The Modern Marriage Officer: American Cupid with a Mexican Wingman

I've been known to be prone to a bit of a drizz during Hollywood chick flicks and romantic weddings. But this weekend's wedding brought about a particularly intense case of the waterworks. At the risk of sounding super soppy, it was just…sniff…unbelievably romantic. The venue was a campsite in the Cederberg and the dress code was "comfortable" – so there was nothing remotely Top Billing or Avianto-esque about the occasion. The ceremony took place in front of a dam, with the wild, craggy Cederberg mountains and the setting sun in the background.


The couple’s story itself is wildly romantic: for the past 8 years they have each (separately) divided their time between Cape Town and Seattle. During this time, they shared mutual friends, a love of rock-climbing and probably some transatlantic flights. So they had known one another for many years before their actual romance began just 10 months ago in a tequila bar in Seattle. I know the precise location of the start of their relationship because their marriage officer gave us a great highlights package while he conducted the ceremony. He was evidently as swept up by the romance of their story as I was, because he ended his short ceremony with the words “and they give hope to all us single people out there.” I swear I caught one or two people counting out months on their fingers as they calculated that they too, could be partnered and betrothed by Easter 2011. This may make more sense if I told you that the marriage officer was a full-time Seattle-based attorney and part-time marriage officer to his high school mates. I suppose that using the bride and groom as an example of hope for singletons, is a lot more inspiring than throwing a bouquet or a garter at a bunch of unhitched people and hoping for the best.


Later on, though, I realized that this attorney-cum-marriage officer was a lot more pragmatic than his speech suggested. While the inspiration for hook-ups would come from his words about the newlyweds, the implementation would come straight from Mother Tequila. The good stuff had traveled to the Cederberg from Mexico City via Seattle and Cape Town and was working its Mexican magic like no bridal bouquet had ever done. Coupled with the memory of one of the most romantic weddings ever and a dance floor under the stars, Mr Marriage Officer’s work was beautifully done.

Leaving Las Midlands

We left Karkloof Spa on Saturday 6 March. But not until The Husband had been brutalised by the resident Thai masseuse. She was fresh off the boat from Ko Loon Poo or wherever, which I guess is supposed to make the experience doubly authentic. Only snag was: she was still trying to come to grips with basic English. Statements such as, “STOP! That HURTS!!!” apparently only illicited giggles from her. She was also unable to understand: “No, not leg massage – back massage, yes?” At this, she apparently nodded and giggled and made all the right noises to indicate that she understood, but then merrily continued bashing The Husband’s back.

Eventually, The Husband decided to try a different tack. It went like this: “Su Lin. I go shop….. I ask milk….. I get Singha beer….. I say ‘NO!’…….. I say: ‘I want milk’……. Again, I get beer……. I shake head….like this (husband shakes head vigorously)….. I say ‘MILK!’ …..Finally, man give me milk…… I happy…..I smile….(husband smiles)….. You understand, Su Lin?”

The universal metaphor of the in-store milk and beer mix-up. Of course. I always forget that one.

And The Husband’s wonders why I don’t know what he’s talking about half the time.

Amazingly, though, Su Lin did actually understand. She grinned, giggled and nodded (as one would expect by this point) and then promptly began pummelling his thighs.

50 minutes into his 90 minute massage, The Husband limped out of the Spa. His right leg was in such a spasm that he asked me to start the drive back to Joburg. Just to explain: this is not normal behaviour. Unless we’re on our way to a big cycling race and he doesn’t want to “strain his legs”, he drives. Always. He is such a shocking back-seat driver that I’m perfectly okay with the arrangement.

“Fine,” I said, “but I’m blind-folding you.”

Since he took up cycling, I’ve started carrying one of those aeroplane eye-masks in my handbag. One peep about my driving and I threaten to whip it out and make him wear it. If he refuses, I threaten to get out of the car. Very mature all round. But it usually shuts him up. For about 15 minutes – but it’s 15 minutes of bliss.

On this particular car trip, he had the post-cycle-race munchies. After he’d finished every Jungle Bar, banana, piece of biltong and anything else he could lay his hands on, he passed out. When he woke up about an hour later, he started moaning for Nando’s. I promised to stop 113km later at the big petrol station outside Harrismith. He whinged for a bit and then passed out again. And then I managed to miss the bl**dy turn-off. It’s really badly sign-posted when you’re travelling north, I’ve decided. Plus there’s nowhere to turn around once you realise you’ve missed it. We were trying to get back to Jozi as quickly as possible to see The Sister for 24 hours, before she jetted back to London, so I starting thinking I should just laugh off Nando’s…

Eventually, I decided the risk of a hungry Husband was far too great and I managed to turn around. With an espresso and a chicken burger in his belly, The Husband rediscovered his sense of humour and we continued our drive to the Big Smoke in peace.

As a born and bred Southern Cape girl, I’ve always struggled with the Highveld landscape. I love the city, but I can’t quite get used to the geography. On this particular Sunday evening, however, Gauteng honestly looked gorgeous. (Yes, I do realise how hilarious that sounds). We were on the N3 and I think we were around the Heidelberg off-ramp. It was about 6pm and the sun was this incredible bright orange ball in the sky. It created the kind of light that photographers dream about. Even the usually boring, barren landscape looked beautiful as a result.

Best of all, it wasn’t raining and there was no mud.

Bring on the Big Smoke.

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.


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

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


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?

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?