South Africa in Winter. By Charlie
I was abandoned. On a foreign, deserted shore, left treading the wet sand, never to see another fellow
Looking into the schlerophyll forest which encircled the beach, I surmised that this was now my home;
that is, if I survived.
Was this meant to be? I pondered.
Matters had come to an abrupt head.
Yet despite banishment this was in a sense liberty over enslavement.
That I was now free to choose my own destiny, within the limits of this place, of chance and of my own efforts
- surely at least that was an upgrade on my former existence, under total state tyranical control.
I felt a certainty inside that I would tame this wild place.
I would be tried, I knew. But I felt also that I would survive.
I would not be the first, I thought and despite the precariousness of the situation, I aimed not just to survive
but to thrive.
I stumbled from exhaustion, rising on my feet again as another wave rolled over me and feeling a strange sense
of constancy from the incessant waves. This gave me likewise a certain spark of security, as I knew although I couldn't
change things, things, ie the environment itself might not change too much, unlike that from where I had come.
Therefore I determined to adapt. As the saying went, 'If you can't beat 'em join 'em.' and
I was certainly about to do that as I was in no position to argue with the natural environment and the
hand that fate had dealt me.
Channels cut in the sand on both sides of me by the tide seemed like a good place to start a search for food.
I made my way over to one, looking for anything I could find, as long as I had something to put
in my mouth as evening fell.
Various molluscs and crabs were numerous!
Relieved that I would not starve, for now at least, I had a raw treat, breaking open the shells with my knife,
which together with a dozen boxes of waterproof matches in a watertight bag were all that I posessed, apart from the clothes
that I was wearing. I treasured them now, these my sole posessions, and I perceived, sole source of distinction between myself
and raw nature.
It did make a difference and I saw there was that difference. I was a human, which raised me to a higher
plane than the terrestrial. I did not have to descend to a purely natural plane to survive.
Indeed my survival depended on maintaining my fully human mental and spiritual functioning, as well as the
Thus this is what I set out to do, ordaining it as the sole basis of my interaction with nature.
from the start - that I would not be an 'apeman'.
Night was approaching, my first night on this deserted shore. It was preceded by a crimson sky which intensified towards
the western horizon as the sun set.
The brightness of sunset kept aglow the fire in my soul, like red hot embers of a log fire
long after the flames had died down.
I placed my care in the hands of fate and tired from the days and months of ordeal and uncertainty, culminating
in my complete abandonment, I slept.
The weather was warm, the sea breeze gentle. I had a comfortable night and slept peacefully.
I was to need the sleep.
The next day I awoke to the sound of branches crashing as they broke and a shudder of earth.
It came from somewhere far off to my left and within a moment I was running fast to the farthest point of right
my legs would carry me.
I ran for about fifteen minutes before stopping from exhaustion and listened. All was quiet. I sat down under
the protection of what looked like a large oak tree, covered in a densley foliated vine. It was like a room or temple even, inside
and I was comforted after the immediately preceeding ordeal by the silence and seclusion.
I was alone, all alone. An inexpressibly sad conciousness of this fact dawned on me as I sat there. There was
nothing to be done but I knew that for the moment at least, I was safe.
I had to eat to stay alive, no matter what.
The time came for the reckoning, and inwardly, I knew I could withstand this lonliness, would withstand it for
a long time to come.
... My one thought remained, 'I had to eat.'
There were natives, I believed, a long way from here, fifty maybe a hundred miles inland, without any tracks leading
in that direction that I knew of.
Did I prefer what I thought, their foreign culture to my own company? It was a decision I would make in time, I
I decided this tree enclosure would make a good temporary home. I might not find another like it. It was superb in a
sense, and I gave thanks for it.
I intuitively believed I was dependant on the mercy of God, not only for sustenance, shelter, and freedom from harm in
this frightening, unknown land, but also for keeping me from despair, from panic and from barbarism. To this end no day was
to pass without a prayer escaping my lips.
I remained in the shelter and seclusion of that tree for half to an hour, unable to move from fear or from
Then I summoned up courage to leave the enclosure.
I made up my mind to face whatever it was out there.
I was in a thick wood and found my bearings only by the shafts of light which penetrated various sparser places, visible
through the woods.
I found my way back, partly by instinct and also by the disturbance I had made to the surrounding bush and on the
ground during my initial flight. On my way back I marked several trees with an arrow so that I could find my way back again
to the 'oak tree'.
I needed water. My plan was to get to the shore to get my bearings and walk along the coast about a hundred yards
inland looking for fresh water. I made my way quickly. The sound of the waves took me eventually in a different direction
to my initial flight, judging from the disturbances I had made to the foliage. I marked the larger trunks with arrows
pointing the way back. I reached the shore quickly and began walking southward judging by the suns trajectory, just inland of the
There was a mountain range off to the right. I headed for it in ernest, arriving at the base about an hour
later and after a further half an hour I came across a stream. I gulped down around a litre of water as a few small
fish scattered. Then I saw a large crab which had stood motionless on the bottom. I grabbed it quickly and
dashed it against a rock. As I walked upstream I managed to catch two more and dispensed with them in the same manner.
I cut away the shell and ate the flesh raw.
I saw numerous fish. Soon I begun searching out vines, in the hope of intertwining them so as to prevent
the larger fish from escaping a makeshift trap.
This took two days and at the end, sleeping once again in the open, I had two nets which could be fastened across the
stream in two places about 200 yards apart to prevent fish 'escaping' too far as I tried to catch them with a makeshift net.
This took up a third day, adding to the twine when it was necessitated by the depth of the water or the shape of
the stream. It was fixed in place by sticks driven into the bottom of the stream and sides.
The sides of the net were strengthened with thicker twine I had found in the jungle and double strands when this was
insufficient. I then made a net about two feet square and three feet deep and attached to a stick about four feet in length.
Together with a third barricade midway between the two I managed to catch sufficient fish, gaining in confidence
that I would not starve.
This panic behind me, I lit a fire of dry twigs and leaves and cooked my catches.
I was now too far from my temporary 'home', the 'oak tree', to warrant going back there each night and I slept
in the warm, gentle breeze.
Instead of snakes, which I feared, I was attacked by insects. Some, such as spiders instilled in me a fear that prevented
enjoyment of the surroundings once night fell, and it was without covering of any kind that I had to bare up each
night between snatches of sleep on the nights of that first week.
Afterwards I built myself a makeshift platform in a sprawling tree, out of branches tied together and covered
over with twine and I slept relatively peacefully without the insects that appeared to infest the ground but not
entirely, there were still mosquitoes and other flying insects up here but not spiders and other creeping insects which were
larger but resembled the beatles, bugs and other insects from where I had come.
After another week it rained and I was forced to seek shelter greater than that afforded me by the
tree I was sleeping in. I found it in a tree again covered so thickly in vines, not unlike the "oak" I had previously discovered,
that little water penetrated through.
There was nothing to stop me getting wet once I ventured out and there was no way I could get dry quickly.
This made life a little more uncomfortable.
It was some time before I ventured far enough and found 'edible' fruit and berry bearing trees
although some were not so edible and almost cost me my life.