Although I thoroughly enjoyed my year in England, especially London, I certainly had not planned to return to Africa so quickly. My dream of going to South America was going to have to wait as in turn I had thought that the exploration of my home continent could wait. As it turned out, the fates had an exciting four years mapped out for me that I would not have missed for all the world.
The SS Arcadia, of the P & O Line, was on the UK-Australia run in 1969. I sailed on her as far as Cape Town, leaving Southampton in November. We called in at Lisbon for half a day, and I was able to show a few of my shipmates where to find a good cheap meal in the back streets, due to my explorations there almost a year before. They were amazed; it cost us each about 2/6 with wine thrown in. Another stop was in the Canary Islands.
There were a lot of people my age in economy class and it took no time at all to make friends. There were several people returning to South Africa, Australia and New Zealand, after a year or two stay in UK and Europe, to take up their professions on a more permanent basis. By amazing coincidence, Marian Gellert, a girl whom I had met briefly when she stayed with the Kiwi girls that lived in the flat above ours in 45 Sumatra Road, West Hampstead, was also on board!
As anybody who has done a trip on a liner will tell you, most folk will be partying into the early hours and surfacing mid-morning. We often saw the sun rise over the ocean before going to bed.
By the time we docked in Cape Town on 29th, eight of us had decided to rent a Kombi and travel overland to meet the boat again in Durban. I would be driver and guide as I was the only South African and was keen to show the 3 Australians, 2 Canadians and 2 New Zealanders at least a part of my beautiful country. Marian was one of the latter.
I stopped at the first café I came to, to buy Texan cigarettes, not available in the UK, and a few sticks of biltong. Despite my cajoling and enthusiasm, nobody in the group would even take a taste of the South African jerky. I also called the Coloured assistant “love” which surprised her as well as me!
We first rounded the spectacular Cape Peninsular before setting off up the Garden Route, including the famous Kango Caves near Oudtshoorn. I shall not give details as this is not a travelogue. I do remember that the Xhosa villages with thatched mud huts were as interesting to my visitors as anything else.
They all re-joined the Arcadia in Durban where I said goodbye to them. I was especially sad to say farewell to Marian of whom I had gotten particularly fond. We wrote to each other for the next two years and she was keen to come out to South Africa to get a teaching post. However, this plan was delayed for a year, during which time I got engaged, so the idea was cancelled and our correspondence stopped. (Very recently, I was able to trace her on the wonderful Internet and I’m delighted to say we are back in contact.)
I hitch-hiked north from Durban, heading for my parents’ farm. As I neared my little home town of Warmbaths, crossing the Springbok Flats in the mid-summer heat, seeing the flat, dry farmlands with the dust-devils twisting across the vast expanses, I did not miss the green fields of England.
I was glad to be home.