It’s Friday after a difficult week at work for Craig and we are heading to Kei Mouth for two nights along with Craig’s friend, David*.
*Name changed to protect the closetted.
Kei Mouth is a little over an hour from East London, up the Wild Coast, and we plan on braaiing and beaching all weekend, using our rental self-catering flat as home base. David has been instrumental in the planning, and is nervous about meeting me. For the first several hours of our acquaintance I am unclear as to whether or not I am supposed to know he is gay which makes me quieter than usual on the drive up. Keeping secrets is hard.
The drive is dark, and punctuated by the sudden and exciting appearance of people and livestock in and around the road. Craig devises an initiative to obtain donated reflective scrap fabric from sporting goods factories to supply locals and livestock with gear for night use. He is quite serious; over Easter weekend, he says, there were 150 reported fatalities from people being hit on the roadside.
When we arrive in Kei Mouth we have to call the owner to tell us where the flat is. She instructs us to meet her at the police station. We find it and we wait. It feels like a drug deal. Eventually she floods our car with her headlights and we follow her to the house. An illuminated crucifix hovers over the property.
We are dismayed to discover that “self-catering” means “bring your own toilet paper”. The boys are fine but the idea of my delicate femininity is ballyhooed and in a rare display of shyness, Craig fetches the first aid kit from the BMW and leaves it on my bed. I assume the idea is that I will wipe with a burn blanket or a wound pad.
We settle in and begin the braai. I am beginning to understand that braai is not dinner – it takes too damned long to be dinner. The mean prep time appears to be about four hours to get the charcoal just right, during which time you are supposed to chat and drink. As a consequence, I spend my second braai asleep on a cloud of shiraz, but not before identifying the million dollar idea that will enable me to move here and live like a king forever: Lord Kennaway’s Quick Braai Kits.
In the morning we go to the beach. “Another horrid African vista,” Craig scowls and then laughs. It’s gorgeous. We three lie on the sand but eventually have to abandon the idea of a beach day because the wind is too strong. It’s blowing sand in our eyes and ears. Lying on the towel, the sand is slowly covering us and it’s sort of creepy. This is what it would feel like if I died on the beach, I think.
We go back into town and find a restaurant called Naturel Restaurant and Gallery. It’s run by two guys who have a farmhouse about 18 kilometres away. All the food is grown on their farm, and the restaurant itself is a love letter to antiques, reclaimed materials, and art. We sit at the bar on the porch and spend a really excellent lazy afternoon watching the day pass by and sipping on fruity drinks on unknown origin. The owner, Brad, is mixing our drinks according to our whim (something a bit less sweet, please or I’d like strawberry this time…) and I haven’t any idea what is in them. Quickly, I am rather drunk, and it’s the perfect afternoon buzz. Like everywhere else I have been in Africa, nothing is hurried; we are free to enjoy the sun and the jazz and the drinks. Eventually we decide we need showers and naps, and we arrange to revisit for dinner. Brad suggests that we simply pay for the drinks then, and we trundle off.
Hours later we return and are treated to an outstanding meal. The erroneously-named Pickle Platter is a quad of dips served with thick slices of fresh grainy bread and cheddar, garnished with aubergine. It’s the dips that completely send me. I am not a food writer so I won’t embarrass myself with florid descriptions but suffice to say that they are fresh (all herbs grown on the farm), surprising, and delicious. We three split the Salted Prawns, Pepper Beef, and Mussel Pot (which I think would make an excellent name for a gay bar) and settle in to feast, washing it down with red wine. We eat by candlelight, and afterwards are ushered out to the back where we settle in to a massive couch. The owner brings us Irish coffees which we drink in the moonlight.
Suddenly, the soft music is interrupted by… bagpipes? |The racket increases in volume and soon we are drawn to the front porch with the handful of other patrons to witness in some astonishment a random white (presumably Scottish) dude in the front yard, bagpipes secured between his elbow and ribs, treating us all to Amazing Grace. The thought, Only in Africa competes for space in my frontal lobe with the thought, I love this country.
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