Why We Travel … Life in SA … Routine or Not?

It’s the end of two months in Darling. Our goal in living here for a year (in addition to some Burkat Global planning) is to live like locals. To me, that means having a routine. To Howard, that means none. So, “How’s it going?” as they ask in South Africa.

Let’s look at what’s become routine (and later – what hasn’t).

Every day everywhere is beautiful. Jaw-droppingly. Throw open the shutters of our little holiday house at the top of the hill every morning and from every window we see farmer’s fields on opposite hills and more fields stretching out toward the sea.

A view of the veld above Petunia Street.
A view of the veld above Petunia Street.

Our little house is beginning to feel routine. I find I’m no longer looking at what it lacks, but looking at what it is; a beautifully designed Greek-style, not typical of Darling at all and perfect for easy living with one great room and bedrooms wrapping around a patio with braai and pool – all positioned to maximize the views.

Our house on Petunia Street, Darling, Cape Town, SA
Our house on Petunia Street, Darling.

I found Monday, Wednesday and Friday Pilates and yoga classes at 8 AM right in our village. Blessed with fantastic teachers, and totally fit and supportive classmates. I can even walk to class, so Howard can take the car to the big new Virgin gym near Cape Town. By the way, walking down our hill is easy (confession … I’m still struggling back up!).

I’m routinely messing up on hikes. Getting to the first one, I donned my new hiking boots and skipping down the hill to the meeting place, tripped on my untied shoelace! I arrived bleeding to the Spar parking lot, only to learn I should have been at the Spar lot in the next town. So much for hike #1.

I dropped out of the second, too, before I even went. Someone who knows me well already told me I was unfit for a 16k up-and-down challenge. Ella, our leader, offered to train me – I’ve yet to establish enough of a routine to seize her wonderful offer.

Now I’m told it is snake season. I hate snakes! Do I want to hike badly enough to do battle with a puffader or a cobra?

There’s always the gorgeous Yzerfontein 18k beach. It’s only 15 minutes away, and we can hear the waves break all the way to Petunia Street where we live.

Spring is festival heaven – and if not festival, a market at least. Weekly visits are routine. Everyone is so relieved to have gotten through winter. Did I forget to say there’s no central heating? And yes, we can now make good South African fires to warm up, just like the locals.

Festivals are my time to routinely track down local treats … why wait for visitors? Wonderful local products – all carrying the Darling name, of course! Olives. Wines. Beer. Cheese. Yogurt Milk. Granola. Locally roasted coffee. Roibos chai. Flying Pig Saucisson. Fresh mussels. Toffee. Pomegranate juices.

Even bumping into Darling’s most famous resident and benefactor Pieter-Dirk Uys is becoming routine. We see him as often as possible at his world-famous Evita Se Perron dinner theater down the street (even though we sometimes miss an Afrikaans punch line he throws into an English show).

Wine is definitely routine with 6 local wineries! Darling vineyards are everywhere. And served everywhere. Even in the morning! Darling Brewery has an uphill battle, no matter how good. Darling has long way to go before becoming Williamsburg.

Our anniversary lunch at a favorite winery in Franschoek.
Our anniversary lunch at a favorite winery in Franschoek.

Routinely, complaints are made about the government – how the ruling ANC is messing everything up. But ah, our land is beautiful. Just hoping it won’t get too messed up.

Routinely, I greet my growing number of friends in Darling. So glad officer Satie’s family will be coming from the eastern cape soon! So thankful for the help from the Engen station team who help me buy more data and select our daily newspapers. (No paper delivery in Darling! And SA papers on not yet much online. Hey, this is a real small farm town – it took us six weeks to learn that the PO is inside that very Engen gas station we go to nearly every day.)

Our favorite viewpoint on the road to Cape Town!
Our favorite viewpoint on the road to Cape Town!

Weekly drives to Cape Town are part of our routine. And we’re initiating occasional overnights – just like if we were tourists! We look for reasons to go – anything new, locally written and produced. Operas. Musicals. Traditional bands. African. Jazz. No Cape Town Symphony yet, but some classical chamber – and a West Side Story that was better than Broadway! And thanks to Susan Werbe’s coaxing, we got off our butts yesterday and bought front row tickets for Rodriguez!

Meeting our new community is so easy. We just show up at a local event like Sunday’s classical guitar concert at the San Cultural Center to raise money for the music outreach program that keeps kids off the streets. People know us right away. We’re the Americans. The ones with the accents. Hey, I thought they were the ones with the accents.

Routine are my regular visits to the Darling butcher! What should I braai tonight? Sirloin Steak for 4 for $6. Rosemary fed Lamb? Beef boerwors? What kind of Biltong? Kudu, Springbok, others we’ve never heard of. Why not sample them all?

And we’ve found the Best Pastrami in Cape Town! On homemade rye yet. And in the next block, the best chocolate store – chocolate and caramel covered pretzels with sea-salt.

And we even know the routines for the local restaurants … Most are closed in the evenings, with one per day staying open for a special and very social evening meal. Briggs on Tuesday for local Afrikaans comfort food; Friday at the Marmalade Cat for oven baked thin-crusted pizzas – banana and bacon anyone? Or would we prefer the awesome Four Seasons?

We’ve welcomed our first guests and hope we passed the hospitality test. We’ve already got 10 more couples booked in through May!

Trips away from Darling have always been part of our planned routine. Exploratory excursions to the surrounding area are a reason we’re here, too. In four trips to South Africa (totaling 6 months over 10 years), we’ve now driven 20,000 kms. There’s so much to do – as much as we would like to stay every day in Darling, we just can’t … because there is too much to see!

Washing dishes by hand is now routine. And I finally learned how to turn on the washer and dryer. I may be the only one on the hill without daily help. Maybe I’m really not a princess after all.

Our first braii on Petunia Street!
Our first braii on Petunia Street!

And we make fires to keep warm, although spring really is on the way.

Patio braais to cook our food are fantastic, but we must remember to start early – wood fires take an hour to burn down low enough for cooking. Haven’t figured out how to turn on the oven yet.

Closing the latches are important activities in our daily lives. We’ve got 7 windowed double doors, 5 double shutters and at least 10 windows. Every door has a different key and multiple latches. Windows have latches, too.

Early to bed and rise. Good news is it’s light earlier now, and later. The primary schoolyard across street fills by 6:30 am. Rush hour to Cape Town begins before 6. This is a country without much electricity until now (and because it’s so new, there are continuing threats of load shedding and blackouts.) Another sign that people are up early is the church bells ringing loud and long beginning on Sundays at 8. Birds and animals begin squawking just before sunrise.

Soaking up sunsets. On Sunday afternoon, up on the hill at the San Center, there was not a cloud in the skyway; yet overlooking wildflower fields and the distant ocean, the sky was pure blue. Later back home, I looked up to check for the sunset – it’s actually raining! But storms pass quickly. And there is a huge drought – driest season since 1910 when recordkeeping began – crops are dying. Farmers can’t feed their animals.

Routine in Darling is volunteerism. Our interest now is to get sponsors for the local music festival, largely supported by old white people on our side of the tracks, who in turn run the free music school for the kids on the other side of the tracks. Also beginning to nose into Planned Parenthood needs here – although we aren’t even sure if it will exist in the US before long! Anyway, it’s easy to be involved.

I’ve discovered Anna at the bookstore, who will order anything and already knows my name. How great that we still have a bookstore here … better than Scarsdale. And she doesn’t make me cry (like owner Wallace did). I finally ordered a paperback version of Long Walk to Freedom to take on our upcoming mini holiday.

Routine … emails with friends. When there is time.

And we are all set for the next India tour, January 2017. Excited that we just decided to return to Brunton Boatyard again. It will add a few more dollars to the price, but it’s our favorite hotel in India (except perhaps Lake Palace, 30 years ago). Updating the web page and will announce soon.

So what’s left that breaks our routine?

We’ve had a break-in. Two guys broke in to house 10:30 at night while we were upstairs. We heard them and they ran away with my computer and Howard’s bottle of Johnny Walker Black Label scotch. Didn’t touch all our Darling wine! A private detective offered 1000 rand reward and got a tip that my computer was being offered on the street for 300 rand. Police caught the guys, who are now in jail. We’re waiting for the magistrate to release my recovered computer pre trial – I do have visitation rights. By the way, the break-in was the 8th in our neighborhood in week (very rare that it happens at all). But hey, two laptops were just stolen in our old neighborhood in Scarsdale, too. I’m typing with one thumb on my iPhone until I get my computer back– and/or get the new one working right.

Data black outs are the worst. “Sorry. Your prepaid Vodacom account is at zero left.” It’s a long story, but we don’t have unlimited internet here like at home – we’re renters … only here for a year.

Load shedding is no longer routine. (In case you don’t know, load shedding is an action to reduce the load on something, ie, the interruption of an electricity supply to avoid excessive load on the generating plant). Will there be more candle light dinners (like we had in the Oppenheim dining room in Kimberly on our road trip to Darling?) … Tune in to find out.

Falling on my face in the road in front of the old people’s home down the street? I know the old ladies were all watching from the windows. This will not become routine (these things are only allowed once).

Discovering that my local Standard Bank limits my use of services? Somehow, they think foreigners are money launderers. Me? Every time I go to the ATM, I pray I can still buy more data for my iPhone and WiFi router … now that I have finally figured out how to do it.

Not routine will be when all our guests learn that South Africa is a jungle! People are amazed when they see the awesome vast veld landscapes with colors changing with the seasons. No, it’s not a green jungle here. No Tarzan.

Our celebratory first picnic at the beach upon arrival!
Our celebratory first picnic at the beach upon arrival!

Never routine are walks on the beach … and picnics in the nearby national park on the rocks along the ocean. Lunch at a local winery. Returning home with the leftovers of the best $5 bottles of wine we’ve ever had.

This is important and not routine: Discovering the other side of the tracks. Where 90% of Darling residents live. Formerly “the township”. And learning how hard it is to integrate with folks in the hill! But efforts are always ongoing. At least half of the venues at the not-to-be-missed Voorkamerfest (South Africa’s annual multicultural event) were in homes across the tracks. Hosts are so proud and welcoming into their living rooms.

Will our uncontrollable coughing and runny nose every stop this week? Too many flowers. Can you believe we’ve developed allergies to Darling? It seems it is actually going around.

My new friend made chicken soup. She brings me fresh flowers from her garden and checks in with me in the morning to see if I need anything from her office at 6 AM! And she persuaded us to use her fantastic guest house after our break-in … before all the doors and windows got new invisible bars and all the latches were checked. I will never ever see this as routine, just thankful.

So much more to share!