Karkloof Spa: Part 2


Thank God we came to our senses and decided not to leave the lovely Karkloof Spa.

When we arrived at the main lodge – by Land Rover, as per the rules – it was so beautiful that we sort of understood why they didn’t want our “civilian” car anywhere near. We were greeted by Moyo, the manager. He led us through the sprawling entrance hall, the romantic dining room, the beautiful bar and the wood-panelled library, onto a deck overlooking the valley….Sigh… It was all very David Livingstone, daaaa-hling.

Based on the car incident (see Karkloof, Part 1) I reckon Winston probably phoned ahead and told Moyo to beware of the stressy Joburgers. Moyo needn’t have worried, though. We were so embarrassed by our behaviour that we followed him like obedient children, heads hung in shame, opening our mouths only to gasp “ooh” and “aah” at this frightfully splendid lodge, daaaa-hling.

And it was indeed splendid. Our room was the size of a Woolworths Foods store. Okay, that includes the bathroom, the entrance hall and the study-cum-dressing room, but still!!! Plus they have this fantastic concept of “escaping from time”, so you can “dine” (as they put it) at absolutely any hour of the day or night. We also learned that there is no official check-out time. Which is obviously pretty hard to implement when you’re managing a hotel, so okay fine, you can’t stay all day if they have a new reservation, but it’s SO much better than the usual sparrow’s fart check-out times loved by hotels the world over…

In a nutshell, Karkloof Spa is a beautiful, timeless bubble of luxury, overlooking lush green hills and valleys, with phenomenal food and service. (And I say this, despite our extremely embarrassing entrance – and exit and re-entry.)

There’s just one thing that we found a little…er…bizarre. Before leaving Scottburgh on Friday afternoon, all I knew was that we were heading to a spot called “Karkloof Spa” in the Natal Midlands. So I was picturing bubbling brooks, hot stone massages, rose petals and gentle nature walks through the trees.

Not quite. Or not only, should I say.

When we entered the premises for the first time, we were welcomed by a security guard and told to follow the road to Reception 200m away. As we rounded the corner to pull up in front of Reception, we thought we saw a large object – or something. It was pitch dark so we slowed down and yes, there was a large, very animate object in front of us. A white rhino, to be precise. I swear, I could not have been more gobsmacked if I’d seen an Eskimo.

We stared.

He stared.

Then he started looking decidedly tetchy and swaying or moving his head or something. I don’t really remember his exact body language because he was 3m in front of me and I was a little… FREAKED OUT. Luckily, The Husband does not think he’s the Camel Man at times like these. (I’m honestly FINE with that). Quick as a flash, he rammed the car into reverse and we fled.

(We only crept back to reception about 40 minutes later, once we were certain that Mr Rhino had shuffled off.)

As we were leaving the “Spa” the next day, we realised that Mr Rhino had company. We drove past a herd of Springbok practically NEXT TO our car. As we crawled past, they looked up, checked us out and then carried on munching their lunch. Could they be on tranquilisers? I realised I’ve never actually got a good look at our national animal. That’s because they’re always hopping away, all stressed and jittery-like. Not these ones. They looked like the most chilled out Springboks in the whole country. We later discovered that this is because they’re in no danger of being lunch for Mr Lion. The 3,500 hectare “Spa” has shipped in some rhinos, some buffalos as well as some smaller, less scary specimens, but there are absolutely NO predators. So you basically feel as though you’re in a large zoo. Or on the set of Jurassic Park. Either way, it just doesn’t feel real. I’m talking about little warthogs practically sniffing your tyres and enormous buffalos grinning at your from about ten steps away. The whole “wildlife” aspect of the place is just…bizarre. I don’t know how else to describe it.

I reckon the Germans must love it, though.

Karkloof Spa: Part 1

I have a suspicion The Husband knew all along that I wouldn’t exactly take well to the whole “soigneuse” thing. I think he knew there was a risk of me quitting the profession just weeks before the Cape Epic. And that left him wondering who’d be chauffeuring him around and washing his muddy clothes during the Epic. And THAT, in turn, got him booking us a 5-star hotel at the end of Sani 2 C.

Smart boy.

So we bade farewell to our gang in Scottburgh on Friday afternoon and made our way to the Karkloof Spa. At about 8pm, we pulled up at the reception of this auspicious establishment and were greeted by a charming gentlemen named Winston. The 5-star treatment began as he handed us little rolled-up face cloths – passed to us with a pair of silver tongs. The Husband did smell like a bergie after his race and I was pretty sweaty myself, so these fresh faceys came in use. Then one of those game-viewing Land Rovers pulled up and Winston asked us to “point out which pieces of luggage we wished to take to our room so that they could be loaded into the vehicle”. He explained that we’d be driven to our rooms in the Land Rover and that our car would remain at reception, at the bottom of the valley.

I think Winston may have been used to welcoming polite British visitors with three pieces of matching luggage each. What he found in us was a bunch of Joburgers and a car full of dissembled bike parts, smelly cycling shoes, dirty laundry in Spar packets and some half-munched Jungle Bars. The thought of trying to unpack the car, pick out our essentials and then repack the car – all for one night – was more than we could bare. We’d been up since 4am. We were tired, we were hungry and most of all, we smelt. With that, The Husband shed his Cool Mountain Biker Dude persona and snapped back into Joburg Businessman mode.

“We….WANT….our….CAR…outside…OUR….room. NOW!!!!”.

I tried to determine whether it was a bit of a Westcliff Hotel set up, where you physically can’t drive to your room. Unfortunately, Winston was fond of talking around the point. I later realised that his long-winded response was his diplomatic way of trying to say no, it wasn’t impossible to drive our car up to the lodge, it just wasn’t allowed. But at that point, it felt like we were speaking to someone who didn’t know how to answer a simple ‘yes/ no’ question.

In hindsight, the truth was that Winston was probably terrified of what a straight response would illicit in these two highly strung Joburgers. (There had been some throwing of arms in the air and some cries of “this is RIDICULOUS!!” and “we’re LEAVING!!” etc, etc. Totally normal behaviour in Joburg. Duh.)

Eventually, poor Winston gave up and ran inside his office to call the Big Boss. The Husband was summoned to the ’phone and told that “civilian cars were not welcome at the Lodge as they would stick out like sore thumbs.” I then decided it was UNCONSCIONABLE that paying guests could be treated in this manner. The Husband agreed (or at least he pretended to) and we sped off, vowing never to return.

The thing is, we tried to speed off in a cloud of dust. But it was pitch dark, we were in the middle of a nature reserve, we were on a dirt road and we were struggling to find the exit.

Even if we were to find the frigging gate, we’d have to drive 20km on dirt road in the dead of the night. And that would get us to Pietermaritzburg’s industrial outskirts.

Oops.

The Husband: “Are you thinking what I’m thinking?”

Me: “If you’re thinking that we’re farking idiots, then ja, I am.”

Silence.

The Husband: “Okay, you go speak to Winston.”

Me: “No frigging way! You go!

The Husband: “No, YOU go!”

Me: “Er, NO!!! You go!”

Etc, etc.

Eventually, we turned around and pulled up in front of the reception, tails firmly between our legs. Winston – bless his soul – managed to hide whatever smirks and convulsions he was feeling inside. With all the charm and experience of a hospitality professional who has seen and heard it all, he acted as though we were new arrivals and commented on the beautiful, crisp evening. We mumbled a few replies but mainly just studied our shoes.

Then we dug out a toothbrush or two, climbed into the Landy and spent the next twelve hours in the hotel’s complimentary terry cloth robes. Who needs your suitcase when the champers is on ice?

Sani 2 C Day 3: The Marlins, The Machines & The Chilled Pills

So this Sani 2 C thingie has a cute little rule: you have to ride it in “teams” of two. If you and your buddy don’t finish within five minutes of one another, then you, like, don’t count and don’t get a medal and like, aren’t like a cool mountain biker. Or something.

Anyhoo, so our gang consisted of three “teams” – i.e. 6 riders. The youngest team was BY FAAAAAAAR the most chilled out. They’d phone their soigneuse at the last water stop to tell her what time they’d be at the finish line; they’d take photos en route; they park off at the watering points on camping chairs, shoot the breeze and sip their Energades. They’d arrive in great spirits at the end of each stage, put their feet up and reach for a beer. The way to do it, really. I’ll call them The Chilled Pills.

Not so with the other teams who were…let’s say… just a teensy bit competitive. To protect their identities as…ahem…respectable businessmen, I’ll call them by their nicknames: The Marlins and The Machines. (P.S. The Machine Team included The Husband…can you tell they nicknamed themselves?)

On Day 1, neither The Marlins nor The Machines wanted to let on that they were perhaps, maybe, kind of, ever so slightly interested in…um…KICKING ONE ANOTHER’S BUTTS. So Day 1 passed uneventfully enough. Then things hotted up. If you recall, I saw the The Marlins looking cool as cucumbers at the second last watering point on Day 2. Turns out that they had no clue The Machines were chasing them. About 5km later, though. they got the fright of their lives when The Machines casually rode up beside them, making little sniffing noises and going, “I smell a Marlin.” I reckon you could probably smell a bit of testosterone too.

In the end, The Marlins finished Day 2 three minutes before The Machines. The race was on…

Later that night, one of The Marlins was feeling rotten and wondering whether he may have picked up this vicious stomach bug that seems to be going around. His partner, however, was not going to let a little tummy parasite cost him the contest. No way. He took immediate action by drugging the patient with Med-lemon, Cal-C Vita, Beta Plus, Vitamin C, Vitamin D, green tea and whatever else he could find. We’re still not sure what else he found, but the ailing Marlin started looking progressively worse as the evening wore on. Eventually, he limped off and retired for the night.

Meanwhile, one of The Machines was onto his seventeenth Castle Lite. For boys who took their competition so seriously, I admit, I was a little surprised. “Ish carbo-loading, shoo know.” The funny part is, he honestly looked like he believed what he was saying. I must have looked unconvinced, because he carried on, “No…sherioushly…BEER…ish a BRILLIANT shourshe of carbs. I shwear.” (In his defence, he is a pretty lean and mean machine, but I’m afraid I’m shtill not buying the “Castle = good carb” theory).

The next morning The Marlin (the one who’d been at death’s door the night before) strutted in, seemingly on top form (and it was 4 in the morning, so that’s saying something). “Sheesh, You look so much better,” one of The Machines said. “Ja,” said the Marlin. “I think my partner gave me performance enhancing drugs, but I puked up all his muti last night and now I feel much better.” Like a faithful soigneuse, I dropped my Machines off at the race at 6am (50km away – can I get a Mexican wave?). I had to use a portaloo AGAIN before driving back to our lodgings, packing up our stuff and then driving 100km to Scottburgh. Don’t tell The Husband, but I was actually kind of looking forward to doing the supporter thang this time. Partly because I was going to be parking off on the beach and catching a tan while pretending to watch out for the boys. But also ’cause I was looking forward to a bit of slapstick comedy. I’d see the a re-run of the 2009 Sani 2 C on TV and the cyclists had to ride across a boardwalk which was floating over Scottburgh beach’s lagoon. Naturally, this was pretty tricky, so a fair number of guys wound up in the lagoon – bike and all. They’d then have to somehow haul themselves – and their bikes – out of the water. Invariably they’d emerge with metres of seaweed caught in their helmets, stuck up their noses, etc, etc. Finally – some decent entertainment. Sadly, though, the race organisers got all snoring boring on us poor supporters and went and put the boardwalk on the beach this year. As a result, I was about to nod off in my beach chair when I started sniffing spontaneously. Ah! I smelt a Marlin!

Once again, The Marlins managed to keep The Machines at bay – but only just. The Machines came in not too long afterwards. Fortunately. Because I was on the verge of slipping into a sun-tanning coma when they rode up.

The Chilled Pills lived up to their pseudonym, enjoying their last day on the bike and were still out riding several hours after our competitive boys came in. By now, the rest of us had found the bar at the finish line. After a couple of icky sweet strawberry Saritas (it was that or beer), I was starting to chill out and think that this stage race thing wasn’t THAT bad. But then I went to get Nando’s chicken for lunch (it was that or burgers). I was told that the chicken was “only for the riders”. By then, I was a few Saritas down, I was seriously sweaty (it was about 30 degrees at the coast), I was windswept, I had sand in my hair and, most dangerously, I was RA-VE-NOUS!!!!!

“This is DIS-CRIM-I-NATION! It’s against the CONSTITUTION!”

“Ma’am-”

“You’re robbing me of the freedom to choose between chicken and beef!”

“Er, Ma’am-”

“Just because I haven’t ridden this STUPID little bike race.”

“Ma’am, you can-”

“I’m calling Robbie what-his-name. I’m telling him Nando’s won’t sell to willing, paying CUSTOMERS!!!!!”

“Ma’am, I’ve been trying to suggest an alternative to you. A local specialty. It’s called Durban Bunny Chow.” Check out this culinary delight:

And no, that’s not me consuming that pile of slop. I told the silly cow trying to flog it to me, that I’d sooner starve myself until I got back to Sandton where “WE HAVE SUSHI! Do you know what that is?”

In retrospect, all I can say is: Oh my GOD – it is SO good to be home.

Sani 2 C Day 2: Weather Blues, Blow-drying Shoes & Portaloos

Things started looking up around midday yesterday when we moved to our new accommodations at Emfuleni Camp. I know it doesn’t sound glamorous, but next to the slimy, mouse-‘n-mozzie infested backpackers, it’s paradise. We have en-suite bathrooms! And I’ve yet to come across a dead rodent, which is always positive. On the downside, however, the weather hasn’t exactly lived up to expectations. Before the trip, I think every single member of our nine person crew thought: KzN = Durban = boiling hot. And then threw shorts and slops into a bag. Not ideal because we haven’t seen the sun since we crossed into KzN on Tuesday afternoon. In fact, I haven’t donned a pair of sunglasses since the Grasmere Toll. It’s been so frigging freezing that one of my fellow soigneuses almost bought a second-hand ski jacket from 1982, to try and keep warm. Check this beauty out in the pic below:

It’s available in one size only from the Fashion Palace at the Underberg Mall. Not that I can talk about trendiness. I’ve been wearing my slip slops with socks for the past two days, because my takkies are soaked through and because I saw no reason to pack closed shoes for my sojourn in “Durbs”. Yesterday, the boys had to peddle downhill through thick mud and arrived at the finish shivering and looking like they’d been rolling around in mud. But then they wanted to ride their silly little bicycles up and down big ass mountains…

 

 

 

Last night I learned that the job of the soigneuse includes washing dirty cycling kit and then…wait for it…drying it with a hairdryer. My little 1,200 watt travel hairdryer has never worked so hard in it’s life. It has also never seen the inside of a pair of smelly cycling shoes – at least it hadn’t until last night. The pic above is me, hard at work.

So, as you can tell, I’ve been working my ass off here. What has helped is that my fellow soigneuses are the personification of Domestic and Logistic Organisation. I swear, they should start a business. Before I even realise what town we’re supposed to be in, they’ve mixed the recovery drinks, planned the spectator routes, booked the boys’ massages and liaised re dinner. And they employ some of the most innovative methodologies I’ve ever come across. They hang all the washed cycling clothes in a cupboard, plug in a hairdryer and leave it on – inside the closed cupboard. This way, the clothes dry while they’re busy ordering sandwiches for the next day. How bl**dy genius is that? (I learnt this after I spent two hours holding a hairdryer over The Husband’s shoes).

And then today I stood in the freezing cold waiting to take pics of my boys at a watering point. The first pair in our greater group eventually pulled in and pulled up next to me to say hi, and to find out how I was doing. I asked them how their race was going, they gave me a quick up-date, told me The Husband and his partner were about 10 minutes behind them, and then they continued on their way. For the next few minutes, I stood in the cold with my camera poised. I even unzipped my warm top so that my supporter cycling shirt was visible (sort of). About four minutes later, I saw my boys. I screamed like a banshee to let them know where I was standing so that they could come over and say hi. Instead, the Husband yelled, “Can’t talk – we’re chasing the other team.” He disappeared and I was left with a photo of his elbow. By this stage I had blue lips, a bursting bladder and nothing but a portaloo to turn to.

I then hung around Tent City (where the riders finish their race each day and where some poor sods spend the night) for THREE HOURS waiting for the boys to decode their race performance, eat 42 burgers, get massaged and get their bikes washed. After coping with yet another portaloo, I was on the verge of losing it altogether. But just before I screamed, “THE BUS IS LEAVING!!!!!” I negotiated the most brilliant deal with The Husband. I promised that I would climb onto a mountain bike, put it into granny gear and ride a three day road race… IF…and only IF… he would be my soigneur for those three days. It might sound crazy, but remember, I didn’t say I’d make the cut off time, I didn’t say I’d refuse lifts from cute Netcare medics on the sly. I said I’d “do” the race.

Telling The Husband the Omo isn’t quite foamy enough while he washes my cycling pants, will be worth every agonising kilometre on the bike. I can’t wait.

Sani 2 C Day 1: The Soigneuse & The Slimeville Arms


Sabbaticals can sometimes be less than glamorous. And I’m not talking about grocery shopping or project managing the pool service. At least, not only. I’m talking about being a cycling “soigneuse”. “Soigneur” is a French word that seems to have become part of mainstream English, thanks to the Tour de France. It’s derived from the verb “soigner” which means “to look after” or “to care for”. A Tour de France cyclist’s “soigneur” is basically his dog’s body – the poor sod who carries the pro’s crap around, mixes his energy drinks, administers his drugs, etc, etc. Being a girl, I presume I am a “soigneuse” and so my job during the Sani to C Cycle Challenge is to carry The Husband’s crap around, mix his energy drinks and generally, to act the part of the unemployed housewife that I currently am. Lucky for me, his butt is firmly on his bike for at least the next five hours, so at the moment, he’s wading through mud far from cell phone reception and therefore far from his adoring soigneuse.

As a result, the Soigneuse is presently sitting on her bed at The Himeville Arms in the town of Himeville. Himeville is 5km from the town of Underberg, where the race began this morning. I tried to dull my boredom on yesterday’s seven hour drive from Joburg by consuming half a springbok in droe wors and biltong. I therefore decided to take myself off for a little run around Himeville last night. Besides the two vicious-looking rottweilers that threatened my life, I found it to be a charming village. Our hotel, however, proved a little less charming. Ladies & gentlemen: allow me to introduce you to the Slimeville Arms, established in 1904 (and not redecorated since). Owing to capacity issues, our group of nine were unable to stay in the main hotel and were therefore booked into the Himeville Barns – out-buildings which were probably once stables. Of course, in London they’d be referred to as “mews” but at the present-day Himeville Arms they’re known as ‘The Backpackers’. I can report that The Backpackers lives up to its name and has all the hallmarks of a backpackers establishment: communal ablutions, erratic hot water supply, vile eiderdowns and no bed-side lamps.

To top it all off, our room smells like a swamp. I decided to take the latter issue up with the receptionist last night before officially moving in. “Oh yes,” she responded with a knowing smile, “it’s when there’s alot of rain around the Sani Pass and the water gets into the carpets.” She stated this matter-of-factly as though the explanation would make the stench (and me) go away. I didn’t go away and eventually she threw me the key to the room next door and told me to “give it a bash”. Thinking that I’d have liked to give something else a bash instead, I stormed off to Room B3. (The “B” stands for “backpackers” – just to distinguish us, lest we try to mix with the nice folks from the main dwelling). B3 smelled equally swamp-like, so I stormed back to reception. On my way, I passed a dead mouse lying on the path. It wasn’t even that gross – it had been there for so long that it had completely dried out and was as flat as a pancake.

When the rest of the group arrived back from registration, one lucky member unlocked his room, only to find an unmade bed and a room full of someone else’s kit. Management (in the form of a rather grumpy Irishman) was summoned. It transpired that the German couple whose kit was in the room, had decided to stay an extra night, without informing management. (Or so the Irishman reported, anyway.) To credit the Slimeville Arms, management unceremoniously packed up the Germans’ sh*t and ushered our group member into his newly vacated room.

Between on-going mosquito attacks and the stench of our damp rooms, no-one had a great night’s sleep. I’ve been counting the minutes to check-out time today, ever since we checked in yesterday. All I know about our next stop is that it’s a farm with wooden huts where they hold Christian camps. I guess this triggered sub-conscious memories of the Scripture Union camps of my youth, because last night I dreamt about our next spot. In my dream, the Manager-dude introduces himself as I arrive, before demanding to know if I’ve “found the Lord”.

It’s now 9am the morning after the night of the nightmares and mozzie attacks and all I can say is “hallelujah”, because it’s time to bid farewell to the Slimeville Arms. My two fellow soigneuses and I just need to pack up the boys’ rooms, drag their stuff to the cars, hitch up a trailer, go food shopping, make sandwiches and appear at the finish line with their recovery drinks. I’m staring to think I should just climb on a bike next time. But first, what I want to know from The Husband is: who’ll be my soigneur?

Produce of Prince Albert


After a few days in Prince Albert, The Sister and I discovered that the only thing that moves quickly in this town is our 90 year old grandmother in her motorised wheelchair. Visitors to the town are advised to look out for an elegant, pearl-wearing figure, careering across the main street to make it to the post office on time. Otherwise, you are advised to check in and chill out.

A typical day in the Karoo town may start out with an English breakfast at the Lazy Lizard, where you’ll be served by one of the many members of the charming local clan who own the establishment. If you’re feeling energetic, you may decide to visit the Lazy Lizard’s gym before breakfast. I decided to do just that, one morning. My main objective was actually to check up on the Father Figure at his bi-weekly pilates class. I was given special permission to attend as it’s normally reserved for 65 to 85 year olds. The instructor is a physiotherapist who enjoys a good joke but who takes no nonsense. Slackers are immediately chastised, model students are praised and the Class Clown is indulged so long as his glutes are doing as much work as his mouth is. Cutting class is forgiven for things like medical excursions to the big city (Oudtshoorn) but I soon discovered why attendance by these old grandpas is so good: the very next class is attended by a couple of extremely attractive twenty-somethings. They apparently come in from the neighbouring farms for their daily exercise, looking super sexy in their figure-hugging spandex gear.

After pilates and breakfast, you may wish to wander down to the Swartberg Hotel & Coffee Shop to pick up a loaf of the best freshly-baked seed loaf I’ve ever had the pleasure of tasting. It won’t be ready before 9:45 but don’t arrive too long after the loaves leave the oven, as they soon sell out. Thereafter you may head to Gay’s Dairy for your milk, cheese, butter and yoghurt. The authentic dairy odour takes some getting used to, but it’s worth taking a deep breath and making your way into the cheese tasting room, where you can sample some black pepper gouda or the award-winning Prince Albert cheddar. Your hostess can also explain all the varying maturation times of the different cheeses.

If you went to pilates in the morning, you may have been invited to come and gather up fallen mangoes in the garden of one of the students – a retired diplomat, to be precise. You may then wish to climb into your pool which you’d only exit for a delicious lunch consisting of your locally-sourced produce. Then it’s either back to the pool or straight to your bed for a well-deserved siesta.

A late afternoon cappuccino or a glass of home-made lemonade might then be enjoyed at Prince Albert’s Country Store – a delightful coffee-shop-cum-collectibles-outlet. Here, you may need to share your chair with Fred, the resident Basset hound. If you’re in need of some reading matter, you can browse through their lovely collection of second hand books. After coffee, you might nip across to the local butchery for some biltong. On one such excursion The Sister enquired about ostrich meat. In response, the butcher pulled a face in disgust and said, “Het jy ooit daai goed geryk? Dit STINK!”

When The Sister replied that she understood that it was supposed to be significantly healthier than beef, the butcher was still having none of it.

“’n Mens moet mos dood gaan van iets. Laat dit maar vleis wees.”

Beef biltong it is, then.

By now, the guilt of English breakfasts, full cream yoghurt, bread, cheese and butter may be getting to you. If so, you could part with R20 per person to go and play some tennis at the Prince Albert Tennis Club. Or you could take advantage of the beautifully graded gravel road and head eastwards out of town for a little run. From here, you’ll get a gorgeous view of the town and its pretty church spire, as you turn around and run home.

Then you’ll settle down on your stoep to watch the sun set – a glass of wine in one hand and some locally grown olives in the other. Finally, if Meiringspoort hasn’t been closed due to flooding and if the George Airport is operational, you may make your way back to the Big Smoke at a leisurely pace.

Joburg to the Karoo via Kareedouw

On Sunday, The Sister & I left Jozi, bound for Prince Albert in the Great Karoo. For the past week, family members have been coming from far and wide to celebrate my grandmother’s 90th birthday. Not that she needed to ship in reinforcements from Joburg and abroad for her birthday celebrations – I get the impression she’s somewhat of a legend in these parts. The plan was to fly to George from Joburg, before hopping into a rental car and driving the two hours to Prince Albert. Easy peasy. Unfortunately, 20 minutes before landing we heard, “Er, Kulula Fans, George Airport has been closed to commercial traffic because of rain. ACSA has declared the runway too wet for landing. We will now be landing in Port Elizabeth. Please fasten your seat belts”. Usually, before landing in George, Kulula treats their passengers to some entertainment by “Poppie”. Posing as Poppie, one of the poor air hostesses has to describe – in her very best ‘jean pant’ accent – how she “can like to visit her boyfriend in The Wilderness”. It is cringe-inducing to say the least. All credit to the air hostess on Sunday’s flight because this time, she wisely decided to scrap the comedy routine.

I have to admit that a torrential downpour shutdown in George was sounding just a tad ironic. George, Knysna and Plett have basically been declared drought disaster areas in the last few months, to the extent that there is talk of desalination plants under construction. Plus, my mother gives me an up-date almost daily on the survival chances of her poor garden. I somehow thought I’d have heard if it were bucketing down in George, so I was feeling mighty suspicious about this airport closure. A few minutes later, it all made sense when I overheard a George resident behind me. Apparently, ever since an Airlink aircraft aqua-planed off the runway a few months ago, the airport has been closed every time it spits.

After we touched down in Port Elizabeth, it was announced that the weather was “getting worse” in George (probably a few more rain drops). We therefore learned that we’d be “bussed to George, Kulula Fans!” The stewardess was clearly excited about the ingenuity of their plan. The rest of us were less thrilled. Someone asked how long the bus trip would take. “Two-and-a-half to three hours,” came the reply. In short, a bald-faced lie. The Sister and I didn’t stick around long enough to prove them wrong, but if I learn that the journey took a minute less than 5 hours by bus, I’ll paint my house lucerne green and listen to Kulula jokes for the rest of my life.

Once off the plane, we grabbed our bags and high-tailed it to Avis to re-route our car. When choosing a car hire company, the Avis strap-line always seals the deal for me: “Because people are more important than cars”. Classic. I just wish a bunch of delinquent teens would tamper with the slogan so that it reads: “Because cars are more important than people”.

Nonetheless, we managed to beat enough Kulula Fans to the Avis desk to secure a vehicle to take us to the Karoo. We’d figured out that we had to take “Route 62” which veers off the N2 just past Humansdorp and goes through the Langkloof, all the way to Oudtshoorn. It’s a scenic route with some scattered one-horse towns. In some of these towns, there’s the odd attempt to attract passing traffic with some coffee shops and padstals. “The Sweaty Dutchman”, near Kareedouw, appears to be one such attempt. Being a Sunday, however, it was closed and we weren’t able to see if we’d be served piping hot leek soup by Jeeves, the Butler, as their signboard suggests.

I’m yet to figure out Route 62’s claim to fame, but perhaps they’re attempting to be the quintessential South African experience, since we also encountered Van der Merwe’s platteland retirement plan – a bilingual petrol pitstop: “Van’s Shop & Vulstasie”. Come and vul your tenk and revitalise wiff a blikkie coke as well.

Because no self-respecting Sweaty Dutchman would want his coke without his Klippies, there is also a restaurant/ bar/ kontrei winkel/ wedding venue along Route 62 where Klipdrift can be acquired. And it’s open on Sundays! Behind Oom Frik’s hand-carved wooden bar (similar specimens are laid out on his lawn should you wish to purchase one) there are no less than four Klipdrift pourers – three of the original kind and one “Klipdrift Premium”. There’s also Richelieu if you’d like to branch out. But that’s all, I’m afraid.

No SA road trip would be complete without a Venter trailer or two. Unfortunately, the vehicles these trailers were attached to were travelling at such breakneck speed that I was unable to photograph them. Instead, I managed to capture Venter’s not-so-poor cousin: Jurgen, the camper-van.

At 6pm on Sunday evening, we finally reached Prince Albert via Port Elizabeth. Here, temperatures have regularly climbed to between 42 and 45 degrees celsius in the past week. As a result, we plan to spend the next four days in the pool eating olives and sipping Martinis – as they do, in these parts. Actually, I have no idea what they do here but I know they’re famous for their olives and what’s an olive without a Dirty Martini, right?

Runaway Make-Up with David-John


I’ve been in hiding here in Jozi for the past few days. On my second last day in Austria, I managed to break out in some sort of scaly, vulgar face rash. It started on top of one eyelid and spread to my forehead, my chin, my upper lip…You get the picture. I figured it was either the sub-zero temperatures, the dry air, or the lack of sunshine and assumed that it would disappear after a day at the pool back at home. No such luck.

I decided to call my dermatologist’s rooms just for a laugh. The receptionist usually offers me a slot around mid-2012. This time was a little better. I was offered 1 July 2010. Fortunately, she was suitably grossed out by my description of my flaking face that 1 July, turned into “I have a cancellation in an hours time”.

An hour later, I learned that I am experiencing an allergic reaction to nail varnish. One little forehead scratch with a painted talon is apparently all it takes. Who knew? Naturally, I’m delighted to have gotten to the bottom of the Sci-fi story on my face, but it has meant that I’ve had to cancel my manicure at the Nail & Body Lab. And I was SO looking forward to catching the latest kugel goss (by eavesdropping, obviously). I was also banking on my Blubird visit to provide me with a little material for this posting. I was beginning to despair, when I happened upon the gem in the picture above.

While I was paying for my parking at Hyde Park centre, I saw a Rod Stewart poster. Since I was convinced that the old fart had to be dead by now, I looked again. Not Rod Stewart. Alex Jay, the Wedding Singer? Wrong again. Meet David-John, people. “International make-up artist”. I was busy taking down his number to call him and tell him that Duran Duran is dead and that he can’t keep his hairdo as a shrine to them, I noticed the poster’s copy. My personal fave is the second last bullet point: “Runaway make-up for fashion shows”. Not the effect you want to have on your clients, Dave.

Then there’s his name. I’m not sure if it’s a stage name that he thought gave him a sort of je ne sais quoi or if his parents just couldn’t reach consensus and decided to take matrimonial compromise very literally and just call him by two very common boys names stuck together. I mean, can you imagine: “David-John! Dinner’s ready!” or “David-John! Leave your mother’s eye-liner alone!”

I guess Dave got used to long names and couldn’t quite stop at “David-John Make-Up” as a business name. Nope, it had to be “David-John Make-Up INTERNATIONAL”. Maybe he tagged that on after a wedding in Mauritius when he realised that “David-John: Make-up for SADIC” didn’t sound quite as cool. Oh, but wait. Please note the info. at the bottom of the poster: “David-John travels world wide”. ‘Course he does.

And thank GAWD for that! I may just need him for my next trip to Austria when my face breaks out from supposed schnitzel-induced scurvy. “Please, cover me in base, David-John!”

Alibi – Zippen your Lippen


By the last night of our ski holiday, we decided we were finally ready to brave Saalbach’s hardcore, after dinner night life. The first spot did not disappoint. It was shaped like a gazebo with an inner circle serving as a wrap-around bar. On the one side of the bar was a ladder leading up to a little dancing platform, just big enough for one person. By now, I wouldn’t have been surprised to see a Tyrolean milk-maid doing a folk dance up there, but what greeted us was even better. A drunken Hans from amongst the crowd had somehow managed to haul himself up the ladder and was doing the Lambada against the balustrade. He’d obviously got a little warm at some point, because he was bare-chested and down to his ski pants, which were (thankfully) held in place by their all-in-one breeches. Miraculously, he managed to finish up his little gig and he got down the ladder in one piece. Here he is in the pic below, getting a “heil five” from the barman after his performance.

Not one to let a vibe die, the barman soon had another party trick up his sleeve. He came over to us with a microphone and asked our names. As we responded, he triggered a hidden remote in his mike. The mike must have been attached to a deer’s head which was mounted on the wall of the bar, because the animal promptly started moving its jaw as if in speech. A talking buck – I now feel I’ve seen it all.

Once we recovered from that, we somehow got to playing Liar’s Poker. No-one would agree that the loser of each round should be made to dance on the little overhead stage (LLLLosers!), so the penalty was to down Flugels instead – a huge shooter of cherry vodka and Red Bull. (The founder of Red Bull was apparently Austrian, so while the stuff is banned in some European countries, in Austria, they patriotically knock it back like water. We even witnessed parents giving it to their five year olds kids on one occasion. So much for the squeaky clean Von Trapp family image.) Anyway, I managed to get so thumped at Poker, I would’ve spent the rest of the night looking down at everyone from the top of the ladder, so a little Red Bull and vodka went down well in comparison.

Just as we were preparing to leave, they started playing the coolest song. It had the requisite techno beat to it, but this time we could actually make out the chorus: “Alles ist cool in Istanbul!”. How uber cool are those lyrics? I’ve subsequently discovered who’s behind all the Austrian ‘umpah-umpah’ stuff. It all started with a dude who calls himself “DJ Otzi”. (The rather immodest musician apparently named himself after “Otzi the Iceman” – a 5000 year old mummy discovered by archaeologists in the Austrian Alps in 1991.) DJ Otzi is identifiable by his signature white beanie (see pic) and has taken the charts by storm (I kid you not) since he first hit the music scene around 2000. He’s possibly best known for his hit single “Ich bin Anton aus Tirol”. The music video for this song features “Anton” standing in the midst of the Tyrolean countryside – looking not dissimilar to the average Boksburg dweller – singing his heart out. (If you feel like a laugh, check it out on You Tube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RRe3gLoE0wU&feature=related )

He’s also had several hits with souped up, umpah-umpah remixes of old classics, such as Do Wah Diddy (can’t you just hear it?). And if you thought he only appealed to very drunk Germanophones in Tyrol and Bavaria – think again. The man became an international sensation when one of his chart-toppers made it to number one in Japan! Thanks DJ Otzi and “Don’t Stop the Alpenpop”. (The latter is the ingenious name of one of his hit albums). Next stop for the night: Club Alibi. Alibi is the Rolls Royce of night spots in Saalbach. I’d love to tell you all about it, but I feel compelled to remain true to its ethos and to zippen my lippen…

Ich Bin Eine Kleine Schwein Haxen

I managed to take this pic while Hans, the waiter, was concentrating on ordering our wiener schnitzels on his little waiter computer. How d’ya like the new buck leather knickerbockers? They must drive the frauleins mad.

Anyway, back to the wiener schnitzels. You know how we’re constantly marvelling at how the Europeans manage to stay in shape, with books like: “Why French Women Don’t Get Fat”? Well, after some on-the-slopes research in Saalbach, I’m happy to report that one can’t necessarily say the same for ALL Europeans. In Zermatt, it was highly unusual to see someone with a serious belly, on skis. To give you an idea, it was like being in a sauna with five people wrapped in towels and one butt naked person – i.e. you’d notice. But here in Austria, I’ve lost count of the number of severe bratwurst boeps I’ve come across on skis – and I speak only of the tums that are defying even the puffiest of ski jackets. (An excess 5-10kg won’t show sufficiently in a ski suit for a social observer to group the skier amongst the bratwurst brigade). I’ve conducted this casual study only because I have long been fascinated with the whole why-French-women-don’t-get-fat phenomenon. So, using different groups of European skiers as my sample, I can conclude the following: if Austrian skiers are relatively porkier than their Swiss neighbours, it follows that cheese and chocolate is less fattening than schwein haxen (pork knuckle), schnitzel, apfel strudel, schnapps and beer, ja? Good news, except when you’re in the heart of the Austrian Alps. Here, ve have cold meat vir breakfast und dan bratwurst oder schnitzel vir lunch und vir dinner, ve have schwein haxen oder veal mit pork dumplings. Ironically, the conversation has turned to calorie counting at virtually every meal. I have to say that the topic is usually introduced by The Husband with his newfound awareness of health and fitness ahead of the Cape Epic. “Do you know that sausage is 70% fat?” he’ll say while munching on a frankfurter. “This has at least 1,500 calories”. Then, after the meal, he’ll be rolling on the bed, clutching his stomach, vowing never to go near another schnitzel so long as he lives.

Aside from skiing itself, the Austrians have come up with a novel way of burning calories while you wait in line for the ski lift. There is usually a little pub next to the lift, which blares out such catchy tunes, you simply can’t help singing along and doing a little jig in your ski boots. As cringe-inducing as the local folk/pop stuff is, at least the tune is forgotten as soon as you’re on the ski lift. Unfortunately, though, the local tracks are interspersed with a bit of Bananarama here, and a bit of Boney M, there. Actually, quite alot of Boney M. The favourite seems to be one of the their more annoying hits, namely, “Brown girl, in the ring, tra la la la la,” You know the one I mean? “She looks like a sugar in a plum…..blah, blah, blah TRA LA LA LA LA”. I’ve always thought the lyrics went: “Brown owl in the rain, tra la la la la…”. So I was curious (if a little concerned) to know what the heck “brown girl in the ring” refers to. Someone in the group then told us that the reference is highly racist, though this is a little known fact. Perhaps because of this insight, my evil side won’t stop playing the song over and over in my head. It’s as though Boney M has set up camp inside my head. I finally Googled the words to get the full story. As far as I could tell from Wikipedia, it’s the name of a game played by pre-teens in the Caribbean – sort of somewhere between ring-a-ring-a-rosy and spin-the-bottle, where the kids dance around a girl in a circle, while singing this delightful tune. Perfectly innocent, really. Once my conscience was clear, I figured I’d finally get this damn song out of my head. It was gone for a blissful two hours but then someone in the group started singing it out loud and now it’s back with a vengeance.

I could bang on about the delightful ski slope DJ’s here, but it’s 7pm and Boney M, the brown girl and I need to dash to dinner. Tonight, on ze menu, ve have eine “Farmer’s Buffet”. I have absolutely no idea what they farm around these parts but I’m pretty sure it’s not organic chickens. So I’ll be back in Jozi next week looking like eine kleine schwein haxen, but it’ll all be in the name of international research.