Conversations in the Wilderness


The most important tool of the intervention thus far has proven to be fellow travellers. After arriving in Mossel Bay, a coastal town that reminded me of places like Forster or Kiama back home, we settled into yet another well run backpackers surrounded by great eateries.

Our fellow backpackers all take to Sam and constantly try and strike up conversations with him. When I can pry him away from the Nintendo DS in our room he then has his rather interesting attempts at conversing with Germans, Danes and Brits sitting around a pool or in the pool room.

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This has started to improve his conversation skills. We debrief about what questions to ask for what people. For example, it is ok to ask someone’s age, but you don’t do that when you are ordering lunch at a restaurant. Each time we arrive at a hostel it seems the word gets out about us and guests start approaching us and wanting to talk to us, which is of course wonderful.

Yesterday an amazing event happened in Sam’s life. When we were on the bus again, this time to the romantically named village of Wilderness, we met a couple from England. The woman told Sam, when he asked what she did, that she was an actress. I asked what she had been in and she said ‘I was an extra in Harry Potter.’ Well, you can imagine how Sam reacted to that! Apparently she was a Slytherin girl in Order of the Phoenix, and actually knew the actor who played Malfoy.

Wilderness is a beautiful place. An endless beach shrouded in mist. We walked along an abandoned rail line through a tunnel to ‘The Cave Man’s house’. Set up by a born again Christian, it is a maze of rooms made of driftwood and flotsam set deep inside a cave in the cliffs, lit by candles and decorated with shell and stone. He allows the homeless to stay, and to me it feels more spiritual than religious.

A quick turnaround beckons tonight in Port Elizabeth, in at 10pm, out at 7am, before heading onto the Wild Coast, stretching up to Durban.