Jungled

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I had looked up the hotel on googlemaps. There were many variations on the name and address of the hotel but there were at least several variables that were the same. I had asked for a picture of my destination and was shown a small roundabout in a very poor neighborhood with a fenced in yard that had some kids clinging to the bars.  I assumed it was a mix up and thought little more.

I programmed my smart phone gps to get me to the hotel, some 45 kms away. I found the freeways easy to navigate and was very pleased with myself. But then I took a wrong turn and got lost. I didn’t master the smartphone gps as well as I should, I realized and ended up asking directions a few times, each more convoluted than the next one. Eventually I started to recognize names of streets and made the required left and right turns, and then, when the phone indicated I had arrived, I was right at that little roundabout in the poor men’s neighborhood – I recognized it right away – it was no swanky hotel and I had been driving all along to this place that someone – a joke? – had given the same name as the resort.

I called the hotel but they didn’t know where I was. I asked a nice gentleman at the petrol station to talk with the hotel on the phone and figure out how lost I was. As it turned out I was entirely on the wrong side of Johannesburg, west instead of east or the other way around, and that I was about 35 kms away from the resort, nearly the distance I started from, hours ago.

The helpful gentleman knew the place and gave me a long list of directions which I frantically scribbled down. I reprogrammed my gps and this time a voice came on which made the trip so much easier than if I had only had the directions from the man at the petrol station. After two hours of driving on countless freeways in all directions I finally arrived, to be further lost even at the entrance and inside the complex, which is rather large.

I checked out the room where we will meet for two days, the Lion Room. It is nicer than I thought. A young waiter helped me set up the flipchart stands and distribute the name tents on the tables. I asked him whether he could help me make the table setting gender-balanced since I couldn’t tell from the names whether they belonged to a man or a woman. As it turned out he couldn’t tell either since he was from Malawi. Like me he could recognize the anglo names, and the one Malawian name (which meant ‘thinking person’) but it could be used for a man or a woman so that was no help.

Since the conference rooms are locked up at 5, and the young man was in no condition to break the rule, I had two hours to spare for dinner. I checked into my own room where I found an enormous fruit and cheese platter waiting for me.  I went on a scouting expedition around the complex. There was much to explore: a pool (an indoor and an outdoor one), a spa with its secluded nude sunbathing section, the children’s medieval castle, the orchid greenhouse, the game room, and the sun roof. from where you have a stunning view of the Magalies hills. Aside from a few employees I didn’t encounter any guests, as if I was the only one here. It must be low season since anything with doors was locked.

Along the meandering path, made from old (unmatched and therefore tricky to walk on) bricks, sculptures from a local artist were placed strategically, in front, behind or next to the countless little pools and waterfalls – I am supposed to imagine myself in a jungle, like Mowgli – and the sculpted animals and water nymphs were everywhere.

Most of the rooms are brick and thatched huts, quaint and rustic and very well appointed to the taste of holiday makers. There are a few imperial suites. These are named after the kings who ordered their warriors to annex, or, if resisted, kill, rape and plunder, the tribes that stood in their way in the early 1800s.  There are also some restaurants though I haven’t found the one we are to have dinner in, one had a large two-room bar. I had wanted to sit down for a pint after my driving ordeal but it was one of those bars with giant TV screens that showed one or another sports game. No matter where you would sit down there was no way to avoid the screens – and given that I was the only person around, I dropped the idea of a pint.

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