Ed’s letter: My ‘wurst’ Valentine ever

Posted on 21 January 2019

February is, we are reliably told, the month of romance. I’m not very partial to Valentine’s Day and don’t subscribe to the hype. But I do have a mildly romantic streak and make some sort of effort each year. Not necessarily roses and bubbly, but a gesture nonetheless.

Image: Justin Fox.

However, being a travel journalist means that more often than not I’m far from home on Valentine’s Day. Some years ago, 14 February found fellow journalist Khumo Ntoane and me in a dusty Karoo dorp. We booked a table at a posh(ish) restaurant … and you could have heard a pin drop when we entered. We may well have been the first ‘mixed couple’ to grace the establishment. Patrons couldn’t help staring, and the waitrons treated us as though we’d just stepped off a spacecraft. We loved it and hammed things up accordingly.

Another assignment found me back in the Karoo on 14 Feb. This time alone. My abode for the night was a lonely cottage in the middle of a farm near Tankwa Karoo National Park. The sunset was a mess of bloody reds and a southerly gale sprang up, lashing the thorn tree at the back door and twirling dust devils towards a bleak horizon.

Daniel, the farmhand, and his wife, a waif with meerkat eyes, arrived to prepare the fire. He grumbled apologies about the lack of hot water for a shower; she scurried about lighting paraffin lanterns. Then they disappeared into the dusk. There wasn’t enough light to read the pile of old magazines in the corner, no cell-phone reception to call home and my laptop was out of battery power.

I huddled by the fire, braaiing a coil of wors and sipping a mug of acidic wine. The sky was oppressively big, splattered with too many stars. ‘Happy Valentine’s day, ou maat,’ I toasted my inner romantic. Retreating inside from the wind, I ate my supper. The meat tasted off and the suggestively named Lay’s chips, bought earlier in Prince Albert, were stale. Supper done, I looked around the cottage. It was 8.30pm. What now?

Reeking of meat and wood smoke, I climbed into bed. Sand filtered down from the ceiling and the corrugated-iron roof banged in the wind. On the bedside table lay a copy of Rooi Rose from 1998, brittle as parchment and looking like an archaeologist’s lucky find. The models in swimsuits would have to be my valentines. Some-where in the distance a jackal whined, his thin voice carried by the wind across the plains – looking for a mate, ou maat?

In the wee hours, the dodgy wors proved my suspicions correct in dramatic style. I ushered in the dawn, not in the arms of a swimsuit model, but embracing a toilet bowl with almost as much passion. As the sun rose over the Karoo wastes, I heaved a sigh of relief that Valentine’s Day was behind me for another year.

In this issue, Teagan Cunniffe and Melanie van Zyl travel South Africa in search of cottages for that perfect Valentine’s escape (page 80). Lisa Johnston offers up her secret romantic spots in Joburg (page 74) and Helen Walne takes to holding hands in the Namib (page 12). Cuddle up with George Clooney on Lake Como (page 94) or simply gaze in dreamy wonder at the starry night sky (page 56). And what could be more romantic than Venice (page 16)?

May your Valentine’s adventures be sweeter than mine.

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