Constitution Hill: Brutal and beautiful

South Africa has a dark and brutal history. As with any history, it lingers like a bad odour, the stench of it hitting one full in the face from damp alleys and around corners. 1994 brought with it freedom from those dark days but the scars are deep and, like scars, stories remain. These are scars that will stick for generations. Apartheid and its systematic cruelty and inhumanity cannot (and should not) be forgotten. It should remain at the forefront of our thoughts, a reminder and a warning.

Constitution Hill is a stark and beautifully curated reminder of that brutal history. Perched with its feet in the bustling centre of Johannesburg, this hill has seen and done plenty in its over 100 years of  history.

In 1893, as rogues and entrepreneurs fought over the gold sitting quietly glimmering deep down in the bowels of the city, Paul Kruger commissioned the building of a prison on the hill. First it was a ‘whites only’ prison. In 1899, the fort surrounding it was built as protection against the British, used by the military during the South African War.

In 1904, Number Four opened to accommodate black prisoners and the Women’s Jail was opened in 1910 (also with separate sections for black and white prisoners). There was terrible overcrowding; good people incarcerated purely for being caught without a Pass Book or being political activists were thrown into cells with hardened criminals; gangs formed and conditions were appalling. In 1983, the prison closed and the site was left to decay until 1996, when it was decided that Constitution Hill would be the site of the newly democratic South Africa’s Constitutional Court.

It is possible to visit all sections of the prison on guided tours – we were taken around by the fantastic and incredibly knowledgeable Nolubalalo. Within these walls, scores of anti-Apartheid leaders, including Nelson Mandela, Fatima Meer and Oliver Tambo spent time. The site is incredibly well-curated with boards explaining the cruel circumstances under which the black prisoners were held, including the horrifying rations of food that they were given and the horrifying conditions.

To stand within the walls of one of the cells, blankets rolled up to look like prisoners giving an idea of the hierarchy, is chilling. The walls feel damp and foreboding, the air is still and heavy, and the noise of the living city outside is swallowed up by the still-present sense of foreboding and fear.

The courtyard is open to the sky, a huge blue expanse above concrete growing hot under the midday sun, bars and windowless cells encircling it. The city noise seems to be unable to penetrate even this air and the clang of an iron door closing sends shivers down my spine. It’s loud but, at the same time, it’s eerily silent. Nolubulalo tells us about the conditions, the inmates, the terror and the inhumanity.

We head up to the courtyard in front of the magnificent Constitutional Court, a reminder of now. The air here is clear, the trees throwing dappled shade onto the bricks as preparations for a year-end function happen behind us. There’s music and two of the men putting up the marquee chat and laugh. On the wall, the words ‘Constitutional Court’ watch over this all, written in all eleven official languages.

Inside, the architecture mimics a meeting place under a tree to symbolise where we come from. Elders sitting in a circle beneath a tree have been the major decision-makers and law-keepers throughout African history. The building is scattered with incredible works of art and, something I didn’t realise, the Constitutional Court is open to the public so you can go and watch law as it happens.

Heading out and further up the hill we explored the Fort with its enormous creaking door and the views from the top over Johannesburg. The Women’s Jail is a pretty Victorian building. In design it looks innocuous with lots of light and air, but its looks are deceptive, they hide a history of more cruelty and brutality. It’s difficult to breathe in the solitary cells that were inhabited by incredible, strong women who were incarcerated for months and years purely for fighting for justice.

As you leave out of the back of the Women’s Jail, you are met with an enormous sculpture of a young girl dancing in the sunshine, the huge blue sky above her, Hillbrow Tower peaking over her head. She’s the picture of joy and freedom.

May we never forget and thank you, Con Hill, for keeping that terrible history alive, for telling those important stories and for reminding us of the darkness and terribleness from whence we came.


Wheelchair Accessibility

Con Hill is a hop, skip and a jump from Once in Joburg, where we stayed. The hop,skip and jump requires transport though: it’s steep and bumpy, so we took a quick Uber. Be sure to get dropped at the Visitor Centre, so that you’re on a flat section (or outside the Women’s Jail, if you choose to just do that).

Constitution Hill is on a hill – surprise! – and it’s not a gently sloped, tiny hill: it takes its hill status seriously. However, the whole precinct is incredibly wheelchair accessible, with ramps everywhere and wheelchair lifts where needed. Some of the ramps are steep so you need to be superfit/have a fit person (in takkies, not stilettos or slip slops) to help to push.

If you’re wanting to visit but would prefer not to have to go up/down steep ramps, the Constitutional Court is on a level part, so could easily be navigated. Alternatively, get dropped outside the Women’s Jail and just visit that – it’s relatively flat.

There are accessible bathrooms throughout. And, as at so many wonderful South African sites, the people are wonderful and helpful! Check out their accessibility page.

If you’d like further info, feel free to mail me. I’m happy to answer questions.

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Once (upon a time) in Joburg

Once upon a time, a long, long time ago, there lived a 17-year old maiden. She was tall and a little gawky and awkward but was filled with the joy that can only come with finishing school, taking off ones’ tatty old school shoes for the last time and walking out of the school gates, never to look back. Freedom.

But what does that have to do with Joburg I hear you ask, knowing that I went to school in ‘n verkrampte small town in North West? Hold your horses, I’m getting there. This leads us into the last time I stayed in Braamfontein. Somebody’s boyfriend’s brother’s cousin (or somesuch) was a student at WITS and let a bunch of us stay in his tiny flat in one of the maze of city streets, so we could go clubbing and celebrate our new-found freedom after finishing matric.

That was 25 years ago. Since then I’ve watched from afar – having transplanted from Gauteng to the blissful Eastern Cape to Cape Town in those 25 years – as stories of rampant crime, degradation and sadness in Jozi’s once vibrant city streets filtered through. In the past few years, though, there have been happier stories, regeneration like only South Africa can do.

I’ve been longing to check it out, and to recapture that sense of freedom I had as a 17-year old (without having to go back to boarding school, heaven forbid). There’s nothing like city streets to do that, so when Once in Joburg invited us over, the answer was an immediate yes. And boy was it worth it.

Just landing in Joburg and catching the Gautrain (an easy way from O.R. Tambo to Once in Joburg, with one change of train and a quick taxi ride from Park Station) gives me city butterflies – there’s something delightedly delicious about the busy-ness and rush of a real city. And Joburg is filled-to-overflowing with the cool kids. Cool kids that aren’t just cool, they’re friendly too.

Once in Joburg is on De Korte Street, slap-bang in the middle of Joburg and humming with vibe. It’s the poster-child for ‘poshtels’. Yip, I said poshtel. It’s a thing. According to Wiktionary:

poshtel (plural poshtels)

  1. (informal) An upscale or luxury hostel.

I, too, when I thought of a hostel, was filled with visions of bunk beds a-jumping with bedbugs and unwashed 20-something year olds ‘discovering themselves in Africa’. Once in Joburg is the polar opposite – it’s a really clean, well-serviced and expertly run establishment which, while it does offer ‘dorm-type’ accommodation, also offers en-suite double rooms and family rooms.

The clientele, far from being unwashed and 20, range from (clean and fun) youngsters to families to 40-ahem year olds.We had a double room which was spacious and spotless, with en-suite bathroom, crisp white sheets and all the makings for tea and coffee. It certainly put the ‘posh’ in poshtel.

The hotel has everything a backpacker (and the rest of us!) would need – a board covered in activities, both offered in-house and out, and on the first floor, a communal area which includes facilities for cooking and storing food and for much socialising, like the regular weekly braai.

There’s also The Immigrant where, in the mornings, breakfast is served (go for the Shakshuka, it’s fabulous) and, throughout the day, snacks, meals and drinks, with an open balcony with twinkly fairy lights. If you’re needing a night in, here’s the spot. We joined lovely Sophie for a drink and to hear the story of ‘Once’ and how they’re making great strides in bringing business back into the CBD and encouraging all sorts of incredible small business ideas.

The area in which it is situated is vibey, noisy and happening. Through a path around the back you’ll find yourself in The Grove, a square that is filled with those cool kids I mentioned above, hanging out at the tables on the square of a couple of restaurants, music pumping. It’s fantastic.

We sat there for hours, me doing what I love best: people-watching and being filled with pride and hope for this country watching the youth that are coming up (sheesh, I sound old). It made me certain there’s definitely a happily ever after to this.


Wheelchair accessibility

Once in Joburg has an accessible room. The bathroom is tiny (see pic above), with a shower with a lip so it’s a bit of a squeeze but, if you can walk a little, it’s fine. The bedroom (carpeted) is spacious, with plenty of transfer room and a good height bed. There are lifts, both small, so check measurements if you have a big wheelchair. Most importantly, everyone there is incredibly helpful, so just ask.

The area around Once in Joburg is fabulously accessible – the path to The Grove is ramped and the area is flat, so you can spend some time exploring without needing to get in a car. Do remember, though, this is a city like any other city in the world – don’t go wandering around at night or flash your valuables around. Even better, leave them in the safe.

Feel free to contact me if you want more info.

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Dusty back roads and stylin’ Steytlerville

Duimpie de Beer, an unlikely hero, lives in Aberdeen and drives (or used to) the little blue bakkie that has, since I first met that one, given me a soft spot for little blue bakkies. You see, a few years ago, on one of our trips to Nieu Bethesda, we found ourselves stranded, having run out of petrol (what a rookie mistake!) on the seemingly-never ending stretch of tar between Beaufort West and Aberdeen.

It was a Friday, at lunchtime, but the kind woman at the Tourism Bureau in Aberdeen assured us when we phoned her, that she’d call Duimpie at home, where he was having lunch. Sure enough, half an hour later, his little blue bakkie appeared in the mirage on the tar road. Back to the present though.

Aberdeen in November is dry and dusty, but around every corner are magnificent blooming bougainvillea of every hue, clambering over fences and hugging old tin houses. The N9 slithers around Aberdeen. If you turn in, toward the towering steeple of the church, you get to the main drag – unsurprisingly called Voortrekker Street. It comes out the other side and joins back onto the N9. It’s easy to feel like those are the only openings into this tiny, friendly town. 

With a little exploring, though, you’ll find the dust road out of town that heads South-East toward Klipplaat. For 44 km you will travel on an entirely straight road through perfectly arid Karoo landscape overhung by an enormous sky. Then the road will bend to the right, once, and from there, it’s pretty much straight again for the 30 km to Klipplaat. 

An old railway line chugs along next to the road and at the abandoned Aberdeen Road Station we stopped, turned the car off and listened to the sweltering silence of the Karoo. It was interrupted only by an occasional horror filmesque squeak of a sign, rusted and forlorn. 

The station building still stands, a room filled with old files, meeting notes and who knows what other bits of paper. Peoples’ stories whispering to each other as gusts of Karoo wind blew through the broken panels of the windows. 

Further down the road, Klipplaat sat heavily in the heat, the village shop providing highly-needed ice-cold Creme Soda as a couple of local kids watched us curiously. I don’t think many people stop in Klipplaat. 

The road between Klipplaat and Steytlerville is completely different as you head toward the hills of the Baviaans. It’s full of bends and curves as it snakes through the aloe-dotted koppies. 

As you round the bend quite close to the Steytlerville road,  Draaikaans appears: the most magnificent example of Cape Fold rocks which look very much like a fossilised Prehistoric tiramisu. I’m sure dinosaurs loved tiramisu. 

Once you’re on the tar road to Steytlerville, the cliffs to the left become covered in painted flags. I’m not a huge fan of any kind of graffiti in nature (I love it in the city) but when you’ve spent some time in Steytlerville, the quirkiness makes sense. They’re all flags that connect to South Africa’s history. 

Entering Steytlerville on the broad, double-laned Main Street, I was surprised to see family crests adorning the streetlights. They’re of the families who reside in the area and, for those who didn’t have a family crest, one was made to depict that family’s history. I think that’s lovely. 

It’s loveliness is repeated all through Steytlerville: a small, neat town with the Royal Hotel slap-bang in the middle and beautifully-restored Karoo cottages intermingling with equally gorgeous, slightly delapidated versions of said Karoo cottages. I have a thing for delapidation. 

These days, Steytlerville has become a bit of a hot spot. Well, a hot spot in Karoo terms. The Karroo Theatrical Hotel, just outside town, with its Saturday night cabaret, brings an influx of visitors each weekend. Next time we’re there, we’ll check that out.

This time, though, we were hosted by the fabulous people at The Royal Hotel, with its beautiful courtyard around which it’s spacious, neat and comfortable rooms are set, each building with the poster-child Karoo stoep, on which to watch the birds flitting in the trees. 

The main hotel, with its elegant dining room and suitably lively pub (the Springboks were playing) which opens onto a stoep on the main road, exudes Karoo hospitality, as do the pub’s patrons. To the point that we were invited to an after party by some locals at their house down the road. 

I’m not a huge rugby fan, so while GM worked herself into a stress ball about the Springboks latest antics, I did what one must in the Karoo: sat on the stoep watching the world go by attempting to study for my Postgrad exams, making friends with a lovely family from PE and keeping up with the feeding schedule of the swallow family who live in the eaves. 

Shane and Francois were fantastic hosts and we ate like royalty. Speaking of royalty, the silent couple in the corner of the pub add a fantastically regal – if somewhat ghostly, this is the Karoo, ghosts are de rigeur – atmosphere. 

As the sun set, the sky turned that heart-squelching blue and the stars started twinkling as the sweltering heat of the day let up a bit. We decided against the after party and GM went nightswimming (who doesn’t have an ear worm now?) before turning in and sleeping the sleep that only comes in the quiet of the Karoo.

Waking to the sound of thunder and fat, heavy drops on the tin roof was the best morning present The Weatherman could give and we threw open the door to let the smell of rain on dust in. Bliss. 

A bite to eat and it was time to head off down the concrete single-track road to Willowmore.

It was way too soon, I could’ve stayed a month. 


Wheelchair accessibility 

Steytlerville, being a Karoo dorpie, is fabulously flat and, with its broad roads, there’s lots of space for ambling along admiring the town’s architecture, crests and enormous church. 

The Royal Hotel were fantastically welcoming and helpful. While not set up to be universally accessible, the room we were in was huge, with plenty of space to transfer onto the bed. The bathroom, too, doesn’t have bars or anything and only has a bath but is spacious enough to transfer to the toilet from the front. There are a couple of small steps up to the rooms and into the main hotel areas but everyone was incredibly helpful and I’d go back in a heartbeat!

Please feel free to contact me if you would like more accessibility details on any of the places that we visited.

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Counting my lucky stars: Eddie Vedder incoming

On the 30th of November 1996, I lay with my cheek on a rather ugly brown carpet and cried my eyes out. It was the carpet of my bedroom in my final year digs. I was crying because it was the end of the phase of my life that I had loved the most so far. I was 21 and had just finished my degree at Rhodes University and we were leaving early the next morning to drive home one last time. 

As I lay there and smelt the damp carpet, I was listening to Pearl Jam’s Off He Goes, Eddie Vedder’s voice the perfect soundtrack to my heartbreak at the ending of  a life I’d loved, friends I’d loved more. I sobbed for the leaving behind. 

Little did I know at the time that just 12 hours later – on the 1st of December 1996 – my life would change in a way that I could never have imagined. Under a bright blue Karoo sky we crashed and I broke my neck, leaving me quadriplegic in a wheelchair. While I’d known my life was about to change, nothing had prepared me for quite such a big change. 

Fast forward 21 years – and some serious adapting to being okay and productive and busy and happy – and I got to see Eddie Vedder live, travelling from Cape Town to London to Sicily in June last year. There, under a hot Italian night sky with Mount Etna smoking in the distance and the Mediterranean sparkling below us, we watched Eddie Vedder in an ancient Greek amphitheatre. On night one he came into the audience and stood not 30 cm away from me while he sang Jeremy. I was too startstruck to even put my hand out to shake his. 

It was the stuff of dreams. 

I wrote a blog about it the next day and wished he would sing Off He Goes. That night, he did, and I felt like I could die right there and then, and be happy. I thought nothing could beat it. 

Fast forward another 18 months and I have tickets in my bag to the Global Citizen concert next week Sunday in Johannesburg. Eddie Vedder will be performing, in my beloved home country. Every year on the 1st of December, I celebrate being alive. This year, on the 2nd of December, 2018, exactly 22 years and a day after that fateful day, I’ll celebrate again, listening to Eddie Vedder. Live.

Maybe I’ll be lucky and he’ll sing Off He Goes again, on my home soil. 

Whatever he sings, though, I’m a lucky fish to see him twice in two years. So, very lucky.

See you next week Jozi (and Eddie). 

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Eastern Cape bliss: Makhanda, the city of sinners and saints

After our splendid weekend in Plett, we trundled up the coast, me peering warily into the emerald depths of the beautiful Tsitsikamma forests – my sister told me wolves lived there when I was very young – waving at the enormous turbines of the wind farms, blowing kisses to PE as we drove through, and finally hitting the home stretch to Makhanda (previously known as Grahamstown), the place of my joy-filled ‘varsity years.

The landscape changes as you head into the Eastern Cape, green rolling hills, scattered with aloes, all aflutter in their spring colours. It sets my heart aflutter too, this land of my childhood holidays and varsity escapades.

Makhanda has been given a rough hand. Multiple rotations of crooked municipalities have left this once-flourishing, well-kept town struggling to stay standing. High Street is a mass of potholes, the water that came out of the taps was brown, the whole place had a dejected feeling. It was heartbreaking.

It was also 44-degrees when we arrived, so after a quick spin around town (thank goodness The Little Bluebird of Happiness has air con) filled with nostalgic whtterings as we rounded every corner, we headed to our hosts at The Cock House, its lush little courtyard garden looking blissfully green. At 44-degrees, though, the only thing to do was lie down under the fan, a wet scarf over me!

Built in 1826, The Cock House is awash with history. It’s a beautiful old building and the converted stables have been made into wonderfully comfortable rooms opening onto the garden. An added bonus while we were there was the jasmine prolifically flowering on the verandah outside the rooms. Heavenly.

At one time, it was home to author, Andre Brink, and his lounge and library remains. He wrote his most well-known book, A Dry White Season, here. Notable guests in The Cock House Visitor’s Book include our beloved Madiba.

After a fabuous dinner in the garden meeting new friends – it was still about 30-degrees, so much ice was consumed and many mosquitos were flapped away – a good nights’ rest was just what the doctor ordered after the long day travelling.

The temperature plummetted through the night and whipped up a wind that was so strong it blew a crane over in PE’s harbour. I’d forgotten how schizophrenic my beloved The Weatherman is in Makhanda! We headed down to Kowie for some more nostaglia, the place of my sandy-footed, salty-skinned childhood holidays. Early morning swims on Kelly’s Beach, sand-skiing down the massive dunes on East Beach and, when we were older, hot nights of dancing at Barnacles as the river twinkled in the starlight.

No trip to Port Alfred is complete without a stop at The Pig and Whistle in Bathurst for lunch. I was thrown back to those childhood days as we walked in, the smell of old wood and the brandy-tinged air of the pub, still with faceless voices floating out of its door, unchanged in 25 years. In fact, I’m sure unchanged in the hotel’s 186-year history. I was beyond happy that it is being lovingly looked after and the food was great!

If you’re in Bathurst, don’t forget to pop in at Stowe and so (diagonally opposite The Pig where, in my childhood, the little village shop was, that smelt of washing powder, paraffin and maize meal). Tori Stowe makes the most lovely things and you will, most likely, like me, want everything.

I was, in fact, not only in Makhanda to drive aimlessly around regaling tales of mischief and frivolity of yesteryear, but for the launch of my book, One Night Only, at the incredible National English Literary Museum. I was petrified, but a kind new friend did it with me and, if I’m allowed to say so myself, it was a roaring success. [Shameless self-promotion: if you want the book, contact me. It’s MUCH cheaper through me than Amazon.]

And so to our comfy beds at The Cock House, a Gino’s pizza in hand – what a treat they were when we were students, and they still taste as delicious! I slept more restfully that night, having discussed the heartbreaking state of Makhanda’s disrepair with both old and new friends … I had also forgotten the resilience and tenacity of Eastern Cape people. They’re fed up and they’re ready to fight the good fight for Makhanda, a small town with a huge heart, a gazillionty-twelve tales of high jinks and wonder, and a stubborness that won’t allow it to be felled. A luta continua, vitória é certa.

 

Lovely Makhanda and its lovely people deserve better. Our farewell committee as we left The Cock House, above right, agree. Aren’t they beautiful?


Wheelchair accessibility

The Cock House has a ramped pathway up to rooms 1 to 5. The rooms are nice and spacious, with plenty of room to transfer onto the bed. The bathrooms aren’t accessible, although you can get into the basin.

The breakfast room/restaurant is also up a couple of steps but they very kindly brought dinner to us in the garden and breakfast down to us.

Chris, the gardener, and the rest of the staff (who’s names I sadly didn’t get) were all wonderful. I wish Yvonne, the new owner, all the best. The Cock House has such wonderful character, it deserves to continue doing so well.

 

 

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Perfectly Plett: A whirlwind visit

Plettenberg Bay holds many wonderful childhood memories for me. Our grandparents retired there, first in a white house within walking distance of the lagoon, then on a fabulous small-holding outside Plett – complete with indigenous forest, sparkling stream and an endless supply of real Christmas trees – and then to a little cottage looking towards the mountains in Formosa Retirement Village.

This, of course (despite my being spring-chicken young) was when Plett was still a sleepy little coastal village, pre-‘Millionaire’s Row’ and waaay-pre-Plett Rage. Early morning walks along Lookout Beach to the river mouth or the other way toward Roberg, proffered up pansy shells and foot-tickling welks as they made patterns in the sand. I remember following in my father’s footsteps – literally – on one of those walks: my small 8-year old feet making tiny indents in his 6′ 4″-and-feet-to-match footprints, his long strides making it necessary for me to jump between steps.

Lookout Beach is also where he taught us to body surf, it’s perfectly-timed waves ideal. At Central Beach we’d make sandcastles, my sister, cousins and I, boogie board until we were exhausted and those little pockets at the bottom of our cozzies were filled with sand (what was the purpose of those?) and explore the rock pools around the Beacon Isle as our parents, aunt and uncle and grandparents nattered on the beach. Sometime between 10 and 11 – time was abstract during those holidays – Granny would open up her basket and we’d have tea out of the thermos and Tennis biscuits, our sandy hands adding grit to the sweet mouthfuls. It was idyllic.

But let me get back to this century, when Plett Tourism organised a weekend itinerary and the beautiful Cornerway House hosted us a couple of weeks’ back. What a treat. While Plett is no longer a ‘sleepy little coastal village’ – it’s surrounded by a plethora of activities, places to stay and eat and things to do – it still retains that salty-aired relaxed feeling of ‘beach holiday’.

Our first stop on this trip was the Knysna Elephant Park just outside Plett. I’d researched this and Tenikwa (that we visited the next day) because I am dead against unethical wildlife practices and human interactions with wildlife. Both emerged as star pupils in ethical wildlife management, research and rehabilitation.

Elephants are wonderfully spongy. I can tell you that now, because I massaged one’s elbow. The elephant park is utterly fabulous. After a quick video on who they are, what they do and how to behave around these enormous, but incredibly gentle, creatures, we piled onto a tractor and headed up the hill to give the troupe some snacks and love. Ndeyebo, our incredible guide, told us about all things elephant, while we mingled with two of them. That is, until Thatho got sent to the naughty corner for trying to snack on the thatch of the shelter’s roof while we were chatting (see top, left pic – that’s Thatho in the background).

Then it was off to Plett to settle in at Cornerway House, where we were made to feel like family by manager Kathy, owners, Dee and Anthony and their wonderful staff, Rachel, Gloria, Phyllis and Paul. We dropped our things and headed off to meet an old friend at the beach for lunch and the kind of natter that you can only have with an old friend: long, lazy and interspersed with tears and giggles. As the sun turned the sky pink, we headed back ‘home’.

Set in beautiful gardens, our room opened up onto the verandah. Inside, it’s got everything any heart could desire, all elegantly decorated and, best of all, with the most comfortable bed on earth. I could’ve spent the entire weekend hanging out on the verandahs admiring the garden and pool, reading a book or chatting up a storm with Dee and Anthony over a glass of wine. In fact, we did all of that, in between everything else!

Sunday morning arrived, bright and hot, and after a delicious breakfast we set off to hang out with the big cats at Tenikwa in The Crags. Again, their focus is rehabilitation and education and there is nothing quite so breath-taking as being in the presence of wild cats – from the tiniest to servals to the lounging leopard and posing cheetah, to the magnificent lions, viewed from above.

Sizwe, our guide, was a mine of information and I can now tell you that big cats love cinnamon (it’s put into balls made of wattle, with meat, to provide entertainment and exercise), a cheetah’s purr is so loud you can feel it in your chest and that Maribou Storks called Edwina, Duke and Earl are cool.

It was hot. Really hot, so after saying fond farewells to our new friends at Tenikwa, we headed back toward Plett and popped in at Moss and Maple for an icy rock shandy, salad and pizza. Serendipitously, they’d celebrated their first birthday the day before. Any place that welcomes you with a piece of chocolate birthday cake, from a cake they made that was too big to fit out of the kitchen door, gets 100 bonus points in my book.

The restaurant is a huge wooden structure with wonderful high ceilings, a wraparound verandah and oodles of kids’ play things. It’s the kind of place that makes you want to have a long, lazy lunch and the salad I had, sprinkled with feta and figs, was divine. As a bonus, there is a plethora of goodies to buy inside so finding that gift to take home is easy as pie. (If you don’t eat the sweets you bought as gifts duing the rest of your road trip. Ahem.)

Taking a back road down to Keurbooms, brought back happy memories of walks to Arch Rock and ice cream at what was then the little tea shop, before we headed back to the oasis of Cornerway House for an obligatory Sunday afternoon nap listening to the birds in the garden.

As Monday is wanton to do, suddenly it was upon us, and it was time to set off Eastern Cape-ward. It felt way too quick and we didn’t have time to do loads of things the town has to offer, so we’ll have to return  soon.

Thanks for having us, Plett, you’re the hostess with the mostest!

Wheeelchair accessibility

The elephant park is surprisingly accessible with lots of parking, and accessible toilets and ramps everywhere. Even the trip up to the elephants in the tractor has been made accessible, with a (steep, but the guys are SO helpful!) ramp up onto the trailer. The road is quite rough so it’s a little, shall we say, adventurous (and not for the nervous or unfirm), especially if you don’t have great balance but is totally worth it to spend time with the Ellie’s.

Cornerway House, too, is fabulously accessible, made more so by the wonderful people who run it. They are incredibly helpful. The room we stayed in (Veranda room) was lovely and spacious with plenty of room next to the bed for transfers and a great bathroom, including a shower chair!

Tenikwa has ramps everywhere, including up to the viewing deck above the lions (it’s steep, but Sizwe helped). There’s some ‘rough riding’ over grassy bits and dust roads but doable with the help of the guides and, again, totally worth it to see the magnificent cats.

Moss and Maple is huge, flat and has plenty of room to manouvre and a fabulous wheelchair toilet. The entrance from the parking requires a little rough riding but it’s a good way to work up an appetite for their delicious food.

Please feel free to contact me if you would like more accessibility details on any of the places that we visited.

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Touristing at home: Cape Town City Walk

It’s always amazing to discover the fascinating nooks and crannies of the city that has been your home for 20 years (or, for that matter, any city).

On the corner of Long Street and Wale Street, about two storeys up, an elephant gazes down at the busy intersection. I must’ve driven through that intersection and passed it more than 50 times in the past 20 years and had never noticed him before. And I, being lucky enough to never have to be doing the driving, look around. A great deal.

That’s what going for a guided walking tour will do. It’ll open your eyes as the city opens up and shows you things that you never knew were there. Wondrous things.

When Thandikhaya, from Walk in Africa, approached me at the World Travel Market earlier this year and asked if I’d be interested in doing a walk or two with them to see if they were accessible for people in wheelchairs, I was more than willing to be the guinea pig. I love that they want to increase accessibility!

We met on Greenmarket Square outside the old Town House, a beautiful heritage building that is looking her age. Apparently nobody is quite sure what is going on there, it’s been boarded up for months. Thandikhaya is extremely knowledgeable about Cape Town’s history, which he regaled us with as we ambled up toward the Bo-Kaap.

Bo-Kaap is one of those areas in Cape Town that just exudes energy. Whispers from hundreds of years ago disappear around corners while, the stories of generations flit amongst the kids playing on the streets, all watched by the colourful houses for which the area has become famous.

Stopping at the Rose Café, apparently almost 150 years old and currently run by the third generation of the family, we bought koesisters and samoosas. These are the koesisters to beat all koesisters: juicy and moreish and the perfect sustenance for pushing me up and down the hills of Bo-Kaap.

It’s a casual kind of tour which is what makes it lovely. Thandikhaya regles more of Cape Town’s history, from the slaves of hundreds of years ago to present day, and everything in-between. Added to the stories, his own experiences and family history, which are possibly the most interesting parts. I love hearing people’s stories. It holds such value. Also about how our lives differ and intersect.

We stopped outside the Auwal Masjid, the oldest mosque in South Africa. It sits gently on Dorp Street watching as the hipsters invade around its feet. Built in 1794, it’s painted a beautiful thyme-green colour and its old walls exude a feeling of peaceful serenity, despite being about five metres from frenetic Buitengracht Street. I’d never stopped to take it all in before.

There’s street art in Bo-Kaap too. Plenty of it. I could’ve ambled around all day, but we needed to move on, making our way past St George’s while we heard the stories of it being the centre of so much activism during the dark apartheid days, then the beautiful new arch into the Company’s Garden, complete with a jovial brass band enticing passers-by (one fabulous man especially) to march rhythmically along the path, to Church Square.

Here, the Groote Kerk looms and the Slave Lodge looks on. On the square, which served as a slave market, granite blocks on which the names of the slaves (who, for so long in South African history remained nameless) are engraved. Jan Hofmeyer’s statue gazes solemnly toward the church, as if oblivious to the slaves. It’s busy, but there’s an underlying sense of the spirits, whispers and cries of those hundreds of imprisoned slaves.

Down the side street, stopping to check out the relief friezes – South Africa’s history in concrete on the side of the Old Mutual building, you just need to look up, and on into the old Post Office, now bustling with stalls and people, with its huge murals. More history in art. Again, look up! A good motto for life, really!

Our tour wrapped up on the Grand Parade, admiring the new Mandela statue on the balcony of the City Hall and learnt another new thing as pigeons flapped about above our heads and scrabbled about our feet, squabbling over dropped slap chips. People were hanged on the Castle wall in days gone by, watched by a crowd on the Grand Parade. Bloodthirsty lot they were, those people of old.

And there we parted ways with Thandikhaya. What a fabulous way to spend a Saturday morning, whether you’re a local or tourist.


Wheelchair Accessibility

The walk lasts about two hours and is fairly hilly. Starting at Greenmarket, which is cobbled but has smoother pavement around its perimeter, Thandikhaya took us on the most gently-sloped way possible, up from town into Bo-Kaap, and helped with pushing. Once in the Bo-Kaap, it’s steeper and some of it is cobbled.

My Freewheel coped (it’d be very hard without one, or an equivalent), but it required GM and Thandikhaya taking turns (and getting good exercise, they both deserved a medal by the end). Basically, it’s completely doable if you have a sense of adventure. If you don’t, it could easily be adapted to merely the flatter sections. There’s plenty to see and hundreds of stories in all the areas visited. Thandikhaya was superb, and so helpful!

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