..... Continued

Chitwa was owned by Charl Brink. It was a small piece of land bordering on the Renosterhoop/Djuma Bush Lodge property. Charl’s father had bought his land at the same time as Piet Moolman had bought his. Charl was a bit younger than us, but we became good friends, even though our competitive natures added spice to the relationship. Charl had tried to start up the previous year but without much success, so was preparing to start again at the same time as we were getting Djuma off the ground.
We approached two main tour operators: Sites of Africa in Johannesburg and Exclusive Getaways in Cape Town. After visiting Djuma Bush Lodge Betty van Rooyen of Sites of Africa gave us a great boost of confidence and Jackie Arnot, one of Sites of Africa’s agents, is still one of our most frequent visitors to Djuma.
Patsy Hayter, the owner of Exclusive Getaways, was also enticed to come up and visit us. As long as I live I’ll never forget that site inspection! Jurie was guiding and Abel tracking when we came upon a giraffe kill with a pride of lions tucking into the feast. All good and well: we had managed to show Patsy that we did indeed have some good viewing available. During the next drive it seemed a good idea to revisit the kill and see if anything had developed. Well, there we found Dirk Becker, our neighbour to the east, chaining the giraffe carcass to the back of his tractor. To Jurie - and Patsy’s - horror Dirk announced that he was dragging the kill to the front of his lodge so he could watch the lions and other scavengers doing their thing while he sipped a brandy and coke on his verandah. Not only that, but he invited Jurie and his guests to come and join him! We thought it was the end of the world and that we would never see Patsy, or any of her clients, again. However, we must have done something right to fix the situation, because we still have a good business relationship with Exclusive Getaways.

Meanwhile as far as activities around camp, my job was to keep the kitchen going, ordering provisions, and entertain guests when they were around the main lodge. The sum total of my cooking experiences had been cooking over open fires on our many camping trips to Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Namibia. It seemed natural to keep that formula going, as in that way I was able to chat to guests while preparing and serving the meals. It was also the only way I knew of catering for more than a few people.
Extract from the 1993 Djuma Game Reserve business plan:
Not only will the actual food be important, but the presentation including atmosphere will also be important, i.e. we need to play on the “authentic” bush experience, e.g. Food from the fire and supper under the open sky around the fire. We should avoid the “restaurant” feel of * lodge without sacrificing excellent service.
“*” has replaced the actual name of the lodge used as reference to retain some integrity.

A typical day at the lodge would begin at five or half past five, depending on the season, when I would prepare tea and coffee for the guests before they left on the morning safari. While they were drinking their tea or coffee around the fire I would pack a picnic box with more hot beverages and a fruit basket to have while they were out in the bush.
When they returned a hearty breakfast, would be waiting for them. Fresh fruit, juices and cereals were laid out on the buffet. Eggs-to-order, bacon, sausage, tomato, mushrooms, banana, cooked on a flat iron plate on the fire, with mountains of toast done on the grid, all combined to fill up our guests after their pre-dawn morning drive.
Lunches were lighter meals served on the cool, shaded, lower level of the main building. Quiches, pies, fresh bread, salads, cold meats, cheeses, and fruit salad would be on the menu. In winter hot soups would be added.
While afternoon tea and cakes was being served I would fill the afternoon sundowner cooler box with drinks, biltong, and nuts, to be enjoyed while the guests were out on their afternoon safari before night fell.
Dinners were started on my tiny, gas cooker for steam-cooking veggies as soon as I was alerted by cryptic radio calls from Jurie. He would call when he was five minutes from camp to let me know he was on his way in: the vegetables would go on, and then, just as the game drive arrived, be removed from the cooker, dished up into cast-iron pots, and kept warm alongside the fire.
My favourite meat dishes served for dinner, mostly because the guests loved them, were butterfly-ed leg of lamb and stuffed beef, or kudu, fillet. The flattened lamb was cooked on the grid with a large stainless-steel mixing bowl balanced upside down over the top. This hood trapped the smoke rising off the coals, and the flavour, together with garlic and rosemary, is something superb. I remember one little girl reacting a bit unfavourably, however, to this menu by asking her mom if we were really going to eat butterflies for dinner. The fillet was slit lengthways, half way through, and then the cavity was stuffed with sautéed chicken livers, dried apricots and some herbs. Toothpicks would hold the meat together until the outer layer was seared over the coals, leaving the inside succulent and delicious. The colour and pattern was beautiful when the meat was cut into thick slices.
When we first began the lodge we tended to have guests for about three or four days of the week, with the remaining days used for catching up on bookkeeping (ledgers and filled-in columns of numbers in pencil) and preparing pastries and ice cream, stock, and pâtés for the next group of visitors. I had no professional training as a chef, but I was determined my guests would have freshly produced, good, wholesome, home-styled food.
The problem we faced on a daily basis was that of monkeys helping themselves to the food before the guests got to the diningroom. Several times I collapsed into tears when I saw the bread had been stolen from the buffet before the guests had had a chance to tuck in. Another time I entered the kitchen and caught some monkeys in the vegetable compartment of the lower part of the fridge. One culprit was at the fridge door, tossing ripe tomatoes over his shoulder to the troop of monkeys behind him. They were catching the bounty and fleeing the crime scene. After that we had to prop a bar stool against the fridge handle to jam the door closed.
It was quite a mission to have the open-plan kitchen spick and span before lunchtime. All the preparatory work had to be done while the guests were on their bush walk after breakfast. Nellys Mkansi (my newly acquired assistant chef) and Monica would also have to finish the washing up and give the kitchen a once over before the guests returned.
The shopping trips to Hoedspruit, ideally happened only once a week, but had to be undertaken twice a week if we were very busy. The distance was about 100km: half the journey on gravel roads, and the rest on tar. The town of Hoedspruit is part of an airforce base. Although the base has its own shops and facilities there are a few that feed the needs of the small community living there although not part of the military. A function of the town is to help supply some of the smaller game lodges in the area. The bank is another service we use in town, but it is only open on Saturday, and for half a day on Wednesdays, making those the best days for town trips. The dirt or gravel roads left much to be desired: in wet, summer months they were slippery mud tracks, and in winter dusty and corrugated. The factor working against a single weekly trip was that we did not have enough storage facilities to keep produce fresh at an acceptable level. I developed a love-hate relationship with lettuce, for example. It is one of those essential ingredients, but is so unsightly in its limp over-refrigerated stage.
We had not budgeted for a bakkie, so my VW Jetta 1800 - which had replaced the smoke-spewing, Isuzu diesel bakkie – more often than not its exhaust held on with barbed wire, had to do the job. The 200km round trip would take about four hours: an hour and a half both ways for travelling and an hour spent picking up the pre-faxed orders. Fresh fruit, veggies and dairy produce came from the local Spar, superb meat from Bosveld Slaghuis, and booze from the bottle store. The costs of a liquor license were a bit out of our reach at that stage, so we could not buy tipple wholesale, thus having to wing it from a retail supplier.
Instead of traveling on the Acornhoek road, which was the access the guests used, we created a short cut between Hluvukani and the tarred Orpen road, leading east to the Orpen gate of the Kruger National Park. When we first started using this route it was literally a footpath, which may have been used occasionally by 4x4 vehicles. The veld in that area looks pretty much like it does in the reserve, except that cattle and goats replace the wild animals. The land is gently undulating and dotted with trees, beneath which there is grass and small shrubs. Closer to the villages there are cultivated areas used for communal subsistence farming. Over the years the path we began to use became a road, and now serves as an ESCOM servitude to Welverdiend village, and even shows up on recent editions of local maps!
The success of any shopping trip depends on the trick of well-planned packing. On one occasion, on my way to Hoedspruit, I was just about at the junction of the Orpen Road and the R40 – the main north-south road linking the larger towns of the Lowveld - when I saw this spectacular giraffe which had been carved out of wood. It stood at least seven foot tall, had a naïve style about it and, last but not least, I had to have it as a garden feature. I stopped to take a closer look and two things made me want the giraffe even more. The tail hairs were made from shredded bark, and the tail was attached using a mixture of sawdust and glue. The carver had made it for a shop, but the people had never picked it up and I think it was priced at R150, 00.
On my homeward journey, the Jetta packed to the brim, I stopped next to the giraffe and told the carver that, if he could get it in or onto my car, I would buy it. I sat like a real madam on the curb of the Orpen Road and watched a gymnastic display as artist and artwork performed seemingly impossible manoeuvres. The result was the giraffe’s head sticking out of the front passenger window, and the legs out of the diagonally opposite rear window, all balanced on top of the tightly packed groceries. The giraffe still has pride of place in Djuma Bush Lodge’s garden.
With routines vaguely set in place, a small but steady stream of guests, and the 1994 successful South African transition to democracy, we were all ready to settle down and commit ourselves fully to our new venture.

To read previous chapters of “Our African Way”, please click the following link:

Our African Way