LEARN­ING HOL­I­DAYS

Getaway (South Africa) - - Contents -

Les­son 1: book a get­away that ups your skills while still spoil­ing you. We’ve got four sug­ges­tions

Ed­u­ca­tional hol­i­days have many ben­e­fits: they break your reg­u­lar rhythms, you learn some­thing new, it’s so­cia­ble, you meet new peo­ple and a big plus, es­pe­cially for sin­gles and women, is it’s safe. Here are four we rec­om­mend

My wife, Dani, burst into the room with a look on her face that was both in­spir­ing and a lit­tle ter­ri­fy­ing. ‘I’ve signed up for a self-suf­fi­ciency course!’ she pro­claimed joy­fully, as if she could al­ready feel the earth be­tween her toes and see her car­bon foot­print dis­si­pat­ing into specks in the sky around her like bees quest­ing for pollen on the breeze. ‘Okay,’ I said cau­tiously, be­fore ad­ding, ‘What does that mean ex­actly?’ ‘I’m go­ing to Stan­ford where I’ll learn how to har­vest honey, slaugh­ter an­i­mals, make pre­serves, for­age along the coast and loads of other awe­some stuff.’ ‘Okay,’ I said. ‘I’ll come with and look af­ter Bi­jou [their six-year-old daugh­ter] while you get your hands dirty. Just don’t come cry­ing to me when you have to chop some poor bunny’s head off.’ We’re an­i­mal lovers, you see, and I couldn’t see my wife do­ing it. We even have pet rab­bits. I had vi­sions of her resplendent in camo face-paint and a Rambo sweat­band around her head while shoot­ing a flam­ing ar­row through a blood­ied cross­bow. In the end it turned out way bet­ter than I could ever have imag­ined. We stayed at White Wa­ter Farm, run by Rob Bell and Alex John­stone who have cast a mag­i­cal spell over this beau­ti­ful prop­erty. So while Bi­jou and I were lux­u­ri­at­ing by the pool watch­ing frol­ick­ing horses, Dani was labour­ing un­der the tute­lage of Graze Slow Food Cafe’s self­suf­fi­ciency nin­jas, Alex Chouler and Tabby Robertshaw. And while we were jump­ing on the tram­po­line and strolling through the boun­ti­ful gar­den, Dani was learn­ing what to plant where, which bees to coax with what and when, and how to pre­serve this and that. Then came the day that the an­i­mals were slaugh­tered. Tabby showed her stu­dents the most ef­fi­cient and hu­mane way to kill and pre­pare the rab­bit – Dani wept through the whole demon­stra­tion. She did not wail. She sim­ply leaked through her eyes in a si­lent tableau of meat-eater’s re­morse. Through her veil of tears, she was acutely aware of her own hypocrisy. Why was she so heart­bro­ken about the rab­bit but hardly both­ered by the de­cap­i­ta­tion of the chicken? The rea­son she was do­ing the course was be­cause she to­tally buys into Graze’s phi­los­o­phy, and Tabby and Alex’s farm as a work­ing model of the kind of self­suf­fi­ciency the planet so des­per­ately needs.

Noth­ing goes to waste here. The pigs, the bees, the rab­bits, the chick­ens, the veg­gie gar­den, the herbs, the fruit –they all con­nect into a won­drous life force that ul­ti­mately feeds the ecosystem. In the end we con­ceded that it’s just harder to watch some­thing cute die for your plate than the kinds of an­i­mals we have grown ac­cus­tomed to eat­ing. We en­deav­oured to over­come this moral dilemma in the name of gas­tron­omy at din­ner. As part of the course, Fri­day saw par­tic­i­pants (and those non-par­tic­i­pants lucky enough to book a seat) par­take in a feast of in­de­scrib­able culi­nary de­light at Graze restau­rant on Stan­ford’s quaint main drag. The ex­pe­ri­ence was a rev­e­la­tion to me. I felt like I was liv­ing in an episode of Net­flix’s bril­liant foodie se­ries Chef’s Ta­ble. I could also wax lyri­cal about the coastal for­age that was the con­clu­sion to the course, on a beau­ti­ful clear Sun­day morn­ing next to the im­pres­sive Klip­gat Caves in Walker Bay Na­ture Re­serve. I could go on and on about the joy of clam­ber­ing from rock to rock un­der the ex­pert guid­ance of Roushanna Gray of Veld and Sea, as she un­earthed all man­ner of seafood trea­sures be­fore our hun­gry eyes. I could sing end­less praises about the sprawling seafood sonata that Tabby so ex­pertly con­ducted back at Graze that af­ter­noon with all our for­aged trea­sures. I won’t, though. We don’t have all year and some things you need to dis­cover your­self. I will say, how­ever, that in­stead of head­ing home that af­ter­noon we gladly ex­tended our stay by one more night at White Wa­ter Farm and let the rest of the day seep through us in a haze of sated seren­ity. WHY IT’S WORTH IT? Dani found the sus­tain­abil­ity course to be ex­tremely empowering and eye-open­ing. Be­ing in­volved with the slaugh­ter­ing process has also made her more grate­ful for the gifts an­i­mals give us daily. She had found it easy to un­plug her­self from how some food ends up on the ta­ble, but by mak­ing time to pre­pare it her­self she was forced to slow down and be­come more aware of the sac­ri­fice. It be­came med­i­ta­tive, and she felt more con­nec­tion and ap­pre­ci­a­tion for the food in front of her. We now eat less meat, and when we do we waste less of it and ap­pre­ci­ate it 10 times more. BEST SKILL LEARNT Dani has been in­ter­ested in bee keep­ing for many years. The course gave her a good in­tro­duc­tion.

I’ve learnt some­thing use­ful: ac­cord­ing to Ayurvedic prin­ci­ples, my me­tab­o­lism is of the Pitta, or fire, cat­e­gory. ‘When Pitta is thrown off bal­ance,’ goes the printed ex­pla­na­tion I get from yoga teacher and head of this detox pro­gramme, Monique Chris­ti­aans, ‘they [sic] are prone to per­fec­tion­ism, out­bursts of anger, ir­ri­tabil­ity, skin rashes and in­flam­ma­tion.’ Also, ‘If they have to post­pone a meal, they be­come eas­ily up­set.’ Pit­tas sound painful, I think rue­fully. Per­haps it’s time to dampen down. Turns out all the things Pit­tas adore – cof­fee (yes), cheese (love), spicy foods (adore), al­co­hol (adore squared) – are only mak­ing me more fiery. I should be eat­ing cold, raw or steamed foods (big eyes), drink­ing lovely calm­ing gin­ger and fen­nel teas, show­ing the palm to dairy. I’m un­happy about this, but I also learn my di­ges­tive sys­tem is strong, that I should have a lot of sleep – that’s a sil­ver lin­ing – though I be­come up­set when I learn I should forego tomato, which I’m pas­sion­ate about. None­the­less, it in­spires me to give a Pitta diet a try for two weeks. I learnt all this at Mhon­doro Game Lodge, on a short­ened ver­sion of a fivenight detox and yoga sa­fari the lodge is launch­ing. Ours was the two-night trial. Add travel in there and it’s es­sen­tially a sin­gle full day away. What good can hap­pen in that time, I thought? But I hadn’t fac­tored in the power of en­vi­ron­ment. Re­move your­self from the noise of the city, sur­round your­self with the toasty wheat colours of the bushveld, the sound of birds and wildlife, and big blue skies, plus healthy fresh food – it’s main­lin­ing detox of the body and mind. We went on game drives, and got off the ve­hi­cle to med­i­tate. At one de­light­ful green pond that came with na­ture’s own sound­track – a ca­coph­ony of frogs and birds (a high­light) – we did a yoga

ses­sion. We wan­dered through wispy waist-high grasses and sat on rocks and med­i­tated some more, while a game ranger stood guard over us with a gun be­cause li­ons and buf­falo and ele­phants wan­dered there too. We got mas­sages – one body, one In­dian head mas­sage – which helped the body un­wind fur­ther. Al­co­hol was ver­boten and, in fact, on the sec­ond night when we snuck a glass of red, even af­ter only two days of juic­ing and healthy eat­ing, I felt quite ill. Monique her­self is the per­fect per­son to head up this sa­fari. She found her path to this way of life af­ter be­ing di­ag­nosed with can­cer five years ago, and tes­ti­fies to its restora­tive and health ben­e­fits – she lives the prin­ci­ples, and is gen­tle and calm and de­light­fully nice. Res­i­dent on the north coast of Hol­land, she runs her own yoga stu­dio, ZenZo Yoga. She has also trained in nu­tri­tion (with Ralph Moor­man from DeHor­moonFac­tor, and detox coach Jacque­line van Lieshout), fo­cus­ing on na­ture-based ap­proaches. WHY IT’S WORTH IT? As jour­nal­ists, we did the ‘lite’ trial ver­sion, but even af­ter two days I was able to break my workbe­sieged ‘mon­key mind’. The full five-day course al­ter­nates med­i­ta­tion, yoga, juice detox­ing, nutritional ad­vice and mas­sages at a more serene pace, and that, com­bined with the en­vi­ron­ment and game view­ing, I imag­ine would boost that re­boot fac­tor by 10. The food is su­per-healthy and good – Mhon­doro has re­cently sec­onded Zi­no­bia Martin, for­merly of Baby­lon­storen, who served us up plate upon plate of de­li­cious, fresh far (Mhon­doro has its own or­ganic gar­den). I’ve done a sim­i­lar detox course a few years ago, and found there’s some­thing very nur­tur­ing about get­ting into a rhythm of ac­tiv­ity, med­i­ta­tion and healthy eat­ing – and it com­pletely helped me ‘re­wire’ my stressed mind and body. I per­son­ally found the juic­ing a chal­lenge, but Monique is al­ways on hand so per­sonal con­cerns or needs can be ad­dressed. BEST SKILL LEARNT I found the combo of yoga and en­vi­ron­ment very ef­fec­tive, but the nutritional as­pect was re­ally ben­e­fi­cial. I con­tin­ued the Pitta-rec­om­mended diet for three weeks and, be­sides los­ing some weight, felt more calm and bal­anced.

They ac­cepted with alacrity. Per­haps I shouldn’t have been so sur­prised. My 19-year-old has started go­ing to trance par­ties, af­ter all. The 15-year-old, a born foodie, lit­er­ally licked her lips: af­ter a cou­ple of hours hunt­ing shrooms (snig­ger from daugh­ter Num­ber One), we would sit down to a three-course mush­room-themed meal pre­pared by the tal­ented Chris­ti­aan Camp­bell. And I guess there’s a cer­tain zeit­geist to this idea that one can go tromp­ing around, pick­ing up free food like Elysian peas­ants or sur­vivors of some dystopian apoca­lypse. So off we set one glo­ri­ous morn­ing in May to meet my­cophile Justin Wil­liams in the shadow of Boschen­dal’s 18th-cen­tury manor house. Boschen­dal has al­ways been an ex­tra­or­di­nary farm, but since Sam and Rob Lundie took it in hand in 2013 it has be­come more so – ducks wad­dle past pun­ters sip­ping bub­bly in the dap­pled shade; a row of horses head sin­gle-file into the vines, tails swish­ing like school­girls. It’s all per­fect In­sta­gram fod­der, but it’s 10am and Justin has un­furled his sick­le­bladed Opinel knife. Mush­rooms, Justin ex­plains, are es­sen­tially the fruit of a mass of branch­ing, thread-like ri­zomorphs col­lec­tively known as mycelium, so it’s im­por­tant not to dam­age the mycelium when pick­ing. Mycelia can get pretty big, he con­tin­ues. The largest mea­sured to date stretched across 3,8 kilo­me­tres. That’s a pretty big plant, daugh­ter Num­ber Two mut­ters. Mush­room are not plants, Justin con­tin­ues. Most are sapro­phytes: de­com­posers that feed off dead or liv­ing plants. No one even knows for sure how many species there are – pos­si­bly as many as 5,1 bil­lion. Most are ined­i­ble, less than 10 per cent are poi­sonous – as a gen­eral rule mush­rooms with white gills are to be avoided; those with spongy un­der­sides are safer. Usu­ally. We fan out then, 18 of us on the car­pet- TOP Glis­ten­ing shaggy ink caps, ed­i­ble be­fore the gills blacken. LEFT Poplar bo­le­tus tastes very sim­i­lar to porcini – de­li­cious. like lawns, be­fore head­ing into the copse be­hind the kitchen gar­den. We’re hop­ing for porcini but these first-prize finds prove elu­sive. We find plenty of poplar bo­le­tus, as well as pine rings (ed­i­ble, as its Pot­ter­like sci­en­tific name, Lac­tar­ius de­li­cio­sus, would sug­gest), puff­balls (ed­i­ble), shaggy ink caps (ed­i­ble only when young), red crack­ing bo­lete (ed­i­ble but not tasty), de­stroy­ing an­gel (poi­sonous), reishi (medic­i­nal), and a del­i­cate-look­ing death cap (cer­tainly fa­tal). Lunch is a tri­umph – a poached freerange egg on an as­sort­ment of for­aged creamy mush­rooms, fol­lowed by slowroast rib-eye (free range and grass fed) cov­ered in mush­rooms, and the pièce de ré­sis­tance: chicken-of-the-woods crème brûlée served with a bar­ley-malt ice cream. After­wards the for­agers di­vide the spoils. Fry­ing up our haul of poplar bo­le­tus and Lac­tar­ius de­li­cio­sus, we agree that mush­rooms re­main pretty scary. With­out an ex­pe­ri­enced my­cophile on hand, we’ll stick to those iden­ti­fied by a bar­code. WHY IT’S WORTH IT? For­ag­ing for mush­rooms with your chil­dren is a bit like go­ing on an Easter egg hunt, only this time you’re par­tic­i­pat­ing too and only Na­ture knows where the trea­sures are hid­den. BEST SKILL LEARNT Re­learn­ing the wise old adage: ‘A lit­tle learn­ing is a dan­ger­ous thing.’

Did you know that kudus walk in their own tracks to bet­ter muf­fle the sound of their steps? The front hoof might snap a twig or crunch a bed of leaves and the back hoof is placed in ex­actly the same spot, pre­vent­ing any more un­nec­es­sary noise. It’s called ‘reg­is­ter­ing’ and is one of the clever ways this beau­ti­ful an­i­mal sur­vives in the thick bush. Look closer the next time you see its spoor and you’ll no­tice there are two edges to the track. Last year I be­came a field guide with Africa Na­ture Train­ing and although I loved every as­pect of learn­ing about the bush, I found its Track and Sign course to be the one truly sig­nif­i­cant way to en­hance any na­ture ex­pe­ri­ence. I was taught how to dis­tin­guish be­tween the spoor of a lion and leop­ard, a mon­key and ba­boon, a por­cu­pine and honey badger, even be­tween a fran­colin and horn­bill (the lat­ter has a more curved foot), and I also learnt a lot about an­i­mal be­hav­iour. The course is rel­a­tively short but you leave able to iden­tify a good va­ri­ety of spoor left by mam­mals, birds, arthro­pods, rep­tiles and am­phib­ians, plus the dif­fer­ences in their dung. For ex­am­ple, black rhino chew off the branches of a bush or tree at a 45-de­gree an­gle and you can clearly see this ev­i­dence in their dung piles. I also picked up tips on how to tell the age of an an­i­mal’s tracks and de­ter­mine whether it was run­ning or walk­ing. The course is held on the 14 000hectare Thanda Sa­fari Pri­vate Game Re­serve where there’s a di­ver­sity of wildlife in­clud­ing chee­tah, hyena, warthog and even the oc­ca­sional wild dog. Bird and plant life is also abun­dant. Par­tic­i­pants don’t need prior train­ing to at­tend the course – you just need to be over 16, en­thu­si­as­tic and have suf­fi­cient fit­ness to go on guided walks, which are led by Jaco Buys. Jaco was voted South Africa’s best Sa­fari Guide of 2016, has 22 years of work­ing ex­pe­ri­ence as a guide and cur­rently con­ducts walk­ing trails in the Kruger Na­tional Park. Stu­dents stay at Thanda’s In­tibane Camp. Each air-con­di­tioned thatched unit has an en-suite bath­room and bal­cony, plus there’s a pool with views over the In­tibane moun­tains. Need any more rea­sons to sign up? WHY IT’S WORTH IT? The most af­ford­able on-the-ground ex­pe­ri­ence one can have in the bush – plus you’ll leave with su­pe­rior track­ing skills. BEST SKILL LEARNT How to tell which di­rec­tion an ele­phant is mov­ing in. I learnt to no­tice the tell-tale de­tails, such as where the el­lie’s toe­nail had dug into the sand.

Sea urchins col­lected on the coastal for­age.

LEFT Sand­veld reds are the main breed­ing pigs. They have su­pe­rior qual­ity meat. The males are Ibe­rian cross wild boar. BE­LOW Mak­ing ap­ple cider vine­gar; cut­ting the wild honeycomb.

CLOCK­WISE, FROM TOP Mhon­doro’s kitchen gar­den; sun­rise on the deck at Mhon­doro Lodge’s Villa; hearty, nutritional food eases you into the detox. OP­PO­SITE Med­i­ta­tion in the bush – field guides are on guard so you can close your eyes and re­lax.

Get this Com­piled by track­ers work­ing across South Africa, I wouldn’t go into the bush with­out this man­ual. Big plus: all pro­ceeds go to train­ing 16 stu­dents a year to work in the field. R297, ex­clu­sive­books.co.za

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