South Africa Days 8-10

Whenever we go back to South Africa we always try to find a couple of days to ourselves to get outside the city limits and explore the surrounding area. There are many wonderful things to do that are only a short drive from Cape Town, or a slightly longer drive if you so feel like it, but still relatively close. I’ve been to a lot of those places over the years – from all the way out to Knysna and the Red/Yellowwood forests there, to Oudtshoorn (ostriches, caves), Caledon (hot springs), Cape Agulhas (Southern Most Point of Africa), Hermanus (gorgeous coastal walks and whale watching opportunities), the Garden Route. I’ve never had the chance to explore the Karoo though, and neither has my sister. So we decided that for our trip out this time we would head to the Karoo. My sister found us two Game Places to go to, the Inverdoorn Game Reserve and the Njalo Njalo Safari. (My sister did all the planning for this trip, because she loves it and I hate it, so I was really just going with the flow and wherever I was told to. It was quite nice to do this – to absolve myself of any and all responsibility and just sit back and enjoy. Again, I stress, my sister loves being in charge and organising things so she didn’t mind this.)

The drive to Inverdoorn was extremely scenic, and eventually we could get on some dirt roads, and find ourselves properly in the middle of nowhere, and then, finally at the Reserve. It took us ages to check into Inverdoorn – they kept us waiting for our room for a long time, and so we started out not particularly impressed, but things would improve.

We went on our first Game Drive that evening which was nice, we saw many antelope and Zebra etc. and they took us to watch the Cheetahs run – they are a Cheetah rehabilitation center, and part of that rehabilitation is teaching the Cheetah to hunt. They do this by making them chase after their food in the evenings. It was kinda awesome to watch. We came back to camp for the evening and had a nice supper before retreating back to our rooms for an early night.

Lions in the early morning. Apologies for different lighting in all the pics. Taken across both days…
The next day we had to wake at 5am for the first game drive of the day, which was difficult, but worth it to see the sun rising over the Karoo. We drove around their big cat enclosures – they had some barbary lions there, which are a type of lion with an especially long mane I think. The three they had had all been rescued from canned hunting and so cannot hunt from themselves and therefore were rather fat and lazy. Poor things. At least they are clearly enjoying the remainder of their life now free from that horrendous practice, being looked after and with space to roam as they please. We also saw their cheetahs, which were adorable. Cheetah’s make the most peculiar sounds – it sounds more like bird call than a cat.

Top: Cheetah in its enclosure. Bottom: Meeting Lula up close.
Following a delicious breakfast, we had the highlight of our trip, which was a Cheetah Encounter. They bring out one of their young Cheetah’s – the one we saw was a young female called Lula – alongside two of the girls working with the Cheetah’s, and let you pet the Cheetah and talk to the keepers about their work. At first there was a big group but they all disappeared pretty quickly, leaving my sister, her boyfriend and myself alone with the cheetah and her keepers which was brilliant. We were chatting for ages, whilst Lula lazed at the feet of her keeper, purring away. Yes, she was purring almost the entire time. Cheetah’s can actually shift between being relatively tame and being wild, which allows them to hold these encounters, whilst still rehabilitating the cheetah, and eventually releasing it back into the wild (apparently they just need to ensure they release them in a remote enough area as they will still happily approach humans otherwise) So yes, she also let us stroke us. Unfortunately we could only stroke her back and the top of her head – I was dying to play with her tail – but still, it was amazing to get so close to her and the way she just allowed it. The way she purred like a domestic kitty cat as you scratched behind her ears. Her fur was coarse and kept falling out all over me – Cheetah’s do not groom, and roll or scratch to get rid of fur. She wasn’t actually comfortable to the touch like that, but she was warm and purring and you could feel the muscles beneath her skin. She was a very solid kitty.

It was really amazing.

We had the rest of the afternoon free. They had swimming pool that was still filled, somehow, so my sister and I went for a dip. It was nice to have my sister to myself for a bit, without her boyfriend there, and we chatted for ages, half submerged in the cool water until the sun got too strong for us.

Top: Two male giraffes fighting. Yes really. Next: Scenery. I was trying hard to get a picture of the lightning, and that one lame shot is all I managed. Photographing lightning with a basic point and shoot, whilst in a moving vehicle, is not easy OK? Bottom: Cheetah run with storm brewing in the background.

Then we went out for another game drive. It had suddenly gotten colder and clouds were building in the sky. A storm was coming. We got our game drive in – the ominous weather making it all the more beautiful to drive around as, eventually, we could see lightning beginning to strike down in the distance over the Karoo mountains. We had just settled to watch the Cheetah run again when it began to rain. They cut the run short and got us back into the car and the ranger drove pell-mell as the rain came slashing down towards us, we couldn’t see a thing, it hurt as it cut into our skin. I was laughing, remembering Malaysia, how it rained like that there. We had called it “End of the World Rain”, because it came so suddenly, drowned everything so completely, and how the power and internet would often go down at the same time. We got back to the reserve and ran to our rooms, taking off our shoes at some point to splash through the streams of water that had covered all the paths. I dried off, put on some fresh clothes and then went to sit out on the covered veranda outside our room, to watch the lightning cutting through the night sky and breathe in the fresh, wet smell of summer rain. When I was a child and we were still living in South Africa we used to do that – my father and I – we would sit out on our veranda and watch the storms together. I used to love it. I loved it then too, was grinning wildly, remembering being a child, loving how wild it was, loving the smell. I was still damp but it didn’t matter, it didn’t matter at all. It wasn’t that cold, just a slight chill, and I was protected in the veranda where I sat. It was perfect.

The next day we woke up early again for our last game drive, then left Inverdoorn to go to Njalo Njalo.

Overall, it was a good experience. The service during mealtimes could sometimes be a bit hit and miss, but the rangers were all excellent, as was the cheetah experience. The rooms were lovely – big and spacious and comfortable (the bathroom was also HUGE with a rainfall shower YES) the food was delicious, particularly the breakfast, though I was surprised by how little game meat they had on offer – I was looking forward to trying something crazy. Oh well. The game drives were all nice although before we went we were told not to spend longer than we did there, which I do agree with, as the place is actually quite small, so once you’ve been on a few drives, you’ve kind of seen everything. I think we spent the right amount of time there. I was really glad that it rained when we were there too – that was fun.

“It’s so painful, it’s so joyous, it’s so difficult, I’m yearning…”

I arrived back into the UK yesterday after two and a half weeks back home in Cape Town, South Africa. Where I was born, partially raised, and where most of my relatives are. It’s been a weird two weeks, there have been awkward moments, but also amazing moments, and it feels like I was just begining to settle into it all when I had to leave again.

It had been about seven years since I’d last been back. It’s a very long time and a lot has changed in that time. Two and a half weeks hardly feels enough to make up for it. (Though it is better than nothing, of course.)

In many ways, I have made peace with my dual nationality. Too South African to be British, but too British to be South African. I am South African/Scottish but I sound neither, and I can joke about that now. When we first immigrated to the UK I had no idea what was going on, I thought it was just a big fun holiday and everything would go back to how it was. Realising that it was not any such thing, that I would have to stay in a place where no one liked me and nothing felt familiar was pretty awful. I wanted to go home. For years I was determined that I would go back. I had no appreciation for adult concerns – finance, healthcare, social security. I was lonely and sad and I didn’t fit in and I just wanted to go home. Home became something magical to me, took on a brighter tinge. I wanted to escape back to what I had, which of course was wonderful and perfect. As I grew older I had to face reality. And now, coming back to South Africa and seeing the lives of my family there, I can appreciate reality even more. It was a good thing my parents did for me, to take me to the UK. Free healthcare and schooling and benefits are nothing to scoff at. No power cuts or water restrictions too. I have an independence that maybe I wouldn’t have, and I have a very good job, a very good home. I know these things. I was grieving for a long time, angry and sad and resentful, for the loss of what I could have been and the life I could have led, whatever that would be. I wondered how I’d look, if my personality would be more extroverted. I’d try to picture it, even though it’s impossible. But I’ve finally come through to the other side of my grief. The last stage is acceptance, right?

I have accepted the immigration and its benefits. and in many ways it’s freeing. It was brilliant going home with that acceptance. I could struggle to understand people in my home country and laugh it off. I could speak without feeling ashamed of my accent. I could embrace my otherness, and be a tourist in my home country, and not let it get to me. I surprised myself with just how well I did at not caring about it all. That was good. That helped a lot.

And I tried to enjoy being with my family, and reconnect with them, without all the miles and years between us getting in the way. Tried to have the same easy going acceptance of what is, is. That was a lot harder.

There is a distance, and it hurts. And it’s not just that, it’s hard to be with someone on borrowed time, hard to slip back into their lives and then out again. Especially as my grandparents grow older I am left sitting there wondering – is this the last time? There is a pressure to have everything just so, because of the limited time, and it ends up feeling a little forced and sometimes, yes, it was awkward. Wearing a mask and putting on your best behaviour. It shouldn’t be that way, really. We don’t really know each other, but yet they are family, and I love them, and I know they love me, despite all the thousands of miles between us, and I can’t bare the thought of losing them. I lost two of my grandparents in the last seven years, without being able to say goodbye, and I’m not sure I could do that again.

Even as practically I can appreciate my privileges and all that I have, nothing can take away the pain of having to say goodbye to your grandmother at the airport, not knowing if it’s the last time you will ever see her. It just hurts. It’s a stone embedded in my heart, a wound that won’t heal or allow itself to be erased. It’s home, and that’s just the way it is, and although I have boxed up my grief and loss and tucked it away, it’s still there.

I want to go back, I don’t want to go back, I should go back, I shouldn’t go back, I can go back, I can’t go back.

It feels like I’ve just been woken up from the most beautiful dream.

My head: it’s ok. Time to get on with reality.

My heart: I want to slip back into that dream.

(Home is still something slightly magical, something otherly to me. I said to my coworker before I left that it, the holiday, won’t feel real until I see Table Mountain appear out the plane window as we circle to land. But I lied. It never felt real. There was so much that was so wonderful, and South Africa is just too beautiful for words. I love my home and I hope I can go back again, just have this at least once more…)

(Why does it have to be so expensive and time consuming to go home? It’s so frustrating.)

blouberg beach
Recently, my father let me buy some South African food online, from a shop based in London. After much indecision and being horrified by how much it would cost for 6 cans of grapetizer (and disappointed that the koeksisters were sold out cos I could totally do with those. I’d feel totally ill, but it would be worth it) I managed to put together an order which came last week. Imagine me lugging this heavy box all the way from the reception to my room, unable to stop grinning. Then imagine this huge, heavy box of food for just one person. I felt greedy for a moment, then I dug in and regretted nothing.

Now, a week later, my stash is rapidly decreasing. I am not happy to see the empty packets; I have become accustomed to being able to snack on biltong, droewors and buttermilk rusks as I please. It is taking all my willpower to ration the rest of the stash. I love South African food. Not just this ‘specialist’ stuff that I probably wouldn’t eat that often if I still lived there, but just…everything. I always seem to eat better when I go home. There is not as much choice in South African super markets compared to here in the UK, but sometimes I wonder if that is a good thing. Hmm. I also miss my grandmothers cooking. I’d love to eat my Granny’s macaroni cheese right now, followed by pudding of chocolate chip yogurt, and then my other Granny makes the most amazing bran muffins that she would heat up for us for breakfast. There is nothing quite like a homemade bran muffin slathered in butter. Yum. (They don’t even get bran muffins in this country. At least, I have never seen them. And I can’t seem to make them properly. D: )

(Two entries in a row about food, but to be fair the diet is hard and I am hungry, but hungry because I am bored and hungry as in fighting cravings for chocolate and cake. :/)

(Photo is of Blouberg beach at sunset, taken in toy camera mode)