28 May 2010

Places I have been # 2 - Fort Victoria en route to Lake Kyle

Back in 1973, when we made our one and only trip up to Zimbabwe/Rhodesia we drove a Ford Corsair.  It still had bench seats, back and front and nobody ever thought about using things like safety belts.  Which was great, it meant I could sit with my back to the car door (on the passenger side, of course) and put my feet up so they didn't swell too badly. Shock! Horror!  I can just hear the comments.

It gets worse though.  In those days, we used to pick up hitch-hikers.  Truly.  It was the done thing.  South Africa had compulsory army service for all school leavers and these young chaps were sent off to remote areas to do their training.  After the first six weeks they were allowed a weekend pass.  How they got home and back was their problem.  So, as a nation we supported each other's sons.  We'd pick up these young men and drive them as far as we were going.  No problems there.  We never, ever had problems with one of these young soldiers.

Thing is, my man had back-packed across Europe and felt empathy with every traveller he saw on the side of the road.  Which is why we picked up a lone hitch-hiker (in the middle of absolutely nowhere on a very hot day) on our way up to Beit Bridge.  Big mistake.  Which we only realised when this man began to give the guards at the Beit Bridge customs a huge run around.  They wouldn't let us go and he wouldn't sign the papers.  It was getting dark and the swallows were swooping in huge swirls in the beautiful sunset and it was beginning to look like we were all going to be sitting in the car for the night.  Warning bells tolled.  Loudly.

Needless to say, he eventually signed and we were allowed on our way.  I would happily have left him there.  He wasn't going to have any of that!  No way.  Turned out he was a badly shell-shocked Vietnam vet.  We learnt all about that when my man hit a rabbit that night.  Our passenger went hysterical!  We were miles and miles away from everything and everyone and we had to stop to pick up and move the dead rabbit.  We were beginning to get quite worried at that stage.  When we pulled in to the only hotel in the area we discovered that they had only one room.  We tried to leave our passenger in that room, but he wouldn't get out of the car.  So the hotel staff kindly phoned around and found that there were two rooms available at the Lake Kyle park.  We think they also had a word with the man who owned the place once we were gone...

When we arrived (very late and absolutely exhausted), he'd organised a Rondaval (a round hut) for the two of us, and he put our hitch-hiker into a caravan quite a long way away from us.  Our hitch-hiker didn't want to leave us, was scared of being on his own, but the owner persuaded him there was no way he was going to put him into our room.  Thank heavens.

The next day we were offered a trip on the lake compliments of the owner.  We had an amazing day out and got to see a lot of the crocodiles and other wild life from the small motor boat.  We didn't take our hitch-hiker with.  He'd caught a bus into the nearest town to have a look around.  Once we realised he was able to get 'out' on his own we (I am almost embarrassed to tell you this) jumped into our car and drove off as fast as we could. We, quite literally, ran away from him! We never saw him again and I cannot ever begin to tell you how relieved we both were.

We didn't pick up hitch-hikers after that.  Not unless they had army uniforms on.

April Blackbird

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