A Guest Post by Pieter Joubert
Most immigrants travel back to their respective countries of origin from time to time. These trips are normally filled with excitement, reconnecting with family and friends and the obvious sense of nostalgia and, of course, some sadness to leave it all behind again when returning to the adoptive country. We are no exception to this.
In 2020 and 2021 all our travel plans, which included a trip to Europe as well as a visit to South Africa, were cancelled due to the global pandemic and various travel restrictions.
Planning the Trip
In February of 2022, I started planning a trip to South Africa to visit my parents, attend a good friend’s 50th birthday party and spend about a week having some true downtime in the Karoo which has become my absolute favorite place on the planet to relax and unwind. During a random phone conversation with my good friend Colin, who lives in the UK, I mentioned that I will be going to South Africa in June. Without a moment of hesitation, Colin invited himself to tag along… FANTASTIC! I was so excited that he would consider coming to SA with me and I made sure that I called him again the next day to confirm. The previous evening’s commitment might have been influenced by a wee bit of the old Whiskey, and I needed to be sure he was in! He was!
During the long 4 month wait for my June trip, I managed to put together quite a comprehensive 2 week-long itinerary to make sure that I can show Colin some of my favorite parts of South Africa and also incorporate some tourist-type excursions and accommodations that I would normally not do when travelling by myself.
Sureta already had plans to go to South Africa in April and May to visit her family and friends and I would be in South Africa in June. Over the years, we have staggered our South African visits from time to time. The reason for it is primarily logistical (work, kids, pets, etc.) but we also have some different interests. I can’t expect her to spend a week on a desolate Karoo farm with nothing to do unless you love working with livestock and enjoy hunting. And I, on the other hand, do not particularly enjoy the charcuterie boards, cheese and wine tastings, endless mall visits and shopping excursions with friends.
My plan was to attend Sidney’s High School graduation in the USA on May the 30th and leave for South Africa the next day. I would meet Colin in Amsterdam and we would fly down to Cape Town together for our 2-week SA experience. What a fantastic plan, right?
A Change of Plans
Then the dreaded call came…
I got a call from my sister Tuesday, May 10th, just about three weeks before my scheduled departure, to let me know that my mother had a severe stroke and that she was not doing well at all. Coincidentally, Sureta managed to visit with my parents the previous week and was already on her way back to the USA when this happened. I immediately booked a flight to Cape Town for the next day. The kids and I picked Sureta up from the airport later that night and I left the next morning. Direct flights are hard to find these days, especially on such short notice, so I had to fly via Boston and Amsterdam, and then on to Cape Town. This means I got to South Africa about 30 hours after leaving home.
I went to see my mom the very next day and decided that it would be best if the kids could also fly down to South Africa to visit with their grandma as soon as possible. We booked flights for them first thing Friday morning and they were on their way to the airport within 4 hours of waking up! Sidney was going to miss the final week of her Senior year, but we knew this time with the family would be more valuable.
I was there to pick them up from Cape Town International airport the next night and we visited my mom the very next day. We used the rest of the weekend to spend some quality time with both my parents, as well as the extended family.
By this time my mom was stable and the kids and I were planning to fly back around the 19th of May. I needed to be back at work and we had Sidney’s High School graduation coming up at the end of the month. I also had my already scheduled trip to South Africa in June. COVID-19 restrictions were still in place and in order to fly, I needed a negative test result. I have been feeling a bit under the weather, but still didn’t suspect being sick with COVID-19. Surprise, surprise, my test came back positive! There was no way I could fly back to the USA as planned.
Fearing she would miss her high school graduation, Sidney flew back earlier and made it to the USA safely and also COVID-19-free. Luckily, I only experienced mild symptoms. I postponed my flight, self-quarantined for some time, and got retested a week later. I finally got a clean bill of health that enabled me to fly back to the USA on the 25th of May. I would have 6 days at home before turning right around and flying back to South Africa. During the last few days before my return flight to the USA, I convinced Simon to stay in South Africa and wait for me to return and join Colin and me on our travels. He also thought it would be a good idea and postponed his flight back. What a great addition to our trip that turned out to be!
Quick Visit in Suwanee
Back in the USA, Sureta and I were able to attend Sidney’s High School graduation. I was still suffering from some lingering COVID-19 symptoms and some sleep deprivation as I started heading back to the airport just 6 days later. To ensure that I would not be spreading any illness, I had multiple tests and made doubly sure that I did not pose any danger to fellow travellers. All the subsequent tests came back negative, and I was able to fly with a medical certificate of recovery.
Stopover in Amsterdam
I met Colin at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam and we immediately went to a restaurant to have a few beers celebrating us seeing each other for the first time in over 2 years. We were booked into the Sheraton Hotel at the airport since our flight to Cape Town was leaving the next morning. We spent a great night out in Amsterdam with some questionable navigational decisions made by me which resulted in much longer than needed tram rides and train trips back to the airport. All in good fun though!
Back in South Africa
We landed in Cape Town on Thursday, June 2nd. We settled into our apartment in the Strand, which is about a 40-minute drive from Cape Town. Friday the 3rd we relaxed, and I managed to spend time catching up with my parents and siblings. We had a great dinner with my nieces and their husbands, which turned into much too long a night with way too many drinks. A good time was had by all! If I remember correctly…
Our First Destination – Kampala for a 50th Birthday Party
As per our itinerary, Simon, Colin and I left Strand the Saturday morning. Our route took us over Sir Lowry’s Pass via Botrivier, Caledon, Riviersonderend and Stormsvlei. About a 100-mile (160 kilometers) drive to Kampala.
We stopped at Dassiesfontein, a quint farm stall type of restaurant that serves traditional homemade “boerekos” – Afrikaans-style farmer’s food. We sat at one of the picnic-style tables outside and enjoyed an incredible breakfast while taking in the view over the valley, the highway and the donkeys grazing nearby.
After breakfast, we continued to our destination Bonnievale. My friend, Schalk, was hosting his 50th birthday party on his guest farm Kampala outside of town.
Kampala was developed as a concert/wedding venue with unique guest accommodations and has been a regular destination on our travels to South Africa. We have seen multiple great artists perform here over the years and this place has grown to be an absolute favorite of mine. You can visit their website https://kampalafarm.co.za for more information about events and booking details. The birthday party was a fantastic event with live music, lots of food and, of course, I was able to reconnect with many old friends. Simon even helped with bartending duties sometime during the early morning hours. According to some, there were partygoers that carried on right through the night until breakfast was served at 9am. I can neither confirm nor deny that I was a part of such shenanigans!
We only spent one night at Kampala and Sunday saw us travelling further north to the Karoo. We made a few stops along the way such as Matjiesfontein for a drink or two and Laingsburg where we did some shopping. Matjiesfontein, a very small town, is a popular stopping point for travellers. The town was established in 1884 by James Logan, a Scottish railway man who also loved cricket. He hosted one of the first cricket test matches between South Africa and England. Only fitting that I should stop here with my English friend Colin.
The Lord Milner Hotel, built by Logan in 1899 with plenty of Victorian charm, is at the heart of the town and offers accommodations that take you back to simpler times. Right next door is The Laird’s Arms where we enjoyed our liquid refreshments.
Laingsburg is another small town right on the main highway between Cape Town and Johannesburg. Its origins are tied to the railway line that was completed in the late 1800s. 100 years after it was founded, one of South Africa’s and specifically the Karoo’s strongest floods swept away a large part of the town, leaving only 12% of the town’s homes untouched. To this day the highwater mark is shown in the middle of town. Since Laingsburg was our last stop before leaving the highway, we shopped here for our groceries for the next week.
After changing one flat tire before leaving Kampala and driving about 400 kilometers, we finally arrived on the farm just outside of Beaufort West around six that night.
Read about our time on Kampala and the rest of our trip in Part 2.