The most extreme game of Rock-paper-scissors

Posted on 14 February 2012

The tale commences in March 2007 in Cape Town, when three men in their mid-20s sold a good number of their earthly possessions– which didn’t amount to much– and bought a rusty 1981 Land Cruiser, with the intention of travelling along the west coast of Africa, all the way to London, stopping to surf along the way.

With dangerously little planning and even less money, Tim Harris, Michael ‘Stone’ Sternberg and John ‘Lurker’ Fleming strapped their surfboards to the roof rack and set off on their journey. Their aim was to surf as much as they could along the way. Their first stop was Elands Bay, one of South Africa’s best left-breaks, about three hours from Cape Town. At the time many people, friend and foe alike, were surprised they made it that far.

Fast-forward a few months and they found themselves in the middle of a jungle in Gabon, with the Land Cruiser standing in the middle of an enormous puddle of mud. Without cellphone reception or a satellite phone and with very little hope, the guys were well and truly stuck. But they had a theory– untested at the time– that if they headed due west, they would get to the coast, and that about 20 kilometres north of there they might find a sign of civilisation or at least be within range of cellphone reception. Water and food were dwindling and abandoning the vehicle wasn’t an option.

It seemed clear what needed to happen: one man would head towards the coast, while the other two stayed with the vehicle. But which poor soul would set off through a crocodile and snake-infested jungle, which possibly harboured cannibals (I said possibly)? Even if he survived the jungle, there would still be the lone journey along a coastline famous for buffalo that enjoy an occasional swim in the ocean. Not to mention the notorious ‘surfing’ hippos. A decision was reached using the universally accepted method of Rock-paper-scissors and Michael found himself the unlucky loser of what was probably the greatest game ever played.

The story has a happy ending. After a day’s travelling of about 30 kilometres on foot, Michael found local villagers who were able to help. In the end, the three surfers made it all the way through 22 countries to London in two-and-a-half years.

I heard the above story second-hand, many years ago and I’ve often retold it around braai fires. But as the sun set behind a Kalk Bay bar a few weeks ago, a guy started telling me this same story word-for-word. It turned out he was one of the guys on the trip. Today, Tim is a member of parliament for the Democratic Alliance.

So here I bump into a man who’s travelled all along the west coast of Africa, survived to tell the tale and now sits in parliament. Naturally I had a question for him: ‘What’s the best braai recipe you discovered en route?’

His answer? Picanha (also spelt picaña) is a favourite cut of steak in Brazil. It’s a cap on the top sirloin and triangular, with a thick layer of fat on the upper side. The cut is fairly rare in SA (especially before you braai it). However, earlier this year I bought two from Vleismeester Butchery in Nelspruit (013-757- 1381), so there are South African butcheries that know how to produce the cut. Test the skills of your local specialist butcher and ask him for one.

Read more about this surf trip up the African west coast at

Picanha steak recipe

‘The recipe comes from an Angolan friend of ours, who we met south of Luanda when he got us out of a sticky situation involving a broken suspension. He introduced us to a brilliant cut of steak called picanha,’ explains Tim.

  • Trim away most of the excess fat from your picanha, but not all of it.
  • Marinate the meat with the following for two hours before braaing:
  • Several cloves of garlic
  • A handful of salt
  • Half a cup of olive oil
  • A few tablespoons of peri-peri
  • Several liberal splashes of beer
  • Braai over hot coals or low flames with the fatty side up, so it melts into the meat.
  • Turn only once.
  • Carve generous slices perpendicular to the grain.
  • Serve with cold beer.


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