushed up to the top deck and stood in awe at the wonderful sight in front of us.
It may be a cliche to say this but a I've always thought of a travel experience as a chapter from your book of life. I know that sounds kind of pompous but it's not meant that way. There are times when you travel and it's really just getting from A to B and not much happens. There are other times when it becomes an adventure full of experiences you've never met before, and these experiences stay with you for the rest of your life. Unfortunately, or perhaps not, as the years go by parts of the experience disappear and other parts become jumbled with time.
Although the journey to SA aboard ship was a great experience, the first memorable trip I remember, that was also an advenure, was from Luansha in Northern Rhodesia (Zambia) to East London and then along the south coast to Cape Town.
I was at Selborne College in East London, a boarding school in South Africa. My pal, Brian, invited me to stay with his family during the school holidays. His father was the manager of the local hotel in Luansha and we were to stay in the hotel for about 2 months. It was a five day journey by train and travelling up north we had a few small adventures. It was the journey back down though that I remember most of all.
The first important happening was at Victoria Falls. To cross the bridge at the Falls they add a second engine to the train, I think at the back. Because of the delay we had a chance to get off the train and hail a taxi right up to the bridge. Once there we said goodbye to the taxi, filled our pockets with stones and walked across to the centre of the bridge. Brian had done this several times before so knew what he was doing.
I don't remember a great deal about the view of the falls itself but I do recall vividly the brilliant green of the trees and the light spray that formed a mist and the roar of the falls. We leaned over the bridge as far as we dared and dropped stones down until they disappeared from sight. For a young boy in 1950, that was exciting stuff!
We left the bridge and walked on until we reached a large colonial style hotel. It was almost empty and we sat drinking lemonade until the train came across the bridge. We hopped aboard and carried on down into South Africa.
The only other place I remember stopping at was Kimberley; it was famous for the largest man-made hole in the world, a giant diamond mine. We mooched around for a bit but I don't think it was all that interesting at the time.
The rest of the train journey had only one other bright spot. We shared a compartment with a pal from school and his sister. She was a year or two older, more experienced than Brian or myself. She let us fool around quite a bit, taught us a few things, well, everything really since we didn't have any idea what we were supposed to do. And that was a quite fantastic experience. In 1950 the world was a very different place and girls were seen from a distance and with some trepidation. The schools I had been to were all male so when we did get a chance to mix, most of us hadn't a clue what to do!
When we got back to East London, Brian and I made for the beach. We knew a river that came down to the sea; no people just miles of sand, swimming along the river and surfing the waves. We spent a couple of days messing around on the beach; sleeping in a sand dune at night wrapped up in extra school clothes.
The plan was for Brian to go back to school and for me to get a train to Cape Town. The trouble was I had lost my ticket and we'd spent all our money during the past couple of days. There was no one to phone and all I could do was just get on my way! I had to find a way of travelling about 700 miles to get to my new home in Cape Town. I was 14 years old.
East London was not a large city and I was able to get onto the road that led to Port Elizabeth, about a 200 mile journey. I had two very large suitcases that I'd thought of getting rid of since the idea of lugging these around was intimidating. As it turned out, it and its contents more than saved the day!
The road to PE was long and dusty with a road not well travelled, and although I managed to get a lift for the first few miles, once I was dropped off and on my own, the real enormity of what I was doing hit me. It was very hot and the sun was beating down on me relentlessly. I sat on a suitcase waiting for a car to pass, and sometimes I'd wait a couple of hours before anything came in sight. And most times it would just drive past; hitchhikers were not seen very often and probably viewed with suspicion, even white boys. This was a time of apartheid.
It gets dark quickly in Africa and in barren countryside, without houses or any sign of life it can get scary being on your own. As the dark came in my immediate problem was to find somewhere to sleep! I walked for a while looking for some kind of protection and spotted a bridge up ahead. I didn't know what use it would be to me but after looking round it I found a ledge on one of the pillars underneath the bridge. It was quite high and if I had fallen I would be killed, or at least seriously injured. But it did look safe and secure from intruders; I couldn't imagine anyone looking under a bridge! I was able to put my suitcases on the edge of the ledge and curling up between them and the bridge wall I felt very safe. I had a few of my clothes from the case to keep me warm.
In the morning, starving hungry, I left my cases where they were, took a couple of pairs of long trousers and walked around looking for a village, or someone I could talk to. I met up with a black worker and tried to persuade him to buy the trousers so I could buy some food. He took me back to his village where his wife cooked me some porridge (I think!) and gave me some bread. I gave them the trousers and was able to get on my way.
It gets kind of hazy after this. What I do remember is getting a lift for a hundred miles or more to the other side of Port Elizabeth and this was after I'd been on the road for a few days. I must have looked a real mess! I don't think I had washed since leaving the beach.
With only a few hundred miles left to do I managed to get a lift from a farmer. He drove for a couple of hours and we stopped at a cafe and he bought me a meal. Fantastic! He said he would buy me a train ticket for the rest of the journey.
My instincts about people have always been pretty good and all my life I have trusted those instincts; I should have known a free ticket wasn't going to be got that easily!
On the way to the train station he pulled the truck into a siding and asked me to perform a sexual act for him.
He did buy me a ticket but whether or not I paid the price for it, that's another story!
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