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A stopover in Citrusdal August 14, 2010

Posted by Jenny in memoir, travel.
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Citrusdal with the Sneeuberg in the background

Next month I will make a return trip to South Africa. I am very excited about this. I will take a tour of Natal battlefields with a group very knowledgeable about the Boer War. And thanks to the generosity of one particular individual, I will have the extraordinary opportunity to visit Kruger National Park for a few days. Therefore I will be putting quite a bit of material related to South Africa into my blog in anticipation of the trip, as well as giving accounts of my experiences when I return.

Anyone who travels knows that there are certain odd times that turn out to be memorable for reasons hard to explain even though nothing especially dramatic has happened. Such was the evening I passed in the little town of Citrusdal in the western Cape, near the Cederberg mountains. I had spent the day driving in my little car with no a.c. in temperatures well over 100 degrees, mainly around the town of Springbok, an area that saw conflict at the close of the Boer War. I nearly had a terrible head-on collision on the busy N7 as I drove back to the south, and I was exhausted and stressed out when I arrived at my hotel.

At first glance it looked like an Econolodge or a Super 8 on the outside. But

There may have been a suit of armor, or maybe not...

things were slightly different up close, in that way that can seem either pleasantly novel or vaguely disorienting, depending on one’s state of mind. When I registered, I signed my name in one of the gigantic old-fashioned ledgers that seem to be widespread in South African places of lodging. I felt that a quill would have been more appropriate than a ballpoint pen. I am thinking now that the hotel had a suit of armor in the hallway outside my room. I am not absolutely certain about this memory. Perhaps the wide, dark hallway only looked as though it should have a suit of armor. Perhaps I am thinking by analogy with the large ornamental mailbox about 6′ in height that stood in front of the hotel. It was so ornamental that I hesitated before dropping a postcard into it, thinking it might be for decorative purposes only. (The postcard was in fact received by the addressee.)

When I got to my room, I felt as though I was about to dissolve into a puddle. I lay on the bed and watched an episode of “Everybody Loves Raymond,” which seemed to be quite popular over there. Before long it was time for dinner. I changed into a skirt and blouse, as I did every evening even though I practically never wear skirts or dresses at home. It came from a feeling that I was a guest in this country and that I wanted to show respect.

I stared at the fox hunting print

Two other tables were occupied in the large dining room: traveling businessmen, it looked like. A motherly-looking waitress approached, and I ordered a bottle of white wine and a platter of prawns. The waitress poured me a glass of the wine and settled the bottle into an ice bucket. I gulped down the first glass in an unseemly fashion, and she came by and poured me another. Time went by. I jotted down some thoughts in a little notebook. First one table of businessmen finished and left, then the other. More wine. Forty-five minutes went by, fifty minutes. The inside of the shadowy dining room gleamed like an underwater cavern. I studied the print on the wall, an English-style fox hunting scene, and studied it some more.

They seemed to be looking back at me

At last the smiling waitress brought out my dinner. The plate was as wide as a tray, heaped with enormous prawns served with their heads on: a jumble of long, delicately curving antennae and many pairs of tiny brilliant black eyes. The waitress lifted the wine bottle to pour me another glass, but it was empty, and she plunged it neck down into the ice with a flourish, saying “Finished!” in a congratulatory tone. She brought me a glass of water, and I set about eating my dinner. The prawns had turned out to be more work for both myself and the kitchen than I’d expected: I suspected that someone had hurried out to the market to buy them. The wine had killed my appetite, but I munched my way from one end of the platter to the other, feeling that I would severely disappoint if I didn’t finish.

After a night of deep and dreamless sleep, I returned to the dining room for breakfast. As I’d found elsewhere in South Africa, the morning buffet was remarkably generous. The table was laden with numerous choices of toast and rolls, cereal and yogurt, juices and fruit, tea and coffee—and on top of that a waitress came by to ask if I wanted eggs, bacon, or sausage. That particular morning, I was more in the mood for a small dry piece of toast and some tea. A man nearby heard my American accent and turned to say, “This all must seem pretty backwards to you! What do you think of our country?” He was a plump white man in his 40s, perhaps in the citrus-farming business.

I confided to him that South African hotels offered a much better breakfast than American ones, where one often had to settle for coffee in a styrofoam cup and maybe a forlorn little pastry on a paper plate. He seemed quite surprised, shaking his head at this sad inability of a major world power to get its citizens off to the right start in the morning. I was greatly impressed with his friendly concern for my experience in his country, and that put me in a good state of my mind as I set forth over a narrow gravel road for Ceres and eventually on toward Stellenbosch.

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Harvesting oranges near Citrusdal

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Comments»

1. Thomas Stazyk - August 16, 2010

I can’t wait to hear about your trip and I loved the account of your last trip. I could feel the stress fading away as you described your dinner.

Hope you see lots of animals in Krueger Park!

Jenny - August 16, 2010

Thanks! I truly appreciate your positive comments. As far as the evening in Citrusdal is concerned, it was just one of those funny sorts of times that happen when you travel. A major feature of that first trip to SA was that I did it completely on my own. On this next trip, I will be in the company of fellow Boer War enthusiasts. It will be a very different experience, and I’m sure it will be fascinating.


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