Boy enjoyed park to the ‘Max’

Max at five with his grandmother Lynn Pearce de Freitas on one of his favourite rides, the Bushwacker roller coaster.

The permanent closure of Ratanga Junction, on Tuesday May 1, will mark the end of an era for Lynn Pearce de Freitas and her grandson, Max de Freitas. The duo have shared some magical moments at the park since Max was a toddler.

Max, who turns 10 on Monday April 30, is autistic and attends the Vera School for special needs children, in Rondebosch East.

Ms De Freitas describes Max, from Milnerton, as a generally happy boy with a great sense of humour. But as Max does not speak, and has no way of communicating his feelings, it can be tough to find out when something is bothering him.

“When he has a meltdown it is awful, because he cries and sobs and we do not know whether he has a tummy ache, earache or even toothache. It could be anything, but because he does not speak there is very little way of him showing us what is wrong.”

Ms De Freitas said she decided to take Max to Ratanga Junction when he was about two years.

Ms De Freitas lives in Prague, in the Czech Republic, but flies to Cape Town for Max’s school holidays as often as possible. At first she said she was worried how he would be affected by the noisy rides and screaming people.

“I contacted guest services and asked them if it was possible to allow Max to not have to queue, get directly off the ride once done and move on to the next, so that we could have a quiet time in between activities so that he did not get sensory overload. They agreed, and so our journey with Ratanga Junction began.

“The management and staff were absolutely amazing, very caring and amenable to my suggestions. In fact, they used Max as an example during the on-boarding of new staff, so that everyone who worked there knew exactly who Max was and how to deal with special needs children who visited the park,” she said.

Referring to her grandson as the “real mascot of Ratanga Junction”, Ms De Freitas says his favourite ride was the Diamond Devil Run until it was sold, in June 2016.

Since then he has had other favourites like the Bushwacker and Monkey Falls. “We never missed those,” she said. “And let’s not forget the Lego – in fact, he spent so much time there that Ratanga Junction are going to give him some of the Lego as a closing down present.”

Ms De Freitas says she has no idea what she would do with Max during the next school holidays. “He does not really enjoy indoor activities, the noise is too concentrated. He copes very well outdoors. It is terribly sad for all the children of Cape Town that Ratanga Junction is closing – there is no other place like it.

“I feel that the City of Cape Town should have taken it over and run it in the Culemborg area, where they could have made it available to all children from all walks of life,” she said.