South Africa – Fear in the Rotunda

It is a rather strange fact that you build up an impression of a place from a map that can be totally erroneous.  Kirsty told me to get a bus from Joburg’s Rotunda Bus Station to Pietermaritzburg.  The thought terrified me, but I kept reassuring myself that I would be all right.   I would buy my ticket from a travel agents in Verwoerdburg.  I would be dropped off outside the station, I would get on the bus and leave Jo’burg.  But looking at the map, I saw that the bus station appeared enormous, and I worried that it was not only the regional bus but a local bus station, and who knows what unsavoury types might come through there.  Everyone was a demon in Jo’burg.  Scenarios played in my mind – what if the bus station was darkly lit and I would be taken off into a dark corner and robbed again?  What happened if I got on the wrong bus?  What if my bus didn’t run – how would I contact Kirsty?  How would I get back to the relative calm of Irene?

 There was no going back.  I had already arranged to be picked up at Pietermaritzburg Bus Station by a work colleague of mine; Denis Rugege, who had been at NRI a few months beforehand.  I was also to stay with one of Kirsty’s friends, although Kirsty had not told them exactly when I was arriving.  So I was to set off into the unknown.  I arranged that I was going to do a one way hire, and pickup a car in Pietermartizburg and drop it off in Harrismith in the Orange Free State the following Saturday.  I hoped to meet Kirsty there so we could go trekking in the Drakensberg.

 So one morning when Kirsty was on her way in to work, I did one of the most frightening journeys of my life.  The previous time I had gone to Jo’burg I had been wary, but not frightened.  Now I had been mugged, I drew closer to the city centre with full fear.  I tried not to show it but it was too obvious.  Kirsty did her best to distract me, telling me how wonderful Kwa-Zulu Natal was.  We came off the motorway and went through some half decent city streets on the north side of the city centre.  I made sure Kirsty dropped me off as close to the Rotunda as possible, and I quickly said goodbye, clung my bag next to me and went into the waiting area.

 Although the waiting area was a large airy and, yes, round room, it was no where near the giant I had expected.  I had two hours to wait for my bus, but since Kirsty had been the only lift I could guarantee, I had taken it.  I don’t think I wanted to chance local public transport for a while.  So I had to sit there, completely suspicious of everybody I saw, black or white, young or old.  I wrapped my bag strap firmly around my leg so no-one could snatch it, and tried to read for a while.

 I was aware that I couldn’t understand a word of any announcements, not because they were half Afrikaans, but also because the PA system was awful.  So I watched what was going on.  There was little activity.  There were two main bus companies running out of the station; Greyhound and Translux.  I was going Translux, but while I was there a Greyhound bus left for Durban via Pietermaritzburg.  Then I realised that there were two Translux buses heading for Durban.  One was a fast bus calling at Pietermaritzburg and Durban only.  Mine was the slow bus, leaving earlier but taking longer and calling at Veereniging, Warden, Harrismith, Ladysmith, Estcourt, Pietermaritzburg, Mpumulanga and Durban.  It would take about six hours, but I had nothing else to do and I think I preferred to see some of the back routes.  Veereniging was a mystery to me.  I had looked at the map and traced the road south east towards Jo’burg and I could not remember seeing such a place.

 After what seemed like an eternity, my bus was called.  I leapt up hastily and headed for the correct gate.  My fears were so large that I hid within the group of people queuing for the bus.  They were the usual bunch of long distance bus travellers, a few young students, women with too much baggage or too many kids, a few middle aged single people, a couple of older types including the usual collection of old ladies, dressed more for Afternoon Tea at the Ritz than a three hundred mile bus journey.

 Our tickets were slowly checked.  I felt so vulnerable out there on the street, people passing us by on the way.  All I wanted to do was getup on the bus and get away from this hell hole.  The driver nonchalantly laid all the bags on the street (how foolish, I thought, anyone could snatch them) and put labels around them all.  Then he left them there while he checked all the tickets.  I was on board and my bag was not packed.  I was so relieved when everything was on board and the driver sat himself down in front.

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South Africa – Into Pretoria

This conflict was strong in Gauteng.  As the commercial heart of South Africa, Jo’burg and Pretoria had a large British derived population.  They were not there by choice.  Their stories of the beauty of the Cape and Natal made them long for their homes, but the gold and commerce of the main stock cities had driven them up the escarpment to Transvaal.   They hated it, it had too many people, too many traffic jams, the scenery was dull, the weather cold and dreary and the crime rates horrendous.

 To the Boers the Transvaal was their adopted homeland.  However, Gauteng was often left out of the equation; Jo’burg particularly but Pretoria also were abominations to all people; they had grown like topsy into gross cauldrons of activity; no Boer really liked them but had been left with them.  When I was to travel to the Orange Free State and Eastern Transvaal, I was to see the true home of the Boers, the expansive farming plains with little towns, neat white Lutheran churches and picket fences, and the hardy curtness of Boer population had a real context.

 I went up on top of the monument to get some geographical bearings.  I looked to the south; the vast brown plain stretched to my left.  The town of Verwoerdburg was to my right, sprawling and expanding.  Then on the other side I could see how the monument stood on the top of a rocky incised ridge, and the N1 and the motorway from Jan Smuts Airport dropped steeply into Pretoria, curving underneath the equivalent of South Africa’s Open University. This was a huge miserable looking concrete block, more like a centre for MI5 than one of learning.  Below the skyscrapers of the city dominated the valley, but beyond I could see the grand sandstone State Buildings.  I decided I should look at these.

Down to Pretoria

Down to Pretoria

 When I drove into town, I found my way winding up a series of cobbled streets.  I parked under the terraced gardens and walked up.  I realised that apart from a couple of gardeners watering the roses, I was the only person rising up the hill.  My nerves at being in a large city on my own were on high edge.  I heard some other people laughing in the distance, and my skin crept up my back.  But I took deep breaths and wandered up to the stone buildings.

 There was a lot of building work going on, they were putting together new apartments for Nelson Mandela here.  Of course, although Pretoria is the executive capital of South Africa, the Parliament and Legal capital is still Cape Town, and the prominence of Johannesburg as a commercial centre often makes it seem like the effective capital,  despite its crime record.

 The state buildings vastly disappointed me.  Despite the grandness of the architecture and the scale and symbolic importance of the buildings, they did not show anything of the new South Africa.  The strongly multicultural nature of the new Rainbow State was not being expressed here. Instead it was still the old school.  It was a symbol of oppression (whether of the Boer or the Blacks I could not yet determine).  I drove back to Kirsty’s.  Despite the anticlimax of seeing the buildings, I felt like a couple more pieces of the jigsaw had been filled in.

 A couple of days later, I put in another piece as a plan to visit Natal fell into place.  Unfortunately, something blocked my way.  I had to go back into the centre of Johannesburg.

South Africa – Voortrekkers

Who were the Voortrekkers?  The history of South African Colonisation began when in 1652, Dutch settled in the Cape, mainly to serve as a staging port on the long run from Europe to its eastern colonies.  Many people were unhappy with the governance of this province and began to move eastwards, only to be subsumed by the Cape when the government shifted the border.  By the 19th Century , the British overran the Cape and the pioneer farmers on the eastern fringes continued to be ignored and were dissatisfied.  They were also under increasing pressure from the Xhosas who lived to the east.

 The descendants of these farmers were linked by a common forming language; Afrikaans, and they decided to move away from the Cape to set up their own government.  They moved eastwards in pioneering treks, and were called the Voortrekkers.  The monument describes their movement and plight, and it now stands as a shrine to the Afrikaner spirit, based on their resilience and strength against the British Oppressor.  Or it could be pigheadedness and unwillingness to co-operate, but here history is debatable.

 What grabbed me as I read the mural on the wall and looked at the clean cut lines of the memorial was the striking similarities between these trekkers and the great pioneers of the United States of America.  Starting from the older settlements of the west, a growing disenchantment, for whatever reason, drove them east.  Even the land was similar; vast open plains and savannahs, difficult terrain; rivers, some mountains, and unforeseen conflicts with other people in the region.  What surprised me enormously were the distances some Voortrekkers managed to cover, some reaching in to East Africa.  My view that the Afrikaans were isolated in the south soon changed.  Their influence on the rest of Africa was much greater.

 The Voortrekker monument is an almost square block over 40 metres high, on a high hillside on the south side of Pretoria city.  Built from 1937 through to 1949 it has a simple structure with a number of symbolic features.  .  Around the outside a series of 64 wagons show the wagon trails and protect the monument.  Four of the key Voortrekkers; Piet Retief, Andries Pretorius, Hendrik Potgeiter and the Unknown Voortrekker leader give a guard of honour.

 Through the roof is a small hole; an opening through which the sun shines.  It is angled so that at noon on 16th December  the ray of sunlight falls on the inscription “Ons vir jou Suid-Afrika” (We for thee, South Africa).

 The squareness of the exterior masks the dome shape inside.  The whole feeling of the tower is one of airiness, of respect for the Voortrekkers and the idea of pilgrimage for all modern day Afrikaners.

 The mural tells the story of the Voortrekkers departure from the Cape Province and their movement towards Natal and Transvaal.  The trekkers were subjected to various meetings with other colonists, such as at Lourenco Marques, their conflicts with the Matabele and Zulus, and assistance from the Baralong.  It shows beyond the murder of Piet Retief, the arrival of a new leader, Andies Pretorius (who gave his name to Pretoria) , right up to the Independence of Transvaal in 1852.

 The Voortrekkers still felt alienated by the British; their attempts to establish Natal as an Independent state failed when Britain annexed Natal in 1843.  The subsequent independence of Transvaal lasted only 25 years.  War between the Boers and Britain occurred in the First War of Independence and then in Anglo-Boer War of 1899-1902.  Transvaal and the Orange Free State were brought under the British mantle and the Union of South Africa was continued.

 The oppression of the Boers under the British was something I was not very aware of in my time in Gauteng so far.  It looked to me like the Boer were a very proud race who still found a place in the new South Africa.  Yes, there were those who undoubtedly had suspicions of the good intentions of the new ANC government, who were worried about the huge discrepancies in wealth and opportunity.  Despite that, there was still a feeling that South Africa was bigger than the Apartheid era, and that the opportunities to be Southern Africa’s commercial and cultural capital, as well as a model democracy much needed on the continent.

 But here was undoubted bitterness towards the South Africans of British descent.  And this was different from my readings on the country.  Away from here, the friction was purely between white and black.  But once in amongst it, there was also conflict between the British and the Boer.  I was reminded of a colleague of mine who attended a party at Phalaborwa in Eastern Transvaal.  She was introduced socially to some Boer as coming from England, who, without hesitation said “And which side did your grandfather fight for in the Boer War?”  She countered quickly with “My grandfather was being oppressed down the mines of the Black Country by the same people who were oppressing you”.  She became firm friends with the guy, but it was a close shave.

South Africa – working it out

The following week in the area started quietly.  I decided to relax in the garden one day.  The next door neighbours were astounded at me sun bathing as winter drew on, but the 25 degrees of heat was more than I was usually used to in Britain in the height of summer.

 The next day, Kirsty gave me the car, and I decided to explore Pretoria.  My experience of South African cities so far had not been good, but I had liked the look of Pretoria from a night out in the city a few days beforehand.  One feature I really wanted to see was the Voortrekker monument.  I realised in my wilfully poor history knowledge, I didn’t understand who the Boers were, what were Afrikaans, and my division of white South Africa was purely that Cape and Natal were where the English based populations lived, Orange and Transvaal were where the Afrikaners lived.  I realised that if I was to understand the settlers here I would have to visit them all.

 This simplistic division into Afrikaner and English ignored the black majority population and their divisions or the Indians, but was an understandable starting point for my investigations, since I was staying with a white south African and mixing generally with other whites.  If I started to understand these, then perhaps I could start looking elsewhere as the weeks progressed.

 Where was I so far.  I had begun to understand something that had always puzzled me.  How are people kept so far apart when they are all living so close together.  It is always one of the most fundamental geographical questions.  We all live on the same earth, but we manage to divide so easily into the haves and have-nots in every country.  The rich live on the hills, the poor live in the valleys, rich are upwind, poor downwind.  It was all classic school text.  Here in South Africa there was still the lingering inertia of the split caused by the colour of skin.  I had become to understand that now.  Areas of the Witwatersrand had suburbs that were almost like prison camps and the stark contrast between these areas and the high-class suburbs of Sandton and Pretoria were startlingly obvious.  I’d also seen how these lines were becoming fuzzier.  In some was this was a good thing – more affordable middle class houses were appearing, particularly in MidRand, town houses instead of huge houses in estates.  But in other ways they were less appealing – the rise in the number of squatter settlements, often on the edges of the old established townships such as Tembisa and Alexandria, but encroaching faster on the other suburbs as well.

 The problem with Gauteng is that it still was the most attractive location for work and opportunity in most of South Africa, and the friction between those established with money and those without was tangible.

To get a grasp on how this had occurred, I had to look at filling in the details in my sketchy history, and one of the most visible signs of this was the Voortrekker monument.  When I had visited Jan Smuts cairn in Irene, the huge block of the monument was very visible and almost anywhere round Pretoria, it dominated the skyline.

Voortrekker Monument

Voortrekker Monument

South Africa – Gambling in the bush

We eventually dragged ourselves away when they began to calm down and drove through the narrow valley and out of the park.  Within a couple of miles we were back on the plain of Bophutsatswana.  We had a few hours to spare before travelling to Irene so we decided to pop into Sun City, the gambling and leisure Mecca set up in the volcano.

 Although I had reservations about Pilansberg’s artificial nature, at least it was preserving natural environments and wildlife.  Everything about Sun City stank of artificiality.  And yet it was curiously absorbing.  A massive car park lies at the bottom of the valley, and you pay ten rand or so for a day pass.  You board the monorail that glides up the valley side, beginning to give you glimpses of this world you are about to enter.  There are beautifully laid roads and manicured gardens.  The river is landscaped and contains far more water than it should.  Then the monorail sweeps around a corner and the whole Lost City appears; the massive towers of the hotels, the huge casino and hall complex, the golf course and the pleasure pools.

 We got out and started to wander around gaping as we went.  First were row upon row of gambling machines, in every corner of the huge foyer leading to the Jungle Casino.  A central atrium contained luxurious shops for jewellery, electric goods and perfumes; I began to wonder where we could catch our flight.  Gaudy restaurants everywhere selling overpriced curries and steaks. Then up some stairs we skirted the massive amphitheatre, a covered circle for all manner of shows.  We came out at the top of these buildings to be confronted by a massive stone bridge linking the casino and the hotels.  Guarding our path on either side were huge fibre glass elephants with tusks the size of which you never see in real life any more.  Strange Aztec stroke South African stroke global symbology claptrap lined every wall.  As we stepped out onto this bridge and looked back, a massive panther or lion or something carved into the mock stone sat above a temple containing an eternal flame.  Every so often a blast of fire would expel from the dark innards and drum beats and tribal music would start.

 We walked across the bridge, glancing down at the South African elite; mainly white but occasionally black, frolicking with beach balls among palm trees and coral blue waters .  Palm trees and beaches for God’s sake.  Beyond a massive statue and fountain, the bridge continued, and more mock temple ruins emerged from among the jungle deep that would make Romantic paintings seem like engineer’s drawings.

 Kirsty and I still couldn’t quite believe it.  Looking beyond the parkland, we could just make out the dry scrawny bush in the distance.  The real world was still out there, but in here we wondered what was really going on.  Just what was the point of Sun City?  It was built in the Apartheid era as a place where city dwellers could go to and relax and live up the western ideals, when other options were not open to them.  The choice of location was also not purely commercial.  Lying in Bophutaswana, one of the self styled free homelands for blacks, it was intended to show that these scraps of the worst land in South Africa handed over by the white central government could develop economies of there own.  Free of the usual licensing laws, many activities could go on in here that would have been frowned upon by the strict Lutherans living around.  Sun City thrived and both the leaders of Bophutaswana and South Africa proper were delighted.  Businessmen from Jo’burg and Pretoria could relax in whatever way they wanted to.  Opponents of the place labelled it Sin City, because almost any kind of wickedness could be obtained here.

 With the opening up of South Africa after the downfall of Apartheid, the notoriety of Sun City became a big selling point, and people travelled from far and wide to see the gaudiest theme park in the Southern Hemisphere.  To a certain extent it cleaned up its act, and the whiff of political stitching up, or the use of the puppet Bophutaswana government to help justify the Apartheid era, have been cleared away.  But it remains a rather curious feature of the landscape.  It is fortunate in a way that it is hidden in a valley, but the problem there is that visitors who stay in this overpackaged holiday home are unlikely to see much else of the real South Africa.  Not wishing on them to see what I had already experienced within a few days of arriving, but they should at  least become more exposed to the rest of the country.

 We left after only an hour or so, I think it tarnished our safari a little, but at least I had seen it.  We drove back across the wide plains, past the mineral heaps and the ridges around Pretoria to Irene.

South Africa – Safari in the crater

The Sunday morning was the most perfect start to the day.  The sun rose quickly and dispersed the wisps of dew.  We drove out of the camp and headed down one of the lesser known tracks, Tilodi, keeping away from the jams on the main tar road.  We saw plenty of giraffe and antelope.  A line of wildebeest trudged along a hillside to the north of us.  As the sun rose there appeared to be less chance of seeing game, then a pair of golden jackal trotted out of the bush on to the track in front of us.  They appeared not to notice the Bucky  on the road and we followed at a crawl until they wandered as nonchalantly off into the bush on the other side of the road.

 Further on a family of warthog were rootling around in a well-grazed area of grassland.  A few bushes broke up the scenery, but three or four of them busied themselves by rubbing their snouts in the mud, occasionally digging for roots but often just scratching themselves against the ground, perhaps to relieve themselves of annoying tics, or just to ease an annoying itch.

 We saw a group of vehicles stopped up ahead, regrettably the surest sign of activity.  Crunching through the bush was a troop of elephants, at least ten, strung out and moving quickly.  Kirsty told me that there was a reputation for this kind of activity amongst many elephants.  They could cover large tracks of land, pushing purposefully forward, and woe betide anyone who got in their way.

 The sun was now high in the sky and we decided to pause at the Fish Eagle picnic spot and cook breakfast.  I rustled up some scrambled eggs while Kirsty prepared the rest, the steaming kettle the only noise in a perfect calm.  The heat was beginning to kick in now but the fresh crisp dry air was wonderful.  The picnic spot was high above the central valley of the volcano, not far from the main lake.  The parched savannah stretched in either direction.  There was not much game to see, a few giraffe nibbling the high acacia tips, a few antelope finishing their early morning feeds.  A number of vervet monkeys chattered away in the trees above us.  Some hyrax played around above us in a series of rocky outcrops.

Breakfast View

Breakfast View

 Eating those eggs up on the viewpoint was one of the highlights of the holiday for me, the openness and the freedom made me intake huge lungfuls of fresh air.  The slight numbing in my neck reminded me of all the badness back their in Gauteng that we had temporarily left behind, but the throat was now relaxing and I began to enjoy myself again.

 We continued to travel round most of the day, knowing that there would be little to see.  We watched a few hippos in the central lake, we saw more elephant and a brown hyena, which trotted from the grass in front of us.

 At one point, approaching the main Mankwe Dam, we noticed fresh elephant dung on the ground and signs of wholesale ripping of tree branches along the road side.  Sure enough, we saw the culprit along the road, a large cow elephant in the act of ripping another large branch off a tree.  She munched the smaller twigs, dropped the remaining shreds on the floor and methodically ripped another branch off.  We stopped at a safe distance and proceeded to watch.  With the engine turned off, we could hear the breaking branches and the ripping, rasping noise as she crunched them in her huge jaws.  Then we heard some more tramping to our right, and a second female came along to join her.  Kirsty was a little alarmed that this one had emerged from the bush so close beside, but she ignored us completely.  Kirsty was about to start the engine again, feeling that we were now just a little bit too close for comfort, when a third elephant emerged, right behind us.  Again she took no notice of us but proceeded to shred a tree about thirty yards from the vehicle.  This was not safe, but we were trapped, and had to sit quietly, partly in awe of these magnificent creatures, partly terrified by the prospect of being crushed if they decided to test themselves out on us.

 When they drifted back into the bush, we progressed on to a hill brow overlooking a long sweep of tall grass.  A few trees marked the course of a stream in a valley bottom  and another large field of grass rose on the other side.  Here about six rhino grazed.  Through Kirsty’s binoculars they were properly identifiable, but were just grey blobs with the naked eye.

 Soon afterwards we started to head southwards out of the park. The Pilansberg is really just a playground for rich South Africans; a sham in amongst the mountains.  All the animals are imported, all the roads carefully maintained, all the facilities well laid out.  I was to discover this was true in several other parks in the country, but it never felt quite so artificial as this.  To cap it all, at the southern entrance of the park, there was the massive Bakubung game lodge on the mountainside, a series of luxury rondavels overlooking the valley marked clearly by huge lightning conductors that pierced the blue sky.

 We stopped briefly at the Lengua Dam near this lodge and watched two elephants playing in the water.  The two of them would take it in turns to mount each other and roll one another over into the water, making a huge splash.  You would hear gurgling trumpet calls come up the hillside, almost laughter but definitely pure enjoyment.  They would toss and turn, and wrestle, they would pull back and launch themselves together again.  They would spray water over each other, then mount once more.  The sight was one of pure pleasure.  As we watched on our side of the lake, we noticed a whole queue of vehicles had stopped on the main road opposite, but still the elephants played.  There was so much ear flapping and trunk curling, head tossing and body shaking, it was like a ritual being played out.  We were not close enough to determine the sex, but they were clearly adolescents, either play fighting or play mating in the water, much to their own and everyone else’s delight.

Elephants playing in the dam

Elephants playing in the dam

South Africa – Moving On

I spent another very long hour in there, my bruises swelling, the pain in my throat enhancing and my guilt and shame quadrupling.  Eventually Kirsty came out, still fuming with her boss, and we stormed out of the Anglo building and around to the car park compound.

 I found it difficult to explain what had happened and even harder to say why I hadn’t found the police.  She agreed it was probably fruitless.  We drove out to the huge exhibition centre to the south west of the city, not far from the main motorway, the N1 and the famous South West Township, or Soweto.  A huge computer fair was there.  We ate a greasy hot dog and then looked around the stalls, but neither of our hearts was in it.  We headed for home, stopping off at a shopping centre in the north of the town to buy me a new camera.  Kirsty talked of her plans for me the next day, to visit the Pilansberg Park for the weekend.  I really wanted to give South Africa another chance, so was happy to go with her.  She retired early as she had want to do.  I watched TV till late.  La Cage aux Folles was on, and I watched and tried to laugh at it till the very end, but I had to lie carefully on the couch; my neck getting sorer every hour.

 The next morning, we packed early and went to her local police station.  The lack of interest in my case was self evident, so I just ensured that I had something official looking to give to my insurers when I got back to the UK.  We drove down and headed towards Pretoria.  Heading west out of the city we set off along a new stretch of motorway, heading towards Mafeking, and then when it ended headed through one of the many ridges that divided up the Wittwatersrand; the Magdalen Hills.  We entered Hartebeestpoort and through the gap where the dam lies.  Out on to the plain beyond, we passed through a Lutheran landscape of white steepled churches, picket fences and wide open plains.  We passed many of the platinum mines that give the wealth to this area, and then on to a wide featureless plain for mile after mile.

Hartebeestport

Hartebeestport

 Eventually we approached what used to be Bophutotswana, and small self built shacks replaced the affluent farmland.  At the end of an extensive settlement, the great park entrance loomed.  We paid our money and entered, and almost immediately, left the conflict behind, and entered something closer to the Africa I knew.  Not quite, though, Pilansberg is very much a man made creation.  A vast volcanic crater with curious microclimates populated with imported animals.  All the big five are present and many others, but most have been brought in from other places.

 It was already quite late when we entered the park, but we saw an elephant and several antelope at a hide, and giraffe looked up from many of the thorn bushes as we passed.  But it was not till late in the day that we really saw much.  Kirsty was disappointed on my behalf, but I was just happy to be with one who knew how to safari properly, and that I was away from that dangerous city.  Wildlife I could deal with.  They were predictable.  It was humans that I had most problem with at the time.

 I remember coming down to a small waterhole and watching some Waterbuck gently step down for an evening drink.  They calmly walked up to the hole and lapped up the water, glistening in the setting sun. I breathed deeply, taking in the setting and finally unleashing some of the tension that I had within me.

 We set up the tent and cooked a small brai on the campfire.  We chatted as usual.  Kirsty was used to doing this kind of trek.  Her whole childhood had been full of these kinds of things.  They would quickly pack up the back of the Buckie and head off to some deserted area and camp for the weekend, with a brai every night, and sleep under the stars with the sounds of elephants and lions in the distance.  She compared herself to a friend who used to pack everything meticulously into her van.  She would take absolutely everything with her, a full icebox, all the towels and changes of clothes, a whole load of kitchen gadgets, food for a month, and the entire latest camping goods.  Kirsty could never be bothered with that and just flung everything in the back of the van.  I must say I liked her philosophy; I’m never one to plan much for a day trip, just make sure the car is full of petrol and set off.  Having said that I noticed how there were certain items in the van that Kirsty made sure were there; such as water, which you would not have given that much thought to on a day trip in the UK.

 I was knackered so went to bed sharing the tent after inspecting the Milky Way.  I slept deeply, the pain in my neck now lessening slightly, but still very much reminding me of the horror of the day before.  Next morning, I awoke to find the bag next to me empty.  I surfaced and looked around.  Kirsty was still asleep in the back of her wagon.  I asked her what the problem was.

 “Your snoring”.