Monday, January 21, 2013

Lake Lyndhurst

"Should we sit outside or inside?" Friend A asks.

"It's getting cold and wet," I say. "There's no view because of the mist and I forgot to bring a jacket."

"Let's sit outside. I like outside."

I scowl. "When we get to the cottage, I hope the axe murderer takes you first."

It's December, and I'm on a road trip with two old friends (one of them, Friend B, is Australian, but otherwise a pretty cool guy). We've stopped for an eisbein at the famous Bierfassl in Nottingham Road, a pub bar thing on the way to Friend A's holiday cottage thing somewhere in the Kwa-Zulu Natal escarpments. The establishment is well known for serving particularly tasty animal corpses and home-brewed beer.

Those little cups are adorable.

I've already been warned that our travel plan will involve staying in a gas-powered residence, which sounds awesome at first because it brings to mind a quaint sort of steampunk house overgrown with brass pipes and monocles. But it actually just means that there's no way to charge a laptop, while getting the fridge to work requires a degree in engineering and the combined effort of six carefully co-ordinated technicians. Of course, that's the price you pay if you want to escape from civilisation once in a while.

I'm getting quite addicted.

"How much longer until we reach our own little Cabin in the Woods?" I ask.

"It's not in the woods, it's by a lake. And I know you're setting this up for another axe murderer joke. Please stop talking about axe murderers." This from a man who insists on cracking bomb quips at an airport (I've been through American customs, okay? I've seen things).

A little while later, we leave the pub and hit the road. I'm quite merrily drunk while my friends are lame and sober. The next hour is spent on a bumpy dirt track filled with rocks and cow shit and I briefly wonder what I'm doing with my life.

Shit machines.

We arrive at the cottage, though it turns out to be more of a full-blown house. In fact, it's at least ten times larger than my Cape Town apartment, which leaves me feeling oddly weirded out. What do I do with all of this spare floorspace? I don't have enough dirty laundry to cover it up properly. This will have to be a team effort.

I didn't bring enough spare corsets for this.

We begin unpacking the food (including -- but not limited to -- some leftover eisbein, a pre-made lasagne and about two kilograms of chocolate chip yoghurt). There's a bunch of matches lying around to set fire to various devices around the house. We start with the fridge.

"Fuck the fridge," I suggest, after half an hour of futile striking and knob-twiddling. Following on from that, we proceed to fuck the geyser and stove too. We manage to get the lights working, so that's a small success. I'm officially a man now.

A charming local by the name of Sipho stops on by. He lives just down the path and generally keeps things maintained around here. Much to our relief, he's quite adept at fridge magic and helps us get the house running properly. With a smile and a nod, he leaves soon after. We have a heated debate among ourselves regarding whether or not we should have tipped him. I don't want to go back home knowing that someone on a remote KZN farmland is judging me.

Oh, also found this earlier.

Early evening approaches, and Friend A suggests that we play a game. "How about 30 Seconds?"

I slam this concept on the grounds that we only have three players and 30 Seconds is a laughable excuse for gaming.

"What about Cluedo?"

We set up a game and Friend A brings out the whiskey. Friend B spends most of the time looking politely confused. At some point, I crack a joke about axe murderers and make Friend A laugh so hard that he throws up all over Professor Plum.

At some point, my buddies go outside to look at the stars. I grudgingly follow, annoyed at having to appreciate the universe in its full glory. It's good out here, though. Fact: if you live in a city (or even a small town, for that matter) you miss out on about 90% of what the real night sky is about. Townsfolk who stay in all night and play videogames instead of stargazing kinda have a point because the stars themselves were heavily nerfed in the Urban Society patch and can't really be leveraged for much else than occasionally pointing out Orion's Belt to someone of the desirable sex.*

Another joke about axe murderers. I successfully ruin the moment.

We round up the evening by watching some show that Friend B brought on his iPad. Neither Friend A nor I feel particularly riveted, but Friend B is Australian so we take pity on him. Then it's time for bed.

When I wake up, Friend B is already done with his daily fitness routine. I feel grossly inadequate until I reason that I could totally have done that if I wanted to but, y'know, just didn't feel like it today. I'm not a slave to such base impulses. Better than that.

We hang out for a while, munching on leftover eisbein and chocolate chip yoghurt (not at the same time, though I later regret not trying this). We ask ourselves the inevitable question: when is Friend A going to wake up?

We knock on Friend A's bedroom door and discover that he's barricaded himself inside using a mattress and some spare furniture. We also find out that he's armed with the daisy rifle.

"Axe murderer?" I call.

"There were lights and stuff last night," he explains.


We cancel our interrogation and ask him to dismantle the fortifications.

An hour later, we're hiking through the grasslands. Lake Lyndhurst is part of a great big cattle farm, which is in turn part of a local farm cluster (itself, presumably, one member of a farming supercluster). In a nutshell, the area is huge and one can occasionally find endangered wildlife to ogle and act all concerned about.

We've got a litre of water and two Black Label quarts between us. The beer is mine. "I still don't think that's a good idea," Friend A tells me, in his pretentious I've-never-died-of-dehydration voice.

"Listen dude, I live next to a mountain, okay?" I take a deep breath, as though for a moment I actually plan on explaining myself, then take another sip of beer. "Goddamn, I've worked up quite a thirst."

We make our way along the dirt track, through green grasslands and rolling hills. It's all jolly pretty.

We walk for about an hour before finding a stream. "The water is very fresh up here," Friend A says. "Like, real spring water. Not that bottled crap. Maybe we can empty our water bottle and fill up with this instead?"

"Nah, dude, what if it actually tastes like dying kittens? Here." I hand him an empty quart. Moral of the story: always bring beer to a hike. No exceptions.

"Thanks," he says. He fills the bottle, then sips. "Oh wow, this is amazing! You wanna try?"

"Keep that fucking poison away from me." I take a swig from my remaining Black Label.

A little later, we're back at the house. Only half an hour before, it was a beautifully warm, cloudless day. Now, it's pissing crickets and a weird Silent Hill-esque mist has rolled in. The lake is a shrouded smear of grey and nobody can see more than a few metres into the fog. "Axe murderer!" I bellow. I feel unusually tired and have a horrific headache. Need more Black Label, maybe.

"Hey, did you wear any sun lotion?" Friend B asks. Bits of me are bright red.

"You know," I say, gazing into the can't-see-shit downpour, "having sunburn in this weather just feels fucking embarrassing."

A rough portrayal of the transformation.

We debate for a time about whether or not we want to spend another night in the cottage: we have enough supplies for it, but the weather has turned awful, Friend A is paranoid about wandering lights and legends of murder around Lyndhurst, I'm starting to get withdrawal shakes and Friend B is, well, still Australian.

That said, the experience is irreplaceable: perhaps the only time in my life that I'll be going up to Lyndhurst, while our Australian friend is visiting South Africa for the first time in four years. And ninety-nine percent of our lives are spent in situations that are absolutely nothing like this. So why not?

"Maybe we should stretch this out a little longer."

Then we realise how awesome it would be to watch the latest South Park episodes. We go home.

The end.

*If you know your constellations, you come across as intelligent and thoughtful and probably improve your chances of getting laid. Bonus points if you're wielding a guitar.

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