This journey started with a conversation between my wife Melanie and a lady called Christa at a height of thirty thousand feet. But before I go any further, I will tell you later what a braaibroodjie is, if you do not already know. By chance they sat next to each on a plane heading from South Africa to England. As the conversation moved forward Christa told Melanie she owned a bed and breakfast, with log cabins, in KwaZulu Natal. Melanie responded by telling Christa that her husband, me, spends his time on holiday in KwaZulu Natal traveling from place to place. Within a few weeks Christa messaged me and asked if I would like to visit her.
So here I am at Christa’s Guesthouse and B&B located on a sugarcane farm within thirty minutes of Pietermaritzberg, the capital city of KwaZulu Natal. Looking at the location I could not help but notice that it is ideal for a stop off or a short break between the coast and midlands or Drakensberg mountains. So, I planned things just like that, stopping off between the mountains and the Indian Ocean. Looking back, I could have easily extended my stay to a few days, Christa’s is far more than just a stop off point.
My log cabin, one of seven on the property, had everything I needed. A more than comfortable bed, a small kitchen area with fridge, plus tea and coffee with some accompanying very special home-made biscuits. En-suite bathroom, television, wifi and raised private deck completed the cabin. The views looked across field after field of sugarcane, which one would expect when staying on a sugarcane farm. Tours of the farm can be organised in advance and dependant on the time of year you could be able to witness the dramatic sight of fields being burnt. During my stay the harvest was well underway and trucks could be seen delivering their loads of cane stalks to a nearby sugar refinery. Sugarcane, a variety of perennial grass, in bulk is an extremely valuable commodity. Apart from sugar there are several other by-products from the refinery process. I will leave you to book a tour to learn more.
Christa and her husband Werner invited me to eat with them in the evening. I learned a lot over dinner about sugar and that the farm also grew maize and had areas dedicated to forestry production. The latter is mainly for producing wattle where the bark is used in the leather tanning process. With myself being from a ‘shoe trade’ background this was of great interest. It is very rare that I get to have evenings like this, and it was a truly lovely night. We sat around Werners spectacular purpose-built braai, perfect for socializing, and chatted the night away. I was fascinated by the family story. Now here, a fifth-generation family, their missionary ancestors had travelled to Tanzania stopping off en route in Durban. However, on arrival in Tanzania they were turned away so headed back to Durban. It was here they decided to settle. The missionary party was made up of all men. After settling they sent news to Germany which included a request for females to be sent out to their newfound land.
We dined that night on steak and boroewors accompanied by home-grown vegetables that included crispy roast potatoes and creamed broccoli. “Would you like a braaibroodjie” Christa asked me. I had no idea what this was but after a brief description I said yes. So, this is, for those of you that do not know, a sandwich with cheese, tomato & chutney toasted over the hot coals of the braai. I have now since sampled more of these, but none have been as good as Christa’s. Maybe on reading this Christa will email me her exact recipe?
I had watched the sun set over the cane fields in the evening and was up to watch it rise in the morning. For me there are no better times of the day when travelling in ‘Africa’. Breakfast was another culinary delight. I started with a fresh grapefruit, which I have not had for many years, and complimented Christa on it. We started to talk all thinks fruit and veg. I have an allotment where I grow a few things at home, so, after breakfast Christa took me to her kitchen garden. It really put my allotment to shame. Most of the produce eaten at Christa’s comes from here. There were citrus trees, oranges, lemons and of course grapefruit. Other trees included macadamia and pecans. In the ground were a mass of vegetables including cabbages, carrots, broccoli and asparagus. Every now and then a chance meeting leads you off the beaten track and to a piece of tranquillity, surrounded by fields of sugar. You arrive as a guest and leave as a friend.