Travelling is what I do best but I am a travel writer that is always getting lost! Finding Thandeka Lodge somewhere up a long track near the blink-and-you-miss-it town of Bela Bela, would have been much harder without “Bossy“. Bossy is the female voice on the Nokia Navigator GPS phone that my travelling companion Toni has on her Vodakom contract. Bossy told us exactly where to go and when we’d gone past our chosen point, she kept her calm even when we ignored her. We did at times tell her to shut up and sometimes she heard us.
Once we’d arrived at Thandeka, we let Bossy have some rest for a couple of days, although we felt she was itching to come on the 4×4 game drive just so she could tell Vernon (Thandeka’s manager), a thing or two about finding your way around. I suspect she would have been out of her depth, because Vernon is no novice in the bush, he’s a guide trainer and in this terrain, I have no doubt that Vernon would have kicked Bossy’s ass.
What a pleasure to be with a ranger who asks what you are interested in, rather than just repeats lots of dry facts and figures. Vernon used to teach bush survival skills and sent his students into the wilds to cope alone for a couple of days. I’m sure I would do what one of his student’s admitted to years afterwards; finding himself on the border of the reserve and seeing a pineapple farm beyond, he persuaded the workers to lob over a few juicy ones, and then pretended to be starving when he tracked his way back to camp. Finding the edge of Thandeka Game Reserve wouldn’t be that difficult, as it is not huge, but contains just enough animals to make the game drive interesting.
Vernon and his wife Lorriaan manage Thandeka Lodge and their hospitality experience shows. I felt well hosted with a sense of a friendship developing, and this is more difficult than it sounds when you have to be nice to people all the time. I couldn’t do it, but they love their job and their presence makes a stay at Thandeka memorable.
Thandeka Lodge is a stunning place, with huge high vaulted thatched ceilings in two enormous banqueting rooms that serve as dining and lounge areas. It is big enough for large gatherings, which is why Thandeka is becoming very popular for weddings and conferences. But it doesn’t have a corporate feel, nor does if feel big and impersonal. It is lavishly furnished with tactile fabrics in tones of mink and mole, with Persian rugs and orchids and the odd frivolous touch like enormously long drapes trimmed with a band of ostrich feathers.
Rooms are tented, but this ain’t camping. Oh no, this is super duper luxury with large bedrooms on proper floors, it’s just that the walls and zipped entrance flaps are canvas. Cold beds no thank you – my king size bed had an electric blanket that had a setting for all night warmth.
But before slipping between the sheets, I tested the egg-shaped tub, but found no bubble bath, so for decency sake, I took a picture fully clothed (with hat of course).
Connie the Chef, is a bombastulous young woman (I made this word up but thought it fitted this large, energetic, forceful, smiling cook), who was mortified that our lunch contained potatoes that looked roasted on the outside, but were as hard as the proverbial on the inside. Then being the figure conscious tart that I am, I told her that although her afternoon cakes looked wonderful, I was not going to eat them. “What?” she said, “I want to see you put on weight before you leave here, because you are too thin.” She then recounted the story of when her white doctor told her she was getting fat and her response was, “In case you hadn’t noticed I am a black woman, and we only come this size.” Her personality was greater than her food, but that was enough to make meal times a treat.
I enjoyed my stay at Thandeka and you can find more details on their website.