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?