Sunday, January 27, 2008

7 i 2007, Monday
A soft warm grey blanket of summer rain has made this the perfect weather to sit with a lazy cup of coffee and write about my holiday in the Eastern Cape. (Craig’s getting some plates ‘n things out for lunch and Velvet Revolver is playing full-tilt – filling my head with a certain creative electricity that only rock ‘n roll can give…)
Boxing Day. 26th December. Blistering Port Elizabethan summer sun wakes us from the sweetest sleep of two lovers reunited after more than a month apart – and with the car packed for our Addo adventure, we headed down to the beachside for a lazy (social) breakfast – ostensibly arranged so I could meet Craig’s younger brother Steven(graphic artist and animator), Steven’s girlfriend Hayley (philosophy and English university student), Dan and Donna – two of Craig’s friends. Not at all like the Spanish Inquisition I expected, I enjoyed how much of Craig they revealed and confirmed for me : that he is exactly the same with them as he is with me: funny, kind, polite, a good listener… Our breakfast took so long to arrive on our tables, that it was actually LUNCH we ended up having – spinach, feta and bacon pancakes! Yum!
Driving through PE, we crossed the Swartkops River - lined with gorgeous pastel-colour houses – the colours of ice-cream and holidays! Craig’s ma grew up in one of those houses; as a teenager having her own little boat to putter up and down the river in. (Oh, I could SO live in one of those little houses…) Once outside of the town, we drove through/past the Markham (sp) township where a smartly dressed Xhosa mama waved incense about her – something I’ve never seen in Cape Town before, but which Craig says is quite a common sight in the Eastern Cape - the Xhosa still very traditional in their culture and customs. All pale ochres and silvery greys, the landscape shimmered thirstily beneath a pristine turquoise African sky – cloudless and deep.
An hour of quiet, straight road saw us arrive in the Addo region, and we turned left onto the Kirkwood road, following the map drawn in precise blue ballpoint for us by Craig’s dad – though we were not so precise in following the directions and we made two wrong (exploratory!) turnings – eventually having to ask one of the local farmworkers where Avoca farm was! “Jy moet met die Kirkwood pad ry, meneer, nog verder…”) The farm was clearly marked and we drove past lush, leafy orange orchards into to the reception area where we were greeted by the farm manager, Riaan – a seemingly quiet Eastern Caper, but with an excellent sense of humour which popped out unexpectedly when I responded to something he said with “Well, we’re not going to be very social!” – to which he said to Craig, “You obviously haven’t seen her in a long time?!” (with cocked eyebrow, wicked smile and a twinkle in his eye!) Yip, I blushed. Driving behind Riaan to the rondawels, we did our best to not run the ageing German Shepherd over as it ran just behind Riaan’s bakkie and almost directly beneath our wheels!!

13 i 2008, Sunday
“Kill Bill” is the soundtrack to this mid-afternoon writing session, while I sip the coldest Hunter’s Dry bottle of cider (there was no Savanna at the bottle store the day Craig did groceries) Peeling from my fingers, the glue from the teapot I was decorating reminds me of my childhood fetish for painting my hands and arms with cold white wood-glue so that it dried into a translucent skin, which I’d pull off in slow delicious delight! Though the wind is howling in pre-frontal mayhem, Craig is outside braaing our kudu wors (a by-product of his brother’s last successful hunt) and foil-wrapped onions and potatoes. Pudding is pancakes drenched in sinfully copious amounts of Bar One sauce. (Yip – unlike everyone else I know, I didn’t make a New Year’s resolution to lose weight!) Oh yes – back to Craig’s boet : his name is Gary and he was also at primary school with us, my one twin sister actually having a crush on him the same time I was madly besotted with Craig!
Right – back to our Addo holiday. Riaan led us onto a grassy slope, spotted with thatch and mud huts, with a view down to the wide, dark Sundays River – its banks flanked with hopelessly thorny acacia in full yellow bloom, as well as rustic pink roses and gladioli in whites and reds. We unpacked Craig’s now muddy Golf and decided not to unpack but to hop straight into our cozzies and head down to the water with cold beverage in hand! Craig swam in the perfectly cooling, impossibly deep river, while I sunned myself on the wooden pontoon swatting away the odd lazy farm fly and wishing we could stay forever.
The communal braai area saw only the two of us and our chops ‘n wors that night – and we sipped our red wine from little yellow and turquoise flowered glasses – taking our last glass each down to the moonlit river, we kissed and gazed into a hard-to-believe indigo ocean of stars…
Quite unromantically, the heat eventually parted us so we lay sweating and itching and scratching all night long. Actually - no – minor but significant correction: Craig slept like a baby, while my body attracted what felt like all mozzies in the Eastern Cape, dispelling any possibility of sleep at all. Nevertheless, the magic of our new, romantic love prevented the expected result of a night spent frantically awake (i.e. a bad, bad mood) – and we left bright and cheerfully early for Addo to do some elephant-spotting!
Impressive and world-class, the entrance to Addo boasted a lengthy but efficiently quick queue of a variety of local and tourist vehicles – from Golfs to Mercedes Benzes to monstrous, open safari trucks loaded with hopeful German tourists ghostly pale in their thick layers of sunblock! Only R25 per adult, we were blown away by the excellence of everything we encountered – the shops, the loos, the staff etc. Upon entry, we were given a map/brochure which came in handy as we wound our slowly and stop-start way through the web of roads – some tarred, some gravel.
Stopping behind two stationary cars, we looked in the direction their passengers were craning their necks towards and spotted two darkish shapes in the trees about 10 meters away – and were mildly disappointed to only see two bored brown hadedas. Craig’s wry comment was : “Oh, it’s just hadedas – you get them in Walmer!” and which has become a standard joke now whenever we see or hear a hadeda. Our imaginations ran amok as we ‘saw’ baby elephants frolicking in a waterhole (ducks with their bums in the air hunting for food underwater!) and crocodiles (turtles surfacing lazily for air…) Quite embarrassing, actually. But after that we saw the most brilliantly vivid birds – luminous yellow weavers and iridescent red bishops that took your breath away with their extraordinary colouring! The buck we spotted were of all-sorts and in great number – from kudu to red hartebeest. Mostly, the buck were standing or lying down in the shade of acacia trees, keeping deadly still – either to keep cool or attract as little attention from the humans as possible. The one solitary red hartebeest we saw crossing a wide open expanse of grassy plain, suddenly stopped mid-stride – spread it’s back legs and lowered it bum, sticking it’s tail up at an uncomfortable angle – making it look very much as Craig said : “Hey, maybe it’s going to give birth --- or take a crap!”. It was such a peculiar and funny posture, that after two minutes of laughing so our stomachs hurt – nothing of a birth or bowel movement occurred, so that the hartebeest seemed to give up. Craig said, “Shame, maybe it’s got irritable bowel syndrome…”
Also spotted was a giant buffalo grazing alone in a grassy field, plenty of warthogs, a herd of Burchill’s zebra, a handful of monkeys and a mongoose. Around noon, we gave up all hope of seeing the famous Addo elephants - especially after we saw his uncle’s breathtaking photos on Christmas Day of a family of them frolicking in a waterhole – mommy elephants and the most gorgeous little babies! We decided to take one last drive up to a lookout point called Zuurkop before heading home (more than just a little disappointed.)
Just ahead of us on the winding road to the koppie, I spotted a huge, muddy red mound above the bush – and I realised with mounting excitement that it was indeed an elephant!! But … rounding the corner, my heart squeezed with enough anxious dread to dampen the excitement when I saw how an army of Vaalies had hemmed the two elephants in with their cars – hanging out of their windows and sunroofs with their video cameras, ignorantly taunting the poor beasts… The two bull elephants moved with growing anger towards us - obviously the leaders of the herd attempting to move across the road on their predetermined route. We both froze, the car idling, while we sat open-mouthed and paralysed – cameras useless in our hands. And in some strange detachment, we then somehow managed to begin taking photos instead of trying to get the hell out of there!!!!!! But as the two bulls got so close, we snapped into sudden, adrenalised reality, me shrieking like a banshee at Craig to reverse!! reverse!! REVERSE DAMMIT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! And as Craig crashed the car into reverse, his face as it twisted round to look out the back window, broke into such panic – all he could say was : “Can’t reverse --- ****ing Vaalies!!!!!” And wraggies-waar, along with the elephants, we were parked in by a barricade of tinted windowed BMWs and 4x4s so there was no chance of escaping in rapid reverse… Even bashing our way off the track into the bush wasn’t an option as it was lined by dense trees and bushes which not even the most powerful Landcruiser could cut through… It was then that God reminded me He existed!! My utterly wordless and wide-eyed prayer caused the rampaging, enraged elephants to stop dead in their tracks; their flapping ears and eye-contact with us ended – and mercifully, they stopped mid-charge and suddenly changed direction and headed down the side of the dirt track. In those moments when time seemed to stand still, I saw each long, dense eyelash framing a deep, dark brown eye … the ears that caught the hot afternoon air like sails … the deep, red mud encrusted wrinkles and folds of his skin, hard and leathery, but which sagged over and around the knees and hips like old brown corduroy pants… the heavy, round flatness of the feet … ponderous, powerful… (NEVER have I been so grateful to see the back end of an elephant…)
Elated and very much grateful to be alive, we drove back to Avoca in a state of post-traumatic amazement – chattering non-stop about the elephants, the Vaalies, the elephants, the Vaalies… It was only much later, once the shock and worn off and we had half a bottle of red wine in us, that we remembered all the other animals we’d encountered – the statuesque kudu, the lazy warthogs ‘vreeting’ the grass on their knees, and – last but not least, the confused and constipated red hartebeest!
Sad and wistful, we packed the car to head back to PE, deciding to stop in at the Lion & Crocodile Farm on our way back. Also R25 a head (and a rip-off to boot) we were appalled and dismayed by the cramped cages and whiff of neglect we saw the animals in. A baby lion, recently weaned off milk and starting on raw mince, whined and growled hungrily as it walked up and down – looking agitated and lonely. And the two Bengal tigers were no happier either, the female salivating through her hungry moans just to be given a sporting chance with the two wild boards caged across from her. The male wasn’t so much hungry for pork as for pussy (if you’ll excuse the pun!) but whose gentlemanly attempts were met with fierce growls and a fat ‘klap’ with a frighteningly huge claw the size of a side-plate! The crocodiles seemed quite happy in their stagnant green pseudo-swamps. And the monkeys made me sad as they scampered and squiggled in their wire ‘hokkie’ – though I didn’t feel quite so sympathetic when, as I pointed out his cute little willy and balls to Craig, he started peeing directly onto me with devilish glee!
The young guide was lacking in the very basic information visitors expect to hear, and the general state of disrepair seen in the fake brown fibreglass ‘rocks’ and empty ‘pools’ where the water sat in dejected, forgotten puddles made me want to ask for my money back – and to give the head honcho the thumbs-down : that it obvious their passion was in making as much money as possible and not with the animals themselves – the very antithesis of Addo. (I’m tempted to post this review on a couple of tourist sites…)
The drive back to Addo was peaceful and quick – only an easy hour. Hungry, we popped in at a roadside cafĂ©, buying huge, sweet rolls – all hot and doughy, straight from the oven – which we broke open and filled with cold braaied chicken, and sipping cold Liquifruit from the carton. Our main topic of conversation? The soonest we could head back to Addo for our next holiday – and how viable it would be to live there / how much property would cost etc.
Our last few days in PE were filled with braais, swimming in the sea and suntanning. Also a fair amount of napping and reading took place – the perfect ingredients for a relaxing holiday! On the last day, Craig packed the car with an obviously sad heart to be leaving his family home and beloved Eastern Cape… On New Year’s day, we left in the cool grey light of early morning for Cape Town, a fine drizzle following us all the way to Knysna where we stopped in at his uncle’s holiday house in Belvedere for coffee and a chat which had Craig’s uncle tell Craig’s mom (who hasn’t yet met me) that I am ‘lovely and friendly, and that I talk more than his wife which he didn’t think was possible!” During my brief time in PE I met a LOT of Craig’s family – brothers, uncles, aunts, grannies, friends, dogs etc – an amazing way to get to know someone as they REALLY are: the stories told about being naughty as a little boy, drunk as a teenager etc. And seeing the obvious affection and respect given to Craig by every one of them made me beam and blush! And so, our plans are to head back up there for a week’s holiday in March where I’ll no doubt spend more time with everyone – and FINALLY meet Mrs Sally and Mr Malcolm Carter!

24 i 2008, Thursday
At work – lunchtime, hot here inside the darkened play area – the electricity is out AGAIN and it makes me wonder where the country of our future lies? Oops! Freudian slip – I meant : where does the future of our country lie?
January has been an incredibly demanding month work-wise AND socially, but February promises to be more relaxed and infinitely more productive, creatively, for me as I will only be working 3 days a week at Gymboree : Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. The rest of the time I’ll be giving my complete attention to my writing and my art – aiming to get a few bits and pieces published as well as having an exhibition nearer the end of the year. Exciting!!
Craig has settled in nicely into ‘our’ little flat – continuing to just be the soulmate I’ve been wishing/hoping/praying/searching for… The night before last (utterly broke) we shared our last Savanna on the beach after work – walking hand in hand along the sand and shells while the sun set into a burning sea of oranges and crimson skies… And then last night (not so broke anymore) I came home to a house set perfectly to order with the dishes drying, and the laundry neatly done – and not just that – but the table set with blood-red linen napkins, two of my wooden red hearts set in between, two wine glasses and candles waiting to be lit after sunset – and the most romantic Brazilian jazz tickling the warm skin of the evening air like a soft, plumy feather. (In the oven was a pizza Craig drove all the way to St Elmos to get – he insisted it be a wood-fired pizza – and which he timed to pick up soit coincided with my 7pm arrival home!) Needless to say, the evening was delicious decadent delightful dazzling – and I STILL feel like a princess, basking in the thoughtfulness and care Craig took…
At the end of the month we’ll be getting Internet at the flat – so I’ll be able to stay more in touch and write much much more (my writing has slowly turned into an obsession. A hunger. A constant craving… So that if I don’t find time to write, I become crabby and tetchy – like a two-year old who needs a nap and some food!)

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