It was a beautiful day towards the end of Summer, for us the Easter holidays. T, G and I had just arrived at the St Lucia Natal Parks resort. I was a little nervous; feeling I was an intruder. They had been invited to stay there, I was just the person they had invited along for the holiday.
I was immediately made welcome by the whole family. T & G were teachers at the college where the two families’ children were making rapid progress, so different from their experience at other schools. The family were obviously so delighted to have some of these special teachers with them.
A cup of coffee, a chat and we were told to get changed, ready to go out on the boat; fishing. My last fishing had been with a child’s rod on seaside holidays. I never caught a thing back then.
What a beautiful day it was. The hot sun sparkling on the water, the lush green bush either side of the water. I learned quite quickly how to bait my line. Just as well because I caught several fish and was re-baiting fairly often. The first fish that took my bait I was so scared I handed over my rod, I was sure I would mess it up. After that I was hooked on the fishing, doing it all for myself.
The lovely hot sun, turning us all rosy with the last-of-summer tan. The water, the excitement of learning a new skill. A day to remember with pleasure.
A few hours later with the early evening glow in the west, we sat around the fire and we were eating fish caught by us just a few hours later.
Sitting round the fire with the sounds of the wild right in with us whenever there was a lapse in the conversation. Bliss for a city dweller.
“Do you want to come night fishing with us?” the father asked. “I’d love to, but apparently I need a lot of warm clothing and I have but one light jersey and nothing for my feet but sandals” I replied – a touch sadly because I would have enjoyed it.
The women gathered me up and off we went. One’s pair of willies fitted, the daughter’s socks fitted. Another donated a warm anorak. With me well fitted out, off we went to join the others who were going fishing.
By then the sky had achieved that amazing indigo, seemingly as soft as velvet. We walked along the beach and waded out to the boat we would be using. We had to wait about half an hour on-board until the tide came in far enough for us to leave the mooring.
We went out to a spot the men judged as a good place to fish. They explained about the hippopotamus. Now as we know, hippo kill more people every year than crocodiles in the African rivers. There were two families of them and at night one family liked the bank on the side we were staying, and the other family on the far bank. But there was one rogue male hippo that had occasionally attacked boats. I was warned if I heard him to sit absolutely still and quiet.
Feeling it was a bit late to tell me this disturbing information I focused on getting my line baited and cast. We all did. Then they turned out the lights and we sat in the dark. There was no moon so it should have been completely dark. But somehow it wasn’t.
I looked up and was suddenly struck dumb. Just how many stars are there? Eventually my mouth unstuck itself and I whispered, something about the stars. Suddenly all four of us were looking up, picking out various constellations, most of which were pretty cluttered up all of a sudden. All the paler stars that can’t compete with the urban lights were visible. All happily twinkling away, even those that may no longer exist, their light still reaching us.
Eventually we settled down again to the serious pastime of fishing. Silence except for a faint lapping of the water, now and then the sounds of a night-bird. Another boat came and parked where we could see it. Then their lights were extinguished as well and peace descended once more.
Not a cloud in the sky to blot out any stars, just the canopy of black punctuated by those so intriguing twinkles.
Then one of the men said “I have a bite, and the low light was shone on the water while we all reeled in. A fish, fairly small compared with those we had caught during the day. Examined and pronounced good for the next day’s lunch.
We all re-baited the hooks and cast them out. Darkness and peace again.
I sat there in absolute peace and calm, the gentle rock of the boat a part of the peace. The stars still twinkling away, inspiring me to dreams.
Then suddenly I heard him.
The rogue hippopotamus!
Right there next to the boat, sounding as though he were inside the boat.
Once again I was speechless, this time not from the majesty of the sight, but from fear.
Eventually I managed a croak “He’s here”.
The reaction was hardly what I expected. Laughter, loud and merry.
The lights were turned on and I was shown the cause of my fear. A fish, smallish, the one previously caught. It’s a type called a grunter – for obvious reasons.
I too giggled.
Then we re-baited the lines and settled down to the hard task of sitting quietly, looking at the wonderful African starry sky.