Thursday, July 30, 2009

on travelling the quieter roads to Samara

Mr Nielson better known as Sid and I have a penchant for exploring.

We like to up and take to the road of a morning, sometimes not even sure of where it will take us.

Sid will point to a spot on the map or identify a flight special, and next thing I know we are heading out in search of adventure. It's a nice way to live, if you can do it. It helps that Sid keeps such flexible hours, that the children are quite the grown ups now, and that I am such an obliging wife!

Why just a few weeks ago Mr Nielson better known as Sid expressed a desperate yearning to take to the wilds. Here in South Africa we call it the 'bush'. That place of refuge from the city, where the animals that once roamed freely across the African plains, still have a tiny corner to survive in. Only just.

Rather then head for the highveld, we decided to take to the Eastern Cape; flying to Port Elizabeth where we rented a car in which to wend our way slowly back home. Sid has a yen for the Big Five with a special interest in Cats. So he was a little pieved to discover that I had centred our journey around reserves which had no lion or leopard at all.

Tut tut, the poor man was convinced that without the cicada crescendo of the African highveld, and the tension of possible danger posed by those beautiful cats, we were in for a tepid time. O ye of little faith!

The first few days, Sid and I resided in gentile, colonial splendour at the Elephant House,
from where we took to the road each day in search of game in The Addo Elephant Park.

And yes, we did see a lot of Elephants.

In fact, this one came a little too close for comfort!

Then we drove past fields of citrus trees, their bright orange pompoms of colour waving like cheerleaders from the road side on our way to Samara. Ah, and then the Big Karoo. Nothing prepares you for its strange beauty. An endless canvas of veld surrounded by mountain ranges that meet the empty sky. We drove for hours without seeing another car. Save for the woolly sheep that pepper the dry land, it was me and my Sid and the open road. Just the way we like it!

Samara is a 28 000 hectare reserve made up of eleven Karoo sheep farms saved from the complete devastation of erosion, by Mark and Sarah Tompkins. Allowing it to lie fallow for eight years, they slowly introduced game indigenous to the area. The earth began to recover and come to life again. There are still areas fenced off, that bare the pockmarked scars of over grazing. Elsewhere it is as if the land has found its breath. Stretched out like a roughly knitted blanket it quietly rests. It has become an extraordinary conservancy in which threatened species like Cheetah can flourish, without the danger posed by other predators. Amidst this silent beauty, the Tompkins have restored the old farmhouses and created beautiful spaces in which to share in the wonder.

Mr Nielson better known as Sid, and I were entranced by it all. We fondly parented our young game ranger Michael Jones, who made each drive an open air school in which to learn about the wild spaces that are so threatened by man, and his encroachments into the wild.

The land was treated with a rare integrity and reverence. Michael pointed out the sweet miracles that might be crushed beneath an errant foot and the fragile insect life and wild flora finding new life, that are so easily destroyed by an SUV hellbent on getting 'closer to the action'.

To see the night sky without the aura of city lights, is to feel your own miraculous presence in so vast a galaxy. Sid brought along his guitar. ( Our son Steele is teaching Sid how to play it, with considerable patience. ) In the evenings we would sit on the stoep while my husband serenaded me with his simple strumming. The Darling!

We ate sublime cuisine and met the loveliest people and gave thanks, again and again and again... Before heading for the open road once more...

Just imagine sitting in this lovely room decorated by John Jacobs interiors for Samara. Sublime.

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