Finding the plot

I had been in the Traffic Department in White River for several hours when the chap five in front of me left and wished me “sterkte” on his way out. I knew then that I was in for the long haul. When the mielie lady from Madam and Eve arrived and started touting her wares I wished I’d brought my tent. By mid-afternoon, I was wondering for how long I was permitted stay in one place before I should feel obliged to start sending postcards.

This was, in fact, my third visit to collect my driver’s licence, the first two of which were abortive as my fingerprints had been rejected for not looking like my fingerprints. How they can tell amazes me, any more than I can tell the difference between two zebras.

But I had Marloth Park to look forward to. An Irish friend had just bought herself a plot in this strange Voortrekker Terminus near Komatipoort and, once improved service delivery had finally manifested itself in a new licence to cruise the N4 Maputo Corridor, I set out to investigate.

Marloth Park has to be the largest building site in the world. There are 2000 plots, most of them planted with clinker-brick cottages, almost all incomplete or at least looking strangely unfinished. The Crocodile-River-frontage plots are the most valuable, where some seriously spectacular residences stretch out. Here taste gives way to wealth and the inevitable huge-arched-window-yellow-and-grey-monster designs and the ubiquitous Tuscan pillars take over.

Everything seems to be a Lodge, Umvubu Lodge, Ndlovu Lodge, Botha Lodge, although most are not open to the public. Other plots are named to enforce their owners’ retired status, such as the van Niekerks from Moeg ge Ploeg (they have, quite obviously, spent much of their lives at the controls of a plough) and the strangely transliterated Tjaila Tyd for Knock-off Time. It’s the biggest laager in the land with the possible exception of Orania.

Of course, as with all such communities, the greater your success, the bigger your deck. And the further you are from the river, the higher your deck needs to be, both to compensate for the facts and so that you can look down on your fellow-escapees and the odd passing buck. Marloth Parkers do not go into the nearby Kruger, preferring to game-spot on their own clinker-brick doorsteps.

There is a little game, monkeys, the odd waterbuck and non-identical zebra. There are also warthogs and impala, which are lured up close by the inwoners with food and then felled with a subtle pot-shot with a silencer fitted lest there should be accusations of eco-unfriendliness in this little Garden of Eden. The Irish may have sided with the Boers in the Vryheids-oorlog but my friend is against the poaching as much as she is against the curfew which forbids all domestic labour from being inside the boundaries at night. It’s like going back 20 years but with the fear of lions instead of the security police.

Heading out for dinner, we made our way up the fearsomely-named Locust Street into rubbish-strewn Olifant Rylaan and then headed downriver to Ngwenya Lodge. We fought our way, through the kind auspices of Mumsy our waitress, to an outside table at the riverside restaurant which we calculated was less than an hour’s drive from Maputo and a short paddle through croc-infested waters from the Kruger National Park. This is Big Five country and yet a fresh LM prawn should be relatively easy to find. The perfect combination, surely.

There were no prawns so we ordered jalapenos stuffed with feta and some chillied chicken livers, both of which sounded suitably Mozambiquan and were really quite good. An elephant cruised past in the riverbed. An interesting Beef Beaufort (or Bew-vrot as Mumsy called it) followed, but along with it came a piece of kingklip that, launched by catapult, could have killed a klipspringer at 20 yards.

All in all, though, it was not a bad dinner. Why is it though, that the closer we get to the sea, the worse the fish and the more frozen and processed the seafood? Someone should start a campaign. Maybe I will.

The pudding menu was so confusing that we gave up when it was explained that deep-fried ice cream would take 30 minutes. How could it possibly not melt if it sat in boiling oil for longer than a few seconds, let alone half an hour? We headed back. It was hot. Like the ice cream, Marloth Park was melting in the dark. It was to be a sleepless night. We sat outside drinking Jamesons and listening to the buzz of the bush.

The next day would see more game drives, in bakkies, along the river, with catty in hand. Was this, unlike the Traffic Department, the Old South Africa reborn? Maybe. The zebras, like the fingerprints, don’t look the same, after all, some have white stripes on black and others black stripes on white.

How to get there: Close to Crocodile Bridge entrance to the Kruger National Park, only four to five hours’ drive from Johannesburg, this bushveld resort is right on the Crocodile River (the border of the Kruger Park), giving guests a bird’s-eye view of the wildlife. Explore the game reserve, catch tiger fish at nearby Komatipoort, and remember to take along your passport if you plan to visit Swaziland.
Where to stay: Midweek/out of season River Lodge: Per person per night sharing: R410; Per person per night single: R625; Children (2 to 16 years old) per night: R210.
Dam/Bush Lodge: Per person per night sharing: R375; Per person per night single: R570; Children (2 to 16 years old) per night: R195.
Contact: Ngwenya Lodge, Farm Whisky, PO Box 397, Komatipoort. Tel: (013) 793-9300 for further details