Truck strikes, murder and mayhem made Susan Erasmus realise it was time to escape. A visit to her adopted donkey made her rediscover a vanished world.
I lost my temper in the city traffic last week. This made me realise that the end-of-the-year grind has got to me. And all the other bad news, in which we in SA seem to specialise in run-ups to the election. Before I do someone grievous bodily harm – and this was becoming a more and more attractive and potentially satisfying prospect – it was time to escape.
What better place than McGregor, where my adopted donkey lives. (Read more about the donkey here). What's more, the first weekend in October was also the annual St Francis Day Blessing of the Animals ceremony, so there was an excuse to pack my bags and set off before I lost it entirely.
It was easy to co-opt a friend I have known since 1973. She also needed some country air and to get away from everything.
The cottage we rented was basic but gorgeous. The veranda is, I suspect the centre of the universe and many hours were spent gazing at the garden, the finches, and pink roses the size of saucers. A neighbour's dogs came visiting and we could hear donkeys braying and cows mooing while we were sipping tea and enjoying the wine of the area.
Address: where the two cows are
Well, thank goodness for the cows: we went out for supper on Friday evening and in conversation with the owner of the restaurant mentioned that we were staying opposite where the two cows were tethered on the grass verge. We couldn't remember the name of the street. André from Karoux fortunately knew exactly where that was as he knew the cows, and returned my friend's wallet, complete with cards and cash, to our front door the next morning. She had not even realised that she had left it behind.
We had left in a giggly hurry as we were being enthusiastically invited to join a table of 14 elderly guys who were touring from PE with their vintage cars – all very sweet, but not quite part of the plan for the weekend.
Then Saturday it was off to an aromatherapy massage. It's a tough life. Over coffee, I bumped into the founder of the Donkey Sanctuary and his wife Annemarie with whom I had a lovely time. The waitress recognised me from my April visit (?!) and before long Jenny from the Sanctuary also popped in. More tea, sunshine, roses, birds and dogs at the Temenos Retreat and a quick chat with gracious owners Billy and Michael.
Donkey time. Spokie looks content and happy and a lot more interested in a tasty tuft of grass than in me – which is exactly what it should be like. She had apparently been a little less co-operative with the farrier the previous week, says Johan. But no one likes having their hooves filed. You wouldn't either. And one never calls a donkey 'naughty' – they learn to live up to those expectations. Johan is a psychologist, after all. I take his word on this.
Toffee and Apples on World Donkey Day at Eseltjiesrus
And after a strenuous morning, it was nap time. We eventually wandered to the Old Mill Lodge for tea. But it was late afternoon, and they were frantically busy preparing for a large number of supper guests. No time to make tea, but we could have a drink if we wanted one – but only if we helped ourselves from behind the bar. I did a double take, but they meant it. I recommend both the Excelsior Merlot and the view from up there. When we left and wanted to pay, we were told it was on the house. Where else would this happen?
Imagine total silence, crisp stars, the odd dove, cotton duvets and the sleep of the dead.
Up in time for the Blessing of the Animals (everyone brought their dogs), another gaze at the amazing donkey herd and the meditative walk through the onion fields and the vineyards.
You can no longer feel like a stranger when you bump into someone you don't know in the second-hand bookshop and she asks if you're the person who had supper last night with so-and-so in the restaurant up on the hill. You were.
This is a vanished world where people still care, where they still have time, where money matters very little and where things like thank-you cards have not disappeared. I am fully aware that living in the country comes with its own challenges, and that one starry-eyed weekend cannot possibly represent the reality. Please allow me my illusions for another day or so. I really need them at the moment.
But you too can do what I have done: adopt a donkey, and have a plausible and admirable excuse to escape from the tarmac, the sirens, the TV and the madding crowds. It's a lot cheaper than rehab – and way more pleasant.
(Susan Erasmus, October 2012)