Terrified in the Treetops

It has been quite a couple of weeks what with one thing and another. Rowan, our daughter and Ben, her boyfriend, came over to South Africa for a three week adventure. This began with them going to Cape Town, to stay with my brother and family. They arrived very late on Tuesday evening off the daylight flight from Amsterdam. Derek and Lynn and the girls looked after them magnificently, and they had a wonderful time.

On the Saturday they flew up to Durban which is where they were to be based for the next two weeks. I was at work at the University and at about two o’clock I became aware that there was a southerly gale blowing. This meant the plane might be early and so I headed for the airport at high speed. Their aircraft was indeed 20 minutes ahead of schedule, but fortunately I was there in time. The beasts had organized their social life well in advance. After having supper with me they headed for a party with one of Rowan’s old school friends. I decided that I would therefore go to the cinema as I didn’t want to be sitting at home, (apparently) waiting for their return. I went and saw the chic-flic movie ‘It’s Complicated’ which I rather enjoyed.

Rowan and Ben stayed in Durban for the Sunday and Monday and on Tuesday drove up to the game reserves in the Hluhulwe area staying at a place the family love: Bonamanzi Game farm. Rowan first went there aged nine months. They reported seeing a lot of game; having an opportunity to visit the cheetah farm (cheetah’s purr); and getting drenched in a huge storm which left their treehouse without power or water. They got back on Friday and we went to a ‘standard’ Durban Manor Gardens Easter party on the Sunday. It no longer involves hunting for Easter eggs, most of the children are now way too old for this. It did involve sitting and talking and catching up with our neighborhood.

On the Monday I went to Swaziland to spend a couple of days doing research, but also to give them an opportunity to enjoy Durban by themselves. I returned on the Wednesday and took Friday off as they wanted go on the Karkloof Canopy Tours. According to the blurb “the canopy tour involves traversing from one platform to another along a steel cable suspended up to 30 meters about the forest floor. The tour comprises seven platforms and eight slides that zigzag down a pristine forested valley. The scenery and bird life are spectacular and the professional guides providing interesting facts about the forest ecology during the tour”.

That is the experience that most people may have; for me it was moments of amazement in a sustained period of sheer terror. The mountain is located about an hour and a half drive away from Durban. At the foot is a beautiful little set of cottages where visitors get their safety harness and a briefing. We then climbed into a Landrover and were driven to the top of the mountain. There were four of us doing the tour and there were three guides to make sure we were OK. Effectively one is clipped onto a steel cable, with a second cable as a safety device. There are two links to the main cable and one to the safety cable so it is very safe

The first slide is short, only 40 meters and is quite easy. Doing this one learns how to brake with the large leather glove on your hand. The second slide comprises of two ropes that disappear into the mist for 100 meters, taking you to the waterfall. Jumping off a platform and sliding down for this distance is not something that comes naturally. For the first three slides I went last. On the fourth slide I was told I was to go first (‘last in first out’ in trade union terms). It was hugely embarrassing because I slid down from one platform for 175 meters; arrived at the next platform; and gently bounced back five meters away from it. We had been told what to do if this happened: monkey climb; put your hands on the cable and haul yourself into the platform.

What we had not been told is what to do if, as I was, you were too terrified to even let go of the harness as you gently swung above the gorge. I tried monkey climbing, but I was shaking too much and so had to say to the guide: “please come and rescue me”. One of them shinned down the rope and hauled me back up catching my hand between two harnesses as he did. I sat on the platform shaking, sweating, pallid, and appalled at what I was doing. The other three arrived and looked at me and made helpful comments like:

“Oh shame”; “You are doing very well dad”, and “Not much more to go”.

Fortunately at this point we were given a small chocolate and a drink, the energy was absolutely necessary. There were three slides to go and I have to admit that I went in tandem with one of the guides who took responsibility for controlling the speed as we flew down those aerial rope-ways. What an experience. Rowan and Ben think it was one of the best things they had every done. I think I was insane. I hate heights at the best of times and this was clearly way way out of my comfort zone. They told me that the views were spectacular. I can’t comment, my eyes were closed for parts of the journey. At the end of the tour we were given a free drink and toasted sandwich, (they laughingly call this a delicious Midlands meal in their brochure). I am still processing the event!

From there it was back to Durban for Rowan’s final evening and we took the Brauninger family (who are old friends and had seen a great deal of Rowan and Ben) out for dinner. I had thought it would be possible to get a table for eight people at one of my favorite restaurants. This was completely not the case on a Friday evening. We ended up at a restaurant on Davenport Road.

The evening had the potential to be a complete disaster. Rowan, Ben and I walked down from my flat to the restaurant to get just there after 7.15pm. We informed the manager that we had a booking for 7.30pm. He denied it. Brigitta who had made the booking arrived shortly after, and the manager admitted that they had taken the booking but someone else had commandeered the table. We were put in the lounge area, sitting on leather cowhide seats. These were untanned and hairy which didn’t work for those people wearing shirts or shorts as the back of one’s’ legs were prickled and tickled.

It took nearly 40 minutes before we got a table and in the meantime the waitress came and got one drinks order at a time and brought us one drink at a time. The wine was red and hot an attribute one does not want. The day did not improve, the manager informed us that it was better to be inside under the fans than outside in the breeze, it would be cooler he said, members of the party wanted to smoke and went outside and report that this was definitely not the case. However when they were outside they had overheard the manager speaking about our party, being quite uncomplimentary about us, a complete lack of professionalism.

Eventually, an hour after we got to the re, we given a table, seated and orders taken. By this stage everyone was bad tempered and hungry. The food came and those of us who had order side dishes found we got meager portions. Rowan had a meal which had pesto on it which she detests. She said if she wanted pesto she would have ordered it.

Just as the food started coming from the kitchen, the switch on the distributor board on the pole outside the restaurant tripped, and we were plunged into darkness. Because the kitchen cooks with gas they were able to bring our means but it meant that their extractor fans ceased working and the inside of the restaurant gradually filled up with greasy smoke. Rowan, a vegetarian, went to the rest room and came back feeling quite nauseated. “Dad I walked through a cloud of meat”.

It was the only restaurant on the street affected in this way and was badly handled no apology just blame for the city council. Patrons were expected to simply carry on as though nothing had happened. Although that wasn’t quite the case because the waitress came over and said “Our computers are going to go down, please would you mind paying your bill now?’

We were paying cash so this was irrelevant. She carried on pushing until she had the money in her hand. By this time everyone was extremely irritated. I went to the manager and asked, “How much will you charge me for a tub of ice cream”.

“Why? Won’t you stay here”, he said.

So I told him why we would not in clear terms. All’s well that ends well though, we went to the flat and had ice-cream and several more bottles of wine. On the Saturday Rowan, Ben and I went over for breakfast to Mitchell Park; the weather had changed, it was grey, overcast, cold and a strong wind was blowing from the South. I dropped them at the airport at about 12.30. They flew to Johannesburg and then had to wait for 10 hours in before getting on the plane to Amsterdam and then connecting on the flight to Norwich. I got news, on Sunday that they had arrived back safely after an adventurous and I think very much fun time in South Africa. It was quite strange having company for this amount of time and probably rather good. They got in a decent amount of beach time which I think they very much appreciated.

Of course while all this holiday fun was going on here in South Africa we have had three major events. The first the murder of Eugene Terre´Blanche, a right-wing Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging leader. He had spent some years in prison in the 1990s and I can’t say his passing was greatly mourned by anyone. The second issue has been Julius Malema who has been severely reprimanded by President Zuma over his inflammatory behaviour. All this against a backdrop of us moving closer and closer to the World Cup. This stadia are complete, South Africa is ready but sadly it seems as though many fewer tourists than expected will be arriving for this event. I fear that Fifa has oversold and under delivered on the World Cup.