Expect What You Pay For

Expect what you pay for …

You don’t order a small saloon car from a car dealer and then demand, when you collect it, that he gives you a luxury 4×4 station wagon instead.

You expect only what you ordered and paid for. You understand that, if you get it, you are not in a position to complain. The same applies to hotel rooms.

The danger of some accommodation booking websites is that they cut out the direct contact between hotel and client, which makes it all the more important to read the small print and, let’s face it, the large print as well.

A Christmas client had booked my hotel through a major international booking website, but when he checked in, he complained.

“What made you think,” I asked him, “when you booked a room clearly described on the website as being ‘without air-conditioning’, that it would have air-conditioning? Wasn’t it obvious from the description that it wouldn’t?”

In these days of Instant Internet Vengeance hoteliers are permanently on the back foot. Did you know, for example, that if you type ‘disgusting horrible’ into a Google search, a whole lot of TripAdvisor reviews pop up on the first results page?  Try it.

I have had my say about TripAdvisor, but it has led to a new breed of client that books one thing and demands something else, whilst wielding the threat of bad reviews.

Hoteliers want happy guests – obviously – and if I didn’t think, at the given price, that I was providing a reasonable service, I would do something about it. I don’t have air-conditioning at home. I have a ceiling fan which I rarely use; I sleep with the windows open. I am cool and I don’t wake up covered in insects. Millions of us live in the hotter parts of South Africa and millions of us cope without air-conditioning. First world problems, I believe they call it.

However, for those that want it, we have rooms with air-conditioning. They cost more.

He wasn’t prepared to pay more, he said. He would slather our poor service all over the Internet, he said. So I asked him to leave – right of admission reserved – and refunded his deposit in full. It was Christmas Eve. I hope he found room at some other inn.

Pay for the minimum you will be happy with and be pleasantly surprised if you are offered more. Most hoteliers upgrade if they can. But don’t pay for less than you are prepared to tolerate and then complain that you didn’t get what you wanted.

After all, if you take your saloon car on a 4×4 route, it’s not going to cope. And you’re not going to be able to blame the manufacturer.

For whom the bell tings

The constant clanging of ice-cream salesmen is only the beginning of beachside holiday hell

I am not a fan of the sea. It had therefore been twenty years since my last beach holiday. For the first couple of days on the sunny coast, though, I had thought I might relent slightly. Only slightly, mind you.

We were ensconced in a pristine KZN North Coast apartment which had apparently once belonged to the late Louis Luyt. The balconied beachfront flat, with a suitable grandstand view of the Indian Ocean, was well-furnished with not-too-great a preponderance of orange and red swirls. Everything worked, down to the air-conditioning and the rugby-lover’s home theatre, although we had no intention of using either. A swimming pool sparkled blue in a neatly trimmed garden. There was no smell of drains or worse. Friendly staff went beyond the call of duty.

The weather was perfect. Clear skies blazed above an infinity-bound aquamarine sea, trimmed with fizzing white froth. Gambolling children of all hues and cries scattered happily in the waves and across the beach. Dolphins frolicked in the offshore swell. The sharks were at bay, beyond their nets.

So far, not so bad.

I think it was the ceaseless ringing of the ice cream salesmen’s bells that changed everything, ultimately tipping an otherwise cheerful and newly ocean-enamoured Chris Harvie back over the edge and into a terminal never-again downward spiral.

I am sure, however fond they might be of the jingle of a bell, that any post-yuletide vacationer, even the keenest campanologist, perhaps even Quasimodo himself, would have agreed with me that it was excessive. And in a week on that beach I don’t think I was ever aware of a single ice cream being sold, despite the passing every 30 seconds of a ringing red cool box. So not only is it rampantly headache-inducing, it blatantly doesn’t work.

Surely somebody could put an end to this irritation? The crash of the waves and the sound of joyous children armed with boogie boards and bat and ball all make sense, but the constant ding-a-ling just jars.

There were other problems too which now became more obvious in the light of this artificially inflicted tinnitus. I had distant and probably equally artificial memories of lengthy empty golden sand beaches stretching uninterrupted to north and south, of bobbing gently on high surging waves, of swimming way out to sea, of lithe and lissom bronzed physiques and of fresh seafood in beachside restaurants.

The reality, I now realised, clear as a bell, in the weeks after Christmas was rather different. While the shopping centres and theme parks were perfectly clean, much of the beachfront reeked of bulbous bodies and fast-food, the evidence of the latter trodden and plastered into a hot-doggy, burger-pulp strewn with popcorn and strings of chewing gum into every pavement and piazza. Even the seafood’s not fresh any more.

And, as if the peace wasn’t already shattered enough by the interminable tinkling, some wise official had armed the bored lifeguards not only with their bizarrely-shaped flotation devices which they had used to mark out an extensive encampment on the beach, but also with shrill whistles, with which to call in errant swimmers who had strayed outside the narrow stretch of surf to which they were supposed to be confined.

As the week drew on, the permitted swimming area between the lifeguards’ flags became ever more shrunken, the undertow stronger and the bluebottles more numerous, driving the glutinous masses out of the sea to overflow instead onto an already heaving and overburdened stretch of sole-burning sand, gazebos springing up like a refugee camp in a Saharan drought.

Please, Authorities, stop the piercing trills and the constant jingling, power-spray the esplanade and maybe get the public to shed a significant percentage of its body weight or cover up, and I might be convinced to go down to the sea again, as the poet said, but not until then.

Ban the bells! Bring back the belles! Ola, Goodbye!

The Lucky Number

Chris Harvie finds a range of ‘fives’ at a lovely Kruger National Park Lodge

“Only the Makuleke people can show you this!” Sam Japane told us, proudly.

Sam is one of the Makuleke people himself and it was certainly a spectacular setting.  I was, at long last, gazing into the famed Lanner Gorge, one of the Kruger National Park’s most hidden and sought-after  sites stretching deep below, its orange cliffs towering above the winding, gurgling snake of brown and white rapids that was the Levuvhu River, as lovely as its name.

Sam, our garrulous guide, had already shown us some of the Ugly Five, most of the Small Five – we were missing only the elephant shrew – and a couple of enviable lifers on the birding front. My first broad-billed roller, for example, and Dickinson’s kestrel. Sam is an exceptional identifier of birds, able not only to imitate them, but also even to give their bird numbers.

“Woodland Kingfisher, breeding male, Roberts number 433 Halcyon Senegalensis.” No-one was arguing. “Mosque Swallow, 525.”

The spectacularly situated Outpost Lodge straddles a line of dassie-strewn and fig-wound rocks, high above the Levuvhu  in the so-called Makuleke Concession, in the northerly Pafuri region, wedged between the Limpopo river and its tributary, the Levuvhu. The area offers some of the most outstanding scenery in the Kruger and while it may not be easy to find the sought-after Big Five here (although they are present), all the other Fives, the area’s superb birding and its splendid isolation more than make up for that.

The Makuleke people were removed from this, their land, in 1969 only to have it returned to them in a ground-breaking agreement with the new government in the 1990s, whereupon a 30-year concession was granted to The Outpost. The Lodge was built and is staffed by the Makuleke and they are shareholders in perpetuity, thus owning and managing some of Kruger’s most iconic places and simultaneously keeping alive their own history in the area through frequently-spun tales of the meeting places of the chiefs and the traditions of the Tsonga people to whom the Makuleke belong.

Our game drives took us the length and breadth of the 28 000 hectare concession. The first evening, we meandered along the Levuvhu River, counting the crocodiles. Nyala, warthogs and elephants were scattered along the riverbanks, bathed in the evening’s golden light.

Over 350 species of bird have been identified here and as we stopped for a sundowner, under a baobab estimated at 1200 years old, we startled a flock of crested guinea fowl  sending them scurrying towards the river, their black fluffed heads bobbing up and down in the dry bush. The moon rose full, between the ancient tree’s mangled branches.

The following morning, a different spectrum of birds awaited – Brown-headed Parrot (363) and Senegal Coucal (390) and a range of Rollers – as Sam wove us in and out of the giant pan-stippled, yellow-green fever forest to Crook’s Corner where three countries meet and where our guide wove some lore of his own into a well-told African tale of the dawn-of-time agreement between The Creator, the hippos and the crocs, while the descendants of the latter two species watched us from a nearby pool. I don’t think The Creator could have been far away either. Certainly, looking down the spectacular Lanner Gorge that afternoon as the sun set behind the distant Soutpansberg, it was easy to imagine oneself in Eden.

Back at the Lodge and returning to our ‘space’, as they aptly call their rooms, to change for a dinner under the stars, we were startled, as we were each time we walked in, by the sheer audacity of the design. The structures are blandly unimpressive from the outside but open the door and then the electric blinds … and you walk straight into the view and become part of it. Mosquito-netted beds stand against the only permanent wall. On one side of the open deck, looking to the east, lies an open bathroom and shower while, off to the west stands a daybed and beyond it, only trees and shrubs. Way below, the Levuvhu River glows in the moonlight.

We slept every night with the blinds open and the wind rustled in the trees, between which our deck seemed suspended from the sky. There was nothing between our ‘space’ and space itself, until nearby birdsong drifted gently through our waking minds.

The Outpost is all about people – the Makuleke people and their guests whom they greet by name. Their welcoming smiles, their warm handshakes, their cheerful enthusiasm and their cooling facecloths after a dusty game drive amongst the Big, the Small and the Ugly Fives, will always be etched on my memory of this peaceful, lovely calming place.

Remember Sam’s words: Only the Makuleke people can show you this.

 

Basics

Where it is – In the Makuleke Concession, Northern Kruger National Park. It’s a long way from anywhere by car – six hours from Johannesburg – but don’t let that put you off. Make a road trip of it.

Why go there – For the (not guaranteed by any means) Big Five, the Small Five, the Ugly Five and not forgetting the- dare I say it? – High Five of a superb Makuleke welcome. And 350 species of birds.

What it has – Eleven Luxury Spaces (or rooms) and one Honeymoon Space. All en-suite (or en-space?) with showers and stone baths. Swimming pool. Library. Excellent coffee. A view into Zimbabwe and Mozambique.

What it is like – Floating above the bush in the tops of the trees, with the night calls of Africa to lull you to sleep, safe from all manner of birds and beasts lurking below.

Rates – SA Residents Only. R2575 per person sharing, R3350 single. Includes accommodation, three meals and two game drives a day, snacks, teas and coffees. Last minute booking rate also available.

Getting there – The Outpost is just over 10 kilometres from Kruger’s Pafuri Gate and 380 kilometres from Skukuza. Four kilometres from Pafuri, turn off to the south and travel 6.6km to the lodge.

Contact – Reservations 011 327 3920 Email reservations@theoutpost.co.za Websitewww.theoutpost.co.za . The Outpost is operated and marketed by Rare Earth Retreats.