Eventually he surfaced, breathing heavily like a diver recovering from the bends. Between the sighs, snorts and grunts, he informed me that a vital piece of documentation was missing. No it?s not, I said. There it is. At the bottom of the pile. He gave me a withering look as if to say, "I know, you moron. I was testing you."
Brenda stopped me from getting my speargun out of the Land Rover and pinning him to his chair like a big, fat Tuna fish.
"It?s not his fault," she said. Good God. She was right. It was Chancellor Otto von Bismarck?s fault. If that jumped-up German hadn?t invited America and 14 European countries to his stupid schloss that cold winter?s day in 1884, there wouldn?t be any borders in Africa.
There would be one big happy continent where people, cows and chickens could roam freely without any need for temporary vehicle import and registration papers, 3rd party insurance, passports and all manner of compulsory forms, declarations and affidavits.
I like to think so, anyway. When I told Brenda that I was blaming Bismarck, she began poking holes in my argument and said that without colonialism, I would be working as a fishmonger in Rotterdam. We never spoke again until Maputo.
As much as I dislike Germans, I hate borders even more. Because we returned through Swaziland, our trip involved a total of six separate customs and immigration procedures. Each time, I was treated as if my name could have been on Interpol?s most wanted list, even though I clearly looked more like a hedonist than a terrorist.
Leaving South Africa, the border officials seemed inexplicably reluctant to let me out of the country. Documents were triple-checked and the car was searched. I had to restrain myself from saying, "Come on, guys. I?m white. You don?t really want me here, anyway." Trying to get back into the country was just as difficult, although perhaps understandably so.
On the way back from Mozambique, a stern-faced Swazi at the Namaacha/Lomahasha border asked if I was bringing meat into the country. "Why?" I asked. "Have you run out?"
The single common denominator between border officials worldwide is a complete absence of humour. Wherever I have gone, whether it be South America, Europe or Asia, my pathetic attempts to lighten the mood have been met with reactions that consistently fell far short of thigh-slapping hilarity.
While I was apologising for my appalling behaviour, a middle-aged man fraying at the edges came out of nowhere and started rifling through my papers. Was he the village idiot? Should I rabbit punch him in the kidneys?
The official seemed to think this was quite normal. The stranger, clearly not in the service of the king, found what he was looking for, took the document to another counter, then returned, snatched my passport from my hands and began filling in the exit form.
Afterwards, he followed us to the car and demanded payment for his unsolicited assistance. I was outraged, particularly since he must have had more money on him than we did just then.
Later, after running out of airtime, cash and petrol on a deserted mountain track near Piggs Peak in the middle of the night, we crossed from Swaziland into the Ingwavuma district at the Lavumisa/Golela border.
One of the fading murals painted on a wall next to the boom on the South African side depicted half a dozen British Redcoats storming a koppie. Their uniforms were spot on, but their faces were distinctly Zulu.
It felt good to be home.