Saturday, April 27, 2013


NEXT STOP: KNYSNA (with the silent 'k' as in 'knee' and the diphthong 'y' as in 'nice'.

Sometimes, life grants you the grace of some breathing room. Thus it has been for me, at intervals over the past few years when I head down to the picturesque Garden Route to visit my cousin. More about her in the next blog post.

But today I want to share with you something of the pleasure I always feel, staying at a wonderful lodge called 'House Hammond'. And yes, the owner is related to me! These pics give you some idea of what the accommodation is like:

The lodge is built into a hillside and overlooks what South Africans call a 'vlei'. The valley below is a kind of wetland, home to many birds and other wildlife. Behind that is a view of hills, and far in the distance, the Outeniqua mountains.

For me, being there is like a retreat. I don't do much writing, but absorb as much as I possibly can of the beauty that surrounds me, 'filling the well' as we say. And in fact, this area is the inspiration behind my latest story, 'Alexa's Quest', which will (hopefully) be published before too long. It's a kind of treasure hunt/romance/adventure, with some scenes set on the Knysna lagoon. Wilbur Smith set one of his novels there too. He was at school with my brother-in-law and we were once invited to a barbecue, where I met him and his wife. Unfortunately, those were the days before my writing, so I missed the opportunity to ask him for some tips! ;-)

The entrance steps are just visible. The area behind the car houses the owner and her family, as well as staff. Behind the pillars, a row of sliding doors leads from the great room with its comfy couches and huge central fire place... hardly ever needed because for some magic reason, the lodge stays cool in summer and warm in winter.

This next views are of the inner patio. Hey, I've been swimming!

Lastly, the view from my room. Sorry I can't share with you the luxurious interior, but here's the balcony.

Perfect for sitting out of a morning and enjoying an early cup of tea and a rusk!

Monday, April 15, 2013

AFRICAN ADVENTURES: Part three: The flat tire saga, Second installment

Here's how we knew we'd found the right, tire-fixing business:

Yes, we parked on the sidewalk, on the corner, which looked like this:

(On the left horizon, you can see some of the government's new housing)

We found a makeshift shelter in front of a brick wall, underneath which two employees were completing the job of fixing a tire for a pickup truck. We asked the owner/entrepreneur if he could help us, and inquired as to how much he'd charge. The answer was 'it depends how many holes'!

Now what you get in this area is many thorn trees. The thorns they bear are about three inches long and sharp enough — yes — to penetrate a tire. Part of the tire-fixing business's equipment was a metal drum cut in half and filled with water, so the employees could find the holes.

But the answer to my question came: Seventy Rand a hole.
And we still didn't have any cash. Which meant I'd have to mosey along to the (very third world) shopping centre nearby and take my chances at the ATM. Meanwhile, the tire repair began.

So here's the makeshift shelter, and the tree in the background to the left. Also, if you look carefully, you can see a lead coming over the wall to provide electricity for the compressor!!

Before getting out of the car to go and get money, I decided it would be a good idea to put my camera into the glove-compartment. I opened it, and what do you think I found inside? A roll of banknotes, specifically six one-hundred rand notes, one fifty rand note and one twenty rand note, the latter two of course adding up to the seventy rand we needed to fix our tire!!!

So all was well. And miraculously so, especially as that money could easily have disappeared during the valeting that had happened before we took the car. Now all I had to do while waiting was enjoy the warm air and the sight of a white bougainvillea, plus the scent and sight of a frangipani tree in full bloom, both of them just on the other side of the brick wall.

After this we drove back to the park and spent a couple of hours enjoying the wonder of game viewing.
Even these commonly-seen animals provided a thrill.

And yes, we arrived safely and happily back in Johannesburg.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

AFRICAN ADVENTURES: Part Two, first installment

Before I dive into today's blog, I need to explain about our transportation. As I wrote already, the friends we were staying with in Johannesburg were kind enough to lend us a car. This was a vehicle normally used for their son's business, and specifically, for delivering vitamin supplements around town. Before handing the vehicle over to us, they'd had the car detailed and filled with gas.

After spending a comfortable and peaceful night in our small brick chalet, we enjoyed a hearty breakfast and set off for the park gates. There is a daily charge for being in the reserve, so we had bought our two days worth. We presented our paper receipt here:

The park attendant checked the date, handed the permit back to us with a thoughtful look. He didn't step away from the side of the car, but stared down at our left front wheel.

"Your tire is flat," he said.

Right. There was only one thing to be done. My husband did a U-turn, parked in the shade and began the process of changing the tire. There was no other traffic on this Sunday morning, so that observant park attendant came over to help. I got out of the car and stood under the tree, enjoying the beauty, the tranquillity and the simple fact of being out in the bush.

Fine. The spare was in place. Except... wait! I did some observing of my own.
"The spare's flat, too!!"
Oh dear.
Fortunately it wasn't completely 'pap', as they say in S.A. We could see it would serve us okay if we drove slowly to the nearest gas station, which we'd passed on our way to the game lodge. So off we set. Only to discover, that garage had no air, let alone any facility for fixing tires.
Oh dear.
However, the attendant informed us that, if we drove into the close-by town of Mogwase, passed the shopping centre and turned right, we'd find the BP garage. There they had air.
To add a general note about South Africa, it's a bit of a schizophrenic experience, because sometimes you're completely in a first world country, and at others, completely in a third world country. Mogwase was definitely part of the latter.
We get to the BP garage and join the line-up of old bangers waiting to have tires pumped. As per usual, there's a guy doing the inflating. So we ask him if we can get our tire fixed.
"No," he says, "but if you go back down the street, on the corner under the tree there's a place that can fix it for you."
To be continued... tomorrow!

Sunday, April 7, 2013

AFRICAN ADVENTURES Part One: A self-drive, twenty-four hour safari

My husband and I were lucky enough to escape part of the cold and snowy March weather. We flew to Johannesburg where we spent the night with old friends from Cape Town days. They lent us a car and we headed north-west to Pilanesberg, a crater formed in very olden days by a long-extinct volcano. This is what the terrain looks like:

Beautiful, non? But a photo or even a film can never convey the slightly spicy smell of the earth, the gentle touch of the warm air.

We arrived at the game lodge a little before five p.m., a couple of hours later than we intended. The thing was, having studied the map, I decided we should take a slightly different route from that advised by our friends so we could go further on the M4 motorway. What I didn't realize was that, once the turn off to Sun City was passed, it turned into a toll road!

And I only had ten rands in cash... the equivalent of one dollar.

No worries, though, because as we drew up to the toll booth we saw that credit cards were accepted.

"Fifteen rands" said the slim black woman in the booth, holding out her hand.

My husband handed over his Visa. It didn't work. We suggested Mastercard, but she just shook her head and said, "Won't work."

Who knows why? Perhaps because the cards were from overseas??

Anyhow, there we were, pretty much stuck. I told her we had ten rands and my husband passed it over. She slipped out of the toll booth and addressed the vehicle drivers behind us. Because she was speaking in her own, African language, all we could understand was her calling out "Five rands."

But lo and behold, after three or four minutes, she returned, triumphant. Someone had donated us the bucks, worth of course more like $5 in South Africa.

How about that??

So on we went, hitting a traffic jam in the busiest area of Rustenberg, a platinum mining town, where the roads were up because of the installation of a new transit system. Busses, taxis, people, roadside stalls... all very local and African. But we eventually arrived at Manyane resort.

We booked in and hastened to take a trip inside the gates of the game park. One of the first animals we saw was this delicate creature:

Being in a game park has an atmosphere of peace like nothing else on earth. Perhaps it's because the animals roam free and aren't under any sort of threat? Kind of like paradise? Anyhow, for my husband and I, being there was as if our souls sighed out a huge sigh of release and delight.

That evening we had the excitement of seeing two white lions. We came across some open Jeep-type Safari vehicles blocking the road. Clearly some siting was up. Only about fifteen feet ahead, a male lion strutted down the road, lay down and looked at the cars as if to say, "I'm king here. What are you going to do now?"

Unfortunately, it was getting close to 6.30 p.m., gate closing time, when we'd have to be out of the park. So the vehicles ahead inched forward. And as they did so, his lioness came bounding out of the grass and tackled the lion in exactly the same way that cats and kittens play.

What a thrill!

More tomorrow, folks!