Maneuvers at St. Lucia
It’s not always nice to have a boat, says Christie Gerber.
Friday morning eight o’clock they leave. Ben and co drive in front with his Ford 4x4 and boat, Intombazana, on the tow bar. “Intombazana” is the Zulu word for “girl”, and this name is painted in neat black letters on the side of the boat. Ben’s colleague and friend Johnie drives behind the boat in his Mazda 4x4 with his Jurgens on the tow bar. The Jurgens also has a name: “Barto”. It’s painted above the caravan’s number plate. Johnie reckons he’s a direct descendent of the Portuguese seafarer Bartolomeu Dias who landed in Mossel Bay in 1488. Ben and Johnie and their group planned this long weekend breakaway right before Christmas for a long time. Everything that had to go, went. The 130 km from Eshowe to St. Lucia is an easy journey. Everything runs smoothly to St. Lucia in the iSimangaliso Wetland Park. The lake, with its hippos, crocodiles, and approximately 500 bird and 14 fish species, is one of the world’s
largest. With the 280 km coastline on the Indian Ocean, the Mkuze wetland, Sodwana Bay, Kosi Bay and its great campsites, this is Utopia.
UPON ARRIVAL AT THE CAMPSITE,
Intombazana gets tied to the jetty. Tents are pitched because the Jurgens doesn’t have space for everyone. The camp is ready, the afternoon is over, and now it’s a big trek to the showers. From early evening already the adults are relaxing next to the fire. The kids are busy somewhere in the campsite. To the side of the fire, above a heap of coals, Johnie’s carefully crafted mussel potjie is simmering slowly. There is peace on Earth. Around this fire we start to understand what the self-actualisation at the top of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs really means. But then suddenly the peace is disturbed: Marcus, Ben’s youngster, comes running and shouts: “Dad, Dad! Come check the grunter that the guy next to us caught.” In his excitement he kicks and topples the mussel pot. Four adults rush forward to save what can be saved. At the speed of lightning mussels, sand, sauce, water, celery and everything and more goes back in the pot. Ben burns his hand in the rescue operation. He’s so mad at young Markus and angry because Johnie’s special potjie isn’t going to be so special anymore. But Ben’s wife, Meisie, says soothingly: “Accidents happen...” She looks into the pot and grins nervously: “Besides, all is not lost. There’s still enough for everyone.” Over dinner there’s an almost deafening silence. Johnie quietly told everyone not to upset Ben any further. As they munch and crunch on sea sand, mussels and other seafood, no one pulls a face. Markus sits outside the campfire circle, some distance from his dad – just in case Ben’s anger flares up again.
DAY BREAKS AND YOU CAN SAY THAT
the potjie debacle has been forgotten. It’s an excited group cruising on the lake in Intombazana in search of a few big ones. A while later the boat is tied up again, and the group – sunburnt, tired and very thirsty – heads back to the campsite. The cold beer is refreshing after a long, hot day on the water. Ben sips his second beer. This time Markus doesn’t come running, but comes chasing over in the Ford. He makes a wide turn and shouts: “Dad! The boat is loose and it’s floating away!” Ben rushes over: “Drive! Now! I’ll stand on the bumper and hold on to the canopy.” Ben is a big guy, but very nimbly jumps onto the Ford’s rear bumper and holds on to the canopy. Markus pulls away quickly. It is, after all, an emergency. “Slowly, slowly!” Ben roars from the back, but then the Fords hits the first of the speed bumps in the campsite. Ben shoots into the air, but lands dexterously with his feet on the bumper and grips firmly onto the canopy. “Markus, slow down... Slow down!” he shouts from the back. “Slow down!” Just then the Ford hits the second speed bump. Ben again shoots into the air, but this time the Ford isn’t there as he comes down. It’s already disappeared around the corner, and Ben’s 120 kg hits the ground with a thump and a bounce. Ben lies still, bruised and bloodied. Campers come rushing over from all directions, unsure if he survived the fall. It was a really big fall and he’s lying awfully quiet... “Water, give him some water,” says someone. “No, I think he needs something stronger,” says someone else. Then, with a loud groan and a lot of effort, Ben sits up. It’s clear that he’s hurting. He leans against his friend Johnie. Johnie gives Ben neat whisky, “for the shock”. Ben takes a swig, utters a few choice words, and takes another sip. “When I get my hands on that little...” And with his big hands he makes a strangling motion. While everyone is recovering from the shock, the Ford comes roaring round the corner. Markus jumps out: “Dad, Dad, why did you get off while the car was moving? You can really hurt yourself. I had such a fright when I saw you were gone. What did you do... Look at you!” Luckily for Markus there are a lot of bystanders and Ben keeps himself in check. “Where is my boat?” he asks calmly with enormous self-control. “A friendly guy had already tied it up when I got there. That’s why I could return so quickly to see what happened to you. Your shenanigans will give a person a heart attack.” Silence, o silence. Ben doesn’t have the words, and it’s probably better that way. Like the preacher rightfully says: “Calmness prevents great offenses...”
BACK AT THE CAMP, MEISIE IS BUSY
doctoring Ben’s wounds and bruises, and gives him a lecture on “stupid men who stand on the back of moving bakkies”. Ben accepts the sermon quietly and starts looking a bit more like himself. From a little distance away, Johnie pipes up: “My brother has this small red book: Life’s Little Instructions”. “Why are you telling me this?” Ben enquires. “The one bit of advice in the book made me think of you today.” “Yes?” “It says: ‘Resist the temptation to buy a boat.’ It’s just not worth the trouble.” “So what are you saying?” “The solution is very simple.” And what is it? “Rather befriend someone who already has a boat.”
Drive now! Now! I’ll stand on the bumper and hold on to the canopy.