Evening Nature Drives, Bushman’s Kloof, South Africa

Posted on
Mar 25, 2013
Posted in: Attractions, Awesome

When I first starting dating Rand, during my junior year of college (for those of you keeping track at home, it was approximately a lifetime ago), I lived in a windowless apartment.

I may be exaggerating slightly. It wasn’t exactly windowless – it had three, to be precise. But each and every one of them looked out on to an air vent, and beyond that, into my neighbors’ apartments. Never mind having a view; to even see sky, I had to stick my head out the window and crane it upward.

I loved that little studio, but it depressed the hell out of me. I would constantly have nightmares that my ancient apartment building would catch on fire (entirely likely, given the hundred-year-old wiring in that place), and I’d be stuck in there, unable to get out. It felt like a coffin.

But it was $525 a month, and within walking distance to the university, so I lived there for two long years. I eventually moved out and into a small 1-bedroom that had all the trappings of luxury I’d dreamed about: a garbage disposal and dishwasher, a washer/dryer in the unit, and best of all, windows.

Sure, they looked out onto a parking lot, but beyond that, I could see the mountains. I was only a few months into my lease when Rand moved in.

We were broke and in love, and perpetually stressing over how we’d make rent or buy groceries. It was so much damn fun.

I remember a lot about that first home we had together, but mostly, I think of how the afternoon light would come in through the windows, and that one summer (2006, I think) that seemed almost endless. We’d eat fancy snacks that we couldn’t afford (which was a bad idea) and drink wine that we could afford (which was an even worse idea), and think that maybe, just maybe, we’d discovered the meaning of life.

And I’d realize that I was happier than I’d ever been.

The evening nature drives at Bushman’s Kloof reminded me of those times.



In the late afternoon, after high tea but before dinner (because I track time in relation to when I’ve eaten, and when I’ll eat again, apparently), we’d head out. Our two vehicles would part ways, rendezvousing later.

We’d drive in search of animals. There are no predators in Bushman’s Kloof – no Big Five to see. Some may regard this as a downside, but it meant that we could explore as we wished, and see herd after herd of grass-feeding animals that were as relaxed as we.

The Kloof is home to one of the largest private herds of Cape Mountain Zebra. Unlike the more common Burchell’s Zebra (whose stripes go all the way around its midsection) the mountain zebra has a white belly, and its stripes -which seem more defined – extend all the way down the leg. Rand described the mountain zebra as looking more stylized that its plain-dwelling counterparts – like a group of Italian designers had revamped the animal and gone with a bolder look.

Buongiorno!

There were many more – animals that we hadn’t even heard of before visiting Africa: Bontebok. Springbok. Elans. Orex. Red Hartebeest.

And a few that we knew, but hadn’t seen in the wild – a pair of gangly, ill-tempered ostriches; a dust-colored coyote munching on the remains of something; a herd of wildebeest that looked as though they’d just stepped off the pages of Where The Wild Things Are. We’d point out the animals, oohing and aahing at one another as we passed binoculars back and forth.

Though here, it appears that Rand and I are TOTALLY bogarting said binoculars.

Or sometimes we’d just sit and enjoy the view.

Then we drive on until we arrived at some destination – a lake …

or the top of a cliffside …

or a nice little shaded area …

 

There, our guides would make us drinks and serve us a pre-dinner snack.

The boys enjoy a drink with Roman, our guide.

That is the South African equivalent of a Slim Jim and not, in fact, a cigar.

During the drive back, we’d watch the sun dip below the horizon, and see all the dusk-loving animals emerge.

We’d meet back up at the Koro Lodge, where our incredibly talented 5-star chef and her accomplished staff would be preparing dinner for us. (Yes, I know. Life is grand and I am spoiled. I say this so often, it has become my mantra.)

And we’d talk and look at each other’s photos, our voices loud and excited and reverent, all at once.

Then dinner would arrive. Course after meticulous course. Grilled lamb, ostrich carpaccio, curried prawns. Delicate grilled vegetables and roasted potatoes and crisp light salads.

And then dessert …

It was so wonderful that it almost exceeded my understanding. I couldn’t quite wrap my head around the loveliness of it.

But perhaps more miraculous than all of this was that I experienced it with someone I hadn’t seen in a while. Someone who I thought might have vanished.

It was, as you can guess, Rand. At least, I think it was him. While I know him better than almost anything else in the world, and could, from memory, chart the constellation of his freckles with painstaking accuracy, this iteration of my husband was a stranger to me.

It was him, sure. But it was him relaxed.

Sightings of this elusive creature, once thought extinct, are about as rare as Halley’s comet.

Even on the sunlit couch of our first apartment, I didn’t see him all that often. But in the Kloof, he could be found nearly every hour of every day. As unfamiliar as he was, I instantly took to him.

And decided I loved him as much as his stressed, overworked alter ego.

(He seemed okay with me, too.)

Later, that handsome and carefree stranger who had briefly inhabited my husband’s clothes would vanish. We returned home, and obligations resumed their headlining role in the play of his life, the crease would return to his brow and the worry would seep back into his bones.

He loves what he does. There is no question about that. But there are days when it wears on him, when he can’t sleep, no matter how exhausted he is. He fully admits he wouldn’t trade it for the world.

And I wouldn’t trade him.

But I wondered about that strange creature, that odd variation of my husband, that I had seen. Does he only exist in the Kloof?

Sometimes, when Rand is particularly stressed, I’ll mention going back, and I’ll see something flicker across his face. An expression that he gets only when sitting on sunlit couches in our first apartment together, or on hot and dusty drives at the edge of the world. A look that says, “There is no place on the entire planet that I would rather be than here.”

I can’t take him back to that first place. But I can take him back to the Kloof. It’s a long way to go …

 

But it might be worth it, just to see that look again.

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