December 27, 2011

On our Own Private Island for a Week

Island Water Villas near Memel in the Free State

One invaluable gift we’ve been blessed with in South Africa is good friends. Almost immediately upon arriving here, we were “adopted” by other families, invited over to braais, and generally shown the ways of this country.

One such set of friends are Mike and Jacky and their two children. They are veterans of the African bush, owning every conceivable gadget you could possibly need not only to survive in the wild but live quite nicely. They also possess that most important of all things, a wonderful sense of humor. If I ever was stranded on a desert island, I would want to have them along.

Going on a trip with Mike and Jacky is always an adventure. About a year ago they organized a weekend getaway at a place called Prynnsberg, a diamond magnate’s house built in the 1880s and currently in the process of being restored by a private family. It came complete with a large staff of cooks and domestics who treated our group of over thirty people like royalty, serving every meal in a different venue, culminating in a cookout-cum-slumberparty under an overhanging rock. Except we never got to the slumberparty phase, because we accidentally set the bush on fire and had to spend the rest of the night and most of the next day fighting a huge wildfire. A corporate team building exercise couldn’t have provided a better bonding experience, though I suspect the owners of the house and surrounding farms didn’t quite see it in such a positive light.

Mike and Jacky are also owners of that other invaluable possession you should select your friends by, a power boat. Therefore, when asked if we wanted to come along for a week of waterskiing in the Free State, we enthusiastically said yes. That is how we recently found ourselves on a remote farm, living in a house in the middle of a private lake, surrounded by beautiful scenery, with no one but our two families to play in the water as we pleased (if you don't count all the cows and sheep keeping us company).





One of my goals in life has always been to learn how to surf. But as large waves are rather hard to come by in Johannesburg (and as the water is WAY too cold for me around the Cape where those waves COULD be found), I'm postponing the surfing project until such time as we become expats in Hawaii (yeah right!) and focusing my immediate energies on the more attainable target of getting air when jumping the wake on a wake board. This week was an ideal opportunity to perfect my jump.

Me with my head cut off getting ready for a jump 
I prefer the headless picture - jumping makes me pull the most horrible grimaces!
But see the air?

Everyone got to do plenty of skiing and boarding. Even Sunshine got up on the wake board, although all were skeptical that such a little person could steer such a big thing. It was the perfect lake for trying out new things, because we had the only boat in the entire lake, and because Mike was the most patient driver you could wish for.


Sunshine true to form with a big smile...
...all the way down


The boys found plenty of other outdoor activities that generally involved getting dirty or falling into the water, though Zax was rather put out that there was no internet connection so that his physical activity usually consisted of hiking up a nearby koppie in search of two bars on his cellphone. The scenery was beautiful, and I like to think that we also provided some excellent entertainment for the cows and sheep grazing around our lake.

Sunset over the mountains

Mountains all around us

See how the cows were staring at us? 

My favorite picture of the lake with a beautiful sky

And, even though there were no wildfires this time, we got a bit of excitement when the boat crashed into the pier on a windy day, and then into the car (!) when trying to put it on the trailer. You don't often hear of an accident between a boat and a car. Then both boat and car got stuck in the mud, and their un-sticking provided a great project for the boys and men for the rest of the day, while the women and girls found horses to ride and lambs to feed.

These guys and their siblings woke us up every morning with a baah-ing concert



There was more excitement when I neglected my motherly duties and briefly let go of the reins holding Sunshine's horse, because it kept head-butting me. Sensing its temporary freedom, the great beast bolted, with Sunshine firmly crouched on its back. For a minute or two she looked very sleek, like a jockey, but I neglected to take a picture because I was busy yelling "pull the reins" at the top of my lungs. She did, in the end, do just that, except she wasn't strong enough so that she rather pulled herself right off the horse. There she stood, when we finally came upon her, holding the horse with tears streaming down her cheeks but otherwise unharmed. She still tells me, two weeks later, that I owe her one, and I'm happy to oblige to soothe my guilty conscience.

I personally thought getting all our gear over the hanging bridge to the house upon arrival was enough excitement for the week. Walking across was a balancing act at the best of times, but when loaded with heavy bags of food, it was quite a challenge. Especially when your son has a habit of jumping up and down right behind you along the way. And when you're squeezing your eyes shut tight so as not to look too closely at the actual suspension of the bridge.

All our luggage had to be hand carried over the bridge
Trustworthy construction

All in all a great getaway for up to ten people. The lake isn't huge but plenty big enough for one boat. It's also very easy to get to (discounting the hanging/swinging bridge) in just under three hours from Johannesburg. For more information on Island Water Villas, click here.