Shamwari means ‘my friend’ in Shona and it stands up to its name, with friendly staff who make sure your every need is met. This is safari luxury of the highest order, set against a backdrop of the beautiful rolling hills of the Eastern Cape and home to a huge array of wildlife, including the ‘big five’.
It’s hard to know where to start my writing about it: the bush, the decadent accommodation, the food (oh, the food!) but, I guess I should start with the main reason people go to Shamwari: the game drives (two daily, one early morning, one late afternoon). Our guide, Mino, was amazing. A fountain of knowledge of both the fauna and the flora, an incredible spotter of game and an all around nice guy. We loved him.
Despite the fact that I’m born-and-bred South African, I have never seen lion in the wild. An hour or two after telling Mino this, we sat in awe of an entire lion family lounging about. What an extraordinary privilege. Another half hour later (and a spectacular drive through the bush, dotted with buck, tortoises, jackals and more), two cheetah dudes paid us no attention while we ogled them.
As the sun set in the west, turning the sky spectacular shades of pink, we passed a giraffe, his sunset silhouette like something out of a safari brochure. Before we headed back, a herd of elephant, including the tiniest one I’ve ever seen (7 1/2 weeks old) slowly melded into the dusky bush. How are those enormous creatures so quiet? Spongy feet, that’s how!
We stayed at Long Lee Manor, which made me feel like I should be dressed in cool cream linen outfits, saying ‘I had a farm in Africa’. It’s elegant and spacious, with a rim pool in its centre (above a watering hole) that all other rim pools should aspire to. The enormous en-suite rooms, each with their own veranda, overlook the game-filled plain and they have every comfort in them (think percale linen, warm blankets as light as a cloud, indoor and outdoor shower and coffee machine) and enough room to dance a vigorous waltz in (if one wished to do so).
Let’s talk about the food. Oh, the food! Throughout the day, head chef, Richard, and his staff whip up incredible, tasty meals that are beautifully presented: any breakfast your heart desires (for me, on day 1, a cooked breakfast; day 2, a pudding breakfast a.k.a. Flapjacks served with a bowl of Nutella, honeycomb butter, cream and berries). Lunches were tapas style: make-your-own salad to start, followed by four or five flavour-filled tapas dishes. Dessert was ice-cream.
The ice-creams and sorbets deserve a full paragraph of their own. I could probably write a whole blog about them. Served in the most beautiful icy granite stone bowls (so clever, especially in mid-summer heat), creamy coffee ice cream, fresh blueberry, watermelon and strawberry sorbets were on offer during our stay. I could’ve lived on them alone. Divine.
Dinners were equally as superb – night 1, an a la carte menu and night 2, a braai in the boma which, to me, looked like something out of Survivor, but was way more friendly and with far better food! Under the star-spattered sky, it was perfect.
I think I’ve gushed enough. Bottom line: Shamwari is superb. I’m not going to lie, it’s not cheap, especially if you’re South African but it’s the kind of place that should be a treat anyway: think anniversaries, ‘big’ birthdays etc. And if you’re on USD or UKP: go, go, go! The perfect, malaria-free, safari holiday.
Long Lee Manor at Shamwari is the poster child for accessibility. Despite being spectacularly perched on a hill to allow for maximum ‘sweeping plains to the hills’ views, I could get everywhere, via gently sloping, easy-to-manoeuvre ramps. I fit at the tables in the restaurant and I could get everywhere everybody else could, and that’s pretty rare!
The universally accessible room truly is fantastic, with a huge bed which is a good height for transfer and a private veranda on which to sit and watch the birds and a rather friendly tortoise who happened to amble past.
The bathroom, too, is huge and fully-accessible, including grab rails, and even a shower commode. They have thought of everything. The only thing missing was being able to get under the basin but they were so keen for input, so I’m sure they’ll sort that out.
The game drives, something that is challenging for those of us in wheelchairs, due mainly to the height of safari vehicles. Mino was incredible. He took the time to listen to what I needed and we had a dedicated vehicle to allow us the time to get me in and to spare any embarrassment (it’s not graceful, getting a 6-foot quadriplegic into a game driving vehicle!). Mino and a colleague lifted me into the car as if I was featherlight (I’m not), strapped me in so I felt completely safe and made sure I was comfortable throughout our drive. Just wonderful.
And I think I must end here, although I could go on and on. My final note: I was made to feel welcome and heard and every effort was made to ensure my experience was as good as (if not better than), everyone else’s and, despite it being pretty much the most accessible place I’ve been, they were so keen to hear my opinions and suggestions (which is why I was there), so that they can improve even more!
Five stars to Ilze-Marie, Mino and all the other lovely staff at Long Lee Manor. What an absolute treat.
We all know how much I love small towns, especially those with character (and characters). Somerset East fits that bill perfectly: nestled at the foot of the Boschberg mountains, this pretty little town oozes character and, if the people we met are anything to go by, is filled with characters of the loveliest kind.
The joy of Walter Battiss
Up at the top of the town lies a gem of a place, a national treasure. No, an international treasure. The Walter Battiss Museum sits on the corner of Beaufort and Paulet Streets in a gorgeous old building. Built in 1818, it was originally a British officer’s mess and then a hotel run by the Battiss family between 1914 and 1917 (the artist was born in the town in 1906). In 1981, Walter Battiss came back to town and opened the museum, which now houses a large collection of his work.
Ros Turner runs the museum and she, too, is a gem, with a wealth of knowledge about Battiss. A video featuring Battiss gives a wonderful perspective of the artist: a glimpse into his creativity and his wonder in everything. While, I’m sure, he had his fair share of the darkness we all experience at some point, his art and his general outlook are (were) pure joy. As is spending an afternoon chatting to Ros.
Billy the (singing) Bass
We were kindly – and superbly – hosted by Alan and Annabelle at The Angler and Antelope. Set on a huge property opposite Gill College, they have a cottage (where we stayed), seven rooms in the guesthouse and the pièce de résistance, the St Francis Culinary Centre. This beautiful building in the middle of the property was the original Catholic church in Somerset East, built in 1906. In 1925, a bigger church was built elsewhere.
Alan and Annabelle have beautifully converted it into a bar (which houses over 40 malt whiskeys, one of Alan’s passions), dining area, and a bunch of fly fishing memorabilia (Alan’s other passion), including Billy, the singing Bass, who sings ‘Take Me to the River’ and was, as you may have noticed by the title, one of my favourite things. The other was the old confessional, still there, in case any of you need it!
The cottage we stayed in was the old parsonage, with a beautiful view across to the Boschberg and a private garden, complete with quiver trees. The beds were huggers – crisp white linen, downy duvets. The kind of huggers that make it hard to get up and, if it wasn’t for the delicious breakfasts and fabulous chats with our hosts, we may not have!
The Battiss Museum is housed on two floors with no lift but the ground floor is accessible and has plenty to see, including the video viewing room, and Ros kept me company (and enthralled) downstairs while GM and V explored upstairs. It is absolutely worth going, even just for the ground floor. It’s a treat.
The family cottage at The Angler and Antelope has a bit of a bumpy ride to it (but completely doable, with some help), and then two small steps into the cottage. Once in, it’s flat and spacious and easy to navigate. The bedroom is big, with a low(ish) bed and enough space to manoeuvre. The bathroom is massive, with easy front/side access to the toilet, a basin that’s easy to get to and a bath (no handles).
The tables in the old chapel are perfect height and breakfast, served by the lovely Sina, is fantastic! My omelette was deliciously overstuffed, the coffee was aromatic and flavourful and breakfast conversation was made even better by our new friend, Roadtripper Supreme, Cathie.
*We were hosted by Alan and Annabelle for two nights. And what superb hosts they are!
As you approach Hofmeyr on the R390 from the north, the first thing you see is the pink church spire peering at you. Local legend has it that it was decided to paint it pink because the Karoo soil surrounding the town is red. A white church would turn pink anyway, possibly unevenly. Karoo practicality at its best.
The R390 was a route I took often, many (many) years ago, first as a child on our annual trip to the seaside, to our Kowie cottage, then a couple of times a year as a student. Those trips south were always happy, summer holidays and ‘varsity joy ahead. Hofmeyr, then, was just a small, dusty town we sometimes stopped in to buy cold Creme Sodas. There wasn’t much worth staying for.
That’s all changed now, with the renovation of the old hotel in town and the opening of the spectacular Victoria Boutique Hotel. It is pure style, warm Karoo hospitality and delicious food.
The old hotel was bought, a couple of years back, by a local farmer and his wife and underwent huge renovations and furnishing and styling by the farmer’s wife. It is full-to-overflowing (in the best possible way) with lovingly restored antiques. You could spend hours in each room looking at everything. This is swoonworthy stuff.
The thing that struck me most was the heaviness of everything, the furniture, crockery, cutlery. That heaviness that comes with old things, both from the materials they’re made of and from the things they’ve seen, the stories that have played out while generations sat on them/sipped from them/looked at them. I rinsed my mouth using a heavy cut glass tumbler. It felt decadent and lovely and my electric toothbrush stopped working so I had to use it manually. I’m pretty sure it was in deference to days gone by when electricity was not yet on the scene.
The dining room, with one wall bedecked with old blue-and-white plates, and one lid, is equally as stylish. Black and white tiles bedeck the floor, mix and match chairs sit around candelabra festooned tables, our places set with pomegranate table mats and heavy silver cutlery.
And then the food, made with love by the talented Jax and served with flair by the gorgeous George. We, as always, went with the chefs special for dinner: flavourful cauliflower soup with chorizo and garlic croutons, then the most succulent and delicious lamb chops with crushed garlic potatoes, broccoli and beetroot. The presentation could make some fine dining restaurants in the city covetous and the taste was out of this world.
We slept like royalty under crisp white sheets and fluffy feather duvets and were fortified by delicious eggs benedict and fresh yogurt with fruit salad and muesli (again, it all felt too beautiful to eat) before heading off into the world to get stuff done.
What a treat. Thank you, Jax, George, Unathi and Sina. We will be back.
The room (we stayed in Room 1) was big and spacious, the bed a good height for transfer. We easily moved the bedside table a little and pushed the bed across a bit, to make space. It has some beautiful old Persian carpets, which could easily be moved, if needed, but I actually found them easy to push on (and I’m far from strong!)
The en-suite bathroom was also big, with a Victorian bath and a shower with only a tiny lip. No bars/shower seat but everyone at the hotel was incredibly helpful and, I’m sure, would provide a plastic chair, if requesed. There is enough space for front/side transfer onto the toilet (no bar) and, wonderfully, enough space under the basin to get under it. The mirror is also a good height!
The hotel is on a slight hill, so there are two (small and wide) steps from the wonderfully smooth and flat stoep of the odd-numbered rooms, and two steps into the main building. If steps freak you out, you can actually avoid them by going around the outside of the property, on the road.
To sum up, the Victoria Boutique Hotel is totally doable in a wheelchair and is an utter treat!
This third wave has felt interminable. We scuttled back indoors on 11 June, as the numbers started rising and we’re still isolating. It’s been hard, but there’s always an upside: a renewed appreciation for freedom and road trips and travel. I love a good road trip, a little exploration of small towns, meeting new people … having to hide in my house to be safe from this dreadful disease every three months (basically for the last 18 months) has not been good for me, or anybody else for that matter. I am perfectly aware that my privilege petticoat is sticking out, apologies, it all makes me a bit whiny. I am eternally grateful that I have a safe and warm place to live, a job that I can continue to do safely at home and, mostly, I’m grateful that I could get the jab, that we have access to the vaccine. Something many don’t have the privilege of.
Let me stop, this is not a pity party, it’s about the shining beacon of wonderfulness which was an invitation to stay at the spectacular Melozhori Valley Pod* (the private game reserve is situated on the R317 between Bonnievale and Stormsvlei: an easy and pretty, 200 km, drive from Cape Town, especially now as spring springs and the roadside is filled with flowers, the fields with canola): fresh air, views that defy description in their beauty, every comfort your heart could desire, a deck that I fell in love with and acres of wild bush and animals.
If there’s one thing that The ‘Rona has reminded me, it’s of my deep love for the Eastern Cape and the rolling hills of Melozhori reminded me of it. Sitting on the deck while GM lolled about in the hot tub, I was filled with delight for being out, in a place with big sky and fresh air, with a soundtrack of only birds and the scuffling of a small mouse that I spent a very long time watching climbing up a bush and then back down again. Who knew mice climbed trees? You heard it here first, folks.
It’s hard to describe the Valley Pod without getting gushy. First main (10) bonus point(s): it is eco-friendly which is just amazing. Solar-powered, with minimal impact on the environment, it blends in. To describe the design of the pod: it’s a spacious, luxurious, open-plan rounded wooden home, with everything that opens and shuts.
Inside, the pod is beautifully designed and finished: the comfiest furniture, an enormous bed, a duvet that feels like you’re sleeping in a cloud, a huge rain shower and a bath with a view. And a pizza oven! All of these amazing things have views across the bush, due to the huge glass doors onto the deck which make up one side of the pod. There are views from wherever you are, whether you’re inside or out. You’re totally immersed in the bush, here.
The deck, however, is the place to be, with a built-in braai (and plenty of wood), hot tub, and rope hammocks with huge pillows and the fluffiest blankets on earth. Stargazing on another level, as the night bush sounds lull you to sleep. Also, the perfect place to eat the still-warm, freshly-baked bread awaiting our arrival, and to watch the sun set in the West and rise again in the East. Utter bliss.
Can we just talk about pizza ovens? Whaaaat? They are The Very Best Thing. Thanks, Knead, for the pre-made, just-add-toppings pizzas. Supper was pretty superb:
The Valley Pod was the perfect place to escape to, as the third wave finally starts to subside. I’m here to recommend starting a break in the bush with warm bread dipped in olive oil, sitting on a deck gazing in wonderment at the scenery. As I said, it’s hard not to gush, so I have.
We had to fill in the usual COVID forms before going and the pod was spotless when we arrived. We saw one person, the lovely Marzanne, who met us at the pod, and showed us around very briefly (masked and socially-distanced). I felt safe.
On arrival, there is a relatively flat space to get out of the car and then a gentle bark pathway which is not too difficult, leading to the door. The entrance into the pod includes one small step but once you’re in the pod it’s fantastically smooth sailing and totally open plan.
We moved a couple of loose mats out of the way just to make things easier. Both the table in the kitchen and the table on the deck are the perfect height for a wheelchair.
The one difficulty for those requiring help with transfers is the bed, which is very high. Once you’re on it, though, you feel like royalty: gazillion-thread-count sheets and a feather-light-but-incredibly-warm duvet.
The bathroom is lovely and big with plenty of space for both side and front transfer onto the toilet (no bars). The shower is large and with no lip, but no bars or seat (I’m sure if you asked they would put a garden chair in there, if you need it, they are really hospitable). Both the bath and the basin have lever taps but the basin is quite high. Winning (and something many places forget), there is a mirror in the bathroom that is lowered and allows those in a wheelchair to see their face.
The thing I love best about the accessibility of this place? Wherever you are in the pod, there is a view and it’s easy to get to all of those areas. You even have a panoramic view from the bed. What a treat to be able to watch the bush go about its business, gently, animals traipsing by.
Thank you Marzanne and the Melozhori team, for having us, it was such a lovely treat of a break. We’ll see you soon!
*We were guests of Melozhori Private Game Reserve, in the Valley Pod, which sleeps two (and one small child). The reserve only has accommodation for 16 people in total (two pods, a lodge and a self-catering cottage, all spaced far apart, ensuring privacy).
The Afrikaans word for quiet is stil. If you keep stil(l) for long enough – and I’m really, really good at keeping still – in both the English and Afrikaans versions of the word, while sitting on the stoep of Stone Cottage at Tierhoek*, you’ll be rewarded with a parade of creatures.
Sunbirds flitting amongst the fynbos, lizards sunning themselves, dragonflies dipping their little dragonfly feet in the splash pool, a shy Cape mongoose on his morning constitutional, swallows swallowing sips of water they collect swooping down on the dam in front of the cottage, red-bodied insects going about their day …
You get the picture. I took my book out onto the stoep and it remained unopened, and it and I, instead, watched the world go by, while the Langeberg watched us. “Stoeping” is a thing at Tierhoek (see extract from their book, below), and this is unsurprising. It’s the art of sitting quietly on the stoep, marvelling at the beauty of this organic fruit and vegetable farm, tucked beneath the soaring Langeberg as it changes with the sun’s position.
In the morning, the sun rises and washes her face in the dam before heading up into a brilliant blue sky. Much later, as the sun heads off to the other side of the world, the mountains behind cast their shadows across the mountains in front, the clouds blush, and they all throw themselves into the self-same dam below the cottage.
We had the added bonus of a full moon while there, which was spectacular. On the same note, because Tierhoek is at the end of a valley, tucked within the foothills, the star-gazing is pretty fantastic too.
If, between stoeping, you’re an active type (or of the, more energetic, child variety), there are numerous hikes to walk, dust roads for mountain bike riding, the pool for swimming, free-range animals to find and feed, fynbos flowers to admire. This little gem, a gentle two hour drive from Cape Town, has plenty to offer in relaxation, and activity.
Inside, the cottage is open-plan, with everything you could possibly need for a country retreat. The bed is the size of a small country and, from it, when looking up from your book, you can gaze at the views through the huge windows: the fynbos-bedecked hill, left and the dam, watched over by the towering Langekloof, centre. It’s the kind of spectacular that had me doing much gazing and less reading.
What a spot to rest, relax, and breathe.
We saw nobody on arrival. Clear instructions, via e-mail, are sent before arrival, for a no-contact booking-in process. We, as always, packed all necessary supplies (including a flask of coffee … so old school!), so no stops/contact needed en route. Luckily, Tierhoek is close enough not to require a ‘comfort stop’, either.
The cottage was spotless, with a new cloth and hand and surface sanitizer waiting on the kitchen counter.
Its pretty much as COVID-19 safe as a place can be.
While Stone Cottage is perched at the top of a steep dust road, it has a relatively flat spot in which to park and get a wheelchair out. Once you’re up a small step into the cottage, you’re A for away, with smooth screed floors throughout. There are beautiful loose carpets throughout, which we just folded away during our stay.
The cottage is open plan, with a fireplace that opens into both the bedroom and lounge/kitchen space. It must be wonderfully cosy in winter!
The bedroom section is huge (as is the bed, mentioned above) and it’s a good height for transfer from a standard wheelchair. The bench at the foot of the bed is also a perfect fit for placing bags and suitcases.
The bathroom is also huge, with plenty of moving space and a high basin, allowing for access. There is space for front and side transfers onto the toilet. The (gorgeous!) bath would need good upper body strength but the outside shower has lots of space! There are no bathroom grab bars.
For me, the biggest bonus of Stone Cottage is the stoep (veranda) from which one feels one never has to move. It gives a panoramic view across the dam and up the valley. Blissful.
*We were guests of Tierhoek, in the Stone Cottage, which sleeps two. There are four more houses (all spaced far apart, ensuring privacy), that sleep between two and fourteen people.
Warning: this post is very rambling. I’ve found it hard to piece together my writings this year. I’ve left it so, as a testament to 2020. Also, it’s very ‘mememe’.
How to put the year of The ‘Rona into words? Or, the first year of The ‘Rona, really, because despite the many cries of ‘I can’t wait for 2020 to be over, for all this to be over’, as the clock strikes midnight tonight, The ‘Rona will not magically slink off into the darkness and disappear, sadly. In fact, the next few weeks, due to festive socialising, are going to be dire.
There’ve been countless posts and commentaries that have made me want to kick and scream and shout about people’s ‘stupidity’, their selfish carelessness. A carelessness that is a slap in the face to healthcare workers the world over who are tired, sad and, most heartbreakingly, losing colleagues. This year has made me feel judgmental, resentful. Both character traits that I really dislike. On many occasions, I’ve had to take myself right off that high horse and give myself a stern talking to lest I become one of those keyboard warriors who just, ultimately, do damage to the cause.
The bottom line is this: the majority of us are doing our best under circumstances that nobody should have to live through. Everyone is tired, anxious, overwhelmed. Yes. there are people doing ‘stupid’ stuff, that’s humanity for you. It was there before COVID-19, it’ll be there after. If we survive this … with viral mutations etc., I wonder, grimly, if this is the Earth finally getting rid of the pestilence that has poisoned it: humans. I expected a Big Bang but maybe it’s slow and far, far more cruel, and comes in the shape of a confusingly beautiful, spiky virus.
Heavens, that got dark quickly. I wanted to record the good that came out of this. I’m angry, I’m frustrated, my levels of anxiety (a thing I have never experienced before and now empathise with people who suffer from it) have shot through the roof. It has been crippling. See what I did there?
January to March
My year started on a high, registering for my MSc, while going back to work full-time. I was excited about the research, I was going out into the field to visit rural HIV clinics and interview patients. It was a dream come true. I’d spent the last quarter of 2019 developing the research proposal, fine-tuning it early in 2020 and getting it ready for ethics approval. The first field trip was planned for mid-April.
As The ‘Rona ravaged the Northern Hemisphere, sending out shock waves of terror, globally, and the world’s medics scrambled to find something, anything, to treat it, to stop the deaths, we began to realise that nobody was safe from this thing. In early March, it dug its claws into South Africa. On 12 March, I met with my supervisor. The field trips were off. A 180-degree adaption was needed. We were going online.
On 14 March, I went with GM to watch her nephews do Tug-o-war in Worcester, a beautiful drive through the mountains, the grapevines in their autumnal finery. I breathed it all in: the open road, the big sky, the fresh air. I came home and we locked our house down. I’m high risk. On 27 March, President Ramaphosa locked the country down, with one of the harshest lockdowns globally.
April to June
The uncertainty of this period was the really crippling part, for me. It’s at times like these, I wish I had no medical knowledge, that I didn’t have access to what was going on. Blissful ignorance would’ve been better. Being in meetings with frontline workers who, then, had nothing to go on. The medical fraternity were working themselves to the bone trying to establish the mechanisms of the disease in order to find a cure, or even something that could help a bit. The ‘Rona kept shooting out poisoned arrows, showing that it affected almost every system. It was relentless.
A positive came out during this period, though, a pulling together in the field of medical research. In a matter of weeks, multi-centre, multi-country trials were organised, ethically approved, and initiated. Most COVID-related studies/data/discussions were open access. Experiences were shared across oceans.
Equally, in our little community bubble: people banded together to try and alleviate the horrifying hunger and need that resulted from the lockdown. People made, and shared, food; enormous beer vats were turned into soup pots; high-income suburbs linked with lower income suburbs, to try and aleviate the burden. An aside: this should be happening always, not just in a pandemic, in a horrifyingly unequal country like ours. It was a calming thing to see.
We, like everyone else, stayed home. We took to the garden, we cooked meals. One day, we made pizza from scratch and learnt many, many things:
Making ‘Easy pizza dough’ isn’t as simple as the recipe title leads you to believe.
Always lightly dust everything the dough comes near with flour. Including any and all hands and the cling wrap you need to wrap it in. If you’re unable to lightly dust something that will be coming into the dough’s proximity with flour (the damp cloth with which you cover it while it’s doing the proof thing, for instance), dust the dough itself. Not lightly, liberally.
Dough takes proving itself very seriously. If the recipe says leave it to prove for an hour, give it two. Not taking this advice may result in your dough continuing to prove itself on the top shelf of the fridge. It may even prove itself out of its cling wrap jacket and hug the yoghurt.
Caramelised onions take a good 45 minutes and require you to stir them at perfect intervals. Not too often because then they won’t brown but not not often enough because then they’ll burn. In other words, caramelised onions are like cats: they demand attention and then when you give it, they sometimes stick their claws in you. Despite this, also like cats, they are particularly lovely.
Jamie Oliver’s recipe for pizza tomato base is weird. Not the ingredients, mind: garlic, fresh basil, tomatoes and olive oil; but then he instructs you to strain it all through a sieve and only keep the strained bit.
Ignoring Jamie Oliver’s pizza tomato base instructions is a good idea. The tomato base, with garlic bits and basil bits and tomato bits is delicious.
Fresh basil from the garden smells fantastic.
It’s important to flour the table again, before rolling out the dough.
Dough is really sticky if you don’t flour EVERYTHING NEAR IT.
It’s hard to roll dough so that you get a thin base. It may look like you have a thin base but, when it cooks, it rises significantly.
It is entirely possible to spend five hours making a pizza. It is also entirely possible that the process may leave the kitchen looking like two toddlers were let loose with a 5 kg tub of flour and 12 tomatoes.
Thick-based, entirely home-made pizza topped with killer tomato base, peppers, mushrooms, bacon, caramelised onions and fresh avo tastes like the food of the gods.
On the work front, things were crazy-busy, then quiet, then busy again. On the study side, I hurriedly wrote an entirely new version of my study, submitted the proposal to ethics, and waited.
Globally, The ‘Rona ravaged country after country, the foolish Trump ignored it and allowed the pandemic in the USA to escalate to a size that is now, still, unmanageable. George Floyd was brutally killed and the BLM movement swelled and roared. It’s time for change.
July to September
Same-same. South Africa’s first wave peaked, gently, and the healthcare system coped. We breathed a collective sigh of relief and tried to work out what the contributing factors were, in addition to the strict lockdown. Unfortunately, while The ‘Rona threw itself about, our HIV and TB programmes were thrown into disarray. People were scared to attend clinics, etc. The fallout from this will loom large for a long time.
My study was approved and my online survey went out, with me nervously chewing my nails, wondering if an exhausted medical fraternity would have the energy to complete on online survey. I hoped for 200 responses. I got over 2000. For this, I am eternally grateful to all the contacts I’ve made in my 20+ years at the Ivory Tower, who all helped to spread the news of the survey.
We gardened, I shaved my hair, we Zoomed to Zoombiefication, we cooked more as the world changed, out there, a surreal feeling. Still, we stayed home, loosening our lockdown slightly, as the numbers dropped, the risk dropping with it. My wonderful carers, who had gone into hibernation with me, returned to their own homes and went back to coming in each day (with private transport). GM went to see her family, for the first time in six months. I saw my family, in the flesh, for visits sitting apart in the garden (my folks are high risk, too). It felt like the holidays. Except for the no touching, no hugging. I yearn for a hug.
October to December
In October, we road-tripped for the first time since November 2019. I longed to go to Nieu Bethesda, the place that holds my heart, but things were too uncertain, we didn’t want to go too far, we wanted to try and stay safe. Sigh.
Instead, we spent four nights in the spring flower-filled Koo and Keisie Valley, at beautiful self-catering spots (Langdam and Kingfisher Cottages. We took everything with us, there was no restaurant visiting, no checking out local towns (we all know how much I love small towns, and their people). There was just the open road, the huge sky, views of the mountains, peace. It was Spring. It felt hopeful.
I could breathe. I hadn’t realised it, but I’d been (metaphorically, of course) holding my breath since March. In fear, in angst, in horror.
Back home, to work, a little more freedom as numbers remained low. The results of my study came in, I found lovely statisticians who are helping me with the stats because I have, finally, admitted defeat to the Stats Monster. I will never be a statistician and I’m fine with that.
I lost a finger, and mourned way more than I’d expected.
December arrived and the numbers rose, The ‘Rona mutated. Too early, too quick. We scuttled back inside, my lovely carers moving back in. Christmas was a Zoom affair, the numbers exponentially rising. My crippling anxiety is back. I feel like I’m holding my breath again. Our healthcare system is bursting at the seams, our medics are exhausted, falling ill and dying. The situation is dire. At the beginning of the week, our president (who looks so tired) wisely put us back in lockdown. There are moans and cries from the conspiracy theorists (and others) but, I can guarantee that those moans are only from those who have not, yet, been directly (or had someone close to them) affected.
With the numbers standing as they are, and the fact that transmission from Christmas/holiday gatherings will only show in 10 days, it is highly unlikely that anyone is this country will remain unaffected. It’s not a great way to go into a new year.
I am Pollyanna-esque by nature. I’m not going to lie, this year has done a bloody fine job at trying to beat that out of me but I am here and I am safe. I’m one of the (extremely) lucky ones: I have a job that I (mostly) love, I have a home and a garden and three animals and a housemate to amuse me daily, I have loyal carers who I love and who dilute the company, making sure we don’t drive each other stir crazy. I am able to do things to try and help those who don’t have these things.
There have been many good things that have come out of this year: Jerusalema. The reminder that I really love the Ivory Tower, not just the work I do there, but the actual building, its stonework and long passages. I miss them. I graduated with my PG Dip. online. I learnt to never take family Sunday lunch for granted. The coming together of the global medical fraternity. Trump was ousted. We grew Sweet Peas from my Mom’s seedlings, and they bloomed, filling the air with sweetness. The coming together of South Africans. The collective community and what can be achieved if we help each other. May it last.
If I never hear the words ‘unprecedented’, ‘pivot’ and ‘you’re on mute’ again, I’ll be happy. My only New Year’s resolution, as we go into an uncertain 2021, is to, again, eat more cake. More than that, my bone-tired body can’t manage. I should’ve taken some leave. I didn’t.
Wishing you and yours a safe and happy 2021. Keep washing those paws, darlin’s. You’re precious.
It’s been a long year for everybody. A long, home-bound, year. For those of us with itchy feet, it’s felt a gazzilionty-eleven years long. The ‘Rona-induced Cabin Fever is real. I’m high risk if I get it, so I’ve been very strict about staying home. As South Africa came out of its (first) peak, and into the ‘lull’, I hot-footed it out of the city, aiming for the Koo and Keisie Valleys (on the R318 between Montagu and the N1), set in the shadow of the splendid Langeberge.
This R318 is spectacular, especially in spring. Think roads lined with wildflowers, fruit trees blossoming, dams (thankfully) brimming: all frolicking below, in this year of beautiful rains, the green Cape Fold mountains.
It’s hard to know where to begin with my descriptions of the Kingfisher Cottages on the Langhoogte Farm, and even harder not to gush. Set in an isolated valley on a trout farm, these eco-friendly, off-grid cottages – there are three, set far enough apart to ensure privacy, but would be perfect for three families – have 360-degree views that defy description in their beauty.
On arrival, GM went up to the Eco Pool (built from an old reservoir, with a natural 3-tiered filter system) for a dip and I spent a happy time absorbing the view and watching no less than seven tortoises go about their lives amongst the bush that surrounds the cottage. And, as the sun headed over the hills behind us, a hare. Aesop’s Fables anyone?
The large stoep at the front (with braai) is where we set up camp, playing Scrabble, reading books and, well, just watching the bush changing colors and activity as the sun skipped gently across the sky, all to the sound of birds and bees. Idyllic seems too bland a word to describe it. The pics below are the view from the stoep. They do it no justice: sometimes the naked eye is the best lens.
This is a place for quiet contemplation, for a true break from the city lights and buzz (and an essential one from a city in lockdown). It’s off-grid, there’s no WiFi, no TV and pretty much no cellphone reception. Truly, wonderfully, unplugged. All you hear, here, is the sounds of the bush.
The philosophy of the farm is one of the things that make the Kingfisher Cottages so special. Langhoogte is run almost entirely on renewable energy and has a Net Zero certificate. Basically, it’s carbon neutral, despite the fact that it’s a successful trout farm – Two Dam Sustainable. Look out for their products. The gravlax, especially, is superb.
The cottages were constructed with material that could be sourced on the farm. The walls are made of mudbricks and local stone, with solar power throughout and composting toilets. If you’re thinking they sound like ‘hippy shacks’, think again. They are sleek and clean, perfectly kitted out and comfortably and beautifully decorated.
Bottom line: this piece of paradise is a tranquil gem. Just one little worry: they’re new and still relatively unheard of, so get your booking in quickly because, as soon as word is out, it’s going to be hard to make one!
You couldn’t get a safer getaway, COVID-wise, than the Kingfisher Cottages. Booking in happens without any human contact, there’s sanitiser in the house and it is spotless. Social distancing takes on another level here … the only contact you’ll have is with the tortoises, and even they’re not that keen to get too close (and are surprisingly quick-footed!)
The Giant Kingfisher Cottage was specifically designed to be accessible. What a wonderful thing. From undercover parking to flat, smooth floors, to low light switches to an accessible shower and toilet. Wow. Just wow.
The only inaccessible bit is the Eco Pool, which is up the hill a little way, and the steps down the front of the cottage. I was more than happy to sit blissfully surveying the view from my perch on the stoep. Pure magic.
The owners, too, were helpful and lovely. Their love for this place is tangible. Feel free to mail me via my ‘About me‘, if you have any questions.
*We were hosted by Kingfisher Cottages for two nights.
It’s been a while since I’ve been on a trip. Way too much of a while. Damn you, The ‘Rona. We’re in a lull at the moment, here in South Africa – long may it last – so we headed out last week and what bliss it was. There may be a lull, but I’m high risk, so this’ll be the first of a series of ‘COVID-friendly’ blogs. The places I love going generally were anyway, way before The ‘Rona reared its ugly head … dust roads, little places away from it all, big skies, minimal human contact. First stop: the beautiful Langdam Guest Farm in the Koo Valley (on the R318, which is the road that connects Montagu to the N1).
With a number of self-catering options, this working farm is beautifully nestled at the foot of the Langeberge. It has a dam with a jetty leading into its middle, a reservoir pool, rolling green lawns and a fully-equipped lapa for braais overlooking said dam.
Our little house – the Almond Suite, which is attached to the farmhouse but is totally private – was spotless and comfortable with a little garden looking out toward the mountains and chicken next-door neighbours, who I fell in love with. I now feel I’m a chicken fundi. This is what I learnt:
The sound of contented chickens clucking is about as soothing as you can get. It is no surprise that the Langdam chickens are so serene: they live in a flower-filled orchard, overlooking an onion field and vineyard leading up to the spectacular, rocky Langeberge.
It is entirely possible to happily spend a whole morning in the garden of the Almond Suite, the aroma of orange blossom in the air, the sound of the workers in the distance, watching chickens go about their day.
Roosters do not suffer from a lack of self-confidence. This is unsurprising because they are terribly handsome. They like to make sure you (and the lady hens) take note of their beauty by waving their wings around intermittently. This, in Chikkin, means “Look at me! LOOK AT ME!”
I now understand the etymology of cocksure.
While we’re on the roosters, their behaviour closely mimics that of human teenage boys: much posturing and preening and occasional bitey competitiveness, more often than not over a lady hen.
Like their human counterparts, this bitiness is forgotten as soon as a distraction of any kind, like a piece of apple core falling from the heavens, appears.
Chickens get embarrassed when humans try to speak Chikkin and run away, mortified.
Teenaged chickens follow their moms around (unlike their human versions) and get shouted at by them often (like their human versions).
Learning from teen chickens: never make a mommy chicken cross. They get very shouty.
Lady hens – yes, I know, by saying hens their lady-ness is implied, but the hens of Langdam just seemed so ladylike that it feels right to refer to them as such – are rounded in shape. It makes them look entirely huggable. I didn’t try as I didn’t want to invade their personal space, but I thought about it a lot.
In the same vein, chickens have very cute fluffy bums.
At the ripe old age of 45, I had no idea how an egg formed inside a lady chicken and spent a long time wondering whether they looked ‘pregnant’, pre-laying.
I now know – thanks Google gods – that no, chickens do not look pregnant pre-laying, because they lay one at a time. And, get this, it takes just 24 hours to make an egg from yolk to shell.
Chickens, every so often, get filled with joy. They do a little jump and a little dance before going back to the serious business of looking for bugs amongst the flowers. Maybe that’s just the Langdam chickens, though. I’d be filled with joy too, if I lived in such a beautiful place.
The people and creatures of Langdam are lovely (and suitably, safely, COVID-distanced), the cottages are clean and comfortable, the views are spectacular, oh, and there are pigs cavorting in their pen, who love to get your organic leftovers. I could create another bullet point list on them, too, but this is getting very long!
*We were hosted by Langdam for our two nights, as a trade exchange.
We were met by the masked and socially-distanced (but definitely not distant … he was very welcoming) owner, Garth, and the farm dogs, and that was pretty much the only human contact we had other than a conversation over the fence with the lovely Leesie (sp?), who keeps everything beautifully neat and clean between guests. Lots of fresh air, lots of space, perfect.
The Almond Suite, where we stayed, is small but spacious enough that, with the easy moving of a couple of pieces of furniture, is accessible, with (roll-uppable) loose carpets and smooth floors. There’s a small step through the gate into the garden, and another through the front into the cottage.
The bedroom is big enough to allow access to the bed, which is a good height for transferring. A bonus is the dressing/writing table – perfect to get underneath and the cupboard is also a good height.
The bathroom is spacious, with front transfer onto the toilet possible (no handlebars but the windowsill is on one side, basin counter on the other so, depending on strength level, possible). The shower is small, with a ledge and no seat or bars. The bath is freestanding and would be easy to transfer into if strong, but also without bars.
The dining room table is the perfect height to get underneath and the little stoep out front is a wonderful place to sit all day watching the farm at work and the Langeberg mountains on the other side of the vineyard, all under a vast blue sky. It has a braai, too.
Feel free to contact me via the About page, I’m happy to answer questions.
What a perfect day it was yesterday. The only thing to do on a day like that is to drop the ‘To Do’ list behind the desk and head out toward big blue skies and fields of flowers. It was to be our first (mini) road trip in over seven months and it was fantastic. It may just have been a day trip (it’ll be a while before I’ll be going on full road trips, sigh) but The Little Bluebird of Happiness and I were beside ourselves with joy at being on the open road.
I’m going to be all helpful-like and share some flower-hunting tips:
Go! They are spectacular this year. Truly spectacular.
Leave early. You are not the only wiseguy who thought a mid-week visit is clever. We left Cape Town around 9:00 ( and did stop in Table View to get snacks, see point 4) and amble down a back road to explore a little on our way, arriving at the West Coast NP R27 gate at about 11:30. The queue of cars to get in was a kilometre long.
The Langebaan gate may require a bit of a longer drive, but it’s far preferable to be queuing on that little road, listening to the birds. The queue was about 45-minute’s long there.
Stop at All in The Kitchen in Table View (it’s en route) to collect padkos/a picnic to take with you. Freshly made croissants, rolls, salads and cake that’ll make you grin. We took a slice of chocolate peppermint cake that was so fresh it fell into a gooey feast. Also, their chocolate brownies make sitting in a queue waiting to go in totally okay.
Take the correct amount of cash with you. It’s R64 per adult. If you want to use a card, you have to go in with it. I’m all about lowering COVID-19 risk for both us and the lovely people who work there, so minimise contact and have the right amount on you.
Don’t miss the Posberg section. It is truly magnificent. The large numbers of people is a little off-putting but everyone is lovely and friendly and polite, except for that one hooting guy … there’s always one, isn’t there? It’s impossible not to be happy in amongst such a profusion of colour (well, unless you’re That Guy).
Photos don’t do these views justice. Put the phone down and just look.
Go up to the Uitkyk picnic spot for lunch. It’s got a beautiful view. Be careful as you drive up though, there are some dongas that could take the bottom of your car out. Do go, though, for the view and the purple/blue flowers (my favourites) love it up there. Also, there are some cool rocks to marvel at.
Take your cozzies. Kraalbaai looks like The Med, so you can float around pretending to be in Italy, if you so wish. Otherwise you can just float around knowing you’re in the West Coast National Park. That’s pretty cool, too.
As you know, I’m more of a fan of the back roads – preferably dust – where we see, maybe, one car on the route, so the masses of people were not my travelling style at all. The masses of flowers – way more than the humans – however, made it a totally worthwhile trip.
What with the bastardly ‘Rona and all, I am avoiding anywhere with people, so I didn’t explore any of the accessible features. They’re not needed for the flowers … those you see from the car so, basically, it’s accessible for a drive-through visit.
It was a dark and stormy night. I apologise for the cliché, but it really was. It’s not called the Cape of Storms for nothing and that June night it was taking its name seriously. The wind howled and flung leaves about the place between showers of pelting rain. B, who lived in the granny flat out back, had told me that morning that the previous night a small black cat had been at her door, shouting to be let in. She’d ignored it and it’d gone away.
Day One, before he had a name.
That night, we were meeting people at the Mexican restaurant down the road, around the corner, down that road, around another corner and down the (relatively busy) road. I know, that description seems OTT but there’s method to my madness, you’ll see.
We waited for a break in the rain and headed out of the back door, through the dancing leaves and onto the driveway. There we found the self-same small black cat. He proceeded to tell us all about his life thus far, following us to the end of the driveway, chatting away, and into the road. Unfortunately, he was speaking Cat, so his tale was lost in translation. A pity, because it sounded like quite the story.
After giving him a little rub – he was terribly sweet and velvety and was doing that intertwining around the legs thing that cats do – we explained that we had dinner plans and he should probably head back to wherever his house was before the next shower arrived.
He wasn’t keen and instead followed us, down the road, around the corner, down that road, and to the corner of the (relatively busy) road. There we explained to the lovely car guard that he wasn’t ours and asked if he could please shoo him away so he didn’t go into the busy road. The cat sat on the corner and watched us go.
We headed into the warmth of the restaurant and enjoyed a leisurely meal and natter, emerging a couple of hours later to head home through the icy weather.
As we rounded the first corner, we were joined by a small, fluffy, highly vocal, cat-shaped shadow who proceeded to tell us all about what had happened while we were inside, while following us back home and into the house.
The rest, as they say, is history.
(I did look for his people … posting his picture on the neighbouhood Facebook page and checking if he was chipped. One person thought he might be theirs and came over to check. Thank heavens, he wasn’t, because he’d already chatted and face-booped his way deep into my heart.)