By the time we said goodbye to the Elephant Sanctuary and headed west on the N2 to our little hideaway in the mountains, it was after 16h30. And it was almost 18h00 when we finally reached the Rheenendal Road.
We were almost ‘home’, when we remembered that we had forgotten to buy a bottle of milk in Knysna. Richard was unwilling to turn around, and certain that there had to be a shop open somewhere along this road (even though it was Saturday evening). We thus drove on in the pitch dark, through an entirely unfamiliar area, where we could only see the things our headlights illuminated straight ahead.
When we came to the big sign of Portland Manor, a large luxury estate, a car had just stopped at the turn-off, waiting to turn into the Rheenendal Road. There were a couple of local Coloureds milling around, so we asked them whether they knew if we could buy milk at the estate, as perhaps they had a small shop. “Yes, definitely, just go in” they shouted back encouragingly.
And thus we found ourselves, all alone in the world, bumping slowly and cautiously along a narrow gravel road in the dark, amidst tall trees and wild vegetation, around blind bends and curves. It seemed to go on for ever, but there wasn’t enough space to turn around, and we kept saying hopefully to each other, “around the next curve, it’ll be around the next curve”.
Suddenly, our headlights flashed across a sign that made us giggle hysterically: “Avoid creating dust! It kills the fruit trees!” If we went any slower, it would be faster to walk. Fortunately, whoever had planted the fruit trees right next to the road, had sensibly cemented this stretch, so thank heavens, we did not kill any fruit trees that night.
About 15 mins after we’d entered the main gate, we arrived at a massive country house, whose front door was open. We parked right in front, next to the “No Parking” sign, and traipsed inside. The concierge at the front desk gave us a welcoming smile, as I explained our quest for milk. He briefly consulted with another coloured man who had just walked in, and who probably worked on the estate too.
It emerged, that they didn’t sell milk, after all. Sigh. But a place called ‘Tortoise Petrol Station’ or something further along the road might still be open. Our despair somewhat assuaged, we retraced our steps – slowly, so as not to kill any more trees – back to the main gate.
Back on the Rheenendal Road, we sped further north, keeping our eyes peeled for something to do with tortoises. And indeed – a few kilometres further on – there was a petrol station on the left side of the road, which proclaimed itself to be “Tottie’s Petrol Station, Eatery and Tea Garden” . Alas, it was shut for the night.
I only found out later when looking this up on the internet, that this is actually a very popular place which serves good food. So it’s going on my ‘When next in Rheenendal’ list.
Disbelieving first impressions, Richard u-turned into the yard and stopped right next to the windows, which were all lit up, in order to peer through to see whether Tottie him- or herself was perhaps asleep at the back. I half expected him to climb out, bang on the windows, and search for an ‘all night service bell’.
By now, I was muttering rebelliously that it would have been less time-consuming to have driven straight back to Knysna when we’d first realised we’d forgotten the milk. Admittedly, though, it would have been less adventurous and entertaining.
In the end, unwilling to even contemplate an evening without the comforting closure provided by our customary cup of tea-with-milk, we headed south again, down the whole mountainside, back onto the N2, eastwards across the Knysna lagoon… to the Shell service station, which was not only open, but – loud cheering! – was able to supply us with a bottle of milk, a big bottle of water (the water from the tap made the tea taste odd) and two dipped chocolate flakes for dessert!
When we got back to our little ‘Forest Moon’, it was 19h00. Only an hour to get milk. Hm. Must be a record around here. And a distance of about 50 km. Given the current petrol price, that’s a dang expensive bottle of milk.
As it always takes so long to get coals at the right temperature, and as both our tummies were rumbling noisily by now, we gave up our original dinner-plan of making a braai-fire outside, as well as our alternative plan to make a fire in the quaint little stove inside the house. Instead, I tossed together a mixed salad from the ingredients we had schlepped in our cooler bag all the way from Cape Town, buttered some of the Oude Molen farm bread, and added a few cold samoosas from Woolworths’ instant-food section.
We perched companionably on the bed, chomping happily, and watching one of the DVDs provided by our hosts, which told us all about the Highlights of the Eastern Cape and the Garden Route.
Afterwards, we had tea-with-milk (!) and our two chocolate flakes to end off a fabulous day. Tomorrow was Richard’s birthday, and we wondered what treasures the day would bring! We were really keen to fit in another hike in the nearby Millwood Forest.