Saturday, May 27, 2017

Dag Twee: El Yolo One Guest Farm

Die volgende oggend lê ons ekstra lank in ons nuwe slaapplek op die Landrover se dak en koffie drink terwyl ons kyk hoe die stoom oor die Gariepdam se water stadig begin lig. Ons het altwee soos klippe geslaap, en stem saam ons eerste nag in die tent was 'n groot sukses. Teen die tyd dat ons gebrekfis en ablusies gedoen het is dit net na tien. En daar's 'n paar honderd kilometer grondpad wat op ons wag....

Dit help ook nie dat ons eers stop op Richmond en saam met vriende ietsie eet en drink by die Richmond Café nie.

Richmond se hoofstraat.


Dis al heelwat na middagete toe ons die grondpad in die rigting van die Swartberge vat. Teen die tyd dat ons deur die stil hoofstraat van Murraysburg ry en weer die vlaktes aandurf op pad Rietbron toe begin dit al skemer raak.



Langs die pad verdwyn eers die kragpale, toe die telefoondraad, en toe die grensdrade. 'n Tyd lank oorweeg ons dit om sommer die plat veld in te ry en iewers te kamp, maar ons het 'n reeds betaalde bespreking by die El Yolo One Gasteplaas naby Klaarstroom, nog 'n goeie 200km verder. Toe ons sel-opvangs op 'n kol kry bel ons hulle. Jammer, ons gaan laat wees, baie laat.

Ek het nog nooit van grondpad in die donker gehou nie, en nou is nie 'n uitsondering nie. Nie 'n kilometer gaan verby sonder dat daar 'n haas, Duiker of Koedoe verskrik voor die karligte begin uithardloop en ek moet aankruie tot die dier sy rigting die veld in kry. Ons ry in die donkerte deur Rietbron, en is gelukkig om net-net die die unieke Springbok windaanwyser op die kerktoring te kan uitmaak. Na Rietbron begin die toestand van die pad stadigaan verswak, en teen die tyd dat ons deur die Soetendalspoortpas gaan, bokspring die Landrover so rond deur die talle droë maar erg verspoelde driffies dat ek nòg stadiger moet ry om te keer dat ons omdop.

Dis al lank na tien-uur toe ons by El Yolo One se hek indraai. Dan is dit nog 'n paar kilometer van vierstrek grondpad voor ons by die pikdonker hoofgebou stop. Daar's nêrens 'n teken van 'n kampplek nie, en ons is weer op die foon na die eienaar. Hy verduidelik die pad - in ons oordeel nie baie goed gemerk nie, en uiteindelik spoor ons die populierbos op waar die kampplek is. Dis hier ook stikdonker, en die kampplek is nie veel meer as 'n oop stukkie grond met 'n braaiplek en 'n kraan nie.

Die ablusieblok is gesluit, en die ligte is almal iewers afgesit ope 'n plek wat ons nie kan vind nie. Ons is weer op die foon na die eienaar. Jammer, maar hy kry nie antwoord by die opsigter nie, sê hy apologeties. Brommerig sit ons die nodigste uit, lig die Bundutop en maak reg vir slaap. Net toe kom 'n bakkie deur die bome aangery. Dis 'n buurman wat 'n sleutel het vir die ablusieblok en weet waar om die ligte aan te skakel. Ons neem elkeen 'n yskoue stort maar is te moeg om kos te maak en val sommer dadelik in die bed.


El Yolo One
EL Yolo One kampeerplek.

Dag een: Aventura Gariep Dam

Ons is vroegdag uit Johannesburg. Die plan is om die N1 te ry tot by Gariepdam en dan daar oor te slaap. Ons het niks daar bespreek nie, maar die Aventura oord se kampplek lyk heel aantreklik, so dis die mikpunt.

Dis 'n weeksdag buite vakansie, so die pad is stil en ons vorder goed. Laatmiddag draai ons by die Aventura oord in en klop by die ontvangslokaal aan. Die vriendlike man agter die toonbank sê ja, daar's hope plek, ons kan die staanplek naaste aan die dam se waterkant kry.

Soos 'n hond wat lêplek soek draai ons die Landrover dan hierdie kant toe, dan soontoe hom seker te maak ons het die beste uitsig oor die dam uit die tent as ons moreoggend wakker word. Dis mos deel van die prys wat ons betaal: 'n uitsig vanuit al vier kante van die tent. Die staanplek is 'n lekker dik grasperk, met elektrisiteit en 'n gerieflike braaiplek. Die ablusieblok is 'n bietjie verouderd maar ruim en skoon. Meeste van die ander kampers is oumense in 'motorhomes' en groot karavane, en die hele tyd wat ons daar staan het ek die ablusieblok vir myself.

Die eerste opslaan van die tent verloop glad: Adeline druk die 'op' knoppie, en siedaar! ons het slaapplek vir die nag. Die sagte brom van die motortjie wat die opslaan doen draai 'n paar koppe van ander kampeerders, maar andersins trek ons nie veel aandag nie.



Die tent voldoen volkome aan ons verwagtinge. Dis snoesig, ruim en gerieflik met die ingeboude liggie en 12V kragpunt. Ons gaan slaap vroegerig, en voor jy kan sê 'daktent' is ons altwee in droomland.


Ons gradering: 7/10
Gaan ons terugkom? Ja


Kampeer / Camping Stories

Note to English-speaking visitors: I've done the camping in South Africa blog entries in Afrikaans, for the simple reason that most people who camp in South Africa are in fact Afrikaans-speaking. Perhaps it's the Voortrekker frontiersmen heritage that keeps them yearning to move from place to impermanent place. Perhaps it's their instinct for adventure and the wild outdoors. In a nation of less than four million Afrikaans-speakers, there's enough media space for about a dozen outdoor magazines - five of which are published in Afrikaans. But don't fear, Google Translate is your friend. I hope you enjoy reading about what a wonderful country South Africa is to explore while camping!


Ons kamp nou ernstig


Ek en Adeline was nog nooit eintlik kampers nie. Wel, ja, ons het so nou in dan 'n tent saamgekarring op 'n familievakansie, maar dit was teen wil en dank, want die gesamentlike besluit was altyd: Ons kamp. So ons moet maar saam kamp. Maar die feit dat mens altyd so vuil en gesweet is na tent op-en-afslaan dat jy van vooraf moet stort en skoonmaak het ons nooit aangestaan nie.

Ons was altyd nog huisie-mense. Die huisies van SANparks, KZN Wildlife en ander plekke is dié waar ons nog altyd oorgebly en vakansie gehou het. Maar deur die jare het die pryse opgekruip tot die punt waar ek myself afgevra het of 'n bed, badkamer en kombuis rêrig R1000 of meer 'n nag werd is.

Ons is gladnie sleepmense nie, so 'n boswa of a ding is buite die kwessie. Ek het al teveel gesien hoe spook en spartel kampers met waens om die ding staan te maak - kamp opslaan vat maklik 'n uur of twee vir hulle tyd. So dit was nie die oplossing nie.

Nie lank gelede het ons op 'n skou die antwoord raakgesien: 'n Daktent vir mense soos ons. Die Bundutop is nie net ruim, en gerieflik nie, maar hy't 'n eienskap wat hom 'n wenner maak: Hy slaan elektries op. Jy druk 'n knoppie, en tien sekondes later staan jou tent reg. Die Landrover is ook sommer aansienlik leër omdat ons al ons beddegoed in hom kon sit.


Natuurlik is die outjie nie goedkoop nie. En na die nuwe dakrak, ekstra battery, Howling Moon Swing Awn, batterystelsel en sonpaneel bygegetel is sal ek maar nie sê wat dit ons gekos het om kampgereed te wees nie. Om nie te praat van die fênsie hyskraan wat ek by die huis sal moet opsit om die gedoente op en af van die voertuigdak te kry nie. Dit gaan 'n paar jaar se kamp kos om die kostes te verhaal, maar nou's ons twee professionele kampers!

In Mei 2017 was ons vier weke gelede weg op die eerste uittoets van ons nuwe kamp slaapplek - 'n drie-weke-lange grondpad toer deur die Karoo. Ons het 'n paar kampplekke bespreek, maar ander dae sou ons sommer net kyk waar ons kom.

Hier's die verhaal van ons, die langpad en die Bundutop.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

The joys of hosting an AirBnB place

It's now just on two years that we have been on AirBnB, where we host the Aloe Cottage, our one bedroom garden apartment. At last count, visitors from 26 countries have stayed with us.

Now, let me say up front, running an AirBnB place is hard work.



That's if you're serious about it, which most AirBnB hosts aren't. A while ago we had to relocate a guest after we had an unexpected power outage. We contact five or six AirBnB hosts in the area, and only two bothered to reply, the one only two days later. In the end we booked them into a guest house, because we simply weren't sure of the quality we'd get at the available AirBnB places.

A few weeks ago Adeline spent a weekend in Cape Town and stayed at an AirBnB place. She should have known it was going to be less than ideal when most of the online reviews complained about the intermittent wi-fi. But she didn't expect to open the door one morning and see the host's husband prancing around in his boxers! The same host approached Adeline afterwards, asking for tips on how to improve her rating. Start by dressing your husband properly in the morning, and then invest in an uncapped ADSL line, Adeline said.

Spring cleaning the cottage after each guest, doing laundry, and being on point when they arrive - sometimes hours later than they said they'd pitch up - is hard work. To be sure, we spoil our guests, which adds to the chores. There's juice on arrival, flowers, a bottle of wine, a bowl of fruit and a jar of cookies, and that's only a partial list of extras. Recently guests of ours who were traveling the world asked about hairdressers and dentists, and we booked their appointments. We've run many guests to Gautrain station a few kilometers away, just to save them the Uber ride.



With the number of AirBnB places growing in double digits, you have to go the extra mile to be on top.

But the work that one has to put in is far outstripped  by the sheer pleasure derived from seeing guests enjoying their stay. How do you know  your guests are having fun? Here's a clue: If a young couple checks in after a long flight and don't show up for three days, you know they're happy :). If you see a guests sitting under a tree in the garden with a laptop, catching up on their blogging, you know they're content. I mean, they could also be sitting in a coffee shop, but they choose not to.

Here are a few of the things we find guests are most appreciative of, and will help ensure a glowing review after they've left.

- The one thing most guests mention is our garden. We don't have a large, expansive garden, but there are five water features, which I think are the things that attract attention.

- A well-equipped kitchen. It's really just a small nook with a plate stove, fridge and microwave, but we can see the utensils, pots and pans are well-used, especially by those staying for more than a few days. (Which is also why we went to Mr Price Home this weekend and replaced the worn utensils!)

- The informal lecture on what to see, where eat, and what to do. We have a full range of brochures, but find that the 'knowledge sharing' we do is much appreciated. We've even worked out a country-wide road trip for a German couple who wanted to tour SA.

- Reliable Internet. This is really a given, but nothing makes a guest turn nasty like dodgy or no Internet access.

- A largish table. We have a six seater table in the kitchen/dining room, and we see guests with their laptops all the time. Basically, they appreciate work space.

- Safe, off-street parking. Especially in Joburg!

- Flexible check-in. From experience we know how much it means when you arrive on a 6am flight in a foreign city with the knowledge that you can check into an AirBnB place straight away. We've had guests arrive at all hours, and seeing the relief on their faces when we open the door shows they appreciate that flexibility.



Sunday, September 20, 2015

A short drive through Johannesburg's history

This is a little tour guide written for the out-of-town guests staying in our pretty cottage we have on AirBnB. It describes the route from the cottage to the Apartheid Museum. I thought I'd share it here, for those interested in some of the lesser known history of Joburg.

__________

If you intend driving or taking a taxi from the cottage to the Apartheid Museum, there are a number of interesting things on the route to see, both historically and present-day. The route runs through some of the oldest suburbs of Johannesburg and places where gold was first discovered during the 1870s.

It’s hardly a ’tourist route’ but nonetheless interesting and quite scenic in its own way.

We recommend you drive this route slowly to get the most out of what you’ll see along the way. It’ll take about 30 minutes or so at a leisurely speed.

When leaving the cottage, turn right in Indra street at the first four way crossing. Drive down Indra street, past two four way stops to a T-junction. Turn left, and immediately enter a roundabout. Leave the roundabout on the opposite side and onto the railway bridge. On top of the railway bridge turn right, and at the traffic light right again.

Follow this street (Albertina Sisulu Road) up to a traffic light where you’ll turn left. At the traffic light, look to your right - this is the Langlaagte rail station, and the exact spot where a famous Afrikaner military leader during the Anglo Boer War, General De la Rey, was mistakenly shot dead in his car at a road block set up to catch the Foster Gang, a notorious group of robbers, in 1914. The incident is the stuff of legends, and conspiracy theories that he was set up by the government of the day because of his rebellious behaviour. You'll notice a grey marble plaque on the wall commemorating the tragic event.



After you’ve turned left carry on for a few hundred meters, following the road where it veers to the right. Turn left where the road intersects, into a street lined with poplar trees on both sides. Careful here, there are speedbumps in the road!

On the right you’ll see an old Dutch Reformed (Protestant) church which is one of the oldest in Johannesburg.



The cornerstone of this historic church was laid in March 1889, but the Boer War delayed completion and it was only inaugurated on 12 December 1902. The founder of the Abraham Kriel Orphanage on the opposite side of the street, Rev. Abraham Kriel, was the first minister at the church and served from 1902-1917, he is buried with his wife in the grounds of the church.

Soon you’ll get to a set of traffic lights. If you look to your right, diagonally across you'll notice a fairly plain entrance gate.


This marks the spot where gold was discovered for the first time in Johannesburg in 1886, changing the fate of South Africa forever.



Cross over and onto another rail bridge - through some bluegum trees ahead you’ll the autumn-coloured calabash shape of FNB Stadium (also known as Soccer City), built for the 2010 FIFA World Cup. As you drive along prepare to pass underneath another rail bridge, and keep an eye on the top right part of the bridge. You’ll notice a piece of graffiti that reads: "Comrade Hani, our nation weeps”. "Comrade Hani" refers to Chris Hani, a revered ANC leader during Apartheid that was assassinated in 1993 by rightwing activists.

After going underneath the bridge, you’ll notice on the right one of Johannesburg’s characteristic but disappearing landmarks - a yellow sand mining dump. There used to be dozens of these dotting much of Gauteng province, but most have been recycled and the sand used for various purposes.

Soon afterwards you’ll pass underneath a bridge and see the 90 000 seater stadium in front of you. If you have time you can pause and visit the stadium, or turn right at the traffic light just after the bridge. The stadium is used mainly for football matches but also for music concerts - early in 2014 we watched Bruce Springsteen perform here!

After you've turned right at the traffic light, the road does a full circle onto the top of the bridge. Follow the road for two or three kilometers. You’re now passing through land still owned by mining companies. Almost all of the mines here have closed down - look out for the ruins of one such mine on the left.

At the next set of traffic lights turn right. You’ll now pass the offices of De Beers Diamond Company and the research facilities of the gold mining conglomerate Anglo American, again signs of the history of mining in this area. About a kilometer on keep an eye out for the road sign showing where you’ll turn left for the Apartheid Museum and Gold Reef City. Turn left into a slipway and follow the road past a set of traffic lights. After that you’ll see the large entrance for Gold Reef City on the left, and again to the left, after passing through it, the parking lot of the Museum.

We hope you enjoyed the drive!



Sunday, September 6, 2015

New arrival in the garden....

A few days ago I went to my local camera shop, took out the family jewels, and exchanged them for a Sigma 120-300mm 2.8 lens. For about three weeks I'd read up reviews, enlisted opinions from photographer friends, looked at hundreds of photos taken with this beast of a lens, and it the general opinion was that it was the next best thing to forking out six figures (in Rands) for a Canon of the same range and quality. But most of all, I asked Adeline what she thought. And when she said, just go and buy the damn thing, well, that's what I did.

It's a monster of a camera lens. I haven't weighed it, but it's not the sort of lens you take on the Camino de Santiago (read what I took with on that little 46-day excursion here) unless you're looking to develop serious back-aches. Nope, I didn't get it with a view to traveling far; I got it for birding and wildlife photography, which in South Africa means anywhere from my back garden to the Kruger National Park, which is only a six hour drive a way, plus at least a dozen wildlife reserves inbetween.

My timing for acquiring the lens was good - our resident garden Cape Robin had given birth to a youngster just a few days prior, and soon the little one was driving us insane with its incessant, high-pitched tweeting for food. The parents were constantly flying back and forth with morsels of insects and worms, and dropping it into a seemingly bottomless gullet that could never get enough to eat.So I set up my Manfrotto tripod on the verandah, mounted my new lens onto the Canon 5D MkIII and waited to see if I could catch Cape Robin feeding time on camera.



For the first try I added in the Sigma 2x extender, but at 5pm the light was simply not enough to ensure a sharp photo. For the next try, two days later, I took off the extender and stuck with the lens only, which was more successful. The resulting photo was a mix of luck and preparedness. There was literally a half-second window opportunity between Mrs Cape Robin arriving with lunch, Junior opening wide, and mum dropping in a yummy piece of earthworm.



I didn't do much to the snapshot in Lightroom afterwards, just the usual bit of cropping and sharpening. And there you have it. My investment has started paying for itself, perhaps not in Rands and cents, but certainly in photographic satisfaction.

But most of all, we're happy that the Cape Robin lineage is continuing in the garden - the Robins have a more of less permanent spot in the hedge where they return to breed every year. And now I can start a family album of photographs!

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Stories from the Camino de Santiago: The Carrefour Town

'The next town,' says Adeline while studying her iPad screen without breaking her five kilometer-an-hour stride, 'is a Carrefour town.'

'What's the town called?'

'I don't know, but it's a Carrefour town. It says so on the map. There's a little icon here.'

It's five in the afternoon, and I'm famished. We still have four kilometers to go along a brilliantly white and perfectly flat strip of gravel road that runs through the fading green wheat fields west of Burgos, ending at the next little pinpoint of civilisation, where we'll bivouac for the night. Since the last town, the paced crunch of our trail runners on the gravel path we're on has been slowly diminishing, like two steam locomotives nearing a station.

For the past five days our evening meal choices have been limited to that old culinary Camino standard, the peregrino menu. I'm amazed to think back now, after 800 kilometers, how absolutely standardised, ritualistic and exceptionally bland  the peregrino menus are all along the road. Order the ensalada mixta, the staple first course on the menu at Pamplona, you get lettuce, tomato, onion, and with slight variations boiled eggs and asparagus. Order it in Estella, you get ditto. And more of the same in Hontanas, Astorga, right down to Santiago. Little or no dressing, no condiments. I dare say that even the author of the Codex Calixtinus, bless his pilgrim soul, probably ate the same tired recipe on his pilgrimage tour, eight hundred years ago.

Which is why we're looking forward to the Carrefour town where, before we shower, wash clothes, or even take our trusty trail runners,  we'll drop our packs at the entrance of the Carrefour and stock up on dinner goodies. Sure, its over-lit, ample shelves are filled mostly with pre-packaged, radiated food prepared by a faceless international conglomerate who probably buys hot-house grown lettuce by the metric ton from corporate-owned farms, but we don't care. Why?

It's simple. Because Carrefour's gazpacho is the smoothest, richest, yummiest gazpacho you'll ever taste this side of the Pyrenees. Throw in a generous slice of goat's cheese (we're happy if it's local, but we'll settle for something imported from Italy) and a chunk of freshly baked pan and you'll see us kicking back on Adeline's sky-blue sarong on a lawn in a scenic park, or on a park bench next to a romanesque church, contently slurping from our green plastic mugs in-between mouths-full of tangy cheese and bread.

The rumour that, on the Camino, the pilgrim's journey is a fruitless search for culinary delight may be largely true, but there are notable exceptions, such as those you'll find in Carrefour towns. Go on, be a devil. Be different. Succumb.

Follow the first fifteen days of our Camino trip, starting here.