The hitcher, the hunter and the taxi from Soweto
In 1989, Paul Morris hitched from Cape Town to Great Zimbabwe to meet some friends
The hairy Zimbabwean hunter shoved another brandy and Coke in my hand. "Drink!" he ordered. I was struggling to keep up but I wasn't about to leave.
The hunters with their beards, vellies and green safari suits were handing out biltong from a hessian sack - kudu biltong, which one of them had made himself from animals he'd shot. I'd hitch-hiked all day without a bite to eat, so I traded my sobriety for dried meat.
I woke up after my night in the bush-pub with a head full of desiccated Klippies and a tongue that felt like it needed mowing. At the roadside, I asked a man sitting next to his luggage how long it would be until the bus came.
"Half an hour," he said confidently.
I sat down on my pack in the shade and waited. After 45 minutes, we were still waiting. I wandered over to a woman standing next to her large, striped bags and asked the same question. "Twenty minutes," she said. After another 30 minutes, I asked a third person: "Is there a bus today?"
"Yes," he said, "there is a bus today." I realised this was the most important thing.
A taxi from Soweto stopped. The driver lobbed my backpack into the trailer and I squeezed myself in among the migrant workers from Johannesburg, who were heading home to Zimbabwe, Zambia and Malawi. We chatted for a while before my hangover got the better of me and I fell asleep.
I woke to screams. The mini-bus was hurtling towards a ditch on the other side of the road. In the split second before disaster, the driver woke and dragged the steering-wheel to the left. The trailer fish-tailed, threatening to jack-knife. We were all over the road for a few eternal seconds before our driver regained control.
A few kilometres up the road, the driver pulled over, stretched out on the front seat and went to sleep. The rest of us settled in the shade of the thorn trees. After 40 minutes, I looked up from my book to find a semi-circle of stern-faced miners in front of me.
"Do you have a driver's licence?" one of them asked. I replied that I did.
"Can you drive that?" he asked, pointing to the taxi. "Sure," I said.
They marched me over to the taxi and shook the driver awake. The conversation wasn't long and, although I couldn't understand what was being said, the driver, irritated at being woken, was not letting me drive his bus.
Half an hour later, I noticed the miner-deputation in a heated conversation with the driver. I was called over to the driver's door. "You can drive it now," I was told. The driver didn't look happy.
We continued our journey with me at the wheel, gingerly, because the instrument panel was smashed and the loose steering column had been lashed to the dashboard with a piece of flex. Cruising down a hill, I noticed, about a kilometre away, a small boy and a large herd of cattle were crossing the road. "Brake," said the taxi-man next to me.
"Sure," I said, thinking I had several hundred metres before I'd need to brake.
"Brake!" he shouted. Alarmed, I pressed the brake and the pedal went limply to the floorboards. "Again, again!" he said urgently. I pumped the brakes until, on the third attempt, I felt a metal-on-metal grinding as something very reluctantly started working. We came to a halt among the fringes of the herd.
Two hills later, I found myself aiming at a single-lane bridge. As we got closer, a small smoking motorcycle pulled out of a side-road. There was no time for the pump-pump braking technique so I hit the accelerator. The only hope I had of not hitting it was to beat the bike to the bridge. We screamed past him, a glance to the left revealed that the biker we'd nearly flattened was a cop.
I pulled over at the turn-off for Great Zimbabwe and received a loud round of applause. The driver refused me a discount for saving him from the angry miners, but having another traveller's tale more than made up for it.