Thoughts during a half-drunk drive home

We finish our beers on the way down. The road clings to the edge of the sheer hillside. On some stretches decades-old guard rails line some strips of road: rickety and feeble-looking barriers that no doubt failed to prevent many vehicles from lurching too far over the edge. However in most places there is nothing between a vehicle and a twenty- or thirty- metre drop onto the road below as it snakes back upon itself: nothing except luck, wits, sobriety. We are perhaps too reliant on the first of these factors.

Signs advise drivers to sound their horn before surging around the blind corners. Our driver does so obligingly: not only at the blind corners, but to the young boys pointing at the holes in the road that they have filled with dirt in the hope of some small cash; to the cars overtaken on the short straight stretches; to the frequent clusters of women, children and dogs selling vegetables by the roadside.

The road seems improbable in the way it has been carved out of the hillside, and although I never feel worried I make sure I look forward, not down. Everything is steep and wild, and our driver demands much of second gear as he navigates hairpin bends while making the most of his dregs of beer. As we descend into the valley the panorama opens itself to us, the dust and haze of the coast manifests in the dusky light. Escarpments line the other sheer wall of the valley, crowning the wildness of the jungle on the slopes, the bare rocky outcroppings and the river surging far, far below.

I am making the most out of being passive in the back seat, enjoying (maybe for the last time in the foreseeable future) travelling this decrepit, reckless road and the rough country it traverses. Our driver and the passenger in front dominate the conversation, and aside from a few interjections (voice raised over the hefty rumble of the diesel engine) I am content to let them natter. Frankly I am buggered. The day began early, the five hours’ hiking took us up and down some brutally steep terrain, and the couple of beers over lunch became something more like six or seven. Again Kit and had I found ourselves at the welcome mercy of generous hosts. Another entry in the karmic ledger to be reckoned up later on: but for now food and company during our last weeks in this place are what matter.

There is a lot to remember: not just for the purpose of repaying unlooked-for hospitality, but simply for its own sake. How many times has this place stunned us with its beauty, its folly, its cruelty and its generosity? I wish I knew that every scrap of sound, sensation, light and colour will be with me forever, but it obviously can’t be that way. Already I feel the images shifting and slipping in my head. Some will stay, many will go. Recollections float up like flotsam as the Hilux thunders down and down. The furious orange of the carrots dangling from the shacks of roadside vendors in the drab marshes of Kandep. The tartness fresh kalamansi juice mixed with gin and tonic, the slight orange tincture of the drink the perfect accompaniment for a vivid sunset, a sky laced with fire. Rough drinking in Six Mile: strange characters and unlooked for friends getting more and more shitfaced under the hopeful eye of the dog locked outside and the half-snarling visage of the Outlaw Josey Wales (to say nothing of the relic machine gun directly under Clint’s watchful eye). The simultaneous grip of pity and hardness in the gut as I see the albino street boy, huddled in a service driveway downtown away from the eyes of his numerous peers, gulping food down like a desperate scavenger, a grip on life so tenuous yet so tenacious at the same time. Among many other things, all these memories lingering restlessly until their time to be summoned again, like kelp waiting to be spewed onto the beach by a roiling, unpredictable sea – or maybe like the bubbles in a nice beer, floating up and forming a satisfying, frothy head on a perfect amber beer.

Now on the verge of leaving I am trying to start this in-turned process, navigating the twists of remembering and forgetting, pulling up dregs and shedding dead weight, almost done with one thing but now starting to move through the mass of what it has imparted. Snaking through old image and noise and feelings like the wild road coming down from the plateau. A nice clear stretch: visions run rapidly and smoothly and there is a strict sense of direction and narrative to what’s come up. A hairpin bend: a memory turns around and devours its own tail and I confront something new, contorted, unexpected. A sheer drop: a lost moment where you are eclipsed by reverie, rumination and a weird yawning sense of imminent loss.

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1 Response to “Thoughts during a half-drunk drive home”


  1. 1 Melody November 23, 2010 at 7:17 pm

    That was worth the wait.


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