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Espresso anyone?

January 26th, 2018

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Disappointment.

This isn’t a good look on the face of a guest when you pour their filter coffee at breakfast at Bitou River Lodge, Plettenberg Bay. So off you go to try again. Five tablespoons of Bootlegger’s finest filter coffee in a two-cup plunger, this time? Hmmm, they say. Not bad. Just missing that special something…. it’s called espresso.

So how was I going to up my game and provide quality espresso for my guests?

I’d heard stories from other guest-house owners about disasters caused by guests operating self-help coffee machines unsupervised, about the loud noise from the beans being ground, about the problems with cleaning machines effectively.

Sadly I crossed the Smeg coffee machine (red!) off my list.

How about a Nespresso machine then? But … those pods are not at all eco-friendly and our Lodge is committed to green solutions.

What else? I was stumped.

Then I had not one but five Italian guests arrive, along with an espresso-fanatic German who travels everywhere with her own tiny Moka pot which makes one cup of espresso, stove-top. I was fascinated. The traditional Italian method of percolating coffee on the stove made perfect cups of espresso over and over again.

So I found a family of Bialetti Moka Pots: Papa Bialetti, Mamma Bialetti and Bambino Bialetti. Between them they can make sixteen cups of strong, black espresso at a sitting, or can serve just one guest or two.

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I received rigorous training from my experienced team of six guests (it’s not as straightforward as you might think).  I asked some horrifyingly naive questions: Can you use boiling water in the bottom chamber? A shocked chorus of NO’s!  I thought it would speed things up, but speed, I learnt, is Not The Point. Even if you do have a polo match to get to. Why won’t the Mamma Pot function at all on the large gas burner? Because it’s not hot enough, go figure. You have to have a blast of heat directly under the pot – and again, Speed Is Not The Point. Are espresso cups an essential part of drinking espresso? YES!  Right, got it – and also got the cute little cups.

Even with the cute little cups I don’t think I’ll ever get used to drinking such strong coffee – but it was so much fun learning how to make it properly and seeing the new look on my guests’ faces…

Satisfaction.

Big up to Rudston, Nadia, Diego, Gillian, Patrizia and Regine, who got my year off to a stylish start!

August 2017 – Plett – Building and Growing

August 24th, 2017
Photo: @gotravelbug

Photo: @gotravelbug

Ten weeks ago we were living with the strong smell of smoke everywhere we went in Plett. We scanned the hills for billowing smoke clouds and raging flames, day and night. We checked the wind strength every few minutes. We donated food. Clothes. Shelter. We cried a lot. We hugged strangers.

It was devastating for all of us. We’re still getting over it.

But finally we’ve had soaking rains that will have put out the last of the fires in the deepest tree roots in the most inaccessible valleys. The fragile grey ash will soon be full of green shoots. Plett is growing again.

In more ways than one…

All the volunteer units are involved in a massive training exercise today, to be better prepared for potential disasters: this involves many locals giving up a lot of time to help others. Even sometimes, their lives. We heard today that our 24-year-old volunteer firefighter, Brad Richards, is being awarded the Order of Mendi for his bravery during the fires.

“Brad was already at the gate and I ran onto the deck and I said to him: ‘Brad, the world doesn’t need another hero and please be careful’ and he said ‘Ma don’t worry. They need me. It will be fine’ and he left.”

It wasn’t fine. He never did make it back home. We honour him.

We honour everyone who helped during that time. The people who raced around in the path of the fire, cutting dogs free from their chains in Kranshoek. The people who rescued terrified horses. All the helpers in the old Edgars shop, who tried to make sense of loss & bewilderment. The evacuees from Kranshoek, who softly sang hymns throughout that long night in the community hall….

Turning a traumatic experience into one filled with hope.

And Plett is, once again, hope-filled. Rubble has been removed. Homes are being rebuilt. Trees have been pruned back, gardens replanted. Many new jobs have been created, which is always good news.

And, as well, we have two new eating-out experiences in Plett, both excellent in their totally opposite ways.

Golden Palm Plett

The Golden Palm, in the Lookout Centre, is a tiny Asian Steam Kitchen with a small, delicious menu. Chris can only seat twenty and only opens for lunch and sometimes for dinner. Make a booking! www.goldenpalm.kitchen

Old Rectory Plett

The Old Rectory, next to Hobie Beach, has also opened and is well worth a visit. They’ve kept sections of the original old house, as well as the thatch, and it’s beautiful. A champagne lunch on the terrace is a real treat. www.rareearth.co.za/the-old-rectory

So don’t think of Plett as a sad grey place. It’s not. Only ten weeks after the fire-storm we’re building and growing. Don’t stay away!

Dr Evil Classic Muddy 2015

September 24th, 2015

The End!  #muddy #tired #worth it  And just like that the Dr Evil Classic is over for another year.

Dr Evil 2015

Dr Evil 2015 – Muddy

The ‘Dr Evil Muddy’, is how most people will remember it. Bikes slipping & sliding downhill and slipping & sliding uphill. Chains jamming. Gears seizing up. Brakes failing.  What didn’t fail, however, was the sense of humour of the cyclists, who (mostly) grinned through it all.

The hosts, too, were unfailingly cheerful about the invasion of their school. On the first day, the start chute was lined with Wittedrift High school-kids cheering the cyclists on. When ‘Greg’ had to go home to fetch his shoes, everyone waited for him & gave him a hero’s clap to send him on his way. Prefects handed out medals. The netball courts were used as a cleaning zone. Bikes were stored in the school hall for safety. Everyone was welcoming.

There were a few hiccups of course. Two cyclists couldn’t find Cairnbrogie (“But they said it was in Harkerville!”) & missed out on that day’s ride. The mud made Day Two, shorter & more scenic this year, but still difficult, a day of falls & injuries. And ironically, with the rivers flowing full & the fields sodden, Wittedrift High ran out of that very commoditiy – water – on the last day, & had to send all the bikes home covered with mud. Minor details these – the race was, once again, a total success.

And, in the end, the mud became a badge of pride. It told a story: three days of challenges, accepted & survived. Three days of concentrating only on the partnership of body & bike. Three days of forgetting about work worries. Three days of exploring some of the secret trails around Plett. A muddy bike meant you’d done it.

Hopefully they’ll come back & do it all again next year for the Dr Evil Classic 2016.

Just without the mud.

Dr Evil Classic Countdown

September 15th, 2015

Dr Evil Classic‘The Dr Evil?’ said our cyclist guests from Cape Town in April, ‘Nah. It’s too far to come for a three-day race.’

‘The Dr Evil?’ said our cyclist guests from Upington in April, ‘Bring it on!’

And there you have it. The Dr Evil Classic is about attitude, pure & simple.

Face it, Upington isn’t an ideal place to train for the Dr Evil. Hills are hard to find. Mud is scarce. The Dr Evil is all about hills, every year – & this year, mud will be that extra ingredient to add to the challenge.

We’ve had so much rain that our valley, where the race is held, is totally waterlogged. The Bitou River is wide & brown. The water lilies are drowned. Our neighbour’s field has become a pond for Yellow-billed Ducks, Spoonbills, African Black Ducks & even Cape Teals. Flocks of Sacred Ibises keep our ponies company. The sun pops out happily after each bout of rain, but doesn’t do much to dry up the wet. And with so few days to go until the start of the Dr Evil, we’re running out of sunny days. The wet is here to stay.

But the guys who cycle the Dr Evil will take it in their stride, mud & all.
On Wednesday they’ll arrive, assemble their super-bikes, register, eat ; & go to bed nice & early. We’ll wave them off the next morning, clean; & get them back a few hours later, filthy, tired, cursing Dr Evil (he’s used to it), but ready to do it all again the next day. And do it well.

They’re here for the challenge, for the adventure, for the satisfaction of working successfully as a team. They’re here for the cameraderie. They’re here to do better than they did last year.
They’re here because it’s fun.

It’s all about attitude. The Dr Evil Classic… Life…