Magazine article The Spectator

Creature Comforts

Magazine article The Spectator

Creature Comforts

Article excerpt

I was in the middle of planning a trip to the Western Cape wine-lands of South Africa when I ran into my friend and neighbour Will Jones. As the owner of a highly successful tour operator specialising in bespoke trips to Africa, it turned out that he, too, was off to South Africa, to check out some lodges and hotels, and to enjoy a few days' safari. We had a eureka moment and decided to travel together. Will is rather rugged and outdoorsy and, although I like to think that I'm as hard as nails, my nearest and dearest know that I couldn't be less so. I must therefore admit that I'm squeamish in the extreme, and one of the reasons I've never been on safari before is that I have an overwhelming dislike of bugs, creepy-crawlies, mites that bite and things with wings that sting. I won't sleep outdoors, I can't survive without hot and cold running water, and a mini-bar is mandatory. Oh, and a cup of Earl Grey with my wake-up call, please. 'Fret not, old chum, ' said Will. 'It will be luxury all the way, and I promise I'll check your bath regularly for spiders.' What a gent.

And he wasn't kidding -- Bushman's Kloof in the Cederbergs was my cup of tea all right. An oasis of manicured lawns, infinity pools and whitewashed thatched lodges and cottages in the heart of a barren, windsculpted landscape of sandstone rock, the place does luxury with a capital 'L'. My suite was larger than my home and boasted its own private swimming-pool.

I immediately treated myself to a terrific massage at the swanky spa. The masseuse gave me a sound pummelling, and in my alltime massage league table I placed it second only to the epic I had at Spa Caudalie in Bordeaux, where I was smeared all over, all over, in warm honey by a Carole Bouquet lookalike and then wrapped in clingfilm. I know, I can still scarcely believe it myself.

Remind me to tell you about it sometime.

As medical officer on our trip, I prescribed the same treatment for Will, and after dining under the stars like kings (with a sevencourse dinner) we both slept like babies. This was just as well, as we were woken at 6 a. m.

(with a cup of Earl Grey) by one of the guides for a short trek across the desolate terrain to view some ancient rock art before it got too hot. Painted on overhanging cliffs and outcrops by San Bushmen during the Stone Age, these simple paintings of hunters, elephants, antelope and mythical animals are exquisitely executed in yellow ochre, blood and eggshell. It's astonishing how they've survived. They are so primitive that they look modern and are a remarkable reminder of South Africa's earliest inhabitants. It was well worth the early start.

A day of idleness followed, spent simply enjoying the emptiness and the silence while not holding back on the food and drink. We signed up for the stargazing after dinner, but to be quite frank I found it hard to focus after our third bottle and gave up, leaving Will to it. 'But look at all these pretty little shooting stars, ' he slurred dreamily. Bless him. I later learnt that they escorted him back to his suite after he became convinced that Orion's Belt was moving en masse across the heavens.

Next day we headed back to Cape Town and took a flight to the tiny airport of Nelspruit. We were off to the Kruger National Park -- some 20,000 square kilometres of pristine Africa -- and, as instructed, I had already nervously taken my antimalaria tablet. Will started winding me up about the dangers of the tsetse fly and, as if this wasn't enough to get me anxious, the size of our next plane was. A go-kart on wheels, it somehow stayed aloft long enough to get us to the tiny grass strip that passes for an airfield deep in the scrub of the Kruger. …

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