WWOOF SA – Part 2 – Reflections from Malmesbury

My first WWOOF SA experience in Plettenberg Bay ended with the decision to return to Cape Town firstly to participate in the Cape Town Cycle Tour, and secondly, in search of regular employment again. While submitting job applications, I decided to WWOOF a little closer to home while still at a loose end. As luck would have it, my first enquiry proved successful again and I found myself preparing to head out to Fynbos Estate, a wine estate and guesthouse on the outskirts of Malmesbury, to take on a volunteer role in assisting with marketing. Here are some reflections from my first couple of days…

1 April 2014

The dawning of a new day and the beginning of our next adventure began with an early morning to see my brother Graham and family off before embarking on my day’s hustle and bustle of preparations. First stop to fetch my bag of winter clothing which had been in storage at my friend Heidi and discuss a business idea with her, then dashing off to Durbanville to sort out an internet connection at the office of my previous employer who I am doing some freelance work for, then the banks and shops, and finally heading out just before 5 o’clock towards Malmesbury.

Approaching Malmesbury I realized my occasional lapses into wing-it mode was now biting me on the butt – I had forgotten to write down the directions while I had internet connection at the holiday home we had been staying at. With a Blackberry, an iPad and a laptop you’d think somehow I’d manage to navigate myself to where I needed to be – think again. The Blackberry GPS function wouldn’t work, nor would the browser – or should I say, never having used a Blackberry before I didn’t know how to make them work – the battery was also on its last bars. The iPad does not have its own data connection so typically I would rely on the cellphone for Wifi but as my hotspot enabled Samsung had a hot bath a few weeks ago, that wasn’t an option with the aforementioned Blackberry. Last hope was the laptop and the new data stick. I turned into the first parking lot I could find, had a brief smile when I saw some wild meerkats scurrying about, and then attempted to connect – with my car idling and a laptop on Damian’s squirming lap as by this point he needed the loo and was irritable. Software installing, error messages and Damian whining, the car behind me urging me to move on, I drove into Malmesbury town, found another parking on the side of the road and finished installing only to realize the starter pack didn’t come with preloaded airtime. The garage was the next stop for airtime but the error messages continued and my phone died. Frustrated myself by this point the light at the end of this tunnel flickered on when I noticed the Wimpy – toilets for grumpy Damian and wifi! With the iPad on its last 1% battery life I hastily scribbled down the directions just before the screen went black and soon we were headed in the right direction.

And what a direction it was… town turned to green farm land as far as you can see. I was still oohing and aahing at all the cows and sheep so I missed my turn off and had to U-turn but once on the farm road headed towards our destination I felt all the tension of the last hour evaporating as the Paardeberg Mountain came into view and all around me the earth rambled out in vast beauty and opportunity. I felt my surroundings aligning with the ideals I have for our lives and the growing gratitude for the manifestation of my hopes and dreams, even if temporarily, shutting out the realities and consequences of previous choices that weren’t in line with the life meant for me. We were greeted by our hosts, Diana and Johann, served a delectable pink wine bottled the day before and a scrumptious dinner before being shown to our room, our home for the next month.

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2 April 2014

A day of familiarizing myself with all aspects of the farm and business, meeting all of the employees and getting started with some marketing ideas. We met the 3 donkeys – Rupert, Bella and Tallulah, the 2 sheep – Lambertus and Baabara, the two goats (names I don’t know yet), the 2 cats – Suzie Creamcheese and Osama Bin Kitty, and one of the 3 dogs, Carl the German Shepherd. The other 2 dogs were still missing in action, as had Carl been until late on my first night. All three dogs have a unnatural and unsettling urge to wander away from home for days on end. Apparently they had been sleeping in the office when the suddenly sprang up and disappeared. They had been away for 4 days. Sweetpea and Abby arrived home late this evening. Damian and I spent some time during lunch swinging, going for a walk and feeding grass to the donkeys. I also gathered some acorns and took some photos for a new cover design for Harvesting Acorns.

3 April 2014

It is night 4 of our second WWOOF adventure… I am lying in bed in the art hut. Approximately 6m x 3m, the art hut is a little wooden cabin with a tin roof and peeling laminated floors. There is a single wooden ‘cot’ with a mattress in and a second mattress next to it for Damian, a heater, shelves laden with paint brushes, bottles of paint, bric-a-brac, statues of the Buddha and Hindu cloths draped from string attached to the rafters. It is dark out now, but earlier I marveled at the view of the mountain from the little wood framed windows. Our own little cabin in the mountains. The wind is blowing and the crickets are chirping as I reflect on the past 9 months travelling and our present adventure while Damian slumbers softly next to me.

I am an outdoor girl, have always loved camping and adventure, but I have also come to realize how much I appreciate comfort, and without being materialistic, luxury. The past two nights we have been in the main house in a classic farmhouse bedroom with a large bathroom and inviting bathtub next door. The kitchen has been within reach for a pre-bedtime cup of tea. Tonight the nearest bathrooms are all the way down the road at The Barn venue. It is where earlier I timed my shower before the sunset, carrying my vanity bag, towel and fresh clothes with me in true camping fashion to the ablution block. Meeting in the main house for dinner, we made our way back by solar lamps in the dark to our cabin.

There is a wedding this weekend. This is why we have been moved – the farmhouse has been hired out for the weekend for the bride and groom and their guests. The farm is a hive of activity with the preparations for tomorrow’s big event. The bride and groom are both studying in Norway, I am told by the father of the bride who is presently on contract in Saudi Arabia. The bride was born in South Africa, and her groom born in Zimbabwe but raised in South Africa – hence the South African farm wedding in the tranquil Paardeberg Mountains.

A summary of the rest of my stay…

I ended up staying for 5 months. It was one of the most interesting periods I have experienced in terms of my personal journey and the transformation of my life. As I said before, I had come back to Cape Town for the Cape Town Cycle Tour, and this threw me onto a completely different path than I had been on… on the morning of the race, as I got Damian settled into his buggy and everything sorted on my bike, I bumped into the videographer who had interviewed me the year before… and is now my fiancé! That was the beginning of our story, which needs a whole blog post of its own. Our story began during my time at Fynbos Estate – he fetched Damian and I from the farm for our first date, and came out to spend weekends with us thereafter. It was a magical time.

I also met and got to know other volunteers, often we’d be the only ones in the farmhouse while Diana and Johann were up at their cottage, so we’d cook together, eat together and chat together in the evenings. Craig, also South African, and I were tasked at marketing the wine, so we’d spend ages outside positioning wine bottles to get photographs. We’d also occasionally go for a hike through the farmland – the featured image of this post is one of his shots. We both clicked with Gail, the office administrator, and we’d spend many an evening enjoying dinner, some great wine and hilarious conversation.

Then there was Yoann, a young French volunteer, who was going to attempt to help me learn to speak French, but we never quite got there. A funny memory of him was when we shared adjacent rooms – one Friday afternoon as he was preparing to go into Cape Town for his weekend off, I heard frantic screaming coming from his room. I dashed into his room, expecting the worst kind of accident. He had been using the electric clippers to cut his hair but had forgotten to put the sizing attachment back on after washing it, you know the part that determines how short you’d cut your hair. So he had shaved a bald patch all the way down the centre of his head! I couldn’t help but burst into fits of laughter… and then help him shave the rest off evenly! 

So many stories to tell, and maybe I’ll get to them sometime but for now, those are a few highlights of a life-changing time of my life.

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