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.

Sicily On My Mind

Sicily has never been on my list of ‘Places I Want To Go’. Not that it’s been on my list of ‘Places I Don’t Want To Go’, either (I don’t really have one of those), it’s just not been on my radar at all, really. I come from a travel-lovin’ family. My childhood was filled with back roads, exploring old graveyards and farmhouses, stopping to swim in rivers, look at rocks (my Dad’s a geologist) and follow paths to see where they went.

As a 16-year old, my parents took me on a Whistle Stop Tour of Europe, to open my eyes to the world outside of my Small Town, South Africa. Open my eyes it did, to the splendour of the world and the tinyness of each of us in the greater scheme of things, and the tinyness of the block of time in which we live, and the joy of seeing new places and meeting new people, trying food whose name you don’t understand and whose taste you’ve never experienced, seeing cultures that are so removed from your own, yet, in some ways, comfortingly familiar.

I loved Italy on that Whistle Stop Tour and swore that when I finished school I’d become a plumber and go and live in Venice, because Venice, surely, needs plumbers. I didn’t though, and got swept up by life and all that goes with it and went to university and, and … I didn’t stop travelling and exploring throughout, but  didn’t go to live in Venice. Italy has remained up there on my list, but not Sicily. Sicily never crossed my mind. But now, it’s very much on my mind.

Here I sit, reading my umpteenth article on Sicily, tickets on my desk from Cape Town to London, London into Comiso and two weeks later out of Catania to Paris, then to London, then back home to Cape Town. I now know all about the Mafia, towns with names like Modica, Noto and Ortigia, ancient buildings, beautiful ruins, shining beaches lapped by the Med, and I haven’t, yet, been there. But I’m going. Next month. Next. Month. To Sicily. The place that I’d never really thought about going to.

And here I get to my point: the most marvellous way that the world manages to throw ideas at you, randomly and beautifully. You see, I’d never have thought of going to Sicily, but Eddie Vedder’s going, and I’ve loved his music since my teens. And he chose to play in an ancient Greek amphitheatre that overlooks the even-more ancient Mount Etna, with her rumbling tummy, and the Med. Who could resist? Certainly not me.

So, though the culture and the history and the food and the scenery are only some of the reasons to visit Sicily (I know now, having armchair-travelled a lot in the past six weeks because, really, the planning is half the fun, isn’t it?), seeing your favourite musician play, is the cherry on the top of those reasons.  The fact that I’ll be seeing Eddie Vedder, live, TWICE, in the midst of such scenery makes me grin like a loon and squeal like a teen. Music really does broaden your horizons.

The fact that Sicily sounds particularly, let’s say … challenging, in a wheelchair doesn’t put me off one iota – I’m travelling with two of my favourite allies (credit to RHCP, and now we all have an Ear Worm), and I can’t wait.

I do love an adventure.

 

 

Johnny Is Nie Dood Nie

It was the perfect pre-show to a gritty and brilliant film: the red carpet, glittering dresses, air kisses fluttering to the floor, pierced by impossibly high heals, perfectly masked and made-up faces, hipster beer and hipsters. In between, warm hugs of old friends thankfully swallowed the echoing of the hollow laughs of the industry shmoozing, the nerve centre that is a premiere.

Johnny is nie dood nie is up there with Noem My Skollie on my top South African movies list. The Afrikaans script is incredible and the English sub-titles are almost as incredible, which is saying something. Usually so much of the nuance is lost in the translation (and horrifying lack of proofreading). Here, not so. I wished that I could turn my phone on and take notes, there were some lines that gave me shivers with their perfection. I will watch it again.

Perhaps I found it so brilliant because of its familiarity. While I’m ten years younger than the characters are in real life now, and ten years older than they are in the ‘present day’ of the film, it’s a story line that hits close to the bone. It’s about the inevitable loss of youth, replaced by house mortgages and talk of school fees. It perfectly portrays the wandering and experimentation of student life, between lectures and farm dams, political uproar, the fear of conscription to fight in a war they didn’t believe in and fearless love, youthful ego and friendship, all dressed in mini skirts and sheepskin-collared leather jackets.

Then, while nobody’s looking, we suddenly find ourselves (they find themselves) closed in by the electric-fenced walls of suburban mediocrity, the ancient, unreliable VW Kombi filled with adventure and lust replaced with a Soccer Mom SUV that smells like pine. Inane, middle-class, claustrophobia. The cast are outstanding, every one.

I thought it was a film about Johannes Kerkorrel. It is, but it’s also about his circle, friendships in a politically tumultuous era, love that survives distance and time, betrayal, the restlessness that’s attached to midlife crises and, ultimately, the fragility of life and the tragedy of those who don’t manage to survive. And the tragedy of those who do. It’s all set to the rocking and intense soundtrack of Johannes Kerkorrel and The Gereformeerde Blues Band, his music, his collaborations: Bernoldus Niemand en die Swart Gevaar, Andre Letoit, all fantastic. And heartbreaking.

Sadly, the one that doesn’t survive – as always – is the shape-shifter, the one with paper-thin skin and an intricate soul. The film left me sobbing, a snotty, salty mess. I wept not only for the loss of a superbly talented man, but for the loss of youth and its passion.

It made me want to find the nearest dodgy bar, to drink whiskey in a smoke-filled room with loud music and wild conversation.

Saving Li’l Turtles

I went to a Travel Massive event at the Two Oceans Aquarium on Tuesday. It’s a pretty spectacular place at night. In fact, it’s a pretty spectacular place always, but somehow being there after hours and having it all to ourselves added a certain thrill.

I’m always enthralled by how leggy all those marine creatures are. Enormous, eight-legged crabs, luminescent jelly fish trailing multiple tentacles and frills, shrimps with legs and feelers and stalky eyes. They’re like animals from a Dr Seuss story. The silvery schools, the hugging starfishes, the Sea Horses! Too lovely.

But this blog isn’t about all the leggy creatures, this is about something I learnt last night that every person living on, or visiting, the Cape coast should know. Jenni Leibbrandt, of the aquarium, watched over by the gorgeous turtle in the enormous tank behind her (it was almost as if she was checking that it was all factual) explained about tiny turtles washed up on the shores around the Cape.

You see I had, mistakenly I now realise, thought that if I was ever lucky enough to find a baby turtle (who, I think, should be called turtlets) washed up on the shore, I should leave the li’l thing alone, or help it back into the sea.

Wrong.

Those little critters are cold. Cape Town’s waters don’t suit their sunny temperaments and they’ve only landed up there because they got swept all the way from KwaZulu Natal by the wrong current. So, no, this is one occasion where ‘leave nature alone’ doesn’t apply.

Here, Jenni explained, one needs to help the little guy by putting him in a dry box and taking him straight to the aquarium (or calling them) and they’ll take it from there, as part of their turtle rehab programme.

Tell your friends, tell your children, and tell them to tell their friends. Those little turtles don’t deserve to have chattering lips (beaks?) and cold flippers.

Look at June go:

Escalate This!

I love words. I love the way that you can push little buttons on a keyboard and letters magically appear, arranging themselves in patterns that turn into stories and love notes and Important Points. I love words even more when they flow out of a pen or pencil, each one emblazoned with the writer himself, each curl and dot an expression. I love that if you take just one letter away here, add a different one there, they can change meaning entirely. I love the short ones and the long ones, the foreign ones and the familiar ones, the expressive ones and the not-so-expressive ones. Yes, I love words.

But…

There’s one word that makes my skin crawl. I’m sure it’s been hauled through that incomprehensible marketing/customer relations machine that (I’m convinced) happens around a board room table populated by plastic dolls with fake grins and smarmy smiles, to now be used ad infintum. It’s not its fault that they chose it, but that doesn’t stop my skin from crawling:

ESCALATE

I’m one of those (mildly irritating, if you’re not affected by it, and, I’m sure, hugely irritating for every customer relations person, everywhere) consumers that gives feedback. I try to counter every complaint with a compliment. This works sometimes, other times not.

The not happens when I get that automated reply: “Your query has been escalated.” Escalated to who? And how? Did you print it out, seal it with wax and tie it with a red ribbon and you’re now escalating yourself up the ten floors to the CEO to hand it over? I think not. Your CEO ain’t never gonna see my mail, of that I’m sure. But I can be reassured that it’s been escalated.

Was mine escalated above everyone else’s? Maybe I’m special, and that’s why. See the plastic people in the board room fake smiling at each other saying, ‘we need to make them feel special’, as they eat the gluten-free wraps with curling edges in the middle of the table and swig on the coffee provided by the newly-installed hipster barrista in the foyer.

Or was it not escalated at all, and I’m falling for the biggest trick in the book? I’m going with that, and will be sending a very polite e-mail to the Dictionary People (who, I’m sure, have real smiles – who wouldn’t, working with words all day?), asking them to please remove ‘ESCALATE’ – and all of its derivatives – from the dictionary.

It’s just the kind thing to do.

The White Balloon

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A white balloon trailing its golden ribbon tail arrived in the front garden this morning as I sat at my desk pretending to work while actually staring out of the window and hoping to see something magical.

Little Cat, sitting on my desk, also staring out of the window either hoping for something magical, or working out some quantum physics problem, saw it too.

Balloons are following me at the moment. Last week, a pink one stared disconsolately at me as we queued in the inevitable parking ticket queue in hell. I mean, the mall. That’s the pink one in the pic above. The white one this morning was camera shy (read: I was too busy staring out of the window to think camera.)

The balloon was dirty, bits of mud smeared from the adventures it’d already had. It looked like one of those post-Saturday night prom pictures – its white cotillion dress skew, it’s lipstick smeared, leaves in its hair. But it was happy as it danced around in the cold Autumn wind of the front garden, narrowly missing the sharp thorns of the bougainvillea, before getting stuck between the Cape Jasmine and the fence.

I was convinced it would pop in that wild little corner. That, or it would remain stuck there, slowly deflating and getting those weird patches of wrinkles before turning into a flaccid piece of rubber attached to a golden ribbon. Suburban flotsam.

Minutes later, though, I saw it squeeze through a gap in the leaves, rise up as high as the streetlights, and float off down the street to find new adventures.

Little Cat, having had his fill of magic for the day, jumped from my desk with a thud and ambled off.

I stayed staring (looking for magic) for just a little longer.