by Stan Stanley
Kruger Millions arent the only lost treasures
| Lost Treasures
"Sometimes at night when the world is very still, a soft wind comes sweeping across the veld. Then, if you are outside and listen very carefully, you can hear the story it has to tell."
Herman Charles Bosman 1905-1951
As a child I was a loner, never part of a group; I was never lonely or felt lonely. I always had my books for company, then there was always the veld, never more than a few minutes away; vast expanses of savannah some places so flat, you could lay down and watch next years harvest coming up! When there wasn't the bushveld, there was the mountains with the canyons and the gorges.
Nine months of every year I was incarcerated in a system known as boarding school; the first day back home, which ever camping site was home... (My Dad was a civil engineer in road construction.) The first thing I did was to run, as fast and as far as I could, till I literally dropped to the ground; I would lay there with my eyes closed as my gasping heavy breathing gradually subsided and the silence settled comfortably like a mantle over me. Africa is old, very old - older than Europe - and in that silence I felt the presence of history from yesterday through to 3 million years ago. To this day it is something I have never spoken about and even now I am circumspect about transcribing it to paper.
When I was twelve my parents had decided it wasn't good for me to spend school holidays alone, without any other children the same age as me nearby. They had also decided no books; I don't think they understood my books were my friend. I was booked into a summer camp organized by one of the national youth organizations. Summer holidays in South Africa is in December; I think in retrospect the main reason for the camp was they were going to visit friends in Austria, friends I didn't like, and I don't think they liked me either. They considered me precocious, and I thought they were arrogant and condescending.
One concession I managed was to be able to take notebooks with me, my father was a great believer of log books and journals, and he made an entry every day without fail. Many years later after he had died, when sorting out his things, I came across them; I never knew he wrote poetry. Scattered through the journals were the most eloquent love poems I have read. Not only the love for my mother and for the land - and even though he never told me once while he was living, I felt it as I read in his poems about me; his love for me.
The last two weeks of November that year, at school I was reading everything I could find on Eastern Transvaal, now known as Mpumalanga (Rising, sun). I wanted to know everything about the area we were going to. Whilst going through one of the books from the local library - the schools selection was limited - there were advantages in attending a school in a city; an aged yellow piece of paper tattered at the edges, fell out of the book; a hand drawn map, no names showing only squiggles for rivers and jagged upside down V's for mountains, and little arrows to an X. In my mind I had the map to the hidden elusive treasures of "The Kruger Millions", which was fresh in my mind, having recently read about it in one of the books.
Mpumalanga lacking only seas can be described as a world in one province... There are the highlands, wetlands, savannah, the forests and Game Reserves, Cultural diversities, all soaked in a rich history. Going from the lowlands to the highlands; the ever changing vistas surprising and delighting with every turn of the road. The resort we were going to was in the highlands.
Arriving at the camp, six busses from three different groups stopped outside the offices within minutes of each other, at different points. En-route they had formed a convoy, all were filled with children of more or less the same age, twelve and early teens. We were supposed to wait in the busses; however the chaperones soon realized keeping four hundred kids in standing busses after a five hour journey was a mission impossible. There was a lot of hurrying and scurrying from the busses to admin offices, till all the chaperones from all the groups were in the admin offices; the children after having found the ablution blocks were already exploring other facilities, namely the kiosk.
After about half an hour, the chaperones were running around, like sheep dogs trying to get all there charges regrouped. Once assembled we were told there had been a mistake in the bookings and all three had booked and paid; all three were refusing to budge, all in all they were telling us what we had figured out already - children have a way of discerning things very quickly. The adults were concerned on the lodging and camping logistics, and maybe the theological stand points: Jewish, Dutch Reformed and Apostolic. The children had already staked out camping spots, with total disregard as to who and what someone was, formed instantaneous friendships. It was in this manner that I met Josh and Saul from the Jewish Camp, Kobus and Morné from the Dutch Reform group, and I was a Baptist with the Apostolic. By evening it was as if we had known each other for years and through necessity children from different groups were sharing tents and dormitories.
The resorts activities included fishing, boating, horse riding, hiking, bird watching, rock climbing. Laying in the tent we spoke of all the things we wanted to do, never thinking for a moment maybe the organizers from the different groups had other plans. The other four were keen anglers; I didn't have the heart for hurting fish. I was awake before dawn, as was my habit which I still have to this day. I left the tent as quietly as I could and went to the jetty by the lake, the morning mountain air as crisp as a fresh lettuce leaf; through the swirling mist came the cry of an African Fish Eagle, heralding the sunrise hidden by the mist. A short while later the others joined me on the jetty, they had their fishing tackle with them. I sat silently as they spoke about fishing, two men came and joined us, and they were youth group leaders. They smiled and sometimes laughed at the obvious stretching of the truth in the fishing stories.
That morning was to set a routine. Every morning we would go down to the jetty; the only difference I would wake the others before I left. We had been there about five days when one morning Morné asked me what I was thinking that I was always quiet.
I started speaking on "Kruger's Millions", which frankly I knew nothing about except for two short paragraphs from a reference book. The story liberally sprinkled with gratuitous bird calls and animal cries, more to show off my skills than for effect. The fact the story was topical of the area we were in, so who was to say it wasn't buried where we were.
I don't know why I showed them the map when I knew it had nothing to do with anything; maybe in my mind it had something to do with the lost treasure of "Kruger's Millions." Maybe I wanted to add a touch of authenticity to the story... To this day I can't say why I did, its just one of those things you do, and you don't know why. After that we were obsessed with one thing and one thing only, locating the millions.
For a long time we lay in a pensive silence in the dark, that night in the tent. Kobus broke the silence voicing what was on all of our minds. "I wonder how much it is worth."
Saul and Josh estimated billions, Morné trillions. We started planning with a sense of urgency how to set about finding it; sparked on by the excitement of what we would do when we found it. I don't think any of us had ever heard of brainstorming - I know I hadn't - but the ideas which flowed uninhibited, the synergist effect was electric. We hardly slept that night, we drifted in and out of slumber jerked awake suddenly by another idea to be added to the ever filling cauldron. Gradually the periods of silence lengthened, like the lessening crepitations from an unfueled camp fire.
Long before dawn we were at the jetty, as though our being there would hasten the arrival of the youth councilors who joined us every morning. We weren't allowed to hike on our own, so we had decided to try and get the councilors to agree to organize a hike in the general direction we wanted to go, and along the way slipped away to where we knew the treasure was.
Both councilors were as it turned out avid bird watchers and hikers, they agreed to announce at breakfast that there would be a hike into the mountains as far as the gentle slopes; by this time meals and activities had become communal.
Early into the hike we broke away from the crowd, careful to keep them within sight but out of earshot. At one point we rounded huge boulders to be visually assaulted by a breathtaking vista, a panoramic view that stretched into eternity; actually only as far the "Three Rondavels", part of the Drakensberg range which traverses The Blyde River Canyon. The Rondavels so named because of the resemblance to a tribal hut with a conical thatched roof called a rondavel. The three inverted "V's" could only have been the "Three Rondavels". Our excitement became fever pitched and without knowing it so did our voices, which in turn brought the rest of the hikers to us.
Needless to say we found nothing; we had to abandon our search. Close to the view point of the "Three Rondavels" there was a small cave; before we left acting impulsively I wrote something in the note book where I had pasted the map, entered my name and passed the book to the others who entered their names and we left the book in the cave.
Inclement weather settled in the last few days we were there; it matched our moods, our farewells almost awkward and dangling like nothing left to say, nothing left to prove. The journey back home was like all returning journeys quiet, almost silent stark contrasts to journeys going somewhere, boisterous vibrant filled with anticipation.
All this happened more than fifty years ago; what has brought it all and me back to where it took place was the funeral of a friend; a eulogy spoken by one of his nephews:
"No longer will the camp fires burn warmer with the regaling of your raconteurs, but the essence of your spirit will live on in the retelling of them to our children around other campfires when we go fishing."
The book is still there. Over the years others have found and entered their names, some of them addresses from all over the globe; with the viral explosion of the internet website, email addresses. Two comments in reference to what I had written on the hidden treasures moved me deeply, one was from a couple on the verge of divorce who were going to stay together, the other from a young couple who wrote all "Kruger's Million" faded in comparison to what they had found in each other.
A remnant of the jetty is still there. Close by stands a modern cement one...
Word count 1,981