An instalment in our traversal of most of the length of South Africa, renewing old acquaintances, cementing cherished relationships and taking in a few new places, too. This is the second of a growing number of blogs on the subject, that number depending upon how much the imagination gets carried away in the moment.
This instalment is the sequel to the first few stops of our East "Coast" Nostalgia and there is at least one spooky link back to the Clarkes of Chalumna. See if you can spot it in the text (or maybe a photo caption).
A substantial incentive for visiting Kwa Zulu Natal (KZN) was to right a wrong with Mr and Mrs Patriarch Deale. That has a distinct and beguiling ring to it, doesn't it? Patrick (a.k.a. Packet) the Patriarch; rather nicely packaged, perhaps?
You see, since the matriarch, Judy, moved to Hermanus, the Western Cape became the primary family holiday destination and KZN (our birthplace) had become rather neglected as such. In the meantime, Packet and Susie built their dream house in the Midlands on the outskirts of Hilton. Shan was the first sibling to be setting foot in the completed article. I'd visited the construction site a few years earlier but hadn't seen the full Monty either.
So we were contemplating our visit with delicious anticipation. But first we had to traverse what used to be the Transkei but is now part of the Eastern Eastern Cape province. We knew it would be a fairly epic journey from Tyolomnnqa but we weren't quite prepared for the sheer length of time it would take.
Travelling as we were via East London (Buffalo City), the only feasible route for us to get there in a single day was to regain the N2 and cross the Kei River at the Great Kei Bridge. This route also had the singular attraction of revisiting the vast valley that has been carved out by this mighty waterway. More than 25 km if viewed in its entirety, the landscape has a rugged grandeur that is difficult to rival.
We renewed our Oohs and Ahs at the spectacle and then we were in the Transkei proper. The plan was to avoid Mthatha and veer off the N2 at Idutywa and take the less-travelled high road that would eventually drop us off on the N3 just above Hilton.
In retrospect it was the correct decision but would've been an even better one had we departed at dawn with Joe and his family.
Central Idutywa was a preview of Transkei town centres further on up the road. They have become intense commercial centres with vibrant informal markets, which is exciting if one has the time to take in the ambience but also intimidating due to the sheer crush of people going about their daily business of selling and procuring life's necessities. Turning into the side roads only exacerbates this, with more people to avoid and with potholes that feel as if they might consume an entire car.
Extricating ourselves from Idutywa and heading in the direction of Ngcobo brought its own revelations. The road has an almost urban sprawl feel about it for much of the way and, sensibly, has urban speed limits to match, which you avoid exceeding at your peril. Sleeping policemen and other teeth-rattling physical constraints abound. I do approve of traffic-calming for ecological and life-saving reasons but there are so many of them that an extra hour on the ETA at Ngcobo would be expedient (maybe an hour and a quarter to get to the other side of Ngcobo whose street markets were particularly intense). This would be on top of the allowances for avoiding the goats, sheep and cattle that appeared to roam the trunk roads at random.
The drive from Ngcobo to Elliot is spellbinding as you travel along a ridge that could be the top of the world with vistas disappearing into the distance on either side of the road. The vistas are even more spectacular to passengers seeing as the driver's attention has to be more or less fully focussed on the road surface that is (to quote the Prince of Wales) "appalling".
The road from there to the N3 is a little better, perhaps even challenging a curate's egg in some parts, where it is actually good. Unfortunately we arrived in Underberg a fair bit behind schedule and the fading light and the heavy rain that continued to plague KZN for the next five months all but obliterated the views of the Unkomaas that we knew to almost but not quite rival the Kei.
Sadly we get nil points for photographs of the Transkei. This can be attributed in part to a self-preservatory frisson and in part to our steadily disappearing deadline. The trip ended up taking us 11 and a half hours, two and a half hours longer than normal people should have taken.
We made up for the photographic shortcomings in the Transkei once we reached The Edge, informally known as Chez Deale.
On The Edge at Chez Deale
Above: the new Deale home is appropriately named The Edge for the reasons illustrated above. On a clear day it is possible to view Pietermaritzburg but not so often in the rainy season.
The Edge Deales were most understanding of our state when we arrived and, apart from a scrumptious supper and glass of wine, we more or less flopped into our beds in preparation for the following day's fun.
Apart from being a budding senior athlete with the early morning runs that have kept him young, fit and handsome, Packet has recently taken to keeping chickens. Mucking out the coop and providing fresh food is only half of it. The other half is taken up with defending his birds from predators. Most of these predators were evidently huge raptors of the avian variety.
But there were also monkeys after the eggs. A brazen bunch of bistids they were too. Hanging about and even coming into the house if a chance presented itself. This caused a lot of charging about, trying to scare off the sceptical apes as well as the avian ones.
Returning to the birds, it wasn't long before we witnessed a face off between our host and a Crowned Eagle. With its 1.8 metre wingspan (for UK readers, similar to that of a Red Kite) but with claws the size of Muhammad Ali's fist, our airborne feathered friend did not seem too perturbed by the Patriarch's laser stare.
The same patriarch who had recently perfected that stare as a leading thespian in Paul Spence's1 theatre group.
We were eager to to visit the Station Stop theatre and assorted other attractions, which we did after Susie's soul sustaining sustenance in the form of a fry-up. Yes, we did benefit from Packet's having saved a few of his brood and thereby some of the jolly fine fresh eggs they had produced..
Above (l to r): Patrick ensuring the survival of the remaining fowls; brother and sister at the renovated station which has many new attractions including a cafe and a configurable area for a stage and a substantial audience (for that is what Mr Deale and his co-thespians attract to their popular performances); me acting as the village curmudgeon (evidently I didn't have to try too hard!).
Above: "What's up Cock". Makings of a new performance?
Stuffed with breakfast, followed closely by coffee and cake at the station, we decided against a full-on lunch and repaired back to The Edge for rest and restoration.
However, not before stopping off at St Anne's Diocesan College for Shan to see where her Mum, Judy, had been schooled. The college had also played a significant part in Susie's (neé Haines) and her own Mum's history, having both been there simultaneously, as pupil and teacher respectively.
I had also visited St Anne's, starting in 1968 when Susie and her friends had been the tantalising reward for the likes of Andrew Hathorn2, other friends and me to walk the 9 km to spend an hour or so on Sunday afternoons. There we would sit politely on the lawn under the watchful eyes of the staff, probably including Mrs Haines, before theoretically walking the 9 km back again.
Those were the school rules of the day but I say "theoretically" because, if Andrew was involved, we would repair down the road for tea with his grandmother who would then take pity on us and drive us back in her mint condition Riley 1.5 and drop us discreetly just before our school gates.
Above: Susie and Shan engage in some bonding resulting in a foot massage for the latter; I enjoyed the paving close up, too.
Packet and I had to swot3 for an upcoming visit to the Crossways Pub, an establishment that had hosted me and other reprobates (dare I say it) from 1968, through the early 70s and most recently for drinks to mark my Mum, Shirley's, death in 2010. We set out in a now familiar deluge to put the world to rights over a pint or two of the Crossways' finest.
Our last day was spent in the Karkloof area, a particularly lush oasis in KZN. Our destination was to include a nature reserve featuring a zip-wire through spectacular indigenous trees and after that the view site for the 105 metre Karkloof Falls. The Falls had been visible across the wide uMngeni Valley from the school I had been at for 4 years and we used to peer across quite a few miles at what seemed like a pathetic trickle. Now we would see them up close and après déluge.
If I am to be honest, I must admit to a feeling of some relief when it transpired that the zip wire rides were fully booked on that Friday but that we could walk through the bush on some fine trails. I suspect that Shan and Patrick, particularly, hid their disappointment admirably.
Above (top to bottom, L to R): Standing in the forest beside one of the swollen streams that eventually feed the Karkloof River and, ultimately, the falls; a chap zips past us on a wire; Shan and me looking winsome; Susie, bless her; Packet being thoughtful; funky fungus; Forest floor flowers - if I'm not mistaken, this one a streptocarpus; the trunk of a gnarly old tree
Above: Certainly no pathetic trickle, the après déluge Karkloof Falls pumping on January 7, 2022; There be 20 slippery adders down this road - slip on them and you'll suffer a head-on collision?
We didn't crash but did take a wrong turning and a huge detour via Mooi River4 to return to Hilton for an appointment of Packet's and an al fresco lunch that had to be abandoned (well the al fresco bit anyway) because of le grand déluge flooding the parts of the mall and parking area.
One last night and a relaxed full breakfast and we had to leave leave the Deale's clifftop idyll to drive to the coast and lunch with the Hathorns. As with so many of these later life nostalgic experiences, the question did arise: will we ever see this again?
Andrew and Ann
As mentioned earlier in this episode, Andrew and I had been friends in 1968 but it all started way further back than that. I suspect I had been aware of his existence since I had been aware of anyone's existence. His uncle, Maitland (Matey), had been at university with my Mum and we spent a lot of time with Matey and Mary and their children. John, Shirley, Alan, Peter and Paula dovetailed into my siblings and me neatly. Their cousin, Andrew, and I should've arrived at Hilton College on the same date. Only Andrew did in younger life what I have succeeded in doing later in mine, i.e. he fell down (from his bicycle, aided and abetted by a car) and broke his crown in 1965 aged 13/14. I ended up doing much the same thing in 2015 en route on my bicycle to stay with Andrew's brother Jeremy's brother-in-law, Richard. Ended up in hospital shortly afterwards in Caen, France but that's not strictly part of this narrative. Andrew ended up missing the first term of boarding school and when he finally arrived I was asked to ensure his transition into the new establishment would be a smooth one. Not that he needed my help.
Returning to the present, we had arranged to have lunch with Andrew and Ann at the Bush Tavern in Umdloti, just North of Durban, on the second Saturday of 2022.
We set off in good time and were almost derailed by a phone call from Packet to tell me that I'd left my camera bag at their house and would I like him to jump in his car and meet us at the N3 Toll Plaza? Bless him. Given a few minutes to review the situation we decided that it would a) be unreasonable to expect him to chase us half way across KZN and b) I could potentially make an alternative plan to recover the equipment after I had dropped Shan at Durban airport.
So we were well on track for the appointed hour until we attempted to park our car near the restaurant. The last time I'd visited Umdloti it had been a pretty sleepy beach resort. This time it was completely rammed. Traffic was being turned back at the roundabout at the entrance to the town. Shan and I had booked accommodation at the Greenfire Lodge B&B down one of the roundabout's spur roads.
We eventually managed to persuade the traffic officer preventing traffic from entering the access road that we had a reservation down there and they let us through. We drove and drove and then drove some more. Eventually, just when we thought we must have been mistaken, we arrived at the B&B. Two kilometres down the road. We were now already late and had two km to walk back in fiery heat.
So not a great start to arrive at an assignation 45 minutes late with probably one's oldest friend, especially after a few years since the last time I'd seen them. So we were a bit fraught and the idea of a snap wasn't really on our minds. Of course, as things are between old friends, the fraughtness disappeared as soon as we sat down and the conversation started. Then we were too preoccupied with the present to pause for photography. Anyway that's my excuse. It was fab seeing you guys and I've dug out some historical snaps as compensation.
Above (L to R, top to bottom): Ann and Andrew with our goddaughter, Nicole, at her christening in 1987; a bunch of oldies at my 50th, back row yours truly, Shan, Jeremy (Gorgs) du Plessis, front row, Andrew, Lynne du Plessis, Shan's other brother, Martin Deale - suffice to say that I must've been to all of their 21st birthdays, Shan's most recently, so this represented a combined friendship at that time of more than 150 years. Andrew had travelled in from South Africa and Marty from Boston; a corker of a photo I dug out from a reunion 9 years ago in which Andrew is smiling benignly while Johhny Thorpe grins spookily through the closed window behind and Rose Clarke seems determined to ignore such tomfoolery; Andrew and Ann five years later at a similar reunion.
Our lunch was over all too quickly and we said our goodbyes at the roundabout whereupon the Hathorn went to find their car and we trudged back the 2 kms to our B&B taking in the peace and fading light along the beachfront5.
Above L to R: Chosen for its sea facing balcony we enjoyed sundowners at Greenfire Lodge as the light faded behind us; and then reappeared what seemed like a few hours later in the form of a glorious sunrise.
We didn't even have time for a morning walk along the beach before heading off to Durban's King Shaka airport for Shan to grab her flight to Cape Town. I resumed the Nostalgic journey heading North towards the Balfours.
In #3 and #4 I'll travel beyond to commune with Vaalie friends and relations and commence another road trip with my darling daughter, Kate.