A touch of camping, South African style...

2013-04-03 11:53

The last time my family camped it was in 40-degree heat at Beaverlac near Porterville in the Western Cape. Our tent, since we’d used it last, was infested with thousands of spiders which we had no choice but to zap with Doom. Running off to cool down in the rock pools, we left the double blow-up mattress in the blazing sun where it ballooned into a lop-sided Zeppelin. Our food melted. Our bananas cooked black on the camping table. I set up camp on the back seat of our car.

The trials of the current camping trip include our family of five (an ADHD ten-year old boytjie, two teen daughters with hairdryers and two tired parents) dossing under soggy duvets on two shared mattresses and watching rain drip down the interior of the Taj Mahal - our tent-home away from mod cons. Only our collective weight on the ground sheet keeps the precariously pinned tent from taking off in the wind and dropping us in the churning water of the Goukou River. The rain continues to pelt down, and later we sweep the leaks from the ground sheet.

Our hosts' caravan boasts a fridge, electricity, a booze cabinet and waterproof polar sleeping bags. And while our they’re kitted out in sweat-shirts bearing slogans like ‘Africa is not for sissies’ and have torches strapped to their foreheads, we look like a Zombie group who’ve taken a wrong turn on the way to the Mall. We arrived with suitcases, duvets and bewildered expressions. We use cell phones to light the path to the ablution block; we beg for plugs to recharge computers and tablets.

‘You data addicts gotta relax!’ Brennan encourages as he grabs a beer. Too laid back to even pick up his Deon Meyer, Seven Days, he leans back in his camp chair and stares, mesmerised, at the rain.

Relax? The previous time we visited Still Bay on the east coast of the Western Cape, where my elderly father lives, we stayed at an aftree oordt. My ten year old son raced his scooter against oumas in wheelchairs. Now at least he has pals his own age and the gang are gone. Yes, I’m wanting to read the Roger Smith stashed in my bag, Capture, but with the kids off scoffing chocolate eggs, riding bikes, singing in the rain and probably catching pneumonia to boot (in my head I hear my mother scolding...), I have ten minutes to do some research.

‘What’s the latest on Kosie?’ I ask, logging on to the Internet from my laptop. Directly opposite the campsite on the banks of the river, is the farm Grootfontein where nineteen-year old Kosie Van Zyl finally snapped. Allegedly abused for years as his father’s handlanger, Kosie pumped two shots into Groot Koos, from his father’s own hunting rifle, as Groot Koos lay sleeping in front of the TV. According to Google, Kosie, ‘met sy oorkoepelende emosie van angs, gedryf deur vrees, het ’n doodsvrees vir sy pa gehad’, has been acquitted.

I’ve long been fascinated with other cases in the area, especially as the place is a holiday idyll with a minimum of crime incidents reported. Up river, in 2006, Allen Harmony and Rosa Maria Toich, operating a child porn ring under the guise of a Karate training camp, were bust after an anonymous tip. DVDs, videotapes and photographs of children in sexually compromising positions were confiscated and a 68-year-old world-renown karate coach was implicated with the indecent assault of at least six minors. In 2010 an elderly couple, the Smiths (no relation to Roger, or Wilbur who owned a farm once on the Goukou), were discovered murdered in their sea-side home at sleepy Jongensfontein. Mr Smith was stabbed. Mrs Smith was tied to a chair in the lounge, the garden fork protruding from her chest. The case remains unsolved. In a small town, incidents such as this rock the community. But they happen. There is no idyll. Anywhere.

As if Brennan can read my cynical mind he says, ‘The one thing I ask of my favourite crime-fiction author having trouble leaving crime and the city behind, is that for the sake of the kids, keep tjoepstil about the Easter Bunny.’

Me? A party pooper? No way! Chatting about an unsolved crime is one thing, but I’m all for upholding the mystery around Easter’s dark side. Especially when the ‘Ishtar’ bunny brings me gold-wrapped Lindt. The rabbit, originally a Babylonian and Assyrian deity of fertility and sexuality, was incorporated as part of Christian tradition, to appease the pagan plebs, by Emperor Constantine when he declared Rome a Christian Empire 325 years after Jesus was crucified.

I abandon ‘Truthaholics’ on the computer for now, and suffering tent fever, our Zombie family head into town to the local Pampoenfees. Here oumas and oupas pose with kleinkinders in the look-alike contest; the winners of best-dressed dog and the best beer-boep are announced; Mejuffrou Pampoen is crowned; we city bumpkins gasp as giant pampoene are lowered from bakkies by crane and weighed - some in excess of 300kgs - for the honour to be named die platste, die mooiste, die swaarste, die grootste pampoen!

Back at camp, airtime replenished, my dongle (what kind of a word is that?) plugged in once more, I email a friend and describe the action.

He replies, ‘As a non card-carrying Boer seun, I wouldn’t be seen dead at a pampoenfees. Ninety percent of Afrikaners are urban professionals, not pumpkin growers!’

‘Boet,’ I say, as he scoffs at this Afrikaner parody, at what he sees as Afrikaners retreating into a cultural laager, ‘apart from the stall selling T-shirts with offensives slogans (fuck the rhino save the white ou), what’s the harm? And it was a fundraiser for Laerskool Bertie Barnard.’ (Who was he in his day job? Not even Google knows.)

A quote comes to mind. Linus, of Charlie Brown fame, in response to being laughed at the Peanuts gang as he discusses his beliefs, says: ‘There are three things I have learned never to discuss with people: religion, politics, and the Great Pumpkin.’ Yes, I know Shultz refers to the Halloween Pumpkin, but everything is so mixed up anyway. Ideas about pumpkins and Easter and cold cases all run into each other like the rain puddling in the Taj. It crosses my mind too, that in a jaded world of vicious crime and turgid politics, isn’t it a relief that people are able to get excited about a pumpkin? Whether it features at Halloween or Easter.

The computer is off. Believe it or not, I'm finally mellowing. Trying to appreciate the simple things like a plastic mug of wine, the prittle of the potjie. But the camp Gods are against me. Drying out, I’m standing too close to the fire. I inadvertently singe my coat.

Later, I realise I’ve run out of cell phone battery. Damn, I’ve left the charger in Cape Town. How will I light my way to the ablution block? I sleep in my jeans and burned coat. My hair smells of braaivleis. I tuck my damp duvet under my chin.

The rain, the Pampoenfees, the leaking Taj, the dose of the dark side, all recede as I dream of a guest house and a hot bubble bath and plugs and a TV and raiding the a mini bar.

We’ll get this camping thing right next time. Ons fok voort. Sigh. There's always a next time.

I'm on twitter @JoanneHichens

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