Lambert’s Bay… Crayfish Festival

The past few months have flown past, and here we are, before we even knew it, it’s time to leave our home-away-from-home, Hout Bay, and start the meander back up to Tanzania.  We have two months to get there, so this time we will be following the East Coast of Africa, from Cape Town through Mozambique and back to Dar es Salaam. Accordingly, the blog is back…

Before we could truly get started on our journey, however, there was one last thing we wanted to do. We had heard stories of Lambert’s Bay, and of the Lambert’s Bay Crayfish Festival in particular. So we decided to start our trip with a detour – in the opposite direction – up the West Cost to the fishing town of Lambert’s Bay.

Arriving at around 4pm, we immediately felt dubious about our decision to come here. A ramshackle small town on the seafront, Lambert’s Bay seemed dirty and desolate. The howling wind and rain didn’t do much to improve our first impressions. Neither did the sheer number of drunks stumbling around, being dodged by angry-looking teen gangs.

We decided to check into our hotel, everything would seem brighter knowing we had a comfy room for the night.

Only that the Lambert’s Bay Hotel, a big brick building on the waterfront, hadn’t been updated since being built sometime in the 50s, it seemed. We lugged our bags up creaking stairs and down narrow corridors to our room, so stark, and with a bathroom so utilitarian, that we promptly turned around and decided it might be best not to dwell on the room until we come back to sleep in the evening. Thank goodness we were only staying the one night.

Well, we were here for the crayfish festival, so let’s set out to find it, we thought – not to be deterred by the very British weather. We had been promised craft stalls, food and drink, live music, live crayfish diving, and all sorts of shenanigans – this could only be fun, we were sure.

Walking a few metres down the street, we found the “festival” – a large marquee with plastic chairs, and around 10 stalls clustered outside in the ever-deepening mud. The overall atmosphere was of a washed-out village fete.

We wandered around the stalls, selling the usual mix of jams and home-knitted gloves; and scoped out the food stalls – slightly more positive news there, crayfish in all forms.

With nothing else for it, we made our way to the tent, in the full knowledge we had a cold evening of standing in a leaking tent ahead of us. We acquired a beer, and perched on a bench at the back of the tent, feeling a bit miserable.

Looking around, we were surrounded by locals in their wellies and rain coats, all squeezed 5-a-side on garden benches around tables, all tucking into their steaming paper plates of food, clutching whole bottles of wine, and … appearing to be having a whale of a time. Now this, was bizarre. All these people were honestly, truly, having a brilliant evening. What were we missing?

In the meantime, the live music had started. A man who appeared to be the local vet had appeared on stage, and was belting out karaoke versions of Afrikaans hits. This was going to be a long evening.

We decided to warm up by trying a couple of snacks, so we wandered over to the food stalls selling dishes we couldn’t understand – it turns out no one in Lambert’s Bay readily speaks English. Tom pointed to a big cauldron of soup, and found out he was ordering a cup of faintly green mussel broth.  I went for a creamy looking lobster stew bubbling away in a nearby pan. Retreating to our bench with our goodies, we tucked in as the vet-singer extraordinaire was peaking, and the first sets of merry dancers began discoing between the tables and chairs.

I suppose we began to see, that for this small fishing town, village fete-esque or not, muddy, rainy and freezing or not, this really was a party. The opportunity to eat, drink and dance the night away with their friends. Regardless of how strange the whole event appeared to us as outsiders, we had to respect their tenacity, their joy, their party.

We decided to copy the crowd. We found ourselves a table and bench in the middle of the room, and Tom went off in search of these bottles of local red wine everyone was glugging. Soon he was back with a bottle, and two beautiful glasses – the stall owner had given them as gifts, so pleased was he to see outsiders at the party.

By now, the equivalent of fat aunt Ethel was up on stage clutching a stack of papers from which she was giving glass-shattering renditions of Afrikaans ballads. We still had a vague sense of the lunacy of the whole occasion, but we dutifully downed our wine and swayed along to Ethel’s “great” singing.

It was time for the next bottle of red, as a country-playing band of three old blokes in baseball caps got on stage, and began their up-beat programme of thigh-slapping line-dancing music (in Afrikaans). The crowd was going wild, dancing – the merriment was intense. By this point there was nothing to do but enjoy the spectacle, and procure some lobsters to gobble with our fingers, sucking on every last leg, just as the table next to us was doing.

It was freezing, it was wet, but we began to feel the crayfish, wine and odd country-music combo was enough to heat us up.

The evening passed quicker than we had expected in that leaky old marquee, surrounded by wined-up, lobster-gobbling, dancing Afrikaaners in welly boots and gilets.

We retreated back to our hotel – stopping to chat to the parrot flying around the reception – and fell asleep thinking, all in all, it really hadn’t been a bad party at all…

 

 

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