Written while on a bus in Taiwan

“I am a closet hero. I fantasize about saving people. Every time I’m on public transport, I pray for the bus to roll or the train to derail, just so I can save people. I quietly analyse ways to escape the burning wreckage and rehearse them in my mind. I consider those around me and choose who I would help first. Maybe the children, or maybe the sexy girl standing to my left, I haven’t decided yet. I hope I get slightly cut on my face and my shirt rips in the accident so that I look hardcore while I’m saving people. I picture the press arriving on scene just in time to see my clenched fist bursting through the glass. This is my life. I am a closet hero…”

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Ships Prow

Incredulous Injasuthi

Four friends embarked on a journey into the mountains. Here is their story …

There was still much to do especially since we had left around an hour later than planned because Mike battled get away from work in time. But in due course, he picked up the trio of Jeff, myself and Paul. As the sun started to drop like a stone, Paul had to buy a map of the Injasuthi area and Mike had to buy snacks. The Parks-board Office in Petermaritzburg was practically closing and they did not have a copy of the one map we needed, but they kindly made a photocopy for us and we were now finally off to Injasuthi. However, we would have to make up some serious time if we were to make the 1800 gate time. As it became clear this would not happen, Paul called ahead and asked them very nicely if the could leave the gate open for us. Now the final piece of road into the camp is seriously poor, so it took a while for the heavily laden Corolla to bounce and dodge the potholes and detour around the 3 year debunked bridge in the valley.

We arrived in the dark and cold of the Middelberg night and geared up as best we could for the supposed 7km hike to Wonder Valley Cave. It was headlamps on and 1900 when we illegally set off up into the mountains. After scampering up the short O’Hannigans Pass, the moonlight really took over and we travelled quickly over flat ground. There were a few navigational issues which caused us to double back a number of times and eventually added about 3km to our journey. At 2230 we were happily greeted by our overnight stop. It was a fantastic cave with plenty space, sheltered from the elements and close to a water source. Once we had settled in, it was out with the cookers for tea and noodles. The night in the cave was comfortable, though we did wake up a little late because the sun rose on the other side of the ridge.

On Day 2 we had 21km to cover over relatively flat ground once we had hit the contour path. The view of Monks Cowl and the surrounding peaks was utterly spectacular and for the first time we realised how deep into the berg we were and began to appreciate our surroundings a lot more. Around 0930 we took a brake on a flat plain and chucked a frisbee around in a sought of tribute to the Prawn Bunny practice taking place at the same time over 250km away at UKZN. When the energy from the oats that morning ran out, we stopped for lunch at an awesome little shady pool next to the trail. This pool, needless to say, was extremely cold. Nevertheless, we were pretty stinky already so a bit of a wash was in order. So it was off with the kit and out came the environmentally friendly soap. To his credit, Mike was the only one brave enough to don the birthday suite and completely immerse himself in the mountain bath. This was followed by girly screams and much laughter.

It was a little hard to find, but we got to our destination of Keith’s Bush Camp about an hour after the sun had dropped behind the mountains. The setting of the campsite is very impressive as it is situated in a valley where the mountains of the escarpment border three sides and there is a river on the fourth. But because it’s the dry season, the river was exceptionally parched. This was a bit of a worry because in the mountains, water is life, and now all we had was a few sips in our bottles and the last water point was over 2km back down the path. Fortunately, Jeff found what was essentially a puddle no deeper than a can of Coke. It was from here that we replenished our water after filtering through Paul’s slightly snotty handkerchief and boiling it. It was humbling to spend so much time and effort to procure the most simplest of things, things that are ‘needs’ as opposed to ‘wants’. In the mountains you are reduced to the basics of human needs. Its rad.

At any rate, the position of the campsite also gave us an idea of the size of the challenge that lay ahead because it was at the foot of Grey’s Pass and the mountains that we planned to be on top of the next day. That nights 3 course mountain-meal included tea, noodles with bacon and some chocolate. It was bladdy delicious. Because there was a Pass and much ground to cover on the escarpment the next day, it was early to bed and early to rise. However, we were all sleeping in the tent that night and it was quite a tight fit to say the least. If you turned over, snored or sneezed it would wake pretty much everyone up. As a result of this, we were all up at 0300 and a decision was made that instead of pretending to sleep, we should rather start the day a little earlier. So there we were at 0400 making breakfast under the stars.

We departed at around 0530 to head up Grey’s Pass, which was over 1000 vertical metres and 3km from the camp. The higher we climbed the more incredible the views were and the more treacherous the path became. Our spacious campsite was a mere speck on the mountainside. There were a couple scrambles as we reached the top of the Pass, and by ‘scrambles’ I mean rock climbing where if you make a bad mistake, you will, err, loose altitude rather quickly. Nevertheless, we all got up safely and took a well earned rest at the end. The escarpment is a very arid place indeed. Nothing grows higher than your shin and everything is kinda the same colour. Following our rest, we ambled down to the river to fill up, breaking the surface ice to do so. But the Pass had taken much longer than expected to conquer and a lot out of us physically, so our planned overnight stop at another cave would have to change. The closest summit to us and the third highest peak in South Africa, Champagne Castle, was an easy choice to make!

Greys Pass

Map check about halfway up Greys Pass

Hiking on the escarpment is not for the weak. The path faded away and the ground became very uneven, thus making it difficult to get into any rhythm or even take a full stride. The wind also picked up and really hammered us on the way to the summit. Reaching the Champagne Castle peak lifted the spirits, and there were many photo’s taken. There was even a little rubber duck called Thrasher in some of them. Feeling a sense of achievement, we ambled down the windward side of the peak to scout out a place to set up camp.

Champagne Castle

Top of a blustery Champagne Castle

The Pass we would have to descend down the following day was called Ships Prow Pass, so it made sense to get into that area to camp. On the way there, we saw our first bit of snow on the shady side of a ridge. Others chowed down while I made a rad but modest snowman with a mowhawk.  It was about 1400 when we found a flat grassy outcrop around 50 metres down the Pass itself. It had everything we really needed: snow for water, shelter from the wind and rocks for seats. And at over 3000 metres, it was the highest bedroom any of us had slept in. We sat down on the spongy grass and were asleep within 10 minutes. We had definitely earned that afternoon nap.

Later, it was time to collect snow and melt it so we could cook our most tremendous supper yet: bacon and cheese with noodles. The mountains make food taste simply amazing. As we patted our full tummies, we were all quietly remembering our horrid night in the tent that felt like a week ago. It was a slight relief when it was decided that we should sleep outside. After supper we set up some rocks to play cards, then it was definitely bed time as it was simply to chilly to do anything else.

That night we were supremely grateful for the quality gear we had, it did the job and kept us warm as toast. The wind picked up again during the night, making everything outside the solace of one’s sleeping-bag seem chaotic. In the morning we were greeted by the most fantastic sunrise our eyes had ever seen. A red belt of light formed on the horizon as we overlooked the misty valleys far below us. After our final bowl of oats, we melted as much snow as we could for the trip down Ships Prow Pass and said goodbye to the ledge that had treated us so well.

This is where things began to take a turn for the worse for our merry crew. The path down the beginning of the Pass was easy enough to follow, but it slowly disappeared and we eventually found ourselves having to bundu-bash to get to the river. According to the map, the ‘path’ criss-crossed the dry river a number of times before finally hooking up with a proper contour path that would take us all the way back to Injasuthi. But walking down this wide river consisted of either boulder hopping or hacking through vegetation. So we hopped and hacked our way down which took hours and was very energy sapping indeed. In sum, it took us 5 hours to reach the contour path which was a mere 3kms away from where we started the day. It was at this point that we could turn around and see what we had achieved. Looking up at Ships Prow from the valley itself was quite spectacular.

Ships Prow

The Mighty Ships Prow Pass

With spirits lifted and the feel of a warm shower so near, we set off toward the contour path which is supposed to be like the N2 of paths, but instead we were welcomed by the equivalent of a dirt road under construction. It lead us through forests, thorn bushes and steep sandy banks which sucked up a lot of time. At any rate, it got better and we ploughed forth, gaining back some time in the process. We took a break on top of a ridge where Paul described the situation to us. In a nutshell, the path contoured around into the next valley and back again, basically doubling back on itself. So we could walk the route, adding 2 or 3kms to our route, or we could forge our own path over the spine of the ridge and meet up with the path at the bottom and save all that unnecessary trudging. Mike, Jeff and I all agreed before you could say ‘boskak’. And off we happily went.

However, the mountainside got steadily steeper and we reached a point of no return where it was too far to go back, but looking too steep to carry on. Paul used all his mountaineering skills to scamper down, then told us to shimmy around the side of this hill and make our way down on a less steep slope.  On our way around, the gully separating the hillsides looked like it could lead us right down to where Paul was waiting for us, so I suggested we scramble down and no-one disagreed. Well, it turned out to be a bad move because we got around 70 metres down and found a waterfall. Great.

All 3 of us really struggled to clamber back up the gully and we then kinda realised how doff we had been. It was getting dark, Paul didn’t know where we were, we didn’t know where he was and none of us were on a path. After an age we crawled out the gully and shimmied around the mountainside on a 70degree slope, clutching grass as we went along. The 3 stragglers preformed admirably despite the one incident where I fell. I slipped and grabbed a tree branch which broke, causing me to slide down the hillside on my pack. There was a rock face coming up ahead but I said to myself that I would stop soon enough. I said that many times before I stopped. We had a short breather at the bottom then continued homeward bound along the real path.

There was some healthy reminiscing on the final stretch as we took out our headlamps for the last time. Over 50kms had been hiked, only 18 hours slept, 2 Passes completed and a 3370metre summit reached. It had been a very long 3 days, but in the end the now Awesome Foursome trundled into Injasuthi Camp sporting broad smiles at 1900. Mike gave us our singular celebratory Chockit (incidentally, the best biscuits ever) and we posed for one final photo.

The Best Biscuit in the World

The Best Biscuit in the World

Then the next chapter of the journey (that would last until 5am the next morning) opened up. We reached the gate of the Injasuthi Camp, which is a full 7 or so kilometres from the Main Office, only to find it closed. Jeff, in feat fuelled by a massive desire to be home, threw a big rock at the staunch padlock only to realise it was largely a futile exercise. So we turned around and weaved our way back to find the Rangers house. He used the radio to send a man with the key and we were off again. Outside the gate our phones began to beep profusely as our loved ones showed concern for where we were. Later, travelling down atrocious road, life gave Mike the driver a choice between a rock in a pothole and just a normal pothole. Unfortunately, the car did not clear the rock and it went thumping the length of the poor car’s underside. ‘Ooooooh’ we all said, but we sped on.

<It was at a Shell in the one-horse town of Winterton where we pulled in to fill up with petrol, only to see most of it come straight back out again onto the forecourt. There was a hole in the fuel tank. Following a few face-palms and cusses, the needle eventually levelled out at a quarter of a tank. Aside from getting home, food was also very high up on our needs list at that moment. We decided that there was enough fuel to get us to Steers at the Ultra City by Escourt. And it was, thankfully enough, and we stuffed our faces with oily goodness. Mike made the faithful Dad-please-help-me late night phone call and we waited. Luckily, we were kept entertained by the truck-stop which had some real characters prancing around. After all, as a trucker, there ain’t much to do except change gear, change gear, kill a prostitute, change gear etc.

Mike’s dad and Ryan arrived at around 2am with a Land Cruiser and a flatbed-trailer and explained to us that we had to sit in the back of the canopy-less truck for the rainy 2 hour journey back. By this time we were so over all the challenges that we all actually managed to sleep in the back of that wet ‘n windy Toyota. The foursome and their rescue party pulled into Durban at about 0430 tired and broken, but still stoked about the run-out-of-adjectives weekend they had just endured.

Us

The Motley Crew

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On Music…

The year is 2050 and a homeless man comes skipping past you whistling an unfathomable tune, and your first reaction is “Wow, is that guy on music or something?” In this future world, music has been heaped into the same grubby pile as drugs and prostitution. Maybe this future is not too far away.

After all, a drug could be described as substance that, when consumed by a person, alters their state of mind as a result of the effect of that substance on the brain or nervous system. This is, to a certain degree, exactly the effect that music has on the average individual. And when someone is addicted to a substance they have a compulsive need to continue using it, regardless of the negative consequences of doing so. Again, the ambiguity of the above statement is very evident. Sure, music is not strictly ‘addictive’, but it can certainly evoke psychological dependence.

I do it before a fight… to get me pumped up. 

Ricky, (32) Amateur Kickboxer 

Drugs also cop the blame for many violent crimes. The flow-chart would go something like: substance abuse, addiction followed by subsequent crimes to fulfil that addiction. Similarly, heavy metal bands are deemed responsible for violent acts such as school shootings. For example, if one remembers the infamous Columbine High School killings in the April of 1999, you will see that the press places much blame on the heavy metal music the two antagonists listened to. The press even went as far as naming the bands they allegedly enjoyed, as if they were directly responsible for the shootings.

Keeping with the heavy metal theme, this genre even affects the pattern of a spider spinning a web. Yes, you read that correctly. Fricken spider webs. In fact, scientific studies revealed that spiders spinning webs while under the influence of the hallucinogenic drug, LSD, actually spin similar webs to those listening to heavy metal music. Yet one of these is an illegal substance and the other is defined as a past-time. Of course, a spider cannot tell the difference, but that is not the point. Why is everyone choosing to play dumb, as if music has no effect? Is someone pulling the wool over our eyes?

It was not too long ago when smoking was considered trendy, stylish and was largely unregulated by governments. Influential tobacco companies campaigned hard to make sure their product was on the end of everyone’s lips. Iconic actors like Marlon Brando and James Dean puffed away vigorously, securing countless new customers in doing so. In fact, the tobacco companies exercised so much power over the masses that in 2002, the United States government filed a case against a leading tobacco company accusing them of, amongst other things, “a criminal conspiracy that sought to cover up the dangers of smoking; misleading the public on the dangers of second-hand smoke; covering up the addictiveness of nicotine; deceptively marketing “light” cigarettes as less harmful than regular cigarettes; deliberately targeting young people to recruit new smokers; and deliberately refraining from producing safer, less addictive cigarettes…” The success of the cigarette lasted for decades then it finally dawned on health departments the world over that sucking smoke into your lungs was a health risk, which created the stigma smoking now has and contributed to its demise in popular culture.

It just makes me feel so good, I wish I could do it all the time. 

Xavier, (22) IT Developer

Could this be compared to the music companies of today and how they influence us? According to ifpi.com, the big four music labels (Universal Music GroupSony Music EntertainmentWarner Music Group and EMI) account for 70% of music sales worldwide and 85% of music sales in the U.S. Yup, that’s four companies controlling 70% of what we listen to. Despite the rather clean cut image mainstream music has today, let us not forget the explosive start that the rock ‘n roll genre had. Within months of its birth, the genre was deemed too aggressive and supposedly incited rebellion and angst amongst its listeners. There was a concern whether it was ‘safe’ or not to listen to rock ‘n roll. Decades later, the genre is still surviving, if not thriving with the help of the new MTV generation. The original furore and ruckus it caused has subsided and music has retained its safe unassuming image without too many negative connotations.

Yet another correlation between drugs and music comes to light in the Opium Wars of the 1800’s between the Chinese Qing dynasty and trading companies of Britain and America. Simply put, these companies, under instruction from their governments, were illegally exporting (read: smuggling) large amounts of opium to China in hope of disrupting their nation. Needles to say, a population under the influence of drugs is difficult to control. In addition, the British and American government, through their control of the opium supply, were exercising a measure of power over China’s inhabitants and therefore her government.

It helps me stop thinking about all the shit in my life… it helps me escape.

Amanda, (35) Unemployed

This can be compared to the current void between the Islamic world and the Western world. In an attempt to preserve their culture, many Islamic countries resist Western music as well as the culture and values (or lack thereof) that are associated with it. Here, we could view the West as the ‘opium exporter’ and the Middle-East as the unwilling recipient of a western musical smorgasbord complete with cultural references and mini-skirts. Additionally, with music being available so freely nowadays, the Middle-Eastern governments are fairly powerless to stop the influx. There is evidence of this cultural hegemony across the globe as western music infiltrates virtually everyone consuming mass-media.

So, it would seem that music shares many characteristics of substance abuse. Why is this? Why does something so powerfully mind-altering not have any negative undertones attached to it? Why is it not even partially regulated like so many other mind-altering things in modern society? Time can only answer such questions.

Bibliography:

http://www.trinity.edu/jdunn/spiderdrugs.htm

http://jrscience.wcp.muohio.edu/nsfall01/FinalArticles/JamminSpiderWebs.html

Thanks to Christopher de Beer for the idea.

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A Pear Shaped Lunch Hour

It all started yesterday. Well actually way before yesterday, as the car has had an interesting smell for a while. I needed a thingy to make it smell good.  Ah, an air-freshener, that’s what they call it. Never fear, Engen would provide. Alas, they had none. Moaned at the manager. He retrieved some from his desk and held a deck of them out as if he was about to do a card trick. Well the joke was on him because the flavours were printed on both sides. I proceed to annoyingly smell each one. Bingo. Lavender.  Got in the car and ripped open my Geeky Gecko smelly. ‘Stick Anywhere!’ it boasted. It did not stick.

Hungry. Have to buy veggies for tonight. Checkers will do. Arrive and dodge a plethora of school kids on the way into the abyss of groceries. Find packet veggies. Hungry.  A sandwich will do. Ham and cheese or chicken and mayo. Options are limited. I take both. Upon further investigation, the ham and cheese has little mould spots on it. Eww. Throw it to the back, choose another one.

Brainwave. Flashback to student life. Sta-Soft 1 litre concentrate sachets make the best car air-fresheners. I calculate where they are. They are far. Hungry. Begin the march anyway. Ow. Sore butt from gym. Go slower.  Closing in on the detergent section. There are so many choices. Too lazy to read the flavours. Randomly grab odd ones from the pile and sniff them until I find the right one. Bingo.

Return march. Hungry. Take short cut through toy section. It was a cul-de-sac. Fail. I am surrounded cheap junk. Kids are too spoilt these days. Surely they only need books and a tennis ball. Finally bust out the maze. Arrive at till and throw items on the conveyor belt. I notice I have bought ‘baby flavour’ Sta-Soft. Holy crap. I wonder if it’s made from actual squashed babies. Then I wonder about why I even liked the smell.

Race up to parking ticket machine. A woman is starring at it like it is giving her life advice. Hungry. Eventually hop in the car. Wait for man pushing several thousand trollies. Uneventful drive. Get to gate at work. Fumble tag. Drops by my feet. Attempt to retrieve tag. Cannot see anything with bladdy sunnies on. Remove sunnies, find tag, open gate. Parked.

Hungry. Thought about using the stairs. Waited for lift due to sore ass. I really must stretch after gym. Lift stops at ground floor. Fat lady waddles in and complains about her sore ass. It’s a dammed pandemic.

At last, my desk. Pop open ham and cheese and smash it in my mouth. Over-powering baby smell on hands. Mayonnaise explosion. Thoughts of mould. Bread stale on edges. Slight gag reflex. Close up container. Eat other sarmie in 0.6 seconds. Hungry.

FML.

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