“It’s only seven thirty,” Alex said cheerfully. “We’ve got loads of time.”
Surrounded by music and dancing people in Luderitz, I wasn’t ready to go back to Delos right now. Brady had just returned from dropping off Lisa, Karin and Brian to the boat and was ready for a couple of drinks at the Cray Fish Festival.
We had to get up at 5am tomorrow morning to visit Luderitz’s ghost town- a settlement that had been created for the diamond miners and had become swallowed up in the desert. There was no way I was going to stay out late. I wanted to be fresh for tomorrow.
But maybe one more drink…
We all ordered more ciders, danced and made friends with some guys called John and Uncle.
Time ticked on and we still had plenty of it. Moving onwards to a club seemed like a good idea. Maybe the shots weren’t, kindly donated by a guy who felt rather generous with his own bottle of whiskey.
The dancing continues.
I’ve never come across anything like African music. I’ve never seen people dance with the entirety of their soul like the locals here. They dance with everything, their feet stamping out the rhythm of their heartbeats.
I joined in, laughing and having the time of my life, stomping out my own heartbeat into the floor.
We’re all at that warm fuzzy feeling stage- the place between tipsy and very tipsy. We’ve all got sloppy smiles on our faces and are two more drinks away from starting the inevitable, “I really love you, man!”
“Girls- we need a talk,” Brady says. “Do you want to go to the next place? I’m just saying- I’m happy with getting up after a couple of hours sleep, hungover. But are you ok with that?”
I’m in a haze of cider at that moment and the prospect of hangovers is far away. To my mind hangovers don’t exist right now. I am invincible. Unstoppable.
I’m SV Delos Crew- I laugh in the face of hangovers!
“I’m fine,” Alex says, then looking at me.
“Yeah, defo,” I chime in. “Life’s too short- let’s do it.”
But we have a problem. Coming out that night, we only took out a small amount of money, leaving our backpacks, wallets and phones back in Delos to avoid being pickpocketed. That money was now gone.
We stood from side to side, wondering what we should do, the idea of simply going home to bed and Delos never occurring to us.
I frowned, remembering something.
Reaching into my bra, I pull out a 100Rand note (£5/$7).
A grin breaks out across my face as I raise it to the light.
We stare at it as one, as though it was a holy relic sent from God himself.
Relief hits us and we celebrate at the chance of being able to have another drink. The moment is glorious, victorious, stupendous, and all because a bra can double up as a purse.
“But that’s all we have for the night,” I say slowly when we’ve eventually calmed down.
“That’s not going to be enough…” Alex points out.
We think and discuss for a minute, and then I see a room connected to the bar, the name of it painted boldly in big red letters.
Alex and Brady are continuing to try and figure out how we can make 100Rand last us a night, and I start grabbing their shoulders to get their attention.
But I’m staring at the room behind them and point up at the huge sign. They both turn as one, and stare at the word:
Their mouths drop open and we all join in a chorus of: “Oooooooo!”
When I’m never sure about what I need to do, I always think about what would make the better story. We’re all in control of writing our own destiny, after all.
Images of us putting everything we have on roulette flashes into my mind. There would be cheering, laughing, high fives and slaps on the back. I could imagine the moment happening in slow motion where we put everything on black, the tension and crossed fingers, the dancing on tiptoes as the ball falls on black-
But tonight it wasn’t to be.
After a discussion, we realise that we can’t take the risk and give the 100rand to our friend John to get another round of drinks in. They come and go and we’re skint once again, my imaginings of my glorious moment bursting with every bubble at the end of my bottle.
Still, going back to Delos doesn’t occur. We’ve stopped looking at the time and just know that we’re up for a good night. The next club is around the corner, and we’re a little bit tipsy at this point. Mr Brady is wearing his signature scarf and is “scarfing” everyone in sight.
Don’t know what scarfing is? Let me explain.
It is Mr Brady’s process of catching anyone in sight with his scarf when they least expect it, wrapping it around their torso, face or neck and then shouting:
“You’ve been scarfed!”
The locals find it confusing and Alex soon confiscates it from him. Walking up the next place to dance, we remember we don’t have money to get in.
“Don’t worry,” says Uncle. “I’ve got a friend.”
We get in for free after some persuasion on Uncle’s part and watch him as he buys at least fifteen shots of purple liquid.
I stare at them in horror, and there isn’t a shadow of a doubt that I am not going to be joining in. So, Alex and Brady stand at the bar, purple liquid shining under the lights as Uncle looks at them expectantly.
They both managed to chug a shot each, and we return downstairs to dance, the prospect of drinking more and vomiting not appealing to anyone.
My flipflop keeps breaking and I pull both off after being fed up of continually fixing it. I wince several times and know I have stepped on glass. I hobble, wipe my feet and continue to jump up and down. The night twists and turns and we dance together on a near empty dancefloor, cackling and trying to wrestle Brady’s scarf from him.
The scarfing is getting out of hand.
But Brady is skipping around, laughing and joyful as a five year old and we soon give up trying to stop him from accidentally strangling people.
But the night had to end at some point.
We eventually start heading back to Delos, our friend Adir following us to make sure we get home safe. He mentions a party however and Alex, Brady and I start to bicker about what we should do.
“We should go back,” Alex points out, and I know she’s right. But my brain is still in dance mode and I could happily go into another club. I’m happy to do whatever and say so.
“I’m not going back,” Brady announces.
“Ok, well, I am,” Alex says after a while of us continuing to fail to see the sense in all heading back together.
As she walked off around the corner, Brady and I proceed to squabble about what we should do.
Adir shakes his head at us. “You guys are crazy.”
Unable to refute his claim, we continued to debate our choices.
“You decide what we should do,” Brady says, holding up his hands in surrender. “You’re in charge.”
I express my thoughts about returning to the boat, and somehow we get back onto discussing the party. Alex had gone and we were now talking about needing to swim back to Delos through the freezing waters of Luderitz.
“But I want to go to the party,” Brady argues.
I roll my eyes. “But you just said I was in charge!”
Somehow, we started to see sense, walked around the corner and saw that Miss California, our wonderful Alex Blue was still there, waiting for us. I thanked my lucky stars and instructed Mr Brady that we would all be going home together. I was too afraid to check the time, knowing that we only had a few hours of sleep left.
Trying to keep quiet as we boarded Delos and failing miserably, we filled the air with the following.
“Don’t tell me to shush!”
“Just be quiet!”
“You be quiet!”
After attempting to make grilled cheese on toast, getting told off by Brian for being noisy (we blame Mr Brady), we all headed to bed for the two hours sleep before we had to get up.
The next morning, I do not want to wake. I glance over at the comatose Mr Brady and know that he is not going to get up on his own.
I rub his shoulder and say his name, only for him to roll over and mutter something in another language and fall straight back to sleep.
“Brady… Brady! Mate, you have got to get up!”
It takes three attempts to wake him as we all desperately try to get ready as quickly as possible, murmuring apologies to Brian and cringing at the mess we have left in the kitchen.
I snooze in the van on the way there as the desert whizzes past, wondering whether I could find a quiet corner in the sand and sleep for a while.
We eventually arrive at the Ghost Town, the sun still not up as we hop out and gawk at the scene. A settlement of houses were left empty, their windows and open doors yawning wide in a silent plea for someone to save them. Sand covered everything, in a flood of pale gold.
“Oh my God…” someone breathes. Maybe it was me. All I know is that we are instantly overwhelmed by the view and we don’t even know which building to start in.
We scatter, diving into the different houses that once had families and friends inside, the paintwork from nearly 100 years ago cracked and flaking onto floorboards hidden in sand. Some rooms were halfway full of the desert, forcing you to crawl across the sand inside and be able to touch the ceiling.
Hooks hung on the wall, happily waiting to take people’s coats and hats, longingly waiting for their previous owners.
There was a sadness about this place. Everything was so beautiful and lovingly made, now lost and dying under the African sun. It was like a slow burial, the desert and strangers being the only company these houses now had.
We were the only ones there. The sun had started to rise and we huddled together as we watched. The sky exploded in pinks, oranges and yellows as it chased away the coolness of the sand, the sun stretching slowly up in the sky as our daily companion.
“Hello again,” I murmured, smiling.
We continued to explore, the heat rising as we all attempted to drink as much water as possible- Brady, Alex and I especially.
Tiny footprints of birds and mice trailed across the untouched sand inside the houses, remnants of life passing through. Karin chased across the trails excitedly, pointing her camera in the hope of finding some tiny animals.
I wondered what the Ghost Town would have looked like a hundred years ago. About the people who had been here. About when the paint was bright, the floorboards were shining and people were dancing. We ran through the rooms like ghosts, tripping over, jumping and cartwheeling as we explored in Delos style, filling the empty rooms with our whoops and cheers.
There was a freedom in exploring a place such as that with no one else there. We were wild. We were free. We span and jumped and twisted and turned, laughing and joking, the walls of the building reverberating with our laughter.
It was an incredible exploration.
Soon people started to visit the Ghost Town, our solitude destroyed as people turned up in tour buses and shiny cars. We looked like a right bunch walking through the main hall barefoot, bandannas wrapped around our heads as we went to join the tour of the Ghost Town.
By this point we had been there for four hours.
People stared at us as we listened to our tour guide, slugging back water and attempting to silently nibble on a biscuit. We stuck out like a sore thumb.
We were taken around the theatre room, the champagne bar, the bowling room and visited a house that was kept in its original order. It looked peaceful and a place that I wouldn’t mind staying in for a few days.
But stepping outside again and staring at the barren landscape of sand and sun, I knew I could never live here for long.
The tour guide spoke of the miners being put in quarantine for two weeks before they left the settlement, given two year contracts to stay constantly on site. We listened as they were made to drink castor oil to flush out any diamonds they may have ingested, wincing when we heard of the miners that cut their skin to hide diamonds inside, waiting for their flesh to heal over.
It sounded absolutely crazy to hear the lengths that people would go to, but I couldn’t help but think, “Come on, man- just give them a couple of diamonds.”
The past inhabitants had left due to there being bigger diamonds somewhere else. I wondered why a use hadn’t been found for this settlement but didn’t ask. I was exhausted, sunburnt, dehydrated and longing for a nap, not to mention utterly overwhelmed by the sights and experiences we had had together as a group.
“Yet another amazing day, family,” Brian said as we jumped back into our little van, Brady, Alex and I finally forgiven for our drunken indiscretions.
I smiled and sighed, my eyes closing as my brain started to shut down and think of cheese and sleep.
“It definitely was, Brian,” I mumble, shifting into a more comfortable position. “And it always is.”
Read more from Elizabeth here! www.earlewrites.com