“Go camping?” she asked. “No, glamping,” I said.
And so it was that we set off for the Baviaanskloof. A beautiful and natural area in the Eastern Cape of South Africa, the Baviaanskloof (Afrikaans for the valley of baboons), is a World Heritage Site of around 200 kilometres in length, consisting of rivers, gorges, mountains and, more importantly, mountain passes.
Arriving at Willowmore, we turned off the highway, onto the Baviaanskloof road and consulted the instructions we had received via email.
“Drive for 70kms until you arrive at a red windmill, and then turn right.”
“That’s it,” I asked, “no other instructions?”
Well, that sounded easy enough, but where do we start measuring the distance from? No mention of that at all, so we started from the signpost announcing that we’d arrived in the Baviaanskloof. After a couple of hours… well, it is a dirt road and there are some really pretty views along the way… we start looking out for the red windmill.
Arriving at a little shop with a clever rock-built loo, we made a quick stop and asked for directions, only to be met with blank looks. Undeterred, we continued, remarking that the instructions provided were a little scant for people who don’t know the area.
After more than 70kms we became concerned since there was still no sign of a red windmill anywhere and no one we had asked knew anything about it, or about the campsite. After driving a little further, we decided to turn back and ask at a roadside shop we had passed.
Did they know of a campsite around here, we asked? “Oh yes, it’s right across the road,” she answered to our relief.
“And the red windmill?”
“That’s it there,” she said, pointing at a little ornamental windmill standing about a metre or so high at the side of the shop. Little wonder we had missed it. We really should mention that the instructions need some work, we commented rolling our eyes.
The following day, on recommendation, we decided to head for the mountainous region of high passes and spectacular views for a picnic and some fishing. We had been advised that the roads were apparently not cliff hangers, and quite passable, a big consideration since we both have a fear of heights. However, being quite a drive and not having too much fuel left, we had to turn and drive the more than 70kms back to Willowmore to fill up. Something else that should be added to the instructions, we sagely agreed.
Returning again, we continued on towards Patensie and the mountain-passes-without-sheer-drops… or so they said. Suffice to say that these mountain passes are no different to any others. They have sheer drops in abundance.
Gasps of pleasure at the views soon dissolved as we arrived at the top of one such point. The road, we saw, continued on around the mountain, disappearing around a bend until it finally emerged on the other side of a steep cliff. Right, we had made it thus far on scary roads, we agreed we would carry on since our destination couldn’t be much further.
Halfway around the road, which was so narrow that cars could definitely not pass, and that could only be described as perilously clinging to the side of a sheer rock face, I stopped the 4×4 and announced I could go no further. A look of sheer disbelief crossed my companion’s face. “And now what?” she squeaked. I won’t go into detail, but a 3 (more like 7) point turn on a cliff edge isn’t for the faint-hearted and left us both trembling in terror at what might have been.
That night at dinner in the boma, we told the camp master, about our dismal attempt at crossing the mountains, to see him look back at us incredulously. In hindsight, he probably thought we were stark raving mad… and we went on to confirm his fears.
“Perhaps,” we said helpfully, “you could include in your instructions that people really should fill up at Willowmore before heading into the kloof. And, while you’re about it, advise them that the red windmill isn’t a real windmill and is only a metre high.”
“Well,” he said, “I did mention the fuel issue on the third page, and I’m sure you’ll find something more about the campsite on page 2”
“Third page,” we said in unison, “you mean there was more than one?”