Sometimes you go out for a beer on a Friday night and two days later you are sitting next to a baby piglet drinking tea in the forest.
To back up a bit, my first weekend in South Africa was not nearly so interesting. I had decided to spend a few days at Pete and Liz’s house, up the road from where I would eventually stay when the homeowners returned. I got in touch with my boss and things got (mostly) sorted out at work by the time I went back to the office on Monday. I have not worked a 9 to 5 job in over ten years so sitting at a desk for hours on end definitely took a bit of getting used to. I may have been in South Africa but at the end of the day, every office ends up feeling the same, somehow. Too much air conditioning, bland colours and a noisy coffee pot in the back room.
Everyone was friendly enough, but one gal, Michelle went out of her way to invite me out and then promptly got a stomach illness for the rest of the week. I ended up spending the weekend with Liz, doing some errands and visiting her elderly friend at a care home. All very lovely but not exactly what I had in mind when I got here. I’m also sure you are dying to hear some office stories; learning how to process GPS data and edit text files, but I will skip ahead as this is a travel blog after all. By the next week Michelle had recovered somewhat and invited me out to this great little pub called the Station Masters Arms. The weather was still cold and rainy so the server tucked us into the back near the fireplace. Yes, I was in Africa sitting next to a roaring fireplace- I was weirded out too.
Michelle invited her friends Kira, Ross and Glen and we drained several beers as the weather got steadily worse. Heavy rain became torrential with lighting frequently flashing in the darkness. This, of course lead to even more beers. You can guess where this is going. Michelle still wasn’t feeling great so she went home with Kira and I stayed to hang out a bit longer. This decision led directly to my waking up in a fertilizer factory on Glen’s couch. He lives in a small apartment above the factory and I’m still not quite sure what he does for a living there. Something to do with mixing diatoms?
After a steadying breakfast, Glen asked if I was still keen to go on the outing we had discussed the night before. I had only a hazy idea of what he was talking about but agreed anyway. He dropped me off so I could pack and then showed up with Kira about an hour later. As it turned out, I had agreed to go stay at his sister Marion’s place near Howick (about an hour inland from where we were in Hillcrest) on Saturday night and we would stop at a few cool spots on the way. Glen was to be running a Triathlon nearby on Sunday so he would be staying at the run site and leave us with his sister.
After a bit of off-roading we stopped at a lovely waterfall for a quick snap and then moved on to a nearby game reserve. There are dozens of small game reserves scattered around KwaZulu-Natal (the province I am in), some public and some private. I would compare them to the provincial parks we have back home, except with zebras and impalas thrown in. When we pulled up to the Tala Game Reserve, Glen warned me not to speak, as South Africans get a cheaper rate than foreigners and my Canadian accent would give up the game rather quickly. He also admitted that this was likely not the nicest game reserve as it was quite small and didn’t have any big cat species. Despite this, we saw a heard of white rhinos almost immediately upon entering the park, with a couple babies in tow. So far so good. My stated goal was to see a giraffe, which both Kira and Glen thought as a rather unremarkable plan since they are usually pretty easy to spot. There were several deer-types like eland and kudu as well as the ubiquitous impala, along with hippos, warthogs, wildebeests, and of course, monkeys. We drove around in Glen’s 4×4 for a few hours, but there was not a single giraffe to be seen. Alas! By this time, Glen had to head to the race start at the Midmar Dam to register for the race. We left Tala giraffe-less and barely made it to the registration desk in time.
From Midmar, we drove down a gravel road and eventually pulled up to Marion’s house. A beautiful, glass-enclosed structure, the building was surrounded by forest and there was even a private waterfall down the hill. Turns out Marion and her boyfriend lived in Middle Earth, complete with miniature ponies in the pasture. There were a couple chalets on the property as well, which is where Kira and I would be staying, free of charge. Glen’s mom was also visiting and as we sat down for some tea, a piglet came squeaking by, smaller than a loaf of bread. Turns out Marion was a PhD in Animal Science (along with being a literal World Champion canoe racer), and had taken in a couple of her neighbor’s piglets to raise. In the middle of baking cupcakes when we arrived, Marion invited Kira and I to help with the decorating after tea. Once supper and cupcakes were done, Glen headed off to his campsite and we made our way to our chalet.
In the morning, Kira and I woke up to a beautiful sunrise with birds chirping and monkeys jumping in the trees nearby. We could see the waterfall in the distance and as we prepared some morning coffee, we watched a couple small lizards drinking out of a puddle on the patio. By the time we roused ourselves for a walk, Glen was already done his race and coming up the driveway. He was (understandably) wiped out and wanted to head home. We said goodbye to Marion and the piglets and started back to Hillcrest. Partway back Glen thought it would be nice to sample some craft beer at a local chef’s school, so we stopped to enjoy a tipple. At that point some other friends of his were grabbing a beer at a nearby hotel bar so we and met everyone there. Amid the wandering peacocks, there was good beer but no food so we went on to a third place for pizza. And just like that I had a social circle bigger than what I have at home. South Africa is actually a pretty cool place.