With this being the last edition of the month, we continue with the highs and lows of Marco Polo’s journey to the Far East via South Africa. Last time, Captain Vasco Diaz of the Santa Flatulata had sent Marco and three other crew members ashore to erect a Portuguese flag on the beach, and generally explore Richard’s Bay (Marco Polo’s Travels: The Zulu Encounter, 30 September).

As you can imagine they were mighty relieved that their encounter with the fearsome King Shaka had not ended in slaughter. This would have severely hampered Marco’s mission – to find Pa and Kubla Cohen near a place called Xanadu, far to the east.

Clutching the sacred vuvuzela presented to them as a talisman by the king, they braved the crashing surf and circling sharks, and paddled back out to the Santa Flatulata to inform their captain that the king had alerted them about the prospect of finding gold further up the coast.

This is where the wires got somewhat crossed. Shaka would communicate with Alphonso in Fanagalo/Afrikaans, then Alf would translate in Italian to Lenny da Vinci, who scribbled shorthand notes in Latin for some reason. Deciphering and back-translating confused the captain, who spoke only Portuguese.

Eventually he understood that great treasures beckoned from a bay to the north. He just couldn’t grasp why they thought it important that some Scotsman called Lawrence O’Marks had wagon-loads of precious wood for sale. With the logs they’d loaded in Nice Nè, the Santa Flatulata was barely buoyant as it was.

Now, the Fanagalo/Afrikaans word for wood is hout – very close to goud (gold), and it took a while for Marco to convince his captain that the simple positioning of the tongue created the slight difference between hout and goud, although the difference in reward was anything but slight.

Lured by the shiny option, our captain decided to change course. Instead of turning east towards the island owned by Madame Gaskar, he headed north to find this Lawrence O’Marks bloke.

Anticipating the thrill of replacing timber logs with gold bars, our captain and the entire crew got severely sloshed. But the decision to deviate course had Marco in two minds. He relished the thought of finding the wagon-loads of gold that a certain Mr Kruger had apparently mislaid, but he desperately wanted to find Pa in the land of chopsticks and silkworms.

The next day, once the crew members had shed their hangovers, the Santa Flatulata set sail once again with a steady wind from her rear. It was a short hop to Delagoa Bay, and on arrival Diaz was thrilled to see a Portuguese flag flapping proudly on the jetty. So there must be some Portuguese speakers in the area who could help locate the missing treasure, he thought.

Now, this Lawrence O’Marks fellow was obviously a big cheese in the little settlement that bore his name. He owned the trading post, the hostel, the stables and the pole-dancing saloon, so the captain gave the entire crew shore-leave to mingle and make discrete enquiries about you-know-what.

Well, birds of a feather don’t fall far from the tree, and the entire crew headed straight for the pole-dancing saloon. All except Marco. Anxious to find this gold, he went searching the forested hills surrounding the settlement, and after a few hours he stumbled upon the gold-laden ox wagons hidden in a donga.

From then on things moved quickly. Crew members were yanked out of the saloon, and the unloading of logs and on-loading of gold bars happened at breakneck speed. A storm was brewing and our captain wanted to outrun it.

Sadly, he didn’t. The Santa Flatulata was still inside the shallows of the bay when the storm hit her. Overladen with gold bars, waves crashed over her decks, and she began taking on water. Terrified – and with the vuvuzela clamped firmly between his teeth – Marco leapt overboard, and clinging desperately onto a jettisoned log, he watched in horror while the Santa Flatulata gurgled forlornly as she slowly sank beneath the swells.

Fortunately, all was not lost. That afternoon, Somali pirates, happily collecting the jettisoned Stinkwood logs, rescued the exhausted chap. But would they be heading east towards the fabled Pleasure Dome? Who will retrieve those Kruger millions in the shallows of Delagoa Bay, and was that the end of the vuvuzela? Information is sketchy, but stay tuned…

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