/ 3 July 2014

On the road with heroin smugglers

After meeting a Tanzanian stowaway, Sean Christie gets caught up in a hair-raising heroin run from Dar es Salaam to Cape Town.

I first met Adam three years ago, in a forlorn place under Nelson Mandela Boulevard, the freeway that snips the City of Cape Town from its port. There, with a view of the freezer terminal, he explained his career as a stowaway: how he had made it to the United Kingdom in 2003 in a bulk carrier called Global Victory, going on to live in Birmingham for eight years.

He said he had grown up in the port city of Dar es Salaam but preferred to try for ships 6 000km to the south, in Cape Town, on account of the number of Europe-bound vessels that dock there.

Between ships, he slept rough under the foreshore freeways, alongside dozens of other refugees from Dar es Salaam’s slums. He and his friends referred to themselves as the Beachboys, and covered Cape Town’s underpasses with wistful, sea-drunk slogans: escape from cape; today africa tomorrow yurope, no life without ship, sea neva dry.

We saw each other often after that and, although Adam periodically disappeared to sea, he always returned within a few months, usually via Dar es Salaam, after being deported from Jakarta, St Petersburg, Walvis Bay … wherever the ship he had jumped docked at next. We made an agreement that I would fly to meet him in Tanzania the next time this happened.

When it did, in June last year, Adam called from Dar es Salaam to explain about the shipping industry bribes, and the drugs, in case this was going to be a problem for me.

It took several more phone calls with Adam and hours of supplementary research before I had a firm grip on the dynamic.

Avoiding cost and trouble
It used to be, Adam explained, that the Beachboy objective was to leave the continent concealed on ships, and the tactic was to come out of hiding when the vessel was far enough from port that the captain would not consider turning back. (Trans-oceanic journey times generally being so long as to render port-to-port concealment unsurvivable).

The success of this strategy was entirely dependent on the shipmaster permitting the stowaway to slip off the ship at the next port, something shipmasters had done willingly for decades to avoid the cost and trouble that comes with following official protocols for dealing with stowaways.

But that was before the bombing of the twin towers in 2001, which radicalised the legal consequences for illegally disembarking stowaways. Shipmasters started adhering to the International Marine Organisation guidelines on dealing with stow­aways, which stipulate that any stowaway discovered on board be returned either to his home country, or to his port of embarkation in cases where nationality cannot be established.

That, said Adam, was a nuisance for all concerned, especially for the shipping agents, who tended to get stuck with costs ranging between R60 000 and R100 000 a stowaway. The costs could rise even higher if a stowaway claimed refugee status, saying he was from a country at war with itself.

“We lie and say we are from Somalia, and then we pretend we understand nothing else and keep quiet,” said Adam.

“The ship agent takes pictures of us and sends them to the Tanzanian embassy in Pretoria, because every­one knows that all stowaways in South Africa come from Tanzania. He hopes the embassy will recognise us from their computers.

“If they do not recognise us, the ship agent must help us apply for asylum, which can take a long time. That is when they start offering money for us to say, ‘Yes, I am from Tanzania, and this is my real name’.”

Most recently Adam had been paid R10 000 by one shipping agent, of which he had used R200 to pay his way out of police custody back in Dar es Salaam, after being deported. He said he would use the rest of the money to buy a significant quantity of heroin, which he would eventually sell back in Cape Town, behind the chip-and-salomie stalls on the Grand Parade.

Football jersey
When I arrived at Julius Nyerere Airport at the end of June, I had two of everything electronic, thanks to Adam. He had SMSed a few days before my flight instructing me to meet his friend Yaz, who had been keeping his prize possession safe: a 2013 West Brom football jersey, with the number 1 on the back, below Adam’s Beachboy name, Memory Card.

It was immediately clear that Yaz was no rough-sleeping Beachboy. He wore designer jeans, not overalls striped with city greases, and had neat bars shaved into his temples, not bits of grass clinging to them.

“Most of this stuff is for my sister,” he said, opening the drawstrings of a gym bag and hauling out a Lenovo laptop, a metal-encased Nokia and a Sony camera. There were no cables to go with the Lenovo, no charger for the phone, and there was no West Brom football shirt. Yaz seemed surprised when I asked about it.

“I wear that. I’m keeping it here.”

Adam, I realised, had gently played me. He knew I would go out of my way to get that shirt for him, seeing how it was a present from me in the first place. The shirt was a decoy, and I had wound up freighted with goods that were almost certainly stolen. I searched the items thoroughly that night, looking up battery apertures and massaging shoe tongues. Nothing suspicious, but with the goods now spread out on a Tanzanian customs table, I worried I had missed something.

Heroin, it would be heroin, but why would Yaz want to send heroin to Tanzania, the continent’s gateway for diacetylmorphine? Coincidentally, the edition of the Mail & Guardian I had bought to read on the plane had contained an article on the heavy involvement of Tanzanians in the continental movement of narcotics.

“The 2013 report of the United Nations Office for Drugs and Crime,” wrote the journalist, “indicates that East Africa is a major target for traffickers wishing to enter African markets because of its unprotected coastline, major seaports and airports and porous land borders, which provide multiple entry and exit points … Heroin is imported to East Africa directly from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Burma through Thailand. Much of it then finds its way to South Africa.”

Sending heroin from Cape Town to Dar would be like sending cocaine to Columbia.

Still, I wanted out of the airport as soon as possible.

Adam appeared at the passenger window of the airport taxi as I was paying the driver on the side of busy Shekilango Road, in the township of Sinza.

“Hot, innit?” he said, in the tailings of a Brummie accent.

I trailed after him into the guts of the slum, ducking off the lane into a single-level building bisected by a central passage. A hot breeze stirred the fabric hanging over the open doorways of six rooms, three on each side.

Like he owned the place
“Oyaa vipi,” Adam shouted, like he owned the place, and a short man with an outline of a container ship tattooed across balloon-like pectorals stepped out from the last doorway on the right.

“This is Sudo. Sudi. Seaman. Gangster. Sudi chavu moja. Sudi ma cheesi. Sudi’s coming back to Cape Town with us.”

Sudo, who wore a white diamond-pattern kufi (cap), grabbed my hand and gave it the thumb-snap shake. A beret, red as a velvet tick, flashed behind Sudo’s ear, and its slender wearer slipped out from under Sudo’s raised triceps.

“Nicholas Anelka,” Adam announced. “He loves football.”

Like most of Adam’s Beachboy friends in Dar es Salaam, Anelka had no qualifications and very little in the way of family support. Having lived in South Africa for years, even Dar es Salaam’s criminal underworld was closed to him. All things considered, Anelka had decided to join our expeditionary team, too.

Sudo was a little different. He had a wife and child, and a reputation for being able to settle disputes with his fists. That reputation had not faded during his time in South Africa, most of which he had spent in Johannesburg’s notoriously violent Leeuwkop Prison. With Sudo in their company, Adam and Anelka could traipse around Dar es Salaam without fearing for their lives. They could mouth off on city buses and be sure of receiving quality drugs in the city’s heroin houses.

Sudo was also the group’s spiritual adviser, able to recite large segments of the Koran from memory. The journey we would be undertaking would require us to be led in many a du’a – entreaties to Allah – and Sudo was the man to do this.

But most important of all, Sudo had the room in Sinza. In fact, he owned the whole building. Sudo’s father, Adam explained, had been a Beachboy in the 1960s and the money he sent home from work on Swedish construction sites had built the six-room squat in Sinza. The rent had been coming to Sudo ever since his father’s death in 2002 but, after splitting it with his sisters, Sudo hardly had enough to keep his boy in school.

“There is no better life for my family without ship,” he said, justifying his plan to leave them.

That evening Anelka cooked some rice and stewed some red kidney beans, and brought it all out sagging in a black rubbish bag, which he laid on the ground in the yard.

When the last glutinous fistful had been eaten, we all retired to Sudo’s room and lay down in the stuffy darkness. “Sleep nicely,” said Adam. “Tomorrow we have a full programme.”

To get among Dar es Salaam’s Beachboys the next morning – the first event on the programme – we boarded a dala dala minibus taxi for the town centre, and zigzagged on foot between the high-rise buildings until we reached Kivukoni Road, which runs along the northern edge of the city’s natural harbour.

Grey dunes
Large holes in the port’s perimeter fence provided access to the grey dunes leading down to the beach. Adam and Sudo slipped through easily but when I tried to follow a polyphonic cry went up from the fruit traders lining the road, followed by a hard blast on a whistle.

“Fucking police, they think we are going to rob you,” said Adam.

“Talk to that man there. Tell him that everything is alright.”

A policeman in a white American navy-style uniform called me over to the coconut palm he was leaning against, one shiny boot up underneath his behind.

“Those are not good people. Is he really your friend? And that one?”

I started to explain but the policeman wasn’t interested. He had blown his whistle. Whatever happened next would be my own fault.

The Beachboy shelters at the bottom of the slope, on the beach, varied in shape from gazebo to yurt, though they were made from driftwood and layers of tatty plastic sheeting and in another context – a rubbish dump, say – might easily have been mistaken for mere polymer outcrops, built by the prevailing wind.

A vinegary smell wafted out of them, the smell of burning heroin blended with sour sweat.


A large man whose red underpants reared clear of his frayed shorts shouted some orders into the nearest tent and a space was cleared for me on the sandy floor.

“Karibu,” said the smokers. “You are welcome.”

“We have been waiting for you,” said Big Red Underpants.

Adam made the introductions.

“His name is Hansopy, or Ans, the bulldog. Ans sells the drugs down here. Him and his beach wife, Ana.”

Ana, the only woman in the tent, was sitting with her legs crossed, her knees brushing a plastic crate that had been placed over a paraffin lamp. A hole had been cut in the top of the crate and a large tile had been placed on top. On this, Ana crushed a succession of heroin quarter grams, called kattes, using an eight centimetre segment of the metal strapping used by stevedores to lash hard materials down inside shipping containers.

“Anywhere you see this metal in Dar es Salaam, you will know that the boys are smoking unga,” said Adam.

Swahili for flour
Unga, Swahili for flour, street slang for heroin. Ana had pre-rolled several marijuana joints and, taking them one at a time between her fingers, sucked in the floury heroin, then left them cocked on a box of Puff matches, like miniature cannons.

“We call this a cocktail: marijuana and unga,” said Adam, taking the freshly rolled joint that Ana held out to me.

“Sean never smoke before. He not gonna start now.”


Ans thrust forward a label-less half-jack with clear liquid in it. The taste wasn’t unpleasant, like rice wine with hints of mango.

“Gongo,” he said, putting his shirt over the mouth of the bottle and downing the contents through it.

Smoking unga and drinking home-brewed gongo had long ago replaced stowing away as the raison d’être of these Dar es Salaam Beachboys. The changeover had apparently happened in the 1990s, when the local magistrates started putting harbour trespassers into Keko Prison for two years. In Adam’s view, the people here were no longer true Beachboys.

“Most of these are not even from Dar es Salaam; they’re from the bush. They ran away from their families and came here because it is the only place they can stay.

“Nobody can tell me anything here. This is my place, I was born here. My daddy came on one of these fucking ships. My mummy lives across there.”

Adam pointed across the harbour waters at the palm-fringed shoreline of the Kigamboni Peninsula.

“My daddy was a Greek sailor, you know. He came here in 1981 and made my mummy pregnant, then he left. I never seen him till this day.”

“What do you know about your father?” asked a man with pointy ears and good teeth. I had asked Adam the same question once, and braced for the inevitable.

“You know what is Greek style?” Adam asked Pointy Ears.

“When a Greek sailor come home from the sea he fuck his woman’s front, you know, the pussy. When it is time to go, he fucks the arse. That is Greek style. My daddy must have been confused, because he did it the wrong way round, you see. That’s all I know about my daddy.”

But, in fact, Adam took his parentage very seriously. That his father was European explained, for him, why he had always felt out of place in Tanzania. It explained his fixation with ships.

There were several more of these extraordinary “programmes”. One took us out to a village in the palm-topped Pwani region, hundreds of kilometres south of the city, where we met Adam’s 103-year-old grandmother, once the most powerful witch in Mbeya, or so he claimed.

Adam had been dropped off with his gran when he was two, because his mother had not felt able to cope with him. She left him in the bush for a decade, only visiting a handful of times.

After he had repeatedly run away, his mother had begged a friend in the old city slum of Temeke to take her son in. “Mama Rehema” had done so, and Adam had come to consider this woman “me biological mum”, meaning adoptive.

When I visited Temeke with Adam, it was easy to imagine just how feral he must have become in his teenage years, despite Mama Rehema’s efforts to keep him straight. We visited his old gang in the abandoned Chinese bus they still used as a clubhouse. “Kipaka”, they called him: the little cat, in recognition of his pick-pocketing skills.

We spent whole days in taverns and unga houses, drinking beers bought by friends of his who had graduated from petty crime to armed robbery.

As the sun fell, however, Adam made sure we were back at Mama Rehema’s. “The police know me too well here. If anything happens, they come looking for Kipaka Memory Card.”

One night in 1999, Adam had stabbed a man three times in the chest with a screwdriver: “Bup, bup, bup.” Mama Rehema’s intervention kept Adam out of prison but he understood the implicit caveat: that he should disappear for a time.

Rehema’s brother had been among the first Tanzanians to attempt to stow away on ships in South African harbours, after the relaxation of border controls that followed the death of apartheid in the early 1990s.

Adam had found his “uncle’s” tales compelling, especially given his conviction that God had set him down in the wrong place. On his 17th birthday, he set out on foot for the outskirts of Dar es Salaam, and South Africa.

Fourteen years on and he was back where he started, an anticlimax that seemed not to bother him.

To move south again, Adam and his fellow Beachboys needed to procure temporary travel papers at 30 000 Tanzanian shillings (R180) a person. Mama Rehema’s good job with the government expedited this and soon Adam, Sudo and Anelka had papers for Central and East Africa to which they added Mozambique in their own handwriting.

Next was the stickier problem of procuring heroin. Between them, Anelka and Adam had saved R5 000 worth of the bribes paid by the shipping agent, after blowing the rest on unga, booze and, in Adam’s case, an hour with a prostitute in a Sinza hotel room. Without the right cables and accoutrements, the electrical hardware I had brought from Cape Town had not fetched as much as Adam had anticipated.

Compounding the problem was the fact that the price of heroin had shot up. When Adam had last been in Dar es Salaam, in 2012, the price for 10g of heroin – one “ndonga” –had been 150 000 shillings. This time the lowest quote Adam had sourced was 300 000 shillings.

Hot cellphone calls
The constrained drug supply had resulted in some hot cellphone calls from Yaz, Adam’s Cape Town buyer, who had been called by one of the suppliers Adam had contacted, who told Yaz that he thought Adam was a fraud, lacking both the money and the backbone to complete a serious deal.

Hearing this sent Adam into a rage but there was truth to the money bit and, in due course, Sudo was tasked with gently suggesting to me that such drags on our departure date would be removed if I could see my way to lending Adam the three million shillings (R19 000) required to buy nine ndongas.

The way Sudo explained it, there was little downside. He, Anelka and Adam would each carry three ndongas “up the back”, which he said was about what the average anal tract could accommodate. Any more than that and they would have to swallow the stuff, which he said was an uncomfortable and dangerous process. Thus secreted, the chances that they would be bust by authorities anywhere along the route were almost zero.

Back in Cape Town Yaz would cut the heroin with Panado, and the leavened gear would fetch four times what had been paid in Dar es Salaam.

Suspecting that this was merely the first wave of a long and uncomfortable diplomatic offensive, I made sure that, in the presence of Sudo, my bank card was swallowed that afternoon by the Citibank ATM at the Camel Oil garage in Sinza.

A new strategy was set in motion: Sudo leant on the tenants in his building for their next rent instalments. It is standard practice in Dar es Salaam for tenants to pay six months rent in one go, and so the untimely request caused significant unhappiness. In the end, though, everyone paid, with one eye on Sudo’s callused knuckles. This earned Sudo 500 000 shillings. Adam had received 250 000 shillings for the electronic goods, and he and Anelka could contribute 1 000 000 shillings from their stow­away earnings. Combined, this was enough for six ndongas, which would have to do.

On our final afternoon in Dar es Salaam, we all turned up at Sudo’s wife’s place at the bottom of a series of cracked stairs in Magomeni. Mama Issa cooked up some ugali (porridge) and played bau with us and, when the temperature dropped a little, we took Sudo’s boy back up the steps to watch the evening football game while Sudo made love to his wife.

Small grenades
We returned after an hour and found Sudo packing his bag by the light of a paraffin lamp, while Mama Issa taped up the ndongas so comprehensively they resembled small grenades.

Anelka gulped. “Yoh!”

Adam handed out some exercise book pages on which prayers had been written in Arabic, in red koki. “We will put these in our water when we get to the border, and then drink it and use it to wash our faces.”

Sudo wanted to travel in shoes so I gave him my old trainers, which were roughly five sizes too big. With his clown shoes laced, he shouldered his pack, kissed his wife and boy, and walked out of the house.

A rule had been made that the unga torpedos would not be opened until we reached Cape Town. Anything the Beachboys smoked on the road to counteract their withdrawal sickness they would source en route, starting right away in a notorious Magomeni unga house.

The house was a series of lean-tos at the back of a double-storey building. Forty men sat smoking at four tables, and it was all they were doing: there was no gongo, no beer, only cocktails, joints, cigarettes.

I was given a prime seat at one of the livelier tables and offered a line of heroin to sniff. The volume of conversations rose, then quite suddenly everyone fell silent and turned their palms upwards. Sudo began chanting a du’a, invoking Allah’s protection ahead of our journey. “Amin,” everyone said at once. “Amin.”

Afterwards the smokers came in search of our hands, which they shook meaningfully and said good luck, good luck, Allah be with us. Then we were off.

When we reached the limits of Dar es Salaam, Anelka flagged down a newspaper delivery truck with a closed canopy and seconds later we were all in it, trying to settle our bodies on a Tetris-scape of newspaper parcels.

By the time we reached Maka-mbako, it was light, and we were lying on the metal corrugations of the truck’s bed. We had covered 655km in six hours with six stops, a providential start to the 6 000km journey.

We now boarded a packed bus and climbed through tea-covered hills to Tukuyu, then Ipinda and down valley to the Kaumula/Songwe border post on the Songwe River. Here, in spite of the fact that the Beachboys had slugged their protective Qur’an water, a suspiciously fat man pointed to Sudo’s taquiyah skullcap and said: “Are you a holy man? Are you going to say a du’a for us?”

Sudo said, “No, why do you need a du’a? You don’t need a du’a”, and the man said, “I’m Tanzanian intelligence,” flashed a card, and said, “Come with me, Beachy-boy.”

The realisation that the Beachboy subculture had been marked this far from the South African coastline made me worry that the border authorities had also put the would-be stowaways together with heroin trafficking. Of course, they had, but it made little difference when Adam produced 20 000 shillings, which bought Sudo’s release.

Overnight bus
By 7pm, we were moving south again, on the overnight bus to Lilongwe. At the first road block in Kaporo, policemen in white uniforms boarded the vehicle and did the “you, you, you and you” thing, unerringly picking out all the Tanzanian passengers, without having to ask for their travel documents. In time, the Tanzanians returned to the bus, and we started moving.

“They told us that Tanzanians have been killing Malawians in Iringa [southern Tanzania] and that we were going to pay for the violence. They wanted money but they could see that we were going to give them fokol.”

Social hostilities and tensions became the journey’s grammar. At Dedza, on the Malawian border with Mozambique, we were hustled by both sets of immigration officials, leaving us with less money than we needed for the taxis that worked the road between the border and Cazula.

But whatever the road took off the Beachboys, they took back, usually from the wallets of the truckers and the bags and pockets of fellow passengers.

In Tete, for example, a veteran trucker agreed to take us on to Inchope the next day in return for a reasonable fee. We spent the night on the back of his unloaded trailer, and he invited us into the truck cab around 7am, clambering out as he did so to make a phone call from his new phone. Adam’s hand immediately jabbed into the cab’s upper console, and came away with the driver’s wallet.

“What the fuck?” I cried.

“Don’t worry,” said Adam, “we don’t take everything, just a little. This trucker hasn’t counted his money this morning, so he doesn’t know what he has. Trust me, this is how we do it.”

By the time the trucker returned Adam had replaced the wallet, slipping his takings under the inner sole of his shoe. At Inchope, the trucker was paid with his own money but drove on none the wiser.

On the outskirts of Maputo, days later, Adam ordered everyone off the bus we were travelling on, though the skyscrapers were still hazy in the distance. As we trailed down the side of the freeway he slipped a red Nokia from his pants, which Anelka had stolen from a kid sitting next to him.

Most valuable thing
Judging by the browned look of the boy’s shirt, it was the most valuable thing he owned. Now it was crossing the bridge over Joaquim Chissano Road, slipping under Rua Gago Coutinho and continuing down Avenido Angola, towards Strela Market.

The way Adam explained it, the slum around Strela Market was a kind of Beachboy purgatory, dominated by veteran stowaways who had fled serious criminal charges in Tanzania or South Africa. The market had been a bongo (Dar es Salaamite) stronghold for so long that, on Rua du Guine, even the Mozambicans spoke fluent Swahili.

Outside the first of the slum taverns, we ran into a dreadlocked bongo man who said we could stay at the home of a creole drug dealer called Tony Moto. We trailed after him down sandy alleyways and Adam reminded everyone to not, under any circumstances, mention the heroin. “These Beachboys will inform the police and they will all share out our drugs. That is how it works here, bongo-to-bongo crime.”

Tony Moto did not look pleased to see us but said that, for 20 meticais, we could sleep on the floor of his kitchen. The dreadlocked man went off with the red Nokia, “to make paper”, and returned with dinner, which we ate on the floor in silence, balling rice and beans.

Afterwards Sudo said a du’a and looped the camera and rucksack straps around his hands and feet. We closed our eyes with the light still on, music blaring from a hi-fi on the other side of the room.

Our plan was to leave Maputo early the next day and head west to Namaacha, where we would jump the border with Swaziland and catch a truck or taxi northwest to the Jeppes Reef border post with South Africa. We would jump this border, too, and catch a taxi to Malelane. From Malelane, we would proceed directly to Johannesburg.

“We’ll be in Johannesburg tonight,” Adam said with confidence, drinking “tippas” of whisky early the next morning with an elderly Tanzanian called Moshe.

Moshe had stumbled into the kitchen the night before, carrying the car seat on which he had subsequently passed out. Now he listened to our plans and shook his head. Things, he said, were not good on the borders.

The South African government had deployed soldiers and the Swazis were cracking down on illegal crossings, too. He suggested that, instead of heading west, we head south: crossing the Maputo harbour by ferry before taking a taxi to Ponta do Ouro, Mozambique southernmost exit.

Disastrous advice
Moshe’s advice proved disastrous. The harbour ferry was a natural police choke point, which resulted in strip searches on both sides. The taxi we then boarded got bogged down repeatedly in the heavy coastal sands south of Maputo, and we arrived at the border post at the worst possible time: minutes after it closed at 5pm, and just as the soldiers were changing shift.

Nevertheless, Adam said, “Let’s go”, as we exited the taxi, and broke right from the road into ankle-high coastal scrub. It was 500 treeless metres to the border fence, and we hadn’t gone 50 when a soldier returning to base down the Maputo track yelled “Parar!” (Stop!)

Returning to the compound of buildings, we were mobbed by soldiers, who looked uncomprehendingly at the travel restrictions on the Beachboys’ temporary travel documents, before explaining the obvious: that we would have to spend the night and cross when the post re-opened at 8am.

There was little more we could do but occupy the porch of a locked-up shop, where Sudo sat with his head in his hands and prayed fervently.

“Nah man, I can’t handle this. We need to go,” said Anelka, looking wistfully across at the sea of eucalyptus plantations in South Africa but, with sentries posted on both sides of us, we agreed we should wait for darkness. The moment of our resolve arrived unexpectedly. Needing to both use a toilet and charge the one phone we had between us, I entered a nearby soldiers’ bar.

“Big or small?” the barman asked me, when I asked after the facilities.

“Er …”

“Aish, you will have to go out there,” he said, pointing out towards the borderline, which was now lost in darkness.

“You sure nobody is going to shoot?”

“It is safe,” he assured me.

Squatting some distance from the buildings, I observed Adam crouch-walking in my direction, his skinny outline bulked out by the addition of my bags.

“Good idea, Sean,” he said, squatting directly in front of me.

“But …”

“Be quick, here comes Sudo.”

“The phone is still charging.”

“Leave it.”

“I’m going back for it. If I don’t return, leave my bag and camera here.”

“Rather come quick, and bring Anelka.”

I returned to the bar and asked the puzzled barman for my cellphone, then explained the situation to Anelka, who said, “Come, this way”, and led a weaving trail through the homes of soldiers and across the coastal flat.

Leopard crawl
The moon was coming out and it was a full one, so we were vulnerable even now. Adam took charge and ordered a leopard crawl, with spurts of crouch-running. We dropped for a last time at the border fence, which was about three metres high and barbed. Once over, we started to run, noisily crunching on fallen eucalyptus branches.

When torches flickered in the trees, we fanned out, every man for himself, although after a kilometre Adam straightened up and began walking comfortably, and the others followed suit. The torches had been car headlights on the main road, broken up by eucalyptus boles.

A lone jogger went by, a South African soldier probably, and we greeted him and he greeted us back. The Beachboys tore up their emergency documents.

It was raining when I picked the Beachboys up a week later at the Engen One Stop on the N1 highway, 20km outside Cape Town. Our journey together had ended in Johannesburg, where I had booked a flight home.

The Beachboys had spent a few days searching for a drug dealer to rob and with their takings had come on by taxi and truck.

It was seven weeks since I had flown to Dar es Salaam, and three since we had begun our journey south. Now we sluiced into the city on the floodlit highway, dockland cranes and ship prows looming eerily on the right. Beachboy fires flickered under Nelson Mandela Boulevard.

“It’s a good night for taking a ship,” said Adam. “The security guards will all be inside, staying warm.”

To connect with Yaz, we climbed away from the ocean and came to the tenements in Woodstock, on the slopes of Table Mountain. I lied and said I had somewhere to be, and left.

At 4am the next morning, I was woken by an SMS from Adam.

“Seon Memory Card once more to sea, bra. I’m in the Navios Oriana, can you please find out where I’m going.”

I couldn’t help but grin as I opened the marine traffic webpage and typed in the vessel’s name.

“Santos,” I wrote back, “Brazil.”

Sean Christie is a freelance writer who lives in Cape Town.