Oy! Vulisango! Padre d’água!

New Year in Ponta Milibangalala. We joined the Hills at their traditional campsite. It’s a magnificent beach in the Maputo Elephant Reserve. Back in 1990 it was uncrowded and perfect. They’ve been going there for a couple of decades and are very well known and liked by the Ele Reserve staff.

– The Padre d’água surveys his domain –

One day we need supplies. Dave says come along to ‘Ponta’, which means Ponta de Ouro – there are a lot of Pontas but Saffers call de Ouro just ‘Ponta’. We head south along the beach you’re not allowed to drive on. It’s much quicker than taking the road inland. At one rocky point you have to leave the beach, up over the dune and then back onto the beach around the point.

We roar up the dune, crest the rise and . . . there’s a boom across the track. A security guard in uniform stands up to stop us, raising his hand in the universal language of ‘halt!’.

I start rehearsing an acquiescent speech: Yes, its true we were on the beach and no, we aren’t actually allowed on the beach, but it was an emergency (fetching beer) and . . . . . . Dave’s foot doesn’t budge a millimetre on the accelerator. He waves his arm imperiously in an upward motion, signalling in that same universal language ‘open up!’. He leans out the window and shouts “Oy! Vulisango! Padre d’água!” as he roars straight at the boom with undiminished speed.

Now, never mind that Oy! is Irish or Yiddish, Vulisango! is isiZulu and only Padre d’água! would have been understood (I understand it’s Portuguese for “His Excellency David Hurle Hill, Minister of Water Affairs for all Mocambique”), Dave gets his message across and the suitably impressed security guard flings the boom up with alacrity, barely managing to stop himself from saluting as we roar through without a backward glance.

Gotta admire the pirate in Hill. His swash isn’t easily buckled.


I often put myself in another man’s moccasins, so I’m imagining being a guard at a boom gate on a remote Mocambican beach, sitting in the hot African sun, dozing off, wishing I had something cold to drink and that I could find a better job, when a roar awakes me and I jump up to stop a 4X4 roaring up the dune. Ha! I think, South African numberplate! I’ll nail this fella. It’s illegal to drive on the beach here, I’ll stop him, give him a piece of my mind and tell him about the fine. Maybe he has a cold drink on board. What? Something, Something, Padre d’água! Oh, shit, he looks important and he has a very authoritarian way about him. And he’s not stopping! I’ll just open the boom and then when he stops I’ll ask him what the . .

Oh. He’s gone . . . the first vehicle in over a month and he didn’t even stop.

Sits back down in the hot African sun wishing he had something cold to drink and could find a better job.


This reminds me of a tale Dave tells of his time working in California. Bachelor days. Once again he is driving a pickup with a mate sitting next to him; This time he did stop, however. At a red light.

He’s telling a story, an animated story like Hill can tell a story and the mate is listening, but he can also see that the light has turned green and Dave is so deep into the telling he hasn’t noticed.

He interrupts the flow of words, nods at the lights and pronounces: “Ain’t gonna get any greener.”

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