I’m not going to jump on the proverbial bandwagon and say that 2016 has been a b*tch. But it hasn’t been easy, and at times I’ve felt like a snail pickled by vinegar. After a series of unfortunate events, I retreated from life for a while for some self-care and sanctuary in the Transkei. And my, what a place it is! Tom and I flew to Morgan’s Bay to join my wonderful family at Sandy’s Beach House, which overlooks an estuary and is a mere five minute meander away from the sea.
I can’t really recommend Sandy’s House enough, especially if you’re travelling with six people or more. The house is a sunny, double-story wooden building, with two balconies that both overlook the lagoon as it ends its journey in the sea. It’s set on a grassy green hill, surrounded by trees, and has a braai area and small pool – perfect for cool dips after long walks along the beach. We spent a lot of time on the balcony, contemplating the busyness of the swifts and swallows darting through the sky, and watching a pair of grey crowned cranes courting elegantly in the long grass. A pair of fish eagles signified their presence with echoing calls, and once, the harrowing cry of Africa’s Rainbird (the Burchell’s Coucal) moved the sensitive clouds to tears.
We explored the next door ‘town’ of Kei’s River Mouth, where a plethora of rock pools twinkled in the sun, hinting at the secret life dwelling within. When I was small, my dad and I spent hours scouring the sand for shells and the rock pools for cushion stars. My dad would sit the little stars upon my hand and I’d gaze at them in their bejewelled intricacy and dad would tell me stories of Cush star and his rock band (that tiny starfish had big dreams). Some of my best childhood memories are these still moments of wonder.
After wishing upon numerous stars and frightening a weary hermit crab or three, we went to the Bushpig pub for a drink, then ventured back to Yellowwood Forest for homemade vegetarian pizzas beneath the tall trees. Aside from exploring Kei, we also spent a lot of time at Sandy’s – we bought little handlines and tried fishing in the lagoon off the back of the canoes. On one occasion, Tom and I were canoeing when I felt something whack my back. I shouted at Tom to be careful with his ore, but I turned around and he was laughing at me because a fish had jumped out the water and landed on my shoulder before splishing back into the depths. Despite that incident we still didn’t catch anything – though we did have some lovely up-close encounters with two teeny pied kingfishers and a comorant.
After three days at Sandy’s, we packed up and headed along a long dirt road trek to Kob Inn in Willowvale. We were returning after 20 years, as we’d last been there when I was seven and Dave was four. It happened to be my 27th birthday, so I contemplated my years upon this earth as we navigated through rural villages overrun by Nguni cows, with bright pink huts, and small children yelling ‘sweeeeeeets’ as we drove by.
Kob Inn is a beautiful place that hasn’t changed at all since we first visited. It has a colonial feel about it – a quiet homage to a time when resorts were all the rage, and Wi-Fi wasn’t a thing. Our rooms overlooked the sea, and one afternoon I saw dolphins cruising through the cerulean waves, closely followed by gannets. I felt strange on this birthday – my amazing family and Tom and Laura made it a very special day, but I became consumed by anxiety for the future, because of my age, and the fact that I’m not where I thought I’d be in terms of my career and life in general. By climbing into my head and shutting the door, I missed the moment and turned a celebration into sadness – I must not do that again.
The area is jungle, and beaches, crashing waves, and quiet river. It’s green and blanched white, with patches of dove grey, camel, and gold. We went for long walks to Mazeppa Bay, where we encountered cows contentedly chewing on the sand by the surf. I don’t know why cows like the beach so much – maybe they were catching a tan? Maybe the waves soothe them? Perhaps they like the salty breeze in their fur or the sea water heals their tick bites? Whatever the reason, it’s rather intimidating ducking passed horned beasts whilst traversing across the coast. We went canoeing one afternoon and saw more fish eagles and a pair of red-beaked pygmy kingfishers. Another day, Dave and Laura went horse riding, while my parents, Tom and I went for a walk, paying the ferryman R3 to row us across the lagoon to the beach beyond. The boys also tried their luck at fishing – Dave caught a sand shark (which we released immediately) and a baby zebra fish (also thrown back to safety), and that was the sole total of endless hours and Kob Inn’s finest prawns as bait!
And we ate (and ate). The food was amazing – every day started with breakfast, followed by a two-course lunch (with ice cream and chocolate sauce for pudding), and a four-course dinner. Although everything was delicious, the daily fresh bread was the best – straight out the oven and served with melted butter – there’s nothing better. I read my book, breathed deeply, collected more shells, got horribly sun burnt, got stiff from walking on the sand, and felt a weight slowly lift. The week ended all too quickly, but what a precious time with the people I love most. Thank you mum and dad x