I had been planning to write about something completely different, but while I was looking for the photos I needed, I came across my dad’s photos of Shu-Shu in the 1980s. As a child, it was our favourite holiday destination of all time. My dad used to ask us each year: beach or Shu-Shu? But it was a no-brainer. It was always going to be Shu-Shu. Shu-Shu was in our blood! And besides, my dad was Shu-Shu’s Kampkommadant (Camp commander) – he had to go!
Shu-Shu is an island in the Tugela River, near Kranskop (and near Nkandla!), KwaZulu Natal, South Africa. You can only reach the island and use the hot water spring baths in June and July when the river is low enough. It is flooded at other times of the year when you can’t get onto the island, and neither than you use (or even see) the baths.
Now when I say ‘baths’, picture this: concrete walls built to create a type of rock pool.
They erect poles and canvas, tent-like sails around each pool, and voila! you have a bath. An open-air bath. Very rustic indeed. There were always 4 baths, and here they are in order of how hot they were:
- Witbad (white bath)
- Oupabad (grandad bath)
- Middelbad (centre bath)
- Kinderbad (children’s bath)
They were so hot, that as kids we could often not get in. Then we realised: you need to ease in … bottom first!
This was no usual camping experience. For one, we definitely didn’t travel light. We were only about 90 minutes away in Greytown, but it was a day’s expedition to get down there (very scary mountain pass … but apparently all tarred now thanks to President Zuma and Nkandla developments), unpack, get everything onto a island and to our camp site, set up camp and unpack.
And the camp didn’t look like your traditional camping set-up either. I think these days it is called ‘glamping’ – glamorous camping. My parents were well kitted out and we had everything that opened and shut. At the centre of the camp, there was a hessian enclosure around the fire and stove that gave privacy and kept the heat in. Almost every evening would be spent around the fire.
There were various tents, and the arrangement was as follows:
– Kitchen/dining tent
– 2 bedroomed tent shared by parents & sister
– My tent
– Brother’s tent
– Visitor’s tent
– Toilet tent (honestly!)
(If you don’t believe me, here it is below)
Let’s talk about other ablutions for a minute. We bathed at the baths, but for other grooming, shaving, tooth brushing, there was a ‘bathroom tree’. I know it is hard to see past this purple shirt below, but try – see behind it – tree with a bathroom cabinet hanging in it!
One of the other highlights of Shu-Shu is the bread that my mum and dad used to bake, with the help of the locals. This is roughly how it is done:
- Find a disuse anthill
- Hollow it out and make a fire in the cavity. (Rule of thumb: if you want to bake for 1 hour, make fire for 1 hour etc)
- Place loaves in oven
- Seal with big stone, then use newspaper and mud mixture to seal the entrance tightly.
And the result is the most amazing bread you’ll ever eat. My mum’s bread-making even featured on a TV programme made at the time, called ‘Tugela’!
As we used to go in winter, it generally didn’t rain (those were the days before climate change!) while we were there, so it would get very dusty. The locals would come and treat our floors with cow dung, the way the traditional zulus do within their own kraals. I know it sounds awful, but it dries, you can keep it clean, and it simply was brilliant. As kids we’d muck in too (excuse the pun), but it was fun to do, although I think we were more in the way than anything else!
Friends were very much part of the Shu-Shu experience. My parents would invite friends. Each of us children were allowed to invite a friend for the holiday, and the island was full of friends – people who had been going for generations. Each year you’d meet up, and catch up where you left off a year before.
You’d think it would be an awful place for teenagers: nothing to do. But we made our own fun. Evening of games, fancy dress parties (spot who’s going to one of those below …), ghost stories around the fire, card and board games. We loved it.
And the days were filled with fishing, walking, investigating and resting.
And my dad’s other luxury was: no shaving whilst on holiday. Every now and then there might be an occasion for which he might need to shave. And that’s when he called his happy helper to come and shave him … me!
I haven’t been back to Shu-Shu since school. The 1987 floods marked the end of Shu-Shu for the Vermeulen family. And I miss it. But on the other hand, I have such great memories that will last a lifetime. Shu-Shu will always be part of me.
Did you ever go to Shu-Shu? Do you remember any of the old stories? I would love to hear them. Please leave me some comments either on the blog or on Google+ and share them with me and others.