Friday, August 12, 2016

O Little Town of Bethlehem

Tomato's photograph
Last Monday I woke up and decided I wanted needed to go to Clarens in the Free State for the approaching 4 day weekend. The last time hubby and I went to Clarens was BC (before children) so it had been a while. Had I considered that perhaps such a sought-after leisure spot might possibly be booked out well before said Monday? No I had not. It had worked out fine booking "last minute" for Cape Town in December, so why not Clarens in August? Well, it was jam-packed full - dammit. But my good friend Google could tell that I was bummed and asked me gently if I would consider going further afield, outside of Clarens. Hmmm that sounded promising, so I found a fabulous little spot in Bethlehem. Did I know anything about Bethlehem apart from it being the birthplace of Jesus? No I did not. Have I been there before? No I had not. Have I travelled alone with 3 children further than Pretoria? No again. So I decided on the spur of the moment, that it was time I left my 60km radius comfort zone of Joburg and Pretoria and head for the Vrystaat just me and my BLT.

Oh, did I mention that this was so last minute, that I had completely forgotten that we had accepted an invitation to a birthday party for a friend of Lettuce? Oops! So I did as all good marketers do, we did PLOC - Planning, Leading, Organising and Controlling (ok I lost control a long time ago, but I can dream.) We got up early, packed, wrapped pressie, ate brekkie, attended the party and then hit the road! 

R-O-A-D T-R-I-P!!

I can highly recommend going on a road trip after a 4 year old's birthday party. The party packs doubled as fabulous padkos-lucky-dips and the cute little bags came in handy for car rubbish to be tossed at the next One-Stop. When we drove to Cape Town, there was tech equipment to keep B, L and T occupied and the car was silent the whole way down, we never heard from them, they didn't even need bathroom breaks. But, taking single parenthood in my stride, I was going the old-fashioned way - no iPads, iPods or tablets eeek! So once the radio began to crackle indicating that we were about to lose reception, it was up to us to entertain ourselves. We sang and laughed and played games the whole way there. Tomato fancies herself as a bit of a photographer, so she took loads of photos of the farms that we passed, to show her class mates because they're studying farming in Social Science.

Getting every last bit!
We arrived at Favor House late in the afternoon and the kids were super excited to find that it was situated on a farm with horses, cows, dogs and even springbok. They were out the car in a flash and soon became "farm children." Tomato now wants us to sell up and get a farm in Bethlehem (ah, if only....) Our accommodation was great, we all shared one huge room with a beautiful, modern ensuite bathroom and a little kitchenette. The proprietor was really lovely. She had a chocolate on each of our pillows waiting for us (kids were elated), I got Lindor and fancy nougat biscuits on my pillow (I was elated!) as well as a really thoughtful gesture of a bottle of milk in the fridge and homemade rusks at our little coffee/ tea station. There was DSTV so the kids were thrilled with the spoil of TV each night before bed. When it gets dark and the temperature drops below zero, there isn't much to do on the farm! 
Now this is how you make fudge!
Bacon's souvenir from Clarens

The following day we headed to Clarens and poked around in all the great little stores where B,L and T spent their holiday money - Bacon and Lettuce on wooden toys and Tomato on crystals. It was a real trip down memory lane for me. We went to see the church where I had sung at a wedding, which seemed like a lifetime ago. Then we headed to Clementines where a friend of mine, whom I haven't seen in 12 years, welcomed us and we had a great meal. We all played Hi-ho Cheerio and Monopoly between courses and then hit the shops... again. 

On the way back to our home-away-from-home, we stopped in at the Lesotho Highlands Water Project which was very cool and the kids played in the massive pipe. When we got back, the kids were allowed to feed the horses *happiness is* and play with the dogs and then we scoffed a whole lot of awesome goodies that we'd bought at the various little shops. NOTHING beats boerekos.  

What to do on Monday? Yo Goooogle!!! I was thinking Golden Gate. I wanted to see the beautiful sandstone mountains, which I adore. Even though sandstone is totally impractical as a tile, I insisted on putting it in our home when we built it, because I love the fossil remains that can be seen in the stone, and I can just feel the beauty and energy of it - it makes my soul happy. My good friend Google rushed to my aid and reminded me that there are trails/ hikes up these majestic mountains. My mind was made up. We had eaten enough over the past two days to satisfy an army, so a hike is just the activity we needed. Monday morning, after playing with the farm animals again, we hit the road to Golden Gate Highlands National Park.

After expressing utter shock and disbelief from Tomato and a lot of eye-rolling and heavy sighing that THIS is what we were going to do that particular day, the four of us trekked up one of the mountains to Echo Ravine - it was breathtaking. Most of the route was on a path, but the last stretch was rock climbing. We walked under a waterfall (more like a water spray thanks to the ongoing drought) and we really were "stuck between two mountains" as Tomato put it. Lettuce was amazing to watch, fearless but not careless, scampering over the rocks, carefully checking the stability of each one before stepping onto it, especially when we got to the high parts. It was really funny to hear this little dude singing the Final Countdown as we climbed! Tomato was a nervous wreck, convinced that we were going to get lost and die on the mountain with our bodies never to be recovered again. She kept asking "what if I fall?" and I kept saying "then I'll climb down and fetch you." Bacon just enjoyed the trail, very proud to be carrying some of the picnic goodies in her backpack that the girls had each received from granny and gramps for their birthdays. The views were fantastic and we stopped to have our picnic overlooking Golden Gate. It was blissful. I love the quietness of mountains and B, L and T even kept quiet long enough at one point for me to really enjoy the sound I refer to as "mountain stillness" while we picnicked and then Tomato could relax a bit.

After getting back (yes we did make it back without a search and rescue team) we headed back towards Clarens to consume all of the calories we had just burned! Gee you can't get out of that place without gaining 3-5kgs! Bakeries and eateries at every corner and all delicious things! We bought lunch and ate it on the grass in the square and Bacon climbed a tree. B, L and T went on a horse and carriage ride, after Tomato bartered the price down!! This from a child who wouldn't talk to strangers 18 months ago! Where does she come from?? I was super proud of her wheeling and dealing.
Dex the Ridgeback
The day we departed, our host was kind enough to take Tomato, Bacon and Lettuce on a horse ride, a little different from a pony ride, but they were thrilled! We weren't ready for the holiday to end, so we drove to a Cat Sanctuary and saw lions, white lions (there was a new baby born that morning), tigers, tiger cubs and black leopards. It was fascinating to learn about these animals and to watch them interact with humans like domestic cats.

Then we were homeward bound, again without anything except ourselves to keep us occupied. We had really amazing conversations about everything and anything. At one point Lettuce fell asleep and his sisters had a whale of a time asking him questions and he would nod or shake his head while asleep. My favourite question was "Lettuce do you want to have children with your girlfriend?" he obviously nodded in his sleep because Bacon then asked "do you want to adopt or make them yourself?" Haha where do they come up with these things? PS Bacon, there is no yes or no answer to that one!

Things I've learned on this trip:
  • My BLT are really fun little people
  • My BLT are flippen noisy in close confined spaces i.e. in a car
  • Lettuce hates my singing *sob*
  • Tomato and Bacon love my singing [that means Lettuce is outnumbered - yay!]
  • Bethlehem is freeeezing!! Even the monopoly box froze
  • Bethlehem has its own casino! 
  • Bethlehem is an awesome little town
  • Staying in a room with 3 little people who go to bed at 8pm, forces you to get HUGE amounts of sleep! I averaged 10 hours a night! 
If you've read this far and you're as OCD as I am, you're screaming "Jesus wasn't born in that Bethlehem!!" Thank you, I am aware of this, I spent a long time trying to explain that exact same thing to 3 little tots that didn't understand why they couldn't visit his manger. So instead we sang "Away in a Manger" while Lettuce blocked his ears and screamed!