Category Archives: Accessibility

Thali Thali Game Lodge

Heading up the west coast on the R27, the brilliant blue Atlantic glitters to the left, the vast fynbos-filled brush synonymous with this region flies by to the right, and fluffy white clouds play in the clear autumn sky. It’s the perfect day to escape city claustrophobia. We take a quick detour to Tori Oso in Mamre for coffee, a quick explore, and heavenly chocolate cake.

Then back onto the R27, too full to stop at all the enticing padstals, we pass the West Coast National Park and turn right into Thali Thali, just before the Langebaan road and a gentle hour’s drive from Cape Town. Here, on their 1,460 hectare game reserve, they keep a family of gangley giraffe, herds of zebra, wildebeest and a wide array of buck. This is not the Kruger Park, but rather ‘Safari Lite’: perfect for people wanting a little taste of South Africa’s wild, close to Cape Town.

Giraffe mama saying hello

The accommodation is arranged around the central lodge, with a pool that’s home to three friendly ducks, a restaurant and deck overlooking a little waterhole, a lapa and a children’s playground. The staff are wonderfully friendly and incredibly obliging.

The accommodation close to the main area are three converted self-catering cottages and, a little further away, five luxury en-suite tents. There’s a big old 4-bedroomed farmhouse with massive fireplace in the kitchen and a wrap-around porch situated more privately a little way down the road.

We stayed in one of the 2-sleeper self-catering cottages. They’re well-equipped, with everything you’d need for a weekend away and a big, comfy bed with crisp linen. The stoep overlooks the kid’s playground and has a great fire pit to the side, in which we braaied (and next to which we huddled – winter is in the air!) The kitchen/lounge has a fabulous big fireplace which, I’m sure, is welcome on wintery nights. We ate in the warmth of inside but, luckily, left the door open so we saw two of the tame-but-shy deer come to visit us just outside. What a treat.

A one-and-a-half hour game drive in the morning took us out into the oh-so-dry bush (The Weatherman, sir, please send some rain) along with other guests and a sweet young guide. Emus and springbok and wildebeest watched us drive by under a darkening sky that threatened rain, but didn’t bring any. Round a bend in the road we came across the giraffe family, out for a morning stroll – mom, dad, and the two girls (8-months old and 22-months old and already very tall!) Fun fact of the day: giraffe can pick their own nose with their tongue. Useful when you don’t have fingers, I guess.

Some tiny mongooses (mongeese?) chasing frankolins down the sandy path ahead of us, views across to Saldanha, some gorgeous eland and a bunch of zebra in their stripy onesies, and we returned to the main lodge for a warming cup of coffee on the stoep. Not a bad way to spend a Sunday morning, for sure. Or a weekend out of the city, for that matter.

A night away felt like a little holiday – some quiet, lots of fresh air, lovely people and gorgeous animals.

(Accessibility info, for those interested, is below this gallery)

Accessibility

Andriette and Amalia, from Thali Thali, were lovely when I phoned to organise and was completely upfront with what they could offer accessibility-wise, and offered help with anything we needed.

The cottage and me

The 2-sleeper cottage we stayed in was all on one level (including the stoep, which was bricked, so a little rough), with a concrete floor and moveable mats. There is a tiny lip into the front door. The cottage is divided into two rooms and an en-suite bathroom.

The front door opens into a lounge/kitchen/dining room with a lovely big, open fireplace. There’s enough space to move around. This room opens into a large bedroom with double bed (without a foot board, luckily – I’m 6-foot!)  which has plenty of space on both sides to get in with a wheelchair. Fan, heater, big cupboard, safe and hanging horse all there.

The bathroom is more than big enough, with plenty of space next to the toilet, but no bars. The shower has a lip into it and no bars, but is big enough to put a plastic chair in, for those who can manage that. The basin has a cupboard underneath it.

From our cottage (right next door) to the main lodge was across a little patch of grass and on a bricked (slightly bumpy and slightly sloped) to a bit of a steep ramp (I’d say about 1-in-6, at a guess) up to the entrance to the bar/restaurant. Once inside it’s all flat leading out to a lovely deck with a view. If you’re lucky, you’ll see the resident Jack Russell chasing the emus from here. There are both high tables and chairs and normal ones.

The game drive vehicle is not specifically adapted to make it accessible, but Thys – who is tall and strong – with the help of GM and the game ranger hauled me into the front seat and I tied my scarf around my shoulders and head rest to stabilise me. All good. They have plans to build a ramp and are keen for suggestions and very helpful!

One of the tents is also accessible but was unfortunately booked, so I couldn’t see in and give a report back but I think the privacy of the location of the tent and being inside one would give a lovely feeling of being in the wild.

Thali Thali is a perfect place for a break from the city or a beginner’s safari experience.

 

Mamre Werf and Tori Oso Coffee

The road into Mamre is announced by a welcoming white sign beset with sweet graffiti detailing who loves who in this tiny village with a big history. It’s one of those places whose turn-off you pass on your way to somewhere else. Darling, in this case. You shouldn’t pass it, though, because there are treasures there. Follow the road all the way in until you reach the circle, then turn toward the big old trees of Mamre Werf.

Welcome to Mamre

Tyrone is 5-years old. He goes to school at the school behind the old church. At weekends, he hangs out with Noah, 1, at the coffee shop. They’re a delightful welcoming committee and Tyrone’s drawings in salt and pepper are fabulous. Tyrone and Noah are here with the lovely Stephanie and Marlene, proprietors of the Tori Oso Coffee Shop.

Tori Oso Coffee Shop, Mamre Werf

Situated in a beautiful old thatched Cape Dutch building – the old shop, built in 1880 – at the incredibly well-kept old Moravian Mission in Mamre, It is one of those welcoming family restaurants with high ceilings, thick walls and warm wooden floors. Outside, two newish-looking hitching rails stand waiting for horses. Apparently this coffee shop is a movie star too – a Western was shot there last year.

The menu is down-to-earth food: moer coffee, a range of toasted sandwiches, some light lunch options and, if they’ve baked, chocolate cake of the gods (at less than R20 a slice!).

Cemetery Hill, Mamre Werf

There was a funeral on at the church, so we settled at the coffee shop and ate toasted sandwiches as the mourners left the church. Once it was empty we took an amble around the beautiful old mission, set up a gentle hill overlooked by the graves on Cemetery Hill. The air in the church still shivered with sadness.

Everything at Mamre Werf is beautifully maintained – the church (1818), parsonage (1679), Longhouse (1697), Bakhuisie (1700), Old School (1876) and the mill (1830). A local guy does a walking tour and gives the, by all accounts, fascinating history. We were sorry not to have phoned and booked him as we walked around a place that was swirling with stories.

Then we had cake and chatted to Stephanie and Marlene, who are just fabulous. The cake is moist and dark and utterly delicious.

What a surprising little treat on an autumnal Saturday morning.

Wheelchair Accessibility

Mamre Werf is not specifically geared to wheelchairs, but is completely do-able with a bit of strength on your side. A tar road leads up a gentle slope on one side, a slightly bumpy (due to roots of the gorgeous old trees)  dust road on the other. There is a ramp up to the church and a couple of little steps along the way to the entrance (more lips than steps, and not a series of them: just one at a time).

Tori Oso Coffee Shop is easy to get into and has a wide toilet (no handles or bars) which is currently used as a store room, but they’re incredibly sweet and helpful and with a little forewarning would get it sorted in a jiffy.

The 10:59 to Muizenberg

I am, intrinsically, Pollyanna-esque. To the point that I’m sure drives many to madness. I can’t help it, it’s inherited. I come from a line of glad people, there’s no fighting genes.

Sometimes, though, I find the world harsh and cruel. My faith in humankind gets crushed like an unlucky butterfly on a car’s windshield. There’s just so much ugliness amongst humans: hatred and violence and disregard. It makes me sad.

And then something happens that reminds me of the goodness. Today was one of those days – coincidentally Human Rights Day in this wonderfully diverse, spectacularly chaotic country that we call home.

Winter is coming. It’s the equinox. Cape Town didn’t get that memo, or chose to ignore it, speaking sweetly into my beloved The Weatherman’s ear and persuading him to give us a wind-still, 35-degree day. Cape Town is a foxy minx, The Weatherman couldn’t resist her smile.

And so it was that the day dawned perfect and the beach beckoned, but not the traffic. No, the traffic didn’t beckon, but the train did. I love the train. It brings back memories of childhood holidays, it makes me feel part of the thrumming humanity that call this city home.

The train was late as we chatted with the family next to us, buckets and spades ready, the tiniest of their party already in her skirted polka dot swimming costume.

Finally it arrived, packed with families and youngsters off to the beach, backpackers, people going to work, people going home, the stifling heat packed with smells of sun cream, Nik Naks and sweat.

I took a chance, having not checked about the wheelchair accessibility of Muizenberg Station. Sometimes, I just don’t wanna. Sometimes, I just wanna do. Unplanned, spur of the moment. We climbed off, onto the sweltering platform, a welcoming salty breeze coming off the sea.

And there it was. A flight of stairs. The ramp at the end closed tight – City of Cape Town/Metrorail, why? GM calmly left me in the breeze and crossed through the underpass to the station on the other side.

There, she found Nobonke Koni, security guard-angel of Sechaba Protection Services, who gathered her colleagues, Mr Nopakela and Mr Sonqi. They, along with the car guard from the parking lot and another guy, whose names I sadly didn’t get, hefted my (not unhefty) weight in my wheelchair down the steps to the opening to the beach.

There we found, with dismay, three cars parked so closely to each other that we couldn’t fit through. Not an eye blink and those four superheroes lifted me over the bonnet of the Merc glinting in the heat. If it hadn’t been so scary, I’d have shouted ‘I’m flying!’. My fear was totally misplaced, those guys had me

And that’s how I got to bask in the sun at the beach, make a new sweet surfer-boy friend, hear the glee of kids at the seaside, and how I was reminded of how much good there is in the world, how I love my country. Five people were kind and caring and went way beyond the call of duty for a woman they’ve never met before. We met up with them on the train home, our new friends who were so kind.

Faith in humankind restored.

In The Forest

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I have missed it. The filtered sunlight, the iridescent, aromatic green, the smell of vegetation decomposing, creatures burrowing in the deep, dark, earth, the canopy above enveloping me, a lush, emerald embrace that clears the head, fills the lungs. Bare foot on cool, fertile soil, beautiful roots of ancient trees, impossibly clear streams. Exhale.

Inhale the forest. I have missed it.

Then I visited KwaZulu Natal, and there, miracle of all miracles… Wheelchair-friendly walkways beneath that canopy of green, through that earthy aroma, beside the fern fronds, earthworms busy-busy beneath us. What bliss.

uMthoma Aerial Boardwalk, iSimangaliso

IMG_2139iSimangaliso Wetland Park was our first experience of it. Following a narrow two-track road through quiet bush, we parked next to the start of the uMthoma aerial walkway, warning notices of elephant, hippo and crocs. We were entirely alone, the loud, chirruping quiet of the bush the only sound. The elephant, hippo and crocs hid behind tree trunks, breathing softly, watching us pass on the path, as I breathed and breathed, that emerald air filling my lungs.

Reaching the viewpoint, a postcard vista across the St Lucia Wetlands, metres above the earth, in the canopy, in the Syringa tree house of my childhood. I can breathe.

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Estuary Boardwalk, St Lucia

IMG_2196Then to St Lucia, and a wooden walkway through the coastal forest, all beset by crocodiles, hippos grunting over there in the estuary. This one is different to uMthoma (but still lovely). It’s human-busy with Sunday afternoon strollers. A grandson walks with his Granny, slowly, carefully.

Just across the river, a huge crocodile suns himself on the shore, seemingly unconcerned by the human noise floating across the water. I imagine, though, that he’s listening to the conversations, his Sunday radio soapie.

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Dlinza Forest Aerial Walkway, eShowe

IMG_2603A few days later, we’re lucky to have the Dlinza Forest entirely to ourselves again. It’s deep green, mossy, lichen-filled forest, huge strangler fig trees whisper as we walk. Staying at the first lookout as GM heads on in (it’s fairly hard work, wheelchair-wise), I sit happily in the birdsong-filled air, 10 m above the ground. This is what it feels like to be a bird, to sit on a branch, to just breathe gently and listen.

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Thank you, iSimangaliso and KZN Parks and everybody else who was involved in creating these beautiful walkways and allowing me (and my ilk) to get back into the forest, to breathe in the emerald, damp soil-filled forest air. Sigh.

***Anybody in a wheelchair wanting to visit these spots, drop me an e-mail and I’ll let you know the nitty-gritty. Some of the paths have fairly steep climbs and some shaking boards along the way, but with a willing helper/strong arms, it’s do-able.

 

 

Kasi-2-Kasi Public Arts Festival

6Having never been to Gugulethu before, I was a little nervous to go – two whitey females, one in a wheelchair – we seemed to be the epitome of sitting ducks when it came to talking about targets for crimesters. Would we be safe? It turns out that my nerves were completely misplaced. I felt more welcome on the busy, dusty streets of Gugulethu than I do walking down the tarred and manicured streets of my Southern Suburbs street. Everyone was friendly and helpful and we had multiple offers of assistance in getting my wheelchair over bumps in the road and up onto pavements.

Instead, what I saw was art, spilled out onto those ramshackle streets that are so (embarrassingly) unfamiliar to me. Dancers on street corners, poets in playgrounds, pictures hung on walls and an audience made up of those of us there specifically for the Kasi-2-Kasi Public Arts Festival (the minority) and people off the streets (the majority) – kids in their swimming costumes standing in front of their gates, taxi drivers stopping in the middle of the road, passing cars filled with people craning their necks to see.

Mandisi Sindo did a wonderful thing. One of the curators involved in Infecting The City (see my previous post), he’s bringing the same concept onto the streets of Gugulethu (and, hopefully, many other areas). Art in this country is so often inaccessible to so many and this is making it not, and that is just a lovely thing.

To see a homeless man transform into a beautiful dancer (Stoan Move Galela), telling the story of a wise man who lives outside the home affairs building in Khayelitsha; to bump down a stony road between houses and shacks, stray dogs stopping to watch, children at gates, led by a giant puppet, to a street corner with a group who burst into song; to watch two dancers move so fluidly and gracefully on a busy street corner; to listen to the beautiful clicks and inflections of isiXhosa; to watch five girls dance on a tarred incline in the 35 degree heat, an ode to migration… What a privilege.

Did I feel threatened at any point? Yes. On one corner, the spectacular giant puppet who led our little herd of spectators came quite close to me and a tiny girl standing next to me howled in fear, hiding behind my chair and clinging on to my arm. We shared her feeling of threat before she peered around the chair and we laughed together at the lovely puppet.

Was my space invaded? Hell, yes! For the migration dance, we all gathered on the hot pavement over the road from the ‘stage’ – an inclined tarred road leading up to six houses. It was sweltering, so we squashed as much as we could under the shade of the young trees. Mid-dance, a young boy standing right next to me with his hands behind his head rested his elbow on my shoulder. I looked at his young face. He was utterly enthralled.

And that is what art is all about.