Just Knock on the Tree
The Odyssey of the Coddiwompling Tortoise – Rozinante – and The Storyteller
(Coddiwomple: to travel in a purposeful manner toward a vague destination.)
Preparations Before Departure
‘Guests, like bad fish, begin to smell after three days.’ I had been a guest far longer than that. I needed to leave on good terms to retain the friendship. However, loose ends kept haunting me.
Ty and his Toy Pom pups.
I won’t bore you with the details of the stolen laptop, the new laptop needing some miracle to work as efficiently as the other or the headaches of not having a home for the two cats because my friend had now decided to downscale herself and could not have three cats.
Then, of course, there was Angel, the big Bulbul. You won’t believe how many people thought it completely acceptable to take them all with me. I think they thought Angel would just hop up in the passenger seat, strap herself in and enjoy the scenery. Perhaps they even thought she’d provide some interesting conversation along the way and of course, be perfectly well behaved at all times. Angel was not that kind of dog. She was purely and simply a guard dog. Her background was unknown as she’d been a rescue dog and she could be a handful at times. Even if she’d been a really docile pet, taking a large dog on the road presented a great many challenges – for me, anyway.
Then there was ‘the business’ of my business cards. The shop I visited did not do the work themselves but sent their orders to some phenomenal printing machine that was only turned on once a week. Everything was printed on a Wednesday, dried on a Thursday and redistributed on a Friday to the shops. Only, given my recent run of bad luck, the machine broke down – not once but two weeks in a row. Just as I was despairing of ever taking my tortoise anywhere, the cards arrived. Thank goodness, as I was becoming completely paranoid. Nothing but nothing, was going right.
I was also well aware of my friend’s very generous hospitality and in the back of my mind, couldn’t erase that old saying of Benjamin Franklin’s: ‘Guests, like bad fish, begin to smell after three days’. I had been a guest far longer than that. Subconsciously, I was cringing.
Then, amazingly enough, I was actually, really going to take off into the wild blue yonder, on my own. The hassles were behind me. No, I wasn’t afraid and yes, I was doing this alone. I’d arrived – alone — in South Africa in the early 70s – with a rucksack on my back — and after a rather chequered career, a marriage, a wonderful son and a divorce behind me, I was travelling alone again. I was pretty sure this is where I felt happiest – at least for the moment.
My closest friends felt it wasn’t sensible but one of them actually ended up admitting she wished she’d done it herself, years ago. I knew I was writing my own life’s script, while the majority of people were living someone else’s idea of a life – conforming to what society expected of a male or female of my age. For instance, once you turn 60, your hair must be short. Pardon? Three of my friends look stunning with their longer hair and they’re all in their 70s. I love long hair on men too. The short back and sides just don’t do it for me. Beards and moustaches? Yes, please. But that’s just me. If you prefer clean-shaven men with short hair, then why shouldn’t you? The mind boggles at these inane prescriptions of how our lives must be. Where do these pronouncements come from?
Yes, I hear you say but that’s only the wrapping. Well, of course it is. ‘Handsome is as handsome does’ as the old saying goes. You may find an absolute darling who is bald. In Africa, that has become a very popular look. I am just saying, may we all be individuals, please? Why must anyone prescribe our lives for us? Only a few weeks ago, I had a couple from Germany titter and giggle because their guide throughout their African tour had long hair. I was stunned but some people think that way. Being conservative yourself is one thing but actually voicing it and expecting someone else – in this case, me – to agree was just so surprising. I had to be honest and tell them I loved long hair on men. They were so surprised because they were in my age group. Sorry but I wasn’t prepared to laugh about such a ridiculous perspective.
Deviations — of any kind — in a large percentage of people’s lives just don’t even occur to them and they thought everyone else should automatically adhere to their way of thinking. I was raised to be independent and a free-thinker and I found this concept to be extremely strange. Perhaps others thought me strange. If that was the case, tut tut. Why should I be labelled (as Google has the gall to call an individual: ‘eccentric, erratic, odd, outlandish, peculiar, quaint, singular, and strange’), just because I voted to be an individual? I am just me and you are just you. We aren’t clones of each other.
So … with the help of Astrid — who could quite happily live in the bush – and another friend, Norma — an experienced caravan dweller — after packing and repacking and discarding, retrieving and finally packing everything again that I thought I’d need, I finally headed out to a nearby caravan park in Johannesburg because I still needed to be in Johannesburg just a fraction longer. However, I felt I could not impose on Astrid a moment more. Her heart was bigger than Texas but there comes a time, when retreat is the better part of valour. That time had come.
Noosa – named after my son’s favourite beach in Queensland, Australia.
Only a stone’s throw away from the hustle and bustle of city life – at Country Park Caravan Park — I met so many people who were amazed that I travelled alone and most of them automatically presumed I was on holiday. Indeed, in the past, every time I saw a campervan or motorhome, call it what you will, I had thought the same way. I was to discover that nothing could have been further from the truth.
The various reasons people were travelling around in motorhomes were even far more than I’d expected. One couple in Country Park were camping because they were waiting for some legal papers to be signed, in regard to a business the husband had sold in the Cape. He had made his money in mining and was far too young to be retired but he was. The outdoor life suited him more. He had a very elaborate set-up with a caravan and tent and his car and motorbike were at the ready.
One day, a very posh motorhome pulled in. You could see it would have all the bells and whistles you could imagine – right down to the fairy lights encircling the exterior’s perimeter. It crossed my mind that it may have come from a circus but it was far too upmarket for that. What the husband did I have no idea but the wife was a travelling accountant, who was so frequently on the road that it was far more convenient and financially wiser to live in a motorhome and visit her clients instead of staying in hotels, motels or B&Bs.
A German couple arrived one day and not long afterwards, they were joined by other Germans – this time, a family. They both lived in the same building in Bonn. Frank and Suzanne took two months every year or two to come down to Africa and holiday here and the adjoining countries. They knew South Africa, Botswana and Namibia well. It took a bit of convincing to persuade them that Zimbabwe, with its ongoing turmoil was not really an option to visit at this time (2019).
The other German family had never been in South Africa and their two teenage daughters were as keen as the parents to see the Kruger National Park and the Indian Ocean Unfortunately, they only had two weeks to spend travelling as Philip, the father, was a school teacher and the daughters had to return after the school holidays but they’d made the most of it. Despite the very high temperatures, they witnessed many animals in Kruger but their stay in Cape Vidal near St Lucia was rained out so a beach holiday was spoiled.
Nevertheless, not to be deterred, the two families headed south to the Drakensberg and started climbing. When all else fails, the positive Germans are always quite happy to hike. They’re big travellers and big hikers. I’ve noticed that very little seems to deter them when faced with a challenge.
Not long afterwards, a huge Overlander pulled into the camping grounds. You could not enter or exit this gigantic vehicle without a ladder, never mind a footstool. Tom’s metal home had stickers of the African continent and even my country of birth, Australia. He hadn’t been there yet but he was seriously considering it. I’m not sure a sticker, like a T-shirt is an automatic qualification unless you’ve actually been there but I thoroughly enjoyed his dyed-in-the-wool traveller’s enthusiasm.
He had been to a lot of places already, European countries, parts of the USA and South America, with his growing family of a wife and two children. This trip required them to remain behind in Bonn – the same city as Frank, Suzanne and Philip’s family. What were the odds on so many people who were from the same German city being in the same caravan park?
Brazil was beckoning him next. He intended collecting the family and off they’d go. He’d made his money but was also too young to be retired. He’d worked for himself and recommended it. He knew he’d never get rich being a clerk or something similar. Now he had the freedom of the road, indeed the world. He found it convenient to be in Germany to look after the rentals of his apartments, his income for now. However, he said the Germans are very serious and if you wanted to laugh, well, you needed to go down to the basement. (I found that very amusing — but I’ll say no more).
He’d heard that Australians were warm and friendly. In fact, he’d noticed that inhabitants of sunnier climes were often more relaxed and more given to laughter – he’d seen it in southern Europe too. I’d like to see the research on that. Sunshine must create smiles. I must admit, living for any length of time without sunshine is not my cup of tea.
Tux (short for Tuxedo) because if you held her up, underneath she looked just like she was wearing a Tuxedo.
I was definitely getting the impression that the 9-5 working day is suffocating people with adventure in their souls — people who are far happier working at their own pace and being independent. Perhaps a great many high school students need to be reassessed as to their positions in life. In other words, what I’d often thought true was becoming very obvious – there are too many square pegs in round holes. Something is drastically wrong with so many people’s lives. I met someone recently, who told me he pulled out of his studies just before his final year because he realised that being a lawyer would have suffocated him – the real him. Now he has successful work he can do while he travels.
I must just include something here. Parents should perhaps be more aware of the passions of their children. My son was advised — by a person who does work informing high school students about their chosen careers – that if he wanted to be a film director, then he needed to study Science. That turned out to be totally inaccurate. He begged me to allow him to drop the subject because he hated it. It was not his nature to study Science. I worried until I discovered he didn’t need that subject at all – he had to have Art. (May I brag a little? My son was top of his class in his graduation year at AFDA, Johannesburg.) Science is not the be-all and end-all that everyone seems to be hopping on the bandwagon about.
The name has changed but Google informs me that AFDA used to be an acronym for Africa Film Drama Art. Nowadays though, it’s not meant to stand for anything – it’s just AFDA, the School for the Creative Economy (registered as The South African School of Motion Picture Medium and Live Performance).
Now, the burning question is, did he get his good looks from his father and his brain from me or vice versa? I won’t even go there. I was just proud of him. He had achieved not only his goal but his passion.
Perhaps, the all-too-familiar problem of depression could be the result of the rigid conformity that just doesn’t suit us all. I don’t need a psychologist to tell me what is just common sense. And before anyone who works in that field reads this and feels a retort is necessary, just let me say … a friend who is a psychologist agreed with my summation of psychology – plain common sense. The days of us recovering from WW2 and encouraging our children to become doctors, lawyers, teachers and accountants should be a thing of the past. I once had a temporary job with a Dr Herlihy in Sydney while I was saving up to travel overseas and he admitted his parents insisted he become a doctor but — in his heart — he had always wanted to be a landscape gardener.
I was yearning to be on the road – first stop, Groot Marico. I had no idea what awaited me but it was more than I expected. To say I would be pleasantly surprised – well, that would be putting it mildly.
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