Tuesday 3 May – Luxury, discovery and my first kiss

Don’t rush, take it slow. I will let you in on my smooch moment later!

But first, I wake in a cold sweat before the crack of dawn. “Where am I? Surely this is not the comfort of a hay bale out in the field?”

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I’ve been so busy taking in the surrounds that I’d almost missed the Mahem Country Guest House lap of luxury that I’d feasted on: delicious oxtail and malva pudding, prime fillet and home-baked apple tart and full-on English breakfast, all in sure-fire succession. So I wander behind the scenes to say thanks to Lucy and Malindi who so ably assist Sylvia and Jimmy Saunders who own and run the guest house.

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Fine outfits they have in this finely run outfit!

In the seclusion of the curio shop I discover so much local art that it really has me wondering just how much more is hidden in this beautiful place.

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A step outside and I am surrounded by the treasures of the secret garden and fairies willing to hang around with me. Sweet!

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And unlike other teary goodbyes, Jimmy shows me a new way that friends toast “adios and come back soon”.

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I guess you could kinda think me a local now. Thanks to Jimmy, who is also active in real estate in the area, I learn to pronounce the town’s name “meer-mel” correctly and even know that the guest house derives it’s name from the two-syllable “maa-hem” call that that the Crowned Crane makes. Aha, and you thought I was just good looking!

As I leave Memel, I have the weight of a confession I need to make! It’s the kind of thing the twitchers would skin me for and make a pair of colourful clown shoes with. At the heart of the town is the Seekoeivlei Nature Reserve, a RAMSAR accredited site [#888]. It’s jam-packed with all sorts of bird life and the area is another of our country’s wetland protectorates.

But I did not visit it. Why? Well, let’s just say I didn’t want to tempt the feathertarian in me. It could have gotten quite fluffy and messy with all them eggs and feathers about. Probably not good for the snake image I am so trying to slide out of.

So I take one last look at the town, choosing to source my grub the legitimate way.

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A quick stop at the local saloon to wash it all down with a glass of fresh water!

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And finally, a drop a note for Mucho and Maya who are holding up the home base and then some rays before hitting the road.

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Let´s go, down the dusty roads again!

And what is it about these hills? Is it that they border the Drakensberg that they have me heading through them again. I could do these views daily!

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And then, as if on cue, from behind the hills and bumpy roads, out pops “Smiley’s” the general dealer store in the town of Verkykerskop!

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Get a cup of coffee; this may take a few lines.

In times gone by, before you were even a moment of passion, the town was one of the last post hide-outs during the Anglo-Boer war. It is told that the women and children hid on the nearby mountain because it also offered a 360 degree view. And when the dust had all settled and the squabbles were a thing of the past, Verkykerskop became a hidden away farming community.

And so, for a rather long while, it became a beef, sheep, potatoe and apple farming community nestled a shade over 40km from Harrismith. As its hub, the one-stop general dealer.

Until, a day in 2005 when Matt, Beth and musician Chris Chameleon passed through to discover a place that they fell in love with. Together they have transformed the old store and become instrumental in the revitalisation of the dorp.

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Sporting a major facelift, the wifi-linked store now offers a roadhouse that even offers pizza on the menu, a much sought-after Sunday buffet lunch, weekly post-office services and a monthly pension pay-out station in the community.

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And it’s jam-packed with characters too!

Stefan, the manager of the store, shares that he escaped a year ago from the loud world of music journalism. He’s rather chilled out now and double steps in key as though he has always been here.

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Everywhere I look, I’m captivated. The yesterday-was-awesome look about the main restaurant is just special. It’s just my kinda colour scheme.

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Why, they even have custom seating for me and accessories to check on the status of my hot bod. Nice!

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I’m so fired-up now that I even take to an industrious stint at the till, racking up mega-sales in the process.

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Oh, I guess you chuckled at my mega-salesmanship? Ok, beat this: you try and rack up a percentage improvement to rival mine. I went from zero to R1,35 in sales in one shot. Yeah, beat that!

But all work and no play makes for a brown snake, so I take to feeding my IQ in the most charming country library I have yet seen.

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And when I’ve got all my lines sorted, head out to the patio and hiss sweet serenades to Chisel who, rather sadly for me, is soon fast asleep in creamy dreamland. I wonder why they refer to cuddly Chisel as “the Old Man”?

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Now just as one hottie goes to sleep, another appears. I must be a magnet for chicks!

Beth, co-founder and co-owner of the joint works her way up to me and fills me in on the details. She oozes passion for the changes to what was an almost forgotten town.

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It’s all about top-notch service with Beth, who’s past life as a music production exec has been traded in for this creative out-burst, as she shows me about The Venue, a magical fuel-inspired wedding and events joint they have created.

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It easily seats over 120 and together with the accommodation available in the town for up to 80 people, makes for a real hip joint to book and get hitched. Tipex, who is Beth´s friendly labrador is an optional extra at functions.

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To boot, Karen Zoid and the now late Irene Frangs are among the stars who have graced the stage here along with visits from Pasella and Elle Decor.

But while I am lost in my fantasies, I miss the one-on-one-session that’s going down. By the time I get to peep through the door, the best shot’s been taken.

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And as if all too soon, it’s time to say goodbye. But it ain’t no teary event. Its rather up-close and personal – full contact, shall we say.

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Oom Tokkelos, as he tells me after my first kiss, is rather tall for the legend but the truth is in his embrace. Too much, too soon for me and I am instantly racing for the furthest hills I can get to!

Just to be sure and safe, I wander aimlessly around the countryside and then finally crawl into my overnight abode at the fall of dark. The folks at the Golden Gate Highlands National Park are sweet and graciously have on hand a round and grassed hide for me – something I am familiar with.

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After settling in, its the short trip down to the hotel for a bite and more.

Still a little rattled after my embrace, I share my story with Robert Qhekoana who promptly suggests a stiff shot of lime and lemonade.

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Nice place this is. Moody and comfortable, just the way I like it.

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And as always a friendly soul to share dinner with. After a great buffet and some really interesting conversation with Hans Reuter who is from Germany and is visiting South Africa corner to corner, we cosy up for our playboy shot.

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Afterall, I have had my share of embraces for the day.

Back in my room, I take cover. Much to think about, much to be thankful for.

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Come on tomorrow!

Nighty nite

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