Diary: 2 weeks at Richard Branson’s lodge – Days 7-9

So I’ve survived a week living in the bush. It’s not as bad as I had thought it might be. The people are super friendly and the life, although the hours are crazy, is pretty laid back compared to life in the city. I was flown in (on a tiny specimen of a plane as I described in my first diary post) and therefore don’t have a vehicle to get around and actually see the area. Over the horizon every night from my room I can see the distant lights of the small town that borders the Sabie nature reserve. We’re not quite in the middle of the bundus but the sounds of hyena’s and lions at night make sure I also don’t forget that we’re not exactly in the suburbs either.

Cliff lodge, private lodge

Cliff lodge, private lodge

Being part of the staff, albeit temporarily, at such a picturesque place is weird in a way. The first 2 or 3 days you walk around in awe of the beauty and splendor of the place but soon your mind zones it all out and seems to forget just where you are. The view from on top of the mountain. The fancy finishes and deco; the animals running around just below you as you look over the balcony. I love nature and come to the Kruger Park maybe 3 or 4 times a year if I can but its strange living in the wild without being a tourist.

I’m still working the insane hours that a senior lodge chef works, I’m on my feet for about 11 hours of each day. The chefs here feel although they actually do the most hours of all the staff here they’re the least appreciated. Sadly its how it is in the culinary industry. The waiters get the tips for a good meal, the chefs simply get “thanks”. Ah well, no one forced anyone to be a chef anyway.

We had a Boma dinner 2 nights ago. A Boma is where people would gather around a huge fire (imagine a camp fire…now times it by 10) and stories would be shared or people would dance. The bushmen in Southern Africa still practice this as part of their culture. At a lodge a Boma dinner involves making loads of food and bringing the fancy restaurant out into the African night. Tables, table clothes, cultery, utensils…name it, its brought out. The majority of the food is prepared earlier in the day and just the meat is cooked at the Boma itself on big braais (BBQ’s). So we spent most of the day preparing salads. Luckily here the 3 lodges work together and Safari lodge was assigned the meat whilst Rock lodge was assigned the salads. At 7 pm everything was brought together. A big fire was started in a sand pit that had a iron trough in it and tables set.

Boma setting

We had 30 guests in total for dinner. In a city restaurant those are small numbers but out here in the bush that’s huge. We had to prep 5 kinds of salads, 2 starches, 2 sauces, 4 veg options, 3 dessert options and 7 kinds of meat. To say it was a long night would be an understatement. I enjoy cooking but Boma involves having to explain what you have on the menu to EVERY guest as they come to the buffet table, even if you just explained it to the person right in front of them! You also have to smile a lot…something I’ve learned comes with being a senior chef, the interaction with guests and tourists never stops, even if its to discuss a wasp that seems a bit overly interested in a guests handbag, you have to stand for that 30 minutes discussing wasps and African insects and the like and seem interested at the same time.

The reason most of us entertain guest interaction stuff is partly because of our nature, South African’s are brought up to treat visitors as best they can but it’s also because of tips. A lot of the staff rely a lot on the tips visitors leave. If you’re ever visiting a hotel or restaurant, don’t tip staff via a credit card, cash is king, credit card tips are shared with the house whilst cash tips go directly into the person’s pocket. Even though I myself won’t be getting any tips or reward if my interaction with a guest helps someone else, I’ll happily oblige.

The Boma went well but I got back to my room smelling of smoke and with my feet killing me. Unlike in the kitchen where you cook whilst walking on a hard surface at the Boma area you’re working in fine river sand, its as fine as sea sand. Carrying heavy pots and equipment was a killer. We did have some musical relief during the night though, some of the ladies who work in housekeeping and other area of the lodge have a choir and dance troupe. They came through between the main course and dessert to entertain the guests. Some of the guests even cried. Obviously I found it all amusing because I understood the lyrics of what they were singing…

Ulusaba-Rope-Bridge

The locals are starting to finally give up on trying to speak to me in Shangaan. The blank looks and responses in seSotho seem to have worked. The common ground is a broken version of Swati and Zulu. It sounds so wrong but it gets the job done better than hand gestures and blank stares. Everyone is very friendly though, which is refreshing for a change, in the city you tend to react to overly friendly people with a bit of suspicion first. Here I was welcomed with open arms. The staff often gossip in Shangaan believing I don’t understand what they’re saying…when I actually do, its speaking the language that I fail at. The gossip is positive. They say they believed I’d be like other chefs from the city who come and then pretend to be chefs and not fully understand what cooking and cheffing is about. A bit of a backhanded compliment I guess. I wasn’t meant to hear that so I can’t be picky either. I was subsequently asked to come back in a few weeks time to help them out again as one of their previous chefs has left to go work in Florida. I happily agreed, its an awesome distraction from the stress of urban life and it allows one to save BUT its a distance away from family and loved ones. A chef in the bush works for 6 weeks non-stop and then gets 2 weeks off. That’s the cycle. The head chef is currently on her 2 week off period and its why I’m here, to fill the gap. I don’t know if I could do this permanently though as my big dream is to open a restaurant in the city or close to it. We’ll see.

Animal sightings. Besides a huge male hippo that was chilling just outside our gate I’ve hardly seen anything meaningful. Yesterday at lunch time 2 bull elephants decided to visit our lunch deck on the dry river bed. They completely ignored us and the tourists as we made a fuss about them. We almost saw a lion pride take down a giraffe a few hours ago from the top dinner deck on the cliff but it was almost lunch time and so I had to disappear before I was asked more funny questions by guests with funny accents.

I also seem to have a whole conference in the house I’m staying in. There’s some form of squirrel living in the thatch roof above me, the thing never stops making a noise. At first I thought the roof was creaking but I saw its droppings yesterday, yep, I’ve got the chipmunks as housemates. I also woke up around 6pm last night to get read for dinner shift when I saw a black shape move across my bedroom floor. I thought it was a huge spider so I ran off to take my shower. I came out the shower and it was gone. As I was leaving for work I opened the door to the room below mine and the same black thing ran across the floor. I switched on the light. It turned out to be a bat. It was there when I got back from work, it seems to like my company as it was there on the floor again as I went upstairs to bed. Why it doesn’t fly I don’t know. I don’t know what blood sucking bats look like so I will definitely NOT be picking it up. I’m already covered in huge mosquito bites, the last thing I need is a bat sucking away at me. The mosquito net is my best friend in this place. I’m actually lying underneath it as I type this with the fan pointed at me at full blast. The heat is on another level completely.

The insects and creepy crawlies don’t faze me anymore. Even the huge spiders don’t scare me. The key is to ignore them and they ignore you.

Ulusaba View

There’s a 3rd lodge I mentioned earlier, its called Cliff Lodge. Its that first picture I’ve posted above. It’s for private guests and bookings only. It comes with a personal chef, a personal game ranger, a personal butler and is exclusive from the rest of the lodges. We won’t see the guests unless the guests want to be seen. A family of 8 arrived today to stay there. When Richard Branson visits he stays there too. For a night’s stay it costs almost R60 000 (that’s about $6 000) per person. I’m STILL shocked.

 

 

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