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?