Getting Away from It All

princeAlb_1.jpg

By Pat Basson

princeAlb_2.jpg

There’s only one way to poach eggs, Vanie Padayachee shows me, and that’s with a fairly large saucepan of boiling water that you gently stir to create a whirlpool. You drop the opened egg into the vortex—the swirling water holds the egg in place*. To do a second egg, you move the first one away from the centre and drop the next one in the vortex. You use a slotted spoon to lift the eggs to see how they are coming along. When the egg is to your liking, lift it with the slotted spoon and hold a tea towel underneath to drain the water completely. If you are making Eggs Benedict for the whole family, set the poached eggs aside and drop them back into the water to warm up before adding the hollandaise sauce and spinach for serving.

The method takes a few eggs to get right, but it’s the best way to poach an egg. And the healthiest. There’s no need for that ubiquitous aluminium pan with the three little dishes in it, where you put a blob of butter in each pan to prevent the eggs from sticking. If you’re going to use butter, well, you might as well fry the eggs.

Vanie Padayachee is a member of the African Relish team running gourmet-cooking courses in Prince Albert. Gourmet-cooking courses in Prince Albert? Where is Prince Albert, anyway, and who would want to do a gourmet-cooking course there? 

The town is probably one of the nicest you could visit, in the Karoo, and about four hours by car from either Cape Town or Port Elizabeth; it is somewhat north of Oudtshoorn and south of Beaufort West—not to be confused with Port Alfred, which is a coastal town north of PE, nor with Prince Albert Hamlet, which is near Ceres and Tulbagh in the Cape.

Make a point of going there, either when you’re on your way somewhere else or simply as an end destination in itself. It’s worth it.

I arrive by plane, a single-engine eight-seater aircraft, after a short 35-minute hop over the Swartberg mountain range from George. I was there on the first leg of a package billed as the ‘Incredible Journey’. There’s no airport at Prince Albert, just a landing strip. We land, and Jeremy Freemantle, who runs the cookery school, picks us up. Jeremy is an ex-advertising man who has opted out of the rat race. He’s one of many town folk to arrive from a big city. Like many other small towns in South Africa, Prince Albert is a haven for artists, writers, retirees, ex-teachers and university professors. South Africa’s most awarded writer, JM Coetzee, hails from here, too.

Over two days, Jeremy and Vanie show us how to make typically South African culinary fare in their ‘recreational’ cooking school—it’s meant to be fun, with sightseeing in between. At mealtimes we eat the dishes we prepare and, as African Relish has its own restaurant, we watch other appreciative diners enjoy the fruits of our labours, too.

The main road in Prince Albert houses a museum, art galleries, gift shops, and restaurant-cum-gift shops. There’s no Pick n Pay, Woolworths or Clicks. The only chain store in town is a small Pep one. 
More importantly, there’s no ADT. “Nobody here needs armed response,” says Jeremy. Doors everywhere are left open.

Our ‘extra-curricular’ activities include a tasting of wines from the area, conducted by Jeremy, who also takes us hiking up the Swartberg Pass. Then there’s an evening ‘ghost’ walk through town—listening to tales of ghosts and village rogues who have left their mark here—by retired university lecturer, Ailsa Tudhope; and a guided tour through the Karoo veld with a botanist. On this last, most motorists whiz through the Karoo as fast as possible. The uniform sameness of the countryside has very little eye appeal. But look down at your feet and there is a whole other world there, as we learn. An amazing plant, we discover, is the Scholtzbos, a wizened little shrub that looks like a miniature tree. “It’s ready-made bonsai,” someone comments. “It should be potted and sold in the cities.”

We also visit Gay’s Guernsey Dairy and learn how Gay van Hasselt started with three cows and now has a dairy that sells cheeses even as far afield as Cape Town. She went from milk to yoghurt to cheese, each stage prompted by surpluses caused when a big customer, the local school, closed for the holidays.
Point to note: People who are lactose intolerant tend to be intolerant of a particular type of protein only, a protein that is generally not found in Guernsey cow milk. Gay points to a letter on the wall from a lactose-intolerant customer who raves about her products. Do many people know about this? Marketing doesn’t come into Gay’s thinking—her sales come simply from word of mouth.

I borrow Jeremy’s mountain bike and ride around the town, looking at the good examples of Victorian and Karoo architecture. I come across a little cottage called ‘Oorgenoeg’ (More Than Enough). The name expresses what the town is all about: you live here when you are satisfied with life.

For more information on Prince Albert go to www.princealbert.org.za. 
For more information on African Relish Recreational Cooking School: Tel. 023-541-1381 or visit www.africanrelish.com. For maps, go to www.maps.google.co.za.

princeAlb_4.jpg

The Only Way to Travel

Why do people take a balloon ride, or go on a flip in a helicopter, or even paddle around in a boat on Zoo Lake? Is it because we all have a need to do something different in our lives? With that in mind, Mark Andrews of African Ramble, the charter company that flies us from point to point on the ‘Incredible Journey’, says, “Flying in a plane is not simply a way of getting from point A to point B; it is part of the experience.” Taking a holiday that includes flips between destinations certainly makes the experience memorable.

Mark is also part-owner of an establishment offering a unique elephant experience. If you’re the type of person who, when visiting the Kruger Park, will park and turn off the engine simply to watch an elephant browsing, then you will enjoy Addo Elephant Back Safaris and Lodge. Here, you ride on the back of an African elephant and then feed it afterwards. It’s one thing to watch one of these beasts, but quite another to ride on its back or have it eat out of your hand. The interaction between small human and large animal leaves an indelible impression on the mind. The reserve also includes small herds of antelope, zebras and giraffes. It’s safe to view the animals on foot. And, as with riding an elephant, taking a walk through the bush puts you closer to the game, and to nature.

For air charter quotes in the George, Plettenberg Bay and Port Elizabeth areas, call 044-533-9006 or go to www.aframble.co.za
For more information on Addo Elephant Back Safaris and Lodge, call 086-123-3672 or visit www.aebs.co.za.

Other Places on the ‘Incredible Journey’ Itinerary

Mount Camdeboo is a 14 000 hectare private game reserve near Graaff-Reinet, and literally in the middle of nowhere. For Ian Buchanan, the owner, establishing the reserve has been a labour of love. The three lodges on the farm, originally farm houses, have been lovingly restored and are now luxuriously appointed. Cheetahs are the big attraction—you get the opportunity to get close up, on foot—and the reserve also has large populations of all types of antelope, mountain zebra, giraffe, rhino and buffalo. Their administration of game is among the most dedicated I have come across, and the reserve plans to specialise in small cats, specifically the African wild cat, the serval, and the black-footed cat. The farm is also the site of an historic Anglo-Boer War clash, the Battle of Paardefontein.

On the banks of the Kariega River is Sibuya Tented Camps, a Big Five game reserve that, uniquely, is accessible only by boat via Kenton-on-Sea, north of Port Elizabeth. What stands out particularly is the romantic setting of the tented accommodation; each tent is hidden away in the bush and accessed via an elevated wooden walkway. Just a short drive with a game ranger yields an abundance of game. However, planting yourself on the stoep of your tent and simply soaking up the atmosphere while trying to read a book will probably be what you would like to do most. And there’s abundant choice.

For reservations or more information on Mount Camdeboo call 049-891-0570 or go to www.mountcamdeboo.com. For Sibuya Tented Camps, call 046-648-1040 or visit www.sibuya.co.za
For a detailed itinerary on the ‘Incredible Journey’ package, visiting all four sites and including air flights, visit www.jennygreeffmarketing.co.za

[(Footnote) *Also, add a tablespoon of vinegar or lemon juice to the water beforehand to help the egg coagulate.]