17 December 2010
My phone alarm woke me at 3:30 a.m. I showered quickly and then woke the rest of the family. Today was departure to Kokstad day! Seems that I was the only cheerful one. Jay grunted, Josh groaned, Laurie squinted and removed her mask and ear plugs and Lisa dragged herself to the bathroom.
Grandpa got irritated because the bags were not ready at the precise moment he wanted to pack them. Oh no – imagine – we might just arrive at our destination 15 minutes late! What a huge impact that would make on our holiday!
Finally, everybody was dressed, packed and ready to roll. We left at 4:30 on the dot – which was the planned time – so you see Grandpa – there was no need to stress!
Well to see the Caravel packed for the holidays is quite something although this year we did not pack the bikes! The trailer was full of all sorts of things from presents to an inflatable boat and on top of that was another container full of luggage. It was a pleasure because the bus was relatively free of luggage and the people could spread out in comfort. Laurie and Earl sat up front – she gets car sick. The middle seats were occupied by Jay and Mom and Granny and Josh had the bench seat at the back to themselves. Snacks and juice were readyily available to keep the blood sugar levels up and the driver awake.
That early morning departure is the best for me – I just love the quiet, the lights, and the feeling that it has all begun – so much nicer the air travel, which I hate! Everybody except for Earl and me were fast asleep within minutes. But as the sun rose so did the passengers. We thought missing the 16th of December would see less traffic on the road but this was not to be. There were taxis and busses and none of them behaved at all well. Three times, we were terrified by huge bussed heading straight for us on the opposite side of the road. On one occasion, Lisa was driving and she handled the situation expertly. There was nowhere to go but stop and fortunately, the bus managed to get back into his rightful lane in the nick of time. While Earl was driving, we came upon an accident scene – it had just happened – between Laingsburg and Beaufort West – a head on collision between a taxi and a car. We saw two dead bodies in one car, two dead on the side of the road and a bleeding man sitting on a milestone talking on his cell. I think he must have been the sole survivor. On the news later, we heard that there were six fatalities. We met the ambulance coming from Beaufort West 20 minutes later.
We stopped for brekkie in Beaufort West giving us a well-needed break. Earl had some business to sort out and dictated an email for me to send on my new Blackberry – which I must add I just love – why did it take me so long to get one! After two years of hating my touch screen phone I now have one that is a pleasure to use!
Next stop was Graaff Reinet. We arrived at lunch time and checked into our guest house, The Old Caledonia. We were all housed in a flat with three bedrooms, a lounge, kitchen and one bathroom. It was decorated in the style of something out of the 70s but it was spacious, clean and above all cheap at only R1 100 for all six of us. I thought the lime green of the bathroom a bit kitsch but Jay said he liked it. I must say the place did have a charm all of its own! And we thoroughly enjoyed the picutresque town of Graaff Reinet! After a brief afternoon nap (for Earl) we piled back into the Caravelle and explored Camdeboo National Park. Earl and I were not expecting much and the main purpose of the trip was to see The Valley of desolation in one part of the park. We presented our Wild Card, paid for the two extra people and drove in. The boys were thrilled to stop for some weird Karoo lizards and the odd buck and bird but nothing too exciting to see. We parked at “The View Point” and after a short walk enjoyed panoramic views of the whole town. The boys were as usual not wearing shoes and Jay managed to get a scrape! Back at the parking lot we found an enormous tortoise.
The next stop was at The Valley of Desolation. Lisa freaked because the hyper-active boys went close to the edge, deliberately scaring her and pretending to trip and fall. I was taking photographs. “The headlines will read – ‘this is the last spot they were seen’,” she warned her dismissive sons. “Oh, Mom – don’t worry – we promise we won’t fall.” Then Josh stubbed his toe and blood spurted everywhere. The first-aid kit was at the flat but luckily we had wet-wipes and plasters in the car.
Next, we went to another section of the park through a different gate but our receipt from the first section got us in at no extra cost. Well, what a surprise! This is where they were hiding the game.
All the Karoo locals were there – adorable ground squirrels with their long bushy tails, meerkats (surricates) standing up straight and checking for predators, shy little duikers and steenbok, kudu with long curly horns, eland, zebra, springbok and scores of vervet monkeys which made us all shriek with laughter. We saw a variety of active birds too including ant-eating chat, karoo larks, pale chanting goshawks and a black-shouldered kite catching a mouse. The boys were delighted and Jay had fun with my camera and took some pretty good photographs.
It was almost seven when we got back to town and we went straight to a restaurant – Cold Stream – for supper. They wanted us out by eight but in the end another table became available for the people who had booked and we were allowed to linger longer. Josh had butternut soup, Jay and Laurie calamari, Lisa and Earl Oxtail and I settled for seafood salad. For afters Josh and I share a delicious Tiramisu, Jay and Laurie each had Melba pudding and Earl and Lisa had cappuccinos. We were all delighted with the excellent quality of the food and it was great to be able to sit outside at that time of the evening without a jersey!
We were all in bed by 9 o’clock and although the street was noisy and it was hot we slept well and woke to leave at 4:30. The trip to Kokstad was less traumatic than yesterday – no busses, not taxi accidents and very little traffic. We stopped at Elliot for fuel and ordered take-away sandwiches from the Caltex shop. We do this every year and nothing has changed – the same cashier and the same cooks in the kitchen – half an hour to make 6 sandwiches – but they were tasty and went down very well.
Soon we found ourselves passing through Matat, past the MacKenzie farm turnoff and on the road to Kaag’s Post. I got that warm and fuzzy feeling as we turned down Lauren’s road. Another wonderful three weeks with all the people we love most in the world was about to begin. The dogs and people gave us a waggy and warm welcome and we patted and hugged, and so began another glorious Christmas holiday. Sadly, Mouse the daschund is not longer with us but there is a new addition to the menagerie – Codie – the hyper-active cross ridge-back:-)
The kids were immediately into each other, Jay and Joshua showed off their new laptops. There was a bit of ‘oh you’re so lucky’ but Jay gently pointed out that they had worked for the money by doing chores and a paper round and that Granny and Grandpa had not bought their computers for them. The boys have put some stunning activities onto their machines that I didn’t even know about – and showed the two younger ones how to do animations and other creative activities. I knew that Jay used his camera to make movies but didn’t realise he and Josh had other fun things too. We do not allow internet games or any violent downloads and I am proud to say that they have obeyed the rules.
We enjoyed a lovely Weber dinner and watched a bit of T.V. in the evening and then it was an early night – all the travelling had exhausted us. It had been a beautiful hot day but there were signs of a thunder storm and later that night we woke to thunder and lightning and torrential rain beating upon our tin roof! Much needed – so no complaints.
Sunday 19 December 2010
We woke up early and the first kids to knock on our door were Simon, Shannon and Joshua. Late sleeper Jay, didn’t make an appearance till breakfast time! The usual wrestling and teasing took place and finally we decided it was time to get up. We had brekkie then piled the kids into the Caravelle and took them off to Andrew’s church for Ann’s baby’s dedication. It was great to see that side of the family again and Ann’s baby is too beautiful. There was tea and cake after the service which was much to the liking of our four grandkids! Lisa and Lauren took the Caravelle and the kids back to the farm and Laurie Earl and I shopped for Sani Valley.
The rest of the day has been quiet. The kids have played nicely together, the adults have read and watched T.V. and right now Earl is napping. Tomorrow we leave with the four kids for Sani Valley Lodge. The daughters and son-in-law follow the following day. We usually spend three nights at the lodge but a few weeks ago Gareth the manager phoned me and said, “Rainbow Lodge is unoccupied on the 20th – if you take it for an extra night we’ll give you a 50% discount.” Now we occupy two lodges – Earl and I in one and the rest of the family in the other and it was the other that was free. So we thought mmm – well why not – we’ll give the parents a night off and take the kids a day early then move to our own lodge when they arrived. Everybody loved the idea!
Monday 20 December 2010
After breakfast and packing as quickly as we could – the trailer had to be hitched too – we had everyone in their chosen seat – I can assure you there were one or two hiccups over this – we hit the road. It was a glorious day and birds were active in the farmlands and the kids called out – long tailed widowbird – remember we used to call them sock birds – red-shouldred widowbird, steppe buzzard, black shouldered kite, guinea-fowl, Egyptian goose, red bishop, stonechat etc as we whizzed past not having time to stop and stare. We discussed the greenness of Kwa-Zulu compared to the Western Cape and Karoo and marvelled at the amazing lakes and majestic Drakensburg as we got closer and closer. Finally we reached the litter town of Underberg and stopped at the tackle shop to top on flies and other essential fishing tackle of which there is never enough. We purchases three pairs of cheap binoculars so that each child would have a pair and completion for who gets the other extra pair is reduced. I got a new pair of sturdy walking shoes and Earl replaced socks and underpants of which he has a dwindling supplyJ We then retraced our steps a few kms to the turnoff to Drakensburg Gardens so that we could go to The Duck and Dolittle for lunch. Bench seats and tables with gay umbrellas are available outdoors and there is petting farm which is a huge draw-card to the young ones. Even Jay and Joshua at the ripe old ages of 12 and 13 enjoyed the goats, piglets, donkeys and rabbits. I gave each child R2 and they dashed off to buy seeds and pellets to feed the animals.
The food was good too – Josh and Shannon ordered toasted chicken mayonnaise, Simon toasted egg and bacon, Jay Earl and I settled for burgers – egg, cheese and feta and avo respectively.
It was exactly 2 o’clock, check in time, when we arrived at Sani Valley Lodge. This is the third year in a row that the whole family has come here for a pre-Christmas treat. Its the best Christmas present we can give our kids and ourselves. Allan and Lauren introduced us to this place in 2002 when their friends Mitzy and Peter managed it for Mitzi’s family. On our first visit we stayed with Mitzy and Peter but each time after that we stayed in the stunning self-catering but fully serviced lodges. And we simply have not grown tired of this amazing place. We have stayed with the Bangays, on our own, with the boys on many occasions but we have now made it a tradition to come every year for a few days before Christmas.
Once again the parents and aunt along with the kids are staying in Rainbow Lodge. Earl and I are with the kids tonight but tomorrow when the parents arrive we will move to our own lodge a stone’s throw away.
Okay – history of our affiliation with Sani Valley Fly-Fishing and Game Lodge over.
After everyone helped with the unpacking and the older boys helped with the trailer the kids dashed off to explore. I took Earl to the boathouse to collect the boat. He went out for a quick cast and then tied the boat up next to our own personal jetty right outside Rainbow Lodge. The skies had clouded over and it became chilly so no fish caught yet!
He was still out at 5 o’clock, the kids were watching T.V., I was about to start supper when there was a knock on the door – a masseuse stood there and said – “I’ve been sent to give you a full body massage. I had no idea this was going to happen and asked – who ordered it. She had no idea – I was just told to come to Rainbow. Of course I needed no second invitation and wow – what a massage – face, head, hands, feet, arms, legs, back, neck – deep and therapeutic ending off with hot stones! It was amazing. When Earl got back he said he hadn’t ordered it, a phone call to Lauren and Allan turned up blank so perhaps it was meant for somebody else – but even if we have to pay for it at the end of our stay – it will have been worth every cent. Earl is having one at lunch time tomorrow!
While I was luxuriating Earl got the braai on the go, I had just managed to get the salad done before the masseuse was ready for me so I could just relax and enjoy the evening.
The kids were all in bed by 8:30 and Earl and I were not far behind!