Tag Archives: braai

Botswana fail

In the five-plus years that Al and I have known each other and traveled together, we’ve seen a lot of stuff but run into very few snags.  I was wracking my brain the other day trying to think of one trip that we had taken where something had gone wrong and all I could think of was that one time our rental car broke down in historic downtown Fredericksburg, Virginia and we had to wait, like, an hour for Triple A to come.  Horrors! Seriously, that’s the worst thing that’s ever happened to us and we’ve been to over 20 countries and many states (plus two Canadian provinces!).  So I guess we were bound to encounter a true failure of a trip eventually, and that’s what we got on our trip to Botswana.

The plan was to drive to Botswana (about five hours to the border with South Africa), go to this cool bush camp, do a walking safari and a driving safari, and then go to this rhino sanctuary where we’d gawp at baby rhinos.  Sounds fun, right?

The day after we got back from Italy, we packed up our 2008 Toyota Yaris with food for braai-ing (since the bush camp was self-catering), our fun new safari hats that we got for Christmas from Al’s dad and step-mom, and many electronic devices, which we assumed we would be able to use in our $90/night cottage.  We set off on our adventure with the radio blasting and joyful excitement in our hearts. Fools!

Things started going wrong a couple of hours into the trip.  The first three hours of driving were on highways – easy peasy! – but then, without warning, the roads abruptly became unpaved and littered with potholes and giant, lake-sized puddles that were deep and stretched across the entire length of the road.  No one had told us that it really isn’t advisable to drive to Botswana on a two-wheel drive and our poor little Yaris was taking a beating.  This is what it looked like from the passenger seat after driving through one of the giant lake puddles:

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The last two hours of the drive were grueling and our car shook and moaned as we forced it over rock-strewn unpaved roads.  This was probably the best paved road we traveled on:

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When we finally reached Molema bush camp, over seven hours after leaving Joburg, we staggered into the pitch-dark reception area, where a woman with a flashlight searched for our names on the list.  “Is the electricity out?” asked Al.  “No,” she said with what looked like a smirk, although it was hard to tell since it was so dark.  “There is no electricity here. This is the real bush.”

Great.

We filled out some forms and then the woman told us she’d accompany us in our car to our “chalet,” which was up another bumpy, rocky road.  We piled into the car and Al turned the key and — nothing. Yes, that’s right, our battery had chosen that moment to die.  Hooray!

The next hour was spent with some kindly Afrikaner people who jumped the battery and, when that didn’t work, poured distilled water into the battery.  They jumped it again and the car struggled to life.  We were told to let the engine run for another 10-15 minutes or it might die again.  We drove it up to our chalet and let it run for a full 20 minutes before turning it off, just to be safe.  Then we started braai-ing.

Now, normally, I love a good braai.  I love being outside in the warm night air and breathing in the smell of the fire and eating corn on the cob and everything else braai-ing entails. This braai, however, I did not enjoy.  Al was standing by the fire, turning steaks over on the grill, and I was lighting my way back and forth from the outdoor kitchen with a paraffin lamp, when I felt something bumping into my legs and hands.  The paraffin lamp flickered and I realized, to my horror, that I was surrounded by GIANT MOTHS and they were dive-bombing into my lamp.

First, let me be clear: these moths were not your run-of-the-mill giant moths.  These were mutant, hairy, African-cousins-of-Mothra moths, with big, fuzzy bodies and black wings and poor senses of direction.  They flew in crazy circles, yet always somehow managed to bump into me and flutter their creepy, dusty wings on or near my face.  I must also tell you that I have one truly irrational phobia, and that is moths.  I have always, ALWAYS hated moths, since time immemorial, and I totally lose my cool around them, to put it mildly.  Al looked up from his steaks with dismay when I started flapping my arms and squawking like a scared goose.  He took swift action and led me into our chalet with a plate of food, which would have been fine, except the chalet was FULL OF MOTHS.

What seemed like an eternity later, Al managed to burn up most of the moths with the paraffin lamp.  We then sealed the doors and windows of the chalet, which made the interior approach oven-like temperatures, but honestly, I would rather die of heat exhaustion than have to share a room with a moth.  I didn’t eat much that night, partly because a moth walked on my steak.  Al and I joked that if I ever need to lose weight fast, he’ll just buy a giant crate of moths and set them loose at the dinner table.

We went to bed that night in our sweaty chalet and told each other that tomorrow would be better, because we’d go on our game drive and see cool animals and all would be well.  The next day we woke up with renewed optimism and checked in with reception to see what time the game drive would start and were informed that we’d need to drive back about 20 km. to a fancier safari lodge to start the drive.  We told the woman that there was no way our battered car was going to make it back over those roads again, and she shrugged.  Seeing no alternative, we got into our car to drive it back to the safari lodge, but — you guessed it! — it wouldn’t start.

Not to sound melodramatic, but the implications of our car’s dead battery were ghastly.  We were stuck on a moth farm with literally nothing to do except sit and stare at each other.  There were no animals to see (except a few dung beetles and the aforementioned moths), no activities to do, no hiking trails, and worse, no electricity.  Also, did I mention that Al was sick with a sore throat this entire time? Well, he was.

My safari hat was for naught.

My safari hat was for naught.

At one point we walked down to the shitty little river behind the chalet and looked at it for a few minutes.  The riverside was strewn with dung and we tried to guess which animal had left it.  “Giraffe,” said Al, pointing to a large pile of dung.  What a tease, these giraffes, I thought. They come and poop all over the riverside and yet don’t show themselves to humans? That’s bull-s**t. Or, giraffe-s**t, I guess.

The day passed slowly and at night, we repeated the same braai-moth dance as the night before.  I locked myself in the chalet for dinner and picked at the food Al brought me, scared that it had been trodden on by moth feet.   I spent a long, sleepless night in our hot chalet, keeping one eye open for moth interlopers and being eaten alive by mosquitos.

Meanwhile, that day we had been negotiating with the woman at reception to try to get a mechanic at the camp so we could get the hell out of Botswana, but the mechanic was otherwise indisposed and could not come.  Finally, we were told that he’d arrive at 7 am the next day – hallelujah!  Perhaps unsurprisingly, he showed up at 8:30 the next day and forgot to bring a wrench.

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Eventually, a wrench was procured and the mechanic replaced our battery and we tore out of there.  Well, we metaphorically tore out of there.  We actually left at about 1 mph, because the roads were so bad.

We got back to Joburg that afternoon and collapsed gratefully onto our couch, in our apartment with lights and a fan and no moths.  Now we’re enjoying a bit of a staycation, catching up on blogging (me) and taking antibiotics (Al).  If nothing else, our Botswana adventure gave me a new appreciation for Joburg and its many creature comforts (and lack of creatures).  It’s good to be back!

Drakensberg Mountains

This weekend marked our first real weekend away from Joburg, and it was all I hoped it could be.  Al and I and three friends (Josh, Ken, and Elli) spent the weekend hiking, braai-ing, and drinking in the Drakensberg Mountains and, let me tell you, it was glorious.

The Drakensberg Mountains run along the western edge of the KwaZulu-Natal province and also border Lesotho.  There are a lot of resorts in the Drakensbergs, but we decided to stay in the Royal Natal National Park, which, according to my guidebook, “is famous for its exceptionally grand scenery.”  This turned out to be no joke.

View from our hike

However, reaching the park was no easy feat.  The drive from Joburg was a harrowing five-hour ordeal involving a two-lane highway full of slow moving trucks and fast-moving cars, long stretches of unsealed/unpaved roads littered with potholes, and, for most of the trip, pouring rain.  Oh, also, we left Johannesburg at 7 pm – probably not the wisest choice, in retrospect.   We made it, though!

We stayed right in the park in the uber-charming Thendele resort.  The five of us rented a self-catered, six-person cottage with a fireplace, TV, kitchen, and, most important, outdoor braai area.  Priorities!

This was the view from our cottage’s back patio.

Our cottage:

It was okay, I guess.

After staying up until 2 am on Friday drinking wine and eating biltong, we got up at 9 am on Saturday, ate a filling breakfast, and then set out on what ended up being a rather epic four-hour hike.  The hike took us past several waterfalls and required that we scramble up wet, moss-covered rocks and ascend a chain ladder.  For those of you who have never climbed a thin, swaying chain ladder set against slick, wet rocks, go ahead and skip it.  We all pretended we weren’t scared by it, but I’m reasonably sure we all secretly thought we were going to die on that ladder.

View from “The Crack”

On our way back down from the midway point of the hike, we were passed by a group of very tough looking Afrikaner guys wearing compression leggings and huge backpacks, who informed us, quite gravely, that “the pressure is dropping” and that we needed to get back down the slippery rocks before it started pouring rain. Then they jogged up the rocks and we lost sight of them.

When they passed us again ten minutes later, going back down, one of them – in his eagerness to outrun the dropping pressure, I imagine – slipped on the rocks and fell so hard on his back that we all gasped and cringed, sure that we had just witnessed a spinal fracture. “Are you okay?” we all asked him.  “Fine,” he said cheerily, as he popped back up, brushed himself off, determined that he had no broken bones, and continued on down the rocks at a brisk clip.  These Afrikaners don’t mess around.

After our hike, we uncorked some wine and settled in for a braai – salads, steaks, sausage, garlic bread, grilled veggies, corn on the cob, and even cookies for dessert.  Stuffing myself silly with wine and food has become my main weekend activity here, but what am I supposed to do, not partake in the local delights? That would just be culturally insensitive.

This guy, and his friend, decided to join us for our braai. He was very bold:

Guinea fowl?

After stuffing ourselves with food, we went inside and started a fire, and, of course, drank more wine. Are you seeing a pattern here?

The only thing missing? S’mores.  I’m thinking s’mores need to become a braai staple. I also realized this is the second blog post in which I’ve mentioned s’mores. I might have a problem.

Some other highlights of the trip, for me, included several baboon sightings and this sign warning us not to feed said baboons:

I also saw this in the park’s “curio shop,” and had to really make an effort not to buy it.  By the way, what do we think – is headache powder to be snorted, or applied directly to the head? I couldn’t decide.

All in all, a great weekend.  South Africa is feeling more and more live-able every day.

Braai

On Saturday evening, Al and I hosted our first braai (barbeque).  Braai is the Afrikaans word for barbeque or grill.  In a traditional braai, the meat is cooked over wood, but nowadays a lot of South Africans use plain ol’ charcoal briquettes just like everybody else.

Al went to the store on Saturday and purchased a barbeque, charcoal briquettes, and a twenty-two piece braai set (we might have gone a bit overboard).

Our new baby

We spent the afternoon preparing food.  Luckily, our apartment was sparkling clean since our new maid, the adorably named Precious, got the place ship-shape that morning while Al and I sat around awkwardly and wondered if we should offer to help.  We North Americans aren’t good with domestic help.

View from our balcony

Our menu consisted of rump meat, boerewors (a type of South African beef sausage), and biltong, plus my famous horseradish beet dip, guacamole, and cookies-and-cream popcorn, which turned out to be a huge hit.  Seriously, if you want people to like you, make them cookies-and-cream popcorn. They will be putty in your hands.

In preparing the side dishes, I had to make some adaptations based on what I found at the Pick ‘n Pay.  For example, I couldn’t find jalapenos for the guacamole, so I substituted little green chilis, which pack a more powerful punch and need to be used judiciously so as not to knock over one’s guests.  I also couldn’t find prepared horseradish for the beet dip, so I used something called “creamed horseradish.” Sounds a bit gross, but it did the trick.

Our guests arrived around five and we all set to eating and drinking until we were fit to pop.  Or maybe that was just me.  Oddly enough, only one of our guests was South African.  The rest were from Germany, America (f*** yeah), Nigeria, and Botswana.  Pretty sweet. Anyway, a good time was had by all (see photographic proof below) and I think we’ll be hosting many more braais in the future, despite our meat hangovers today.

Yum.