Dining with Ecological Disaster

Wednesday morning, March 10,2010

Paul Theroux, in his Dark Star Safari (which I’m enjoying hugely), comments on how he kept meeting Jobergers with amazing tales to tell. His friend the novelist Nadine Gordimer responds that this is a characteristic of South Africans generally, that their lives have been full of events.

We’re seeing the same thing. Last night after we finished our homemade ice cream and apricot panna cotta, the resident manager at Misty Mountain Reserve, Frank Machetto, regaled us with stories about his experiences leading tourists on camping trips (in tents!) in the bush near Kruger National Park. (“Only had to use my gun once. Never had to kill an animal, thank God. But I’d never take anyone who was nervous. Couldn’t have that.”) An Afrikaner, Frank also discoursed with passion and bitterness about ecological disruptions that have occurred near and far. “They kill the puff adders but then you get an explosion in the population of mice! Or the do-do bird! There are trees that have almost disappeared because the seeds have to be germinated in the gut of the do-do bird. But they’ve been gone for 100 years!”

This place is even more upscale than our forest cabin in the park: Even NICER linens on a king-size bed in a space as big as a living room, with a deck commanding a 150-degree view of the Indian Ocean. Circumstances have also conspired to make it feel as homey as our B&Bs in Joburg. The preparation of our excellent meal last night (spinach soup, tuna roulade and home-made bread, medallions of kudu shoulder with a pepper sauce, curried chicken, roasted potatos and squash, broccoli au gratin, salad, and that awesome dessert) was supervised by Val Lane, the wife of the man who dreamed up the idea for the Dolphin Trail hike. The Lanes for a couple dozen years had run a dairy farm on this site, but Dave Lane was a passionate fisherman and hiker who believed there had to be a market for a less arduous way of experiencing this incredible coastline than the Otter Trail backpacking. He and the owner of the Fernery (our lodging tonight) worked out a partnership arrangement with the national park, and the Dolphin Trail hikes were inaugurated in 2001. Tragically, Dave died suddenly four years ago, and when Val concluded she wasn’t up to running the operation by herself, she hired Frank and his wife Rose as resident managers.

Misty Mountain Reserve, as this place is now known, can accommodate 18 guests, but we were the only ones in the dining room last night. A group of five arrived sometime after us last night, but they were staying in a the family quarters and “self-catering.” So Steve and I were again the only guests at breakfast today. Frank announced that he had “slept like a baby. Woke up every hour and cried for my mama!” He jokes a lot. Yet soon he was talking again about the ominous current drought and wildebeest-borne diseases and advancing desertification. “As soon as cattle were brought into Africa, unfortunately that was the end of Africa,” he said. But we’re about to hike for a second day in at least an island of the Africa that has existed for millenia.

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