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?