A new friend, a short canoe trip, and happy horses (Part V)

At the end of May, we spent a couple of days at the delightful Somerset Gift Getaway Farm, tucked away in a narrow little valley at the foothills of the Langeberge, just outside Swellendam.  This is Part V of the story of our stay in that area. Here are the links to the other parts:

  1. Swellendam, here we come! (Part I)
  2. A river ramble to Baboon Kloof with a happy dog (Part II)
  3. Lunch in gaol, a berry liqueur tasting, and yawning horses (Part III)
  4. A challenging hike to waterfalls and rock pools in the mountains (Part IV)
  5. Across Tradouw Pass to Barrydale (Part VI)
  6. Homeward bound via Cogmans Kloof Pass and Du Toits Kloof Pass (Part VII)


After the exertions of the morning, it was sooo good to sit on the stoep, leisurely sipping mugs of tea and coffee, and munching the last slices of our delicious cake. We were completely tired out. We took turns getting clean in the rustic outdoor shower, and having quick catnaps to regain some energy.

Playful Punch

And then we met a gorgeous little staffie by the name of Punch. Dion had come up to prepare the Bushbuck Pub for a party that night, and he very generously lent us a container of milk, as we were about to run out. He was accompanied by a very lively Punch.

There he comes!

Come, Punch! You can make it!

While we chatted to Dion about our hike, and asked him about the snake we’d seen, we played with Punch, who was just a bundle of barely contained excitement! His tail whipped side to side, his tongue hung out, and he had a big smile on his face. Not surprisingly, he received lots of pats and cuddles from each of us.

A party of baboons

A troop of baboons comes down the hill behind the house

While we lazed about on the stoep, a troop of baboons came down the hillside behind the cottage, to forage among the trees just behind the outdoor shower.

They know we’re watching them

They made quite a racket, barking orders at each other, and scurrying up and down the trees in a flurry of branches and leaves.

Baboons are fascinating creatures, and they have such a rich community life; I want to learn more about them…

A short canoe trip around the little dam

By late afternoon, we were tired of lazing about.

“Hey! How about a little canoe trip across the dam?”

“What? Are you joking?”

“No, come on, it’ll be fun!”

“Is he serious?”

“Looks like it… he’s going down to the dam. We’d better follow.”

Wearing flip-flops and a pair of shorts, in case we succeeded in toppling the canoe, which I felt was highly likely given our inexperience with canoeing, and the shape and size of the only three-person canoe available, I joined Tanya, Richard and Dion at the side of the dam. My fellow canoeists seemed to have more confidence in their abilities to stay out of the water, because they were still fully and warmly clothed. I, on the other hand, was freezing! My teeth chattered all the way around the dam!

Dion and Richard pulled and shoved the canoe until it was in the shallows, just next to the muddy shore.

“Right, the heaviest person has to sit at the back, and steer,” explained Dion, helpfully.

“That’ll be me,” said Richard with a sigh. “And I’ll steer.”

“And I’ll sit at the front,” declared Tanya. “I’ll paddle.”

“OK, then, Reggie, you climb in first, because you’ll sit in the middle. And you’d better give me the camera, in case… in case… um… It’s probably best if you do a practice run around the dam first, before you take the camera onboard.”

“Good point!”

I stepped aboard the wobbling canoe, wriggling forward until my butt was on the seat. Unfortunately, there was no space for my feet onboard the canoe… the middle seat was obviously designed for a young child with very short legs! And the water was icy cold, which I confirmed with my fingers, so I wasn’t intending to dangle my legs in there. So I placed them on either side of Tanya’s seat, which was a most uncomfortable position.

“OK, now Tanya, get in at the front.”

The canoe wobbled alarmingly, as Tanya gingerly sat down, trying to squeeze her legs into the small narrow space at the front.

“Reggie, you take the paddles.” I reached out to grab the two paddles from Dion, carefully handing the one to Tanya.

“Now we’ll need to turn the canoe a little, so that you can go forward, and away from the shore.”

“Right, my turn to get in,” announced Richard, “Get ready!”

He quickly sat down at the back, and tucked his legs in on either side of me. We squealed and giggled, as the canoe sunk at least a centimetre further into the water, before it settled. Phew. Once Richard had regained his balance, I handed him his paddle, and Dion gave us a push away from the reeds and the mud.

We immediately encountered an obstacle in the form of a pipe that ran quite some way into the dam. Amidst shrieks of “Turn! Turn! No! The other way!” we turned ourselves 270 degrees around and somehow ended up on the opposite side of the pipe, where we posed for a camera-wielding Dion.

We go for a little canoe trip around the dam

“Thanks, Dion!!!” we chorused.

Then we got down to the business of coordinating paddle strokes to propel us forward in a straight line down the length of the dam. This wasn’t as easy as one would think. The water levels in the dam were fairly low, too, which meant that otherwise submerged bushes and branches were sticking out of the water, necessitating a frantic flurry of paddling and splashing to avoid a collision. Tanya hadn’t gotten the hang of steering yet, and kept paddling us towards obstacles, rather than away from them, despite Richard valiantly counter-steering from the back. Miraculously, we made it safely all the way to the far end, and then took a while to turn around.

“Stop paddling for a moment, Tanya,” instructed big brother, as we veered erratically left and right, “let me steer us. Oh gosh, it seems to be going uphill now!” 🙂

Once the front end of the canoe faced… er… to the front again, we set our course back to our starting point. A certain someone paddled us vigorously and inexorably towards, rather than away from, yet another immovable obstacle in the water. Much squealing and panicked yelling ensued.

“No! Not that side! Paddle on the left! On the left!! Oh cr…p… The other left…. AWAY from the tree! AWAY… !!”

Richard literally had his hands full trying to steer us to safety before we collided. As far as I can recall (because I closed my eyes in the seconds before impact), I think he actually slammed on the brakes (in a manner of speaking), by submerging his paddle all the way into the water and leaning back hard against it. We slid past the branches with mere inches to spare.

“Sjoe, that was close, let’s not do that again, okay?”

A tip if you ever find yourself in a canoe, whether voluntarily or not: If you want to paddle away from an obstacle, you need to paddle on the opposite side of the obstacle. Conversely, of course, if you want to get back to dry land (which I’m sure you’ll want to at some stage), you’ll need to paddle on the same side as the shore.

At least, I think that was it. Or was it the other way around? Er…

“Now how about we keep quiet for a minute, hey? We’re chasing away all the birds,” suggested Richard from the back. “And let’s not paddle for a moment, okay? I need to catch my breath.”

The sudden silence was breathtaking.

A paddle made a hollow thunk as it came to rest. Our canoe slid through the water with a faint swishing sound. We could hear baboons barking and scuffling in the undergrowth next to the dam. A large bird glided softly down from the tree tops, flapping languidly above us, all the way to the far end of the dam. A couple of songbirds were tweeting and twittering nearby.

It was truly idyllic.

Unfortunately for the wildlife, we managed about 10 seconds of silence, before collapsing in a fit of hysterical giggles once more. We were just so hopelessly inefficient in travelling in a more or less straight line, even when no one was paddling!

At last, with some difficulty, we approached our ‘dis/embarkation point’ in the shallows. Once we were close enough to the edge, Richard climbed out, bravely placing both feet in the muddy gunge (urgh). Then, with an almighty heave, he pulled the end of the canoe onto solid ground. I inched backwards, until I was clear of the squelching mud, and climbed out, clutching the two paddles. At last, it was Tanya’s turn to do the same. Then we pulled, and pushed and lifted the canoe until it was safely on dry ground once more.

We returned to the cottage to recover from the exertions of our canoe trip around the dam, and to put on some warm clothes!

Martin and Polo

The two horses, Martin and Polo, had come close to the fence near our cottage. We quickly chopped up our last carrots to feed to them. They were delighted to be given a treat.

I stayed for a while longer, talking to them, and hoping that they’d allow me more than just the briefest of touches on their faces. I so badly wanted to give both of them a proper brush! And I was totally smitten with Martin, with his white blaze and white socks. Sigh…

Happy, contented horses

Our final night’s braai

All too soon, the afternoon ended. A small bus had arrived with a group of young men, all on their way to the Eastern Cape. They were just staying here for the night, and had scheduled a party in the Bushbuck Pub next door to us.

Meanwhile, we made a fire, and prepared the usual bits and bobs of a proper South African braai: the other half of the sausage; the remaining lamb chops, spiced very simply with salt and pepper (I’d forgotten to pack some fresh sage, rosemary and thyme from the garden); pre-boiled potatoes wrapped in tinfoil with a dab of butter and a pinch of salt; chunks of butternut, also wrapped in tinfoil with a little dab of butter (and ideally a sprinkling of cinnamon, but we had forgotten to bring any); and of course some cheese, tomato and onion sandwiches. And a small bowl of salad.

Aahhhh, bliss. What is it with braai’s, hey? They’re just so perfect for a South African holiday. No trip to far-flung places is complete without at least one braai.

Our cosy braai fire

4 thoughts on “A new friend, a short canoe trip, and happy horses (Part V)

  1. I giggled at your experiences with the canoe. So I am not the only person who find paddling the most baffling business – it is all so counter-intuitive!!
    Those horses are beautiful and you definitely made a friend there with Martin 🙂

    • Canoeing around that little dam was a LOT of fun! But next time, I’m wearing warmer clothes too, even if we topple, because I was absolutely *freezing* in those shorts! My teeth literally didn’t stop chattering all the way. And next time, I’m gonna do some paddling myself, so that I can figure out how to steer properly! It can’t be all that difficult, surely! 😉

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