This is a travel blog. I write about adventures and misadventures had while exploring the world; things that are unusual, or funny. Well after my weekend in Nelspruit, I really didn’t think I was going to be able to write much, it was too much like small town America, everything about our weekend there was somehow familiar and comfortable. Small town America goes to the lake to cook out, watches matches of a local sport, plays video games, maybe even does karaoke at the local pub from time to time, and of course, (unless they’re of Noel’s breed) they eat meat. Basically that was our weekend, like a holiday in the US… Fourth of July maybe, nothing unusual about that… … … … right?
When Noel and I first talked about traveling after Korea, South Africa was not part of the plan. Of course I wanted to go, most of my friends were from this fine country, but it’s just so far away. Enter Johan; the guy who quickly became one of my best friends and who loved his country so much that I couldn’t help but fall in love, too. He told me stories of weekend road trips, hunting giraffes, having a braai with friends, the various foods you can eat, and the list goes on…. He was what caused the spark in my mind: maybe we can go to South Africa… So during one of Noel and my planning conversations, I just threw it out there, “what do you think about maybe possibly flying down to South Africa before going up to Europe….?” Who knew it would turn into reality. Of course, then if I was going to SA, there was no doubt in my mind that I would go to Nelspruit to visit one of my dearest friends and see this part of his country that he’d boasted so much about.
It had been 6 months since I had seen Johan, and for someone who was such a close friend, that’s nearly forever, so you can imagine my squeal of excitement at seeing him waiting outside the bus for us when we arrived…. four hours late. He and his lovely fiance Anel hardly let us catch our breath before we were plunged into the Nelspruit lifestyle: watching a local sports match. I could tell then that this small town weekend would differ in some key components… instead of football or basketball, it was rugby.
Later that night when we met back up with all of Johan and Anel’s friends for karaoke, it wasn’t just rap songs we were fumbling over, but the surprise Afrikaans song the girls selected for Noel and I. I know a few Afrikaans words and have a basic understanding of the pronunciation… but, let me tell you, that’s not enough for karaoke. No, sir-y. As soon as I felt like I was getting the hang of the words, I would realize there’s a beat and a tune that I need to consider, too. We were quite a sight, I’m sure. Based on the fact that other people in the rugby-viewing-area-turned-pub-by-night stopped all their chatter, gathered around in awe (not necessarily the good kind of awe) and began taking videos. We knew we had made Nelspruit karaoke superstar status when one of the girls asked for a photo with us. We’d made it to the big times! There was no higher we could climb, so we left our adoring fans and went to rest up for the next day’s adventures.
When Johan first went home after his year in Korea we talked on skype a few times and I got to say a few words to his mom and brother. I was excited that I was finally going to meet them in person. Johan and his brother had their own apartment, but it was at his parents home that we were going to stay. Mariette, Johan’s mom, had made up our beds with towels (you have no idea how wonderful it is to not have to use your own towel, then pack it in your rucksack still damp… euh!) and she’d even gone so far as to put little manicure gift sets on the towels with our names on them. Her generosity and hospitality made us feel right at home.
The next day’s itinerary included a trip to the lake to try our hand at skiing and tubing. Again, not unlike small town America, except the general conversation was in Afrikaans and, instead of the traditional BBQ with hamburgers and hotdogs, it was a braai with boerwors and something else I can’t remember the name of. Of course I failed miserably at skiing, but it was still good fun.
After a nap, a shower, and playing video games at Johan’s apartment (not Wii, not guitar hero, not Mario, but… AFRICAN SAFARI! Where we got to hunt the very same animals we’d just seen running wild in the bush) it was time for another cultural experience: ox tongue!! Earlier, Johan had proudly displayed the frozen packaged ox tongue that was to be our dinner and believe it or not, I was genuinely excited. Let me remind you that I’m still the same girl who ate snake skin, starfish, scorpion, and yes…. lamb’s genitalia. Ox tongue would be a piece of cake.
The aromas were slowly wafting into the living room until those magical words were pronounced: “Food’s ready!” Mariette took us through the arrangement of bowls and pots explaining what everything was. I know if Johan or Mariette were to read this they’d be laughing at the descriptions I’m about to give because I don’t remember all the names. The main course was chicken curry, then there was something that sounded like Buddha boink-ies, but translated meant beans beans. Then a sweet cinnamon pancake of sorts that we could never pronounced right but came to be known as baboon cakes. And of course, ox tongue. It didn’t look quite so much like a tongue when it was cooked and cut up, I was even salivating a bit when I saw it… which is more than I can say for the ox that supplied it.
Noel, being a vegetarian, couldn’t even imagine eating it, so the honors were left to me….. “Hmmm, mmm, the texture isn’t…. hmmm what I expected….. hmmmm …. salty…. hmmmm” gulp. Then came Noel’s grin, “you just made out with an ox!” …The taste was actually very nice and Mariette cooked it extremely well, but it was the thought of a cow’s tongue being ground up between my teeth and pushed around by my own tongue…. that started getting to me. As food started disappearing off my plate and the rest of the ox tongue was starting to get lonely, I knew that even though my tongue was upset by this cannibalistic betrayal, I would have to finish it.
Of course this was about the time in the conversation when Johan and his dad started talking about other delicacies such as cooking an entire lamb’s head, going into details …. gulp… about what’s done with the brain … gulp… and eyeballs and … gulp… …. Somehow I gulped it all down but it took great restraint not to excuse myself from the conversation so I didn’t have to think about poor Claud or Bessie’s tongue that had been cut out of it’s head to be digested by my stomach. I know it’s mind over matter and if my mind hadn’t interrupted, I would have continued to enjoy it, it was tasty and prepared so well…. just the thought…. I made out with an ox…… then continued to eat it’s tongue.
Our small town South African weekend eventually had to come to an end. It was difficult to make small talk over breakfast the next morning, knowing that finishing our meal would mean saying goodbye. The last time I said goodbye to Johan it was on my birthday and I was a blubbering mess. I did manage to stop crying long enough to take these photos:
Needless to say I wasn’t excited about saying goodbye again but I held it together and gave my dear friend a hug that would have to span time and space until we’d see each other again. Johan went off to work and Mariette and Anel did a wonderful job of keeping me distracted through conversation over cold drinks near a waterfall. They sent us off on the bus with well wishes on their side and heartfelt thanks on our side.
All the familiarity of small town life in America can get a bit dull, I grew tired of it….but Nelspruit……. yeah, that was a refreshing kind of familiar.