I have a farm in Africa, at the foothills of Mount Erskin in the North of Kamberg Valley. The farm has developed and morphed into different things over the past few decades. It started off as a post office and cattle thief jail. Afterwards it was a home of the Barnes family for a few decades until the land was portioned off and sold to different buyers. Further on it was bought and developed as a local restaurant until it was sold again to a famous architect Gerhard LeRoux who developed it into a stunning guest lodge and nature reserve. Finally it became a dream come true and a home to Stephen and I.
The landscape slopes down into the valley where the lodge is currently situated, it is mainly grassland with a gorgeous stream called Silverstream flowing through it and a few dams dotted around. There is also an indigenous forrest and a local protea specie to which nowadays the nature reserve owns its name.
My last blog post has been written before we took over the farm, golly it was before we have even seen it in the flesh and of course it was bound to be a bit romanticised and optimistic. We have just been so in love in having that different lifestyle, not having a knot in your stomach every Sunday evening and not having to join conference calls that we were willing to risk everything we have done and built up so far and place all our cards on that one bet.
I would be lying to you if I said it was all plain sailing. We have hugely underestimated the amount of maintenance we would have to do, and it seemed in the first four weeks at least that every little thing we touched… broke or was already broken. We regularly hassled our neighbours for numbers for the local builders and plumbers and electricians and so on.
I am not going to lie, “What on earth have we gotten ourselves into” crossed our minds a few times. Running a lodge is not easy. You have to absolutely love what you do to make it work or it can become too overwhelming. You have to love being outdoorsy and love to work with people at the same time.
Renovations under way in April and May 2019
Stephen very quickly became a farm manager, a plumber, an electrician, a mechanic, fire marshal, HR manager and guest relations. I have become the marketing and social media manager as well as a back up chef, a horse trainer, front of house, mom to a couple of baby calfs, purchase manager, admin lady and receptionist. We have morphed into all those roles among many others I cannot even remember of the top of my head.
Stephen and I learning how to adapt to "farm life"
Running a lodge means waking up at 5:30am EVERY SINGLE DAY, and going to bed late. It means problem solving in the background while keeping a smile on your face. It means learning about firebreaks and failing and then learning again. It means fighting with each other because you work and live together all the time and your work is your life. There is no getting away from it. It means no holiday for a long while, but hey it also means beautiful sunrises with a cup of coffee. It’s being able to watch wildlife from your garden and your bedroom window. It means putting a smile on someone’s face when you leave a surprise bubblebath or a bottle of bubbly in their room. It means seeing the stars and the milky way almost every day! It means sunshine and giving up on trying to have dust free clothes and dust free feet. It means taking a moment to appreciate the beauty around you and to listen to the birds. It’s having a glass of wine as a sundowner on your rare evening off. It is laughing so much with the staff that your belly hurts. It is learning about important things like types of birds and different grasses and just generally being more in tune with nature of which we are a part of, yet we somehow believe we can do without. It is getting to know your guests as if they were your oldest and best friends and getting to know your neighbours, but I mean really getting to know your neighbours, like in the old days where you can just rock up and borrow some sugar only now they help you to fight fires and repair tractors.
The best moment at Qambathi, our zebras, guests getting to know each other over wine tasting, views for life, Stephen and our chicken called Mrs Brown, sundowners on the mountain with guests and friends
This life is crazy and mad and wonderful and we absolutely love it. I have about 15 pairs of high heels in the wardrobe and haven’t worn them once since April. I have one pair of flip flops left because the dogs have chewed up the rest, but who cares. I have the biggest smile on my face when guests celebrate their special moments and I love the fact that I can get to know them and their story and to make their stay special. I love seeing my husband tired, with his hands covered in grease because he was just fixing the bakkie, but he doesn’t feel anxious on a Sunday evening. Heck most of the time we don’t even know it’s a Sunday. I love the fact that we have built up more tangible friendships in a space of 5 months than we managed to in 13 years in the UK.
Yes we have given up a cosy and “safe” life in the UK and with so many people emigrating we are often looked at as the crazies. The reason I put “safe” in inverted comas is because nothing in life is safe, the stress and the strain we both endured in the corporate world is not worth any money. The fact that you only get 3 months of sunshine and you get so tired and gatvol you spend your evenings on the couch binge watching tv, or even worse skipping through channels with nothing really to watch. That to me is not life it is merely existence. So yes, we did give up all of that to spend my days walking my five dogs, riding horses and hiking in the mountains, having a braai with a chilled glass of Chenin.
So if you asked me 5 months in what is it like to run a remote Mountain Lodge in South Africa I would say : It’s hard work but its sooo bloody worth it!