The holiday break at the farm and the road trip to the KwaZulu-Natal coast has left me with a renewed and resounding connection with the beauty of South Africa. Just when I thought I was in love with Cape Town, the Eastern Free State stole my heart again.
We arrived at Mullersvlei Farm two days before Christmas, in the height of the summer heat. It’s the rainy season on that side of the country, and every afternoon storm clouds would roll in and the most spectacular lighting would flash against an opaque sky, bringing with it thunder and heavy rains that cooled the earth and air. The lightning is so frequent that it has claimed the lives of a few unsuspecting, ill-fated cows over the years. The landscape is now brilliant green from the abundance of fresh water, quite a contrast to the bleached, straw-coloured grasses back in May. After the storms, the sun would once again beat down until dusk, a lazy buzz in the air would settle in. Dogs sleeping in the shade, the slow death of insects.
There is always something astoundingly visceral, and sometimes horrific, happening on the farm. A baby calf is discovered dead after days going unnoticed. A dog gives birth to ten puppies. Another dog went missing for nearly a week and returned scrawny with a broken hip. We are constantly dodging guinea fowl, rabbits, and deer that run out onto the road, and one night after a late dinner a big grey owl just sat there in the headlights at the end of the driveway, staring at us until he decided it was time to fly, spreading a surprising wingspan before us, into the dark.
A foal jumped off the back of a truck and spit his chest open on a metal gate, severing the muscle. Luckily the veterinarian was visiting that day and we watched him stitch up the wound. On our way to town one afternoon, three large bulls had escaped through a gap in the fence and were taking themselves for a stroll along the road. We had to get out of the car and herd them back about a kilometre into the enclosure. It was surprising how well they obeyed the frantic arm waving and yelling. The cows on the other side of the fence walked them back with us, a joint effort by animal herd and human.
On the morning we left for the coast, the naughty greyhound had chased one of the sheep into the yard. We found this distressed bundle of wool trembling with its head in a corner at the side of the house, paralyzed with fear. On that same morning, one of the dogs was trapped in a shed and we only heard the whimpering moments before driving away for a week long trip. Thankfully most of the disasters are only close calls.
The Christmas meal was a late afternoon feast of meats and cold salads. Ox tongue, lamb, and pork. Mustard and cucumber jellies, chilled white wines. Black forrest trifle for dessert followed by a long nap under the shade of a tree on the front lawn. Just before sunset, we packed up some cold beers and fishing gear and drove to the river.
We hiked up the sandstone foothills through caves, waterfalls, and flora from another world, and at the top we swam in a freshwater dam with breathtaking views of the Maluti Mountains. One afternoon, on New Year’s Eve, we sat looking at the mountain ranges as a storm gathered momentum, grumbling in the distance. We could see the rain approaching, the air cooled and the sky beyond dimmed, cracking with theatrical flashes of light. We sat for hours out there, and nature put on quite a show.
One of the highlights of the trip was driving to the KwaZulu-Natal coast, up through the Midlands and the high, rugged ridges and deep, lush green valleys of the Drakensberg (“Dragon”) Mountains. Forests of paperbark acacia and yellowwood trees populate this World Heritage site, towering over rivers and grasslands. We stopped along the way at the Nottingham Road Brewery and the ridiculously beautiful Granny Mouse Country House (if I was planning a wedding I would want it to be there!) The wine cellar is incredible (with old vintages of Meerlust Cabernet Sauvignon and Boekenhoutskloof Semillon). There is a small chapel that overlooks the gorgeously green hillsides of KwaZulu. Again, my heart was stolen…
We stopped at Rosetta, a tiny village that makes their own cheese and wine, picked up some goats milk cheeses and every flavour of Frankie’s cola (my favourite was the Dandelion and Burdock). We also passed through the place where Nelson Mandela was captured in 1962.
Finally in Umhlanga, I was reminded of India: the hot and humid sub-tropical climate, the smell of jasmine and incense, the incredible curries, and the Indians! (Durban has one of the largest Indian populations outside of India). Early morning jogs along the beach, swimming in the waves of the warm Indian Ocean, followed by fresh pineapples and mangoes for breakfast and then usually a nap… It was the perfect end to one of the most pleasant and relaxing holidays ever. I am full of love for family, friends and the ever-surprising splendor of South Africa.