Joburg can be a bit boring on the weekends. So on Friday, Al and I drove an hour to Hartbeespoort (known by locals as “Harties”), a resort town in the North West Province. Harties is home to a picturesque cluster of adorable cottages sitting around a large, lake-sized dam, plus a bunch of tourist attractions such as a cheesy “African crafts market,” a snake park, a monkey reserve, an elephant sanctuary, and an aquarium. It’s kind of a weekend getaway for rich Joburgers who want to escape the traffic and noise of the “big city” (although Joburg on weekends is one of the quietest cities I’ve ever been in – but whatever).
We stayed in this cute lodge/bed and breakfast called the Hartbeespoortdam Lodge, which I highly recommend.
It’s located in an upmarket but aging gated community called Kosmos, which reminded Al and me of a cross between the chi-chi Colorado resort town Beaver Creek, southern California, and Italy. It’s all narrow winding roads and jacaranda and cacti and glimpses of blue water past the front gates of houses looking out over the dam. But, being South Africa, directly outside the gates of this cozy little resort community is an honest-to-God shanty town, where poor black South Africans live in tin shacks — looking out over the same blue dam. Very sad, very weird, and very typical of the huge discrepancy between rich and poor that is often visible (even in such close proximity) in this country.
On our first night in Harties, we ate dinner at a restaurant called the Silver Orange, which was very good, and shockingly affordable.
The next day, we got up, ate breakfast at the lodge, and then wandered to the “flea market”/African crafts bazaar down the road. The craft market was a veritable explosion of what one of Al’s friends once dubbed “Africrap:” wood carvings of naked African women with weird, alien-shaped heads and pointy breasts, bottle openers carved out of giraffe bones, preserved ostrich eggs with taxidermied baby ostriches popping out from within, paintings of Nelson Mandela, lava lamps, Hello Kitty bling, painted wood jewelry strung together with cheap elastic and glue, and so on. Aggressive sales people would reach out and grab us by the hand and try to lead us into their stall, where they’d promise us a “special price” for that beautiful wooden hippo they knew we had our eye on. Ugh. My husband, bless his heart, has a soft spot for all things Africrap, with a particular weakness for bottle openers in the shape of safari animals, and he’d pick things up and admire them, which led to much fruitless haggling and bluffing with the salespeople. I got tired of the crafts market quickly.
We had a mediocre cappuccino and a milkshake at a “coffee cafe” (they should really consider changing their name) and then went to Bushbabies Monkey Sanctuary. I was excited for the monkey sanctuary because I love animals and thought it would be cool to see monkeys up close and personal. Turns out, though, monkeys are kinda creepy.
Throughout the hour-long tour of the sanctuary, which rescues abandoned monkeys (many of whom were kept as pets by a**holes), we were accosted by a capuchin monkey named Apie, who searched all of our pockets, took what he could get, and then ran off into the trees. Then he’d come back and do it again, often settling on people’s heads and wrapping his tail around people’s necks. Awkward. At one point, he stole Al’s sunscreen out of his back pocket and escaped into a tree and proceeded to eat the sunscreen. We were watching the monkey bang the sunscreen bottle against a tree branch as if it were a coconut, when our guide, the improbably named Simba, told us in a grave voice that the sunscreen would make Apie very sick, and that he would probably spread his sickness to the other monkeys. Uh, guilt trip alert.
At some point, Apie got tired of the sunscreen and dropped it into the underbrush, and Simba went down to retrieve it. Apie seemed remarkably unaffected by his consumption of the sunscreen and went back to marauding, trying to extract water bottles, purses, keys, cellphones, and cameras from everyone else.
To my surprise, I found myself wanting nothing to do with Apie. I didn’t want him on my shoulders, I didn’t want to pet him, I didn’t want him staring at me with those beady little eyes. He creeped me out. This was weird for me, because normally I love all sorts of animals, but something about this little kleptomaniac with finger toes and sharp teeth didn’t sit right with me. I think Apie had a bad streak. At one point, he tortured a big, black monkey of a different species because she had come into his “territory.” Then, when he was draped over the head of some lady who clearly did not want him draped over her head, Al offered his arm to Apie and Apie quite matter-of-factly turned his head and bit Al on the arm. He didn’t break the skin but he nipped him through his shirt. And at that point, I was pretty much done with Apie.
After the monkey sanctuary, we went to a cheese farm we had seen signs for along the road. We had high hopes for this cheese farm, since we like cheese, but the cheese was lackluster. But the countryside itself was beautiful and peaceful, and we sat outside for a long time while a couple of dogs slept under our table.
Overall, our trip to Hartbeespoort was a very successful mini getaway. It’s fun to get outside the city without spending hours and hours on the road. Methinks that more of these little trips need to happen before we leave South Africa. Except no more monkeys, please.