An Unforgettable Trip by Lucinda E. Clarke
Like millions of parents the world over, when Christmas approaches (around mid September) we started the annual “If you don’t behave Santa Claus will NOT be visiting you on Christmas Eve.” It seldom worked of course, but we found something else did after a trip we took with friends from Johannesburg to the south coast of South Africa.
There were eight, four adults and four children and the friction between the children started before we had left the city. They had recently taken possession of a smart new company car, while we were loaded up to the gunnels in our battered and aging Peugeot 504 estate, and the cries of “Our car is better than your car,” rang in our ears mile after mile. The hurled insults between them got louder at every petrol stop and picnic break, but the real trouble began when we stopped off on the first night about half way down the country.
“Of course you can share our tent,” we offered. We were camping at the final destination and they were staying with family. We might not have been so hospitable if we had known our friend suffered from claustrophobia. The tent door was left wide open all night, and we suffered numerous mosquito bites.
We pressed on the next day, only for something to go horribly wrong with our car - don’t ask me what I’m not technical - but it meant that we were using more oil than petrol. We poured in a couple of cans every ten kilometres. The other couple’s children were in ecstasy at our misfortune, while mine seethed with vicious resentment. We limped into the next large town and our elderly Peugeot was impounded for major repairs. We now had the problem of how to cram the contents of our estate car into a hire vehicle the size of a Smart car. This provided further opportunities for the children to really let rip, especially as they were now forced to occupy the same vehicle.
Arriving at the camp site, the heavens opened, and we were dismayed to find someone firmly entrenched on our site. It took a couple of hours to dislodge them, but the moment we had pitched our tent, another party arrived and pitched theirs opposite ours. They seemed a nice, friendly family until they unpacked their drum kit, the accordion, three guitars, a keyboard and crates of beer too numerous to count.
Next our children went down with a bug and I had to put them on a bread and water regime, no holiday treats, at least not for a few days. They were distraught.
We discovered on the first morning the hot water supply in the shows was exhausted by 6.30am so a lie in was not on the cards either.
I was pleased to discover they provided a laundry service and the lady would come round each morning and collect it. Each evening was spent traipsing round the camp site, shouting over the noise of the enthusiastic band in full flow, trying to find out who had received your laundry in exchange for theirs. I do not recommend approaching a half drunken, Boer farmer waving frilly knickers shouting out “Do these belong to you?”
Tensions rose, and beachside walks, exploring rock pools, scenic mountain drives and trips to the café where their children wolfed down gigantic ice creams as I fed mine their dry bread and water, did nothing to diffuse the situation.
And the rain continued to pour down relentlessly obscuring the grand vistas, the breathtaking views and turning the camp site into a quagmire.
Much to our horror, our friends fell out. We had never noticed up to this point they were heading for a divorce.
It all got too much, and after nine miserable days we decided to return home early.
We retrieved our car from the garage, shuddering at the size of the bill, and were half way home when their posh, new company car broke down. This time it was my children who were in ecstasy.
We limped into a deserted town and waited for the garage to open. The one and only local policeman approached us and planted a parking ticket on our windscreen. When we protested (we were the only other car in the street) he pronounced we were counter parked and breaking the law before storming off. Our bank overdraft received another boost.
Of course there were no spare parts in this backwater, they would have to be ordered from Johannesburg, sent by pony express to Kimberley and we could drive up and fetch them ourselves. In the meantime, we were allowed to camp on the adjoining land under the largest electric pylon I have ever seen, and home to the largest ant colony in Africa.
As we waited, we were warned not to leave our tent area due to the marauding locals on two feet and the furry ones on four feet, who would deprive us of our belongings in record fast time. We tried to coerce the children into searching for diamonds, but that didn’t work.
After three miserable days, the parts arrived, the car was fixed and we were on our way. Plans to stop at Kimberly, explore the reconstructed old town and gawp at the Big Hole went out the window as we got caught up in a car chase between the police and a man who had just shot his family. How we escaped injury I shall never know, but it left everyone so shaken, all we wanted to do was get home.
As we unlocked our front door, we were desperate for sleep, but there was nowhere to lie down. Our house sitters had invited lots of friends in, and seventeen people were now in residence and not pleased to see us back two weeks early.
So, whenever our children were naughty, all we had to say was, “If you don’t behave, we’ll take you on holiday.”