I’m sitting here writing because I can’t sleep. Good memories of a place from my past are keeping me awake and, although I wish I could sleep, I’m sitting here with a silly grin on my face. The name of the place of which I speak is, Swaziland. A small landlocked Kingdom surrounded on three sides by South Africa and on the other my Mozambique. There are many who do not know of it’s existence, and there are many that know it for the wrong reasons. Myself, I know it as home.
Travelling is usually viewed as journeying to a foreign country and see places that you have not laid eyes on before. Sites and adventures to be had out in the world somewhere. We often take for granted what we have right in our own backyard. If you take the time to have a look, you might just be pleasantly surprised. I too look out at the world and ponder at the adventures that await me out there, however I’m not sure that they will ever quite live up to the adventures I had growing up in my country. There is one in particular, which I am thinking about.
I remember as a kid spending the Easter and Christmas holidays camping at Tshineni Dam ( also known as Sandriver Dam) with the family. Sitting atop of the canopy of the 4×4 with my sister holding on for dear life as my Dad drove along the long dirt road that led to what was, at the time, my favourite place in the world. When we finally got there, it was imperative to wear shoes as the ground was littered with little plants that spread their seeds by way of thorns…lots of thorns. If it wasn’t the little plants, it was the branches from the acacia trees with their thorns….massive thorns. However, we still ran around without our shoes, skipping and dancing trying to avoid the thorny landmines and stopping every now and then to pick the little stowaways out of our feet. That was a performance in itself as one had to stay standing on one foot whilst removing the thorns from the other or else one would end up with a thorny arse. The days were scorching and we would spend most of it in the water, either that of the dam or the little swimming pool that stood close to the pier. I remember many a time swimming with my sister from the pier to a buoy that stood in the water some distance away.
The shore of the dam was lined with boats as most of the visitors belonged to the boating club that called Sand river it’s home. One of the boats of course belonged to my dad. She was a beauty. White with the colours of the Swaziland flag in stripes along her side and Natalie written along the front side. She was named after my sister. Many good times were had on that boat, there as well as in other places. Cruising along sitting on the front deck holding on as she sped, skipping along the water surface. Tubing was one of our daily activities, which was great amusement and the source or many funny stories. People flying through the air at speed, others falling on top of each other when riding tandem etc.
When we weren’t around the campsite, we were usually heading to the dam wall. A track heading through the bush took us from the campsite all the way to the dam wall where of course we used to jump. We would climb to the highest point of the dam wall and send ourselves souring over the edge and into the murky waters below. I remember always swimming as fast as I could to get out, fearing that there might be crocodiles lurking nearby, but they were on the other side of the dam near the fishery. However they could be heard at night next to the boats along the shore whilst we were fishing from the pier. We would sprint off the pier and up to the tent, hopping, skipping and jumping as we ran barefoot over, what seemed like, every thorn plant on the way back to the tent.
Nights were incredible. We would spend the early evening eating dinner in the light of the gas lamp which of course attracted millions of beetles and bugs of all kinds. Eating was a feat whilst you dodged the flying missiles and swatted them from your hair when they accidently flew into you. Once dinner was finished however, the gas lamp went off and peace fell around the campsite as the bugs left and flew over to the next poor bugger that had his gas lamp on. We would often then head down to the pier to do a spot of night fishing. Sometimes even just lie down on the pier listening to the gentle slush of the water on the shore and the distinct slapping against the boats moored along its edge, as we stared up at the spectacular display of shining stars littered against the black canvas that is the African night sky. A sky filled with more stars than you can imagine, more stars than you have ever seen before. Thereafter we sat around the campfire, listening to stories or telling our own. I don’t know why but I used to enjoy shining the torch light over the water to see the reflection of the crocodiles eyes shining red among the gentle waves of the water. When the adventures of the day finally caught up to us we retired exhausted to the tent or caravan to sleep. The night had more adventures to come.
Even when camping, you wake in the middle of the night with the urgent need to go to the toilet. Well, there was one toilet in the whole campsite and it was at the end of the campsite, right along the edge of the bush. A gauntlet awaited he who dared venture out of his accommodation in the middle of the night. First were the thorns, so shoes had to be worn. Next came the baboon spiders, huge spiders that used to jump and chase after you. Needless to say, one usually covered the distance at a running pace. Finally you arrived to the toilet block to do your business, however it wasn’t always so simple. As I mentioned earlier, it was right next to the wild bush and well all manner of critters used to find their way inside. Iguanas, snakes, spiders…. you name it, you could find it there. Therefore it was usually safer to find a tree and do your business the natural way.
We only used to stay for a few days at a time, but those days were filled with adventure, fun and laughter. Memories were made with every trip that will last a life time, and will always make us smile as we remember them. One of my best memories there will always be when my friend’s father and uncle took us out on the boat to go fishing for catfish amongst the reeds on the far bank. Legendary catfish lay beneath the murky waters. I didn’t quite understand, at first how one caught a fish with a huge hook and a whole chicken leg as bait. Well, that was until I got a bite. That “bite” almost pulled me off the boat, and it would have had the father and uncle not grabbed me just before I went over. Well, with their help I managed to haul in the monster fish. It turned out though that it was not quite a monster, but it was bigger than me and was the biggest catch of the day. It was most certainly the biggest damn catfish I had ever caught, and have ever caught to this day so I’m quite proud of myself. If I recall, that was our last trip to Sand River Dam. Life got complicated after that, and unfortunately I never got to return to that incredible place. However, I will forever have those memories to look back on, and return that smile to my face.