The man who is truly good and wise will bear with dignity whatever fortune sends, and will always make the best of his circumstances.
– Aristotle, Ethics
At 8:30pm standing outside a locked door in the dark was not where I expected to be. Standing outside said door with Josh searching in a tiny pot containing cigarette butts and an anorexic cactus but no key. Standing in the black of night with April’s hand in mine and Charlie in my arms. Josh knocked on the door, but there was nothing but thick inky silence from the other side.
We had already changed our plans. We were supposed to drive to Langebaan, spend the afternoon together and then I would drive back to Fish Hoek with the kids. We arrived to a beautiful afternoon: sun warming the white Greek island-style buildings in Club Mykonos. After leaving Josh’s bag at the apartment where he would be sleeping, we drove down to the docks and met a group of sailing travellers, students at the Due South Sailing School who were out imbibing their afternoon’s worth.
While we have been away from Canada for months, I wouldn’t classify this trip as the travelling adventure we had in our van. It’s even further from the solo backpacking I did in South East Asia. We have been on a few road trips, but staying in B&Bs, self-catering apartments and with family has cut us off from the majority of the twenty and thirty-something world travellers.
So the group of young people scattered across a rectangle of couches and chairs was a welcome sight. A young sandy-haired Irishman referred to by the group as “Irish” with terrible luck and a sweet boyishness about him. A big Namibian guy called Arnold who struck me as very American: the charming shit-talker of the group with a generous nature and colourful storytelling. Then there was the Texan couple who had sold all of their belongings, freeing themselves from debt, and flown to South Africa to go to sailing school.
Within minutes we were engaged in conversation, Charlie on Arnold’s lap and April shyly answering the many questions of our new friends. Questions about what we do, why we’re travelling, where we’re from arose. We talked about visas and shared travel stories. The afternoon simply unfurled in the sunshine beside the sailing boats bobbing in the harbour, the squawking seagulls and the laughter and chatter of holiday-makers.
After buying me a second Savannah Dry, Josh tossed out the question.
“You want to stay here tonight?”
I didn’t want to leave. I didn’t want to have to drive home and sit alone with sleeping children in our apartment in Fish Hoek. I wanted to feel like I was having an adventure rather than being a mom. I wanted to be out with debaucherous like-minded young people. I wanted to be hanging out with people like us.
So we stayed. Empties piled up on the tables between us. Cigarette butts spilled from the ashtrays. We ate some remarkably unremarkable food and then went to drink some more, chat some more. April befriended Ty, the bearded Indian-American half of the sailing school couple. With a niece April’s age, he knew exactly how to get her going. Exclaiming over how fast she was, he had her running back and forth between our table and a bench, giving him high-fives and doing “butterfly races” with him, which involved the two of them fluttering around like demented chickens.
Around 8:25pm, when the rest of the group was getting ready to head to the bar, we decided it was time to go. I would crash, with the kids, at the flat with Josh. He was supposed to be the only person sleeping there, and there would be plenty of space. Thus we found ourselves in the black of night outside a locked door with no key in sight. Josh texted Tracy, the owner of the school. She responded that she would make some calls, so we headed down to the car.
“Why can’t we go in there?” April asked.
“Because somebody locked it and forgot to put the key back,” I told her.
“Somebody didn’t put the key back? We can’t go in? We can’t sleep here?”
“Nope.” I responded. Back at the car we hung out, waiting for Tracy’s call, shaking heads and giggling.
The key was not located. Josh was offered the option of sleeping in a boat.
“Let’s find a hotel,” I suggested. Arnold had mentioned Oliphantskop earlier in the evening. Josh searched it on Google. He called, but got no answer.
“Let’s just go,” I said. It was 200m from where we were parked. I found the phone number too and called as we drove. It rang and rang, until finally a man answered.
Ten minutes later we were standing outside the deserted reception area of an old farmhouse waiting for someone to appear. Lights suddenly illuminated through the translucent panes on the double doors. A friendly short-haired woman let us in.
“We were meant to sleep there but there was no key so we couldn’t sleep there!” April told her as we checked in. She smiled and sympathised.
Fast forward a few hours, and I’m still awake. There are two mosquitoes buzzing around my head. I know there are two because I saw them on the ceiling but couldn’t devise a way to kill them. April talks in her sleep in the single bed beside me, Charlie shrieks and roots around for the boob and I can hear Josh tossing and turning from the other double bed in the adjoining room. I turn on my bedside light and scan the walls for my foe.
I must fall asleep because the next thing I know, I can hear voices calling, horns honking, shouts, laughter. I check the time on my phone. It’s 5:43am. Charlie, disturbed by the noise, roots around and starts climbing me. I attach her to a boob and hope that she goes back to sleep. Someone tries to open our door – the handle creaking startlingly. April starts talking, in her sleep, I think at first, but then she calls for me.
“I’m here April.”
“I had a bad dream. There were scary dinosaurs.”
And so, at 6:00am, I am up for the day. The noises outside stop as abruptly as they started and I groggily shuffle down the four steps into the adjacent room where Josh still sleeps, to hold Charlie over the toilet. I have one diaper left and a two-hour journey ahead. I cannot afford a blow-out.
“What a farce,” I say to Josh, an hour later, when he tells me that there was someone in the flat the whole time, passed out or unwilling to get up and open the door. The sky is grey and my teeth feel dirty. I want to go home, sleep some more and start the day over.
It feels like a cop-out, but there you have it. The intrepid traveller in me wishes the sun were shining so we could go to the beach. The mom in me knows that the kids need naps and clean clothes (and bums). While adventures are awesome, so are clean teeth and hot showers. Today I choose the latter.