A Robot In The Jungle

Did I mention how much I like going to places for the first time?

Well, maybe once or twice ... Thing is, I got home from Hamburg with a bad cold and only had 2 and a bit days to prepare for the 27-hour journey to Durban.

Conventional wisdom will tell you that the best thing to do would be to stay home, recover and then fly but, on second thought, I considered it wiser to go somewhere warm and sunny and recover there. All I had to do was endure the four flights that would get me there! First, Alicante to Madrid, pretty straight forward, then Madrid to London, Heathrow, terminal 3 and that´s where things became a little more challenging. Heathrow is the size of a small city and changing terminals is a long and arduous task, especially when you are sick and very tired ... which, did I mention, I was. But I got to terminal 5 in plenty of time, enough time in fact to go outside for a fag or two.

What came next I simply wasn´t ready for! My hosts in South Africa had booked me into something British Airways calls World Traveller Plus and, if you look this up on the internet it looks quite luxurious and comfortable. Problem is that the pictures on their web site are from a modern 767 aircraft and I was about to fly on an old 747 ... so old in fact that it had ash trays!

When I got to my seat I was really shocked. I was expecting something much more and all I got was a normal seat with no special facilities and very little leg-room. I was seriously in dread at the almost 11 hours I was about to spend in these cramped quarters.

I was so tired that I couldn´t read and I just kept falling asleep in all sorts of uncomfortable positions, waking up with aches and pains in parts of my body I previously didn´t know existed. It was simply awful, almost tortuous.

And the lovely Miss Fake, the flight attendant didn´t make it any better. She was AWOL most of the time (I wonder where they go!) and when I was able to ask her for something her reply was a well-practised and totally insincere "my pleasure" which became almost as nauseating as the food she brought.

Eventually we touched down at the King Shaka airport in Johannesburg and I slowly transferred to the domestic terminal for my onward flight to Durban. Everything here was/is new to me and at first I found it quite fascinating.

Going to the cash machine was fun, especially as I am used to the usual array of language options! Here´s a picture of the screen that comes up when you insert your card ...

zulu atm machine

The flight to Durban was mercifully short and I arrived in one shattered piece ... if that makes any sense. Toni and Kai were there to meet me and I was thankful to see them. But they drive on the wrong side of the road! Well, not the right side ... More new stuff ... lots of street names in Zulu and road signs in Zulu and Afrikaans. I am going to have to learn a few words at least. My little so-called "boutique" hotel is very nice and the people are uncommonly polite, warm and friendly.

If you are ever headed to Durban, for whatever reason, I highly recommend The Benjamin. You can check it out here, www.benjamin.co.za/, but it is much better in reality. I didn´t have the energy to do much but we did go to the beach close by for some lunch and a chat about the days ahead.

The security business flourishes here and there are places and situations that you are advised to avoid ... so I will. Bit of a bummer when you feel like exploring though. But overall it´s nothing like the way it is portrayed in the European media at all. The beautiful trees beyond my balcony are home to the loudest pigeons in the world.

On Sunday, Toni took me to a place on the beach called Ushaka (named after the Zulu King, like the airport) and there we found a reggae band playing close to the beach and people of all colours mingling, dancing and generally being happy ... TOGETHER! Made me wonder ... what´s the point of hatred and prejudice? We are all stuck together in this wretched, greedy world and things won´t get better if we allow the media to keep feeding the grudges they are so fond of.

And, speaking of strange sights, I saw a Muslim family headed for the beach. Father and son in their shorts and t-shirts and Mum in her burqa, carying the little boy´s body-surfing board. My only thought was that she couldn´t possibly be comfortable wearing that in this heat ... and it is hot!

At lunch, our waitresses name was "Chobekile" which is Zulu for "kind and humble". It is not at all uncommon for people here to be named in Zulu words that translate to things like "Patience", "Fortunate" and even "Problem". Fascinating. I have also seen more pick-up trucks here than in any place outside of the US. They are all in better condition than mine though! I finally made it to my bed, hoping a little sleep and rest would help me recover from both the journey and the remains of Finn´s cold!

Our first three days of pre-production were centred on finalising the basic song arrangements and focussed on the details that make songs special. Toni has written 5 new songs for this project and a couple of them she co-wrote with her guitarist, Ross Tapson. The changes we made did improve the songs and, by the time the other guys arrived, we were in pretty good shape.

Monday came around and we all met at the studio. Things became a little more challenging at this point and I could immediately see what I was confronted with. The studio was set up more like a project/home studio and the engineer was obviously not going to help. As a result, we struggled in just about every aspect, just to get reasonable sounds and signals to file, the objective being to take these files back to Spain for the finishing touches and mixing.

I still continued to enjoy learning my new surroundings but this whole situation at the studio was becoming increasingly frustrating. It was obvious we were going to have to take some fairly drastic action and I was thankful that Kai was there to support this view. We will make these decisions together when we have time off on Sunday.

So, now it´s Sunday, my day off and the first time I have ever experienced a tropical cyclone!! Basically that means a lot of wind and buckets of rain so .... Instead of a long, lazy lunch at the beach I am sitting here in my room watching and listening to the rain. Yah boo ... I´ll take a shower, work on my guitar a bit and meet with Kai later this afternoon. He and I need to plan damage control strategy for the next week or so.

Monday ... Back to work and my first look at the Hammond I will be using on a few of these songs. It, too, needs some work but it seems that won´t be a problem. Meanwhile, back at the studio we slowly solved one problem after another and by the end of this day we had begun to make real progress so I am now looking forward to the following few days. We will need to work hard though because Kundai (our replacement engineer) has already committed to this weekend to celebrate his birthday. But that´s okay ... time to go!

As an aside, I have to say that it´s a real shame that personal, domestic and sometimes quite violent crime is a very real threat here. I listened as people offered their views and advice on this and I haven´t left my hotel alone since the day I arrived here. Bummer! I am not by nature a paranoid person but I have heard enough on this topic to choose caution. Quite sad really ...

Almost every home and sub-division I have seen is surrounded by serious fencing and they all carry the sign of one or another security company. Many are patrolled and some have guard shacks at the main entrance. Actually, this is very sad ... Don´t know about you but I wouldn´t want to live in those circumstances, looking over my shoulder all the time. Beggars are everywhere and they can be intimidating too, especially as they will approach your car at the traffic light, or "robots" as traffic lights are called here.

Dawn is the lady who owns the C3 and she has kindly invited us to use her home/studio to do the organ tracks. And she equally kindly made us tea and coffee while we were doing it. The C3 itself is quite old and in need of an overhaul but it was adequate for our immediate needs and the recording went smoothly.

I was particularly fascinated to encounter the Vervet Monkeys in the road, climbing around the trees and running along Dawn´s fence. To me of course they are an absolute novelty, to the locals they can be quite a pest apparently! We had given everyone else the day off today so I was able to get some slide guitar parts done and our day was generally quite productive. If we don´t run into any more major obstacles I am hopeful we will have everything finished in time.

Of course, not having had a chance to let Finn´s cold heal properly, it comes and goes and I can´t wait to give my body a chance to heal itself. But it is really curious (at least to me) that I feel (physically) strangely different here in the Southern Hemisphere. I don´t know if it has to do with the fact that the northern part of the world spins one way and the southern half in the opposite direction or that water rotates in the opposite direction .... You can check this out at en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coriolis_effect

If you want to of course! Also, I am at a totally different altitude here and it is summer. And the sun is closer to the earth which means the heat is ... really hot! This means air conditioning and we don´t have that at home ... Check this out if you want to, but I find it all very interesting. The other thing I am battling is homesickness. I was gone for 18 days prior to this trip, home for 60 hours and then left again. I really miss Monica, our home and our family and being confined to the hotel during down time doesn´t help.

Thursday came and now the time is flying by. The plan today is to have Ross finish all of his guitar parts and then we should be ready to start on the vocals, the only remaining element that is essential before I take this project back to Spain. A couple of other "observations" here. As I said before there is no visible conflict between black and white people here and it came as a surprise to me that South Africa has the largest population of immigrants from India, outside of India itself!

In general, black men here are tall and skinny and, overall, everyone else is, well, "healthy". My third weekend arrived and, since we had some free time, Kai and Toni were kind enough to take me exploring. We went up the coast, past endless unspoiled beaches and protected areas of lagoons and wetlands, all bordering the Indian Ocean. Quite beautiful. Eventually we arrived at the spot that Kai had pre-planned for lunch and it was really spectacular. Back down the coast, a quick stop for coffee and some people-watching and then, after buying a Zebra for Monica (she has a thing about them!), we drifted back to the Benjamin

Tomorrow, if the weather holds up, we are going a little further afield and I will tell you all about it then. So, now it´s actually the day after tomorrow but I got up early this morning so I have time to review yesterday´s little safari trip. I am an animal lover and to see these majestic creatures in their (quasi) natural habitat is something any animal lover should experience. We saw Hippos the size of an average kitchen, Impala, Wildebeest, Rhino, Wart Hogs, Ostrich and much more but, for me at least, the sight of a herd of Giraffe and later a herd of Zebra was the highlight. (See photos below)

ken and a piggy

The park itself is enormous and you take this tour in your own car, guided by a map they give you when you enter. You are instructed NOT to get out of the car, except at designated picnic areas, but that doesn´t spoil things at all. There were no Elephants, Lions or Tigers ... they are in other parks (or other countries in the case of leopards) which have to be specially equipped ... so that became a trip for another time, something else to look forward to.

Kai and Cindy had prepared a picnic lunch and that was special too. As I looked around me I once again realised how blessed I am to be able to experience such things. When we agreed that we had seen all was came to see we began the journey home, punctuated by a short coffee stop a place called Thousand Hills where I picked up some more knick-knacks for Monica and for home. Then the rain came again in buckets and I finally made it to my room to dry off.

This had been a great day and I have the photographs that will help me re-live it and share it when I get home. But now it´s time to get ready for work. We have 3 days to get the lead and backing vocals done so we will need to keep our heads down. Skipping through the studio routines, I was happy that we were able to finish everything on dealine. We still have some work to do back home but I have everything I need and I am happy to say that young Toni did a super job.

Back at The Benjamin I met a new friend, Glenn. His wife Ariel works here at the hotel and his business is in Namibia which used to be called South West Africa. He brought me a super gift ... called a River Stick which has the story of life carved into it. You really have to see it to appreciate it properly.

Most of us have heard of Apartheid and all of us know of Nelson Mandela, the man who is generally credited with getting rid of it and who spent so many years as a prisoner of it. It was basically a system of enforced racial segregation that affected education, medical care, general and social services and even the beaches!

This misery existed until 1994 when general elections were held and The African Congress Party won, led by Mr. Mandela. South Africa had become a "pariah" state where passports were useless and visas for outside travel were practically impossible to obtain.

Hard to imagine but true. Africa has all the resources and colateral potential necessary to be a great and powerful nation but it´s several identities will be almost impossible to merge and this will mean a long and difficult road ahead. At present the continent is deeply divided politically, socially and culturally and it´s hard to imagine that ever changing as long as people are obessed with power and control.

Enough of all that ... today we are flying from Durban to Johannesburg. A short trip that is similar to Alicante-Barcelona. The flight was short, we hung out for ages in the airport and eventually found our guest house. Too soon it seemed, we were on our way to the radio station that was presenting my concert tomorrow and after a short promo interview we gathered for a late lunch/early dinner.

This being my first ever visit to South Africa there was lots to talk about and it seemed that almost every conversation I had with anyone at all turned into an interview!

What I thought was going to be a small, relatively intimate gathering turned into something more akin to a rugby scrum and I was not comfortable at all. But I did get to meet Toni´s father, William Rowland and we had a very nice conversation. William is completely blind, following an accident when he was very young and it always amazes me how "disabled" people overcome their so-called disadvantages. He is the head of the South African Council for the blind and travels all over the world in this capacity. He gave me a brail-inscribed bottle of wine and a copy of his book of poetry. And of course we talked a lot about Toni of whom he is very proud.

After one more interview we finally made it back to the guest house and by now I was really tired. Kai had arranged a room for us to watch qualifying for the Australian Grand Prix tomorrow, so I would have to get up early anyway. The show was a major disappointment to me but I don´t want to go into the details of why. Just about everything was wrong and it was extremely frustrating for me, especially after waiting so long to do it!

I am sorry to all my fans there who were totally put off by the change of venue and the stupid rules that were applied!

I know it will be better next time!!

After watching the race I began the long, long journey home where I am now finishing this long, long diary.

I do recommend you visit South Africa if you have a chance. It is a beautiful country full of beautiful people. I am looking forward to my next visit, now that my eyes are fully open!

God bless,