Ingrid Jones takes us on a retreat in the Cape Winelands where we discover the importance of rest, connecting to one’s self and embracing barefoot elegance.
Imagine a cold morning. Imagine stepping into a hot shower with a square rain head. Imagine the warm steam filling the glass cubicle and the water raining over your thirsty body. As you step out to envelop yourself in a thick, white, warm, fluffy towel, words start revealing itself on the glass. A shiver runs down your warm spine. Did housekeeping not do a proper job? Is there a ghost? My eyes follow the letters as it becomes clearer, pushing back the steam, forcing the words into existence. There, in defiance of the aggressive swipes of the housekeeping cloth, in clear and bold letters, a declaration: “I love you, Sylvia xxx”. Who is Sylvia?
A few weeks ago, I suffered what is commonly known as a mini stroke, medically referred to as a transient ischemic attack (TIA). My symptoms included sudden numbness on the right side of my face, arm, and leg; sudden trouble seeing in both eyes; sudden trouble walking; sudden dizziness; and loss of balance and coordination. When I realised that I couldn’t get the key in the door or use my finger to start up my touch screen phone, I knew something wasn’t right. I had a slight headache, but no more than what I could normally handle. I thought I was just exhausted after a long day, took an aspirin and went to bed.
Because of lockdown, we are on high alert for the Covid-19 virus 24/7 and have in the process forgotten that there might be other illnesses lurking in our bodies. Lockdown feels like an act of aggression, an assault on our sense of sensibility, a brazen attack on our sensorial experiences. We measure everything against a list of Covid symptoms and if it just moderately fits the now over-familiar profile, we go into quarantine.
I was ready to be the next victim of the virus, not that of a heightened blood pressure patient with a possible blood clot that could’ve had disastrous effects. My doctor said that if not checked, the symptoms could recur in the spate of 13 days and then it won’t be minor; it would be like “hot lava, its hour come around at last, slouching towards Vesuvius to erupt” (with a nod to the last verse of WB Yeast’s The Second Coming). A catastrophe.
It was time to retreat myself.
Angala is a homely five-star sanctuary high up in the Franschhoek mountains in the Western Cape, tucked away in beautifully landscaped, yet wondrously wild gardens. Two male peacocks were showing off their fanned tails when we stopped at reception. The sudden intrusion sent them ducking into the lush underbrush. Two dams filled with waterblommetjies flanked the winding road to the 40-occupant boutique hotel and in the distance, the sun was sliding behind the Drakenstein mountains.
We were greeted with glasses of crisp MCC, which I wasn’t sure I should drink given my new status as a pill-popping person on the stroke spectrum. And were we supposed to dress up for dinner? Another stress-inducing activity if all you wanted to do was slouch in your pajamas staring out over the valley.
The bespectacled lad behind the reception desk who stepped towards us, bubbly in hand, said: “Not at all. We are all about barefoot elegance. You look just fine.” The name on his badge read Donovell.
Our room was cosy because of the underfloor heating. A good book, some background jazz and a glass of MCC would surely turn my blood pressure before dinner was served. Lockdown regulations were still in place, so solitude was almost assured.
A moment to reflect
What does one do when your centre doesn’t hold? When your scales have been tipped by a possible blood clot or high levels of stress? How did I end up with this prognosis? Across the room a book title caught my attention. I brought a book, Grace, A novel, written by University of Johannesburg 2018 Debut Creative Award winner, Barbara Boswell. The summary on the back of the book read:
“Family secrets run deep for Grace, a young girl growing up in Cape Town during the 1980s, spilling over into adulthood, and threatening to ruin the respectable life she has built for herself… Grace is an intimate portrayal of violence, both personal and political, and its legacy on one person’s life. It meditates on the long shadow cast by personal trauma, showing the intergenerational imprint of violence and loss on people’s lives.”
A cautionary tale perhaps? The book on the other side of the room was 7 Steps to finding flow – Flip the script on stress, by Nicky Rowbotham. The back summary frighteningly asks: “Shackled in your own invisible straight-jacket of stress?” Two sides of my scale, it seemed. Do I start interrogating my own demons or do I dip into the seven steps? The ultimate questioning burning in my mind was, “Who am I, how did I get here and how will the TIA impact my life?”
A stark reminder
Outside, the frog choir started up their orchestral manoeuvres and the two peacocks came to sit on the roof joining in with intermittent wails. It’s almost dinner time, a welcome reprieve from the storm in my head. But first a hot shower. Maybe the steam room or jacuzzi. Or the outside shower under a star-spangled night. The underfloor heating keeps me inside and I opt for the rain shower. It’s here that Sylvia’s lover reveals his affections for her.
Were they young? On honeymoon? Was he alone pining for a long, lost love? I’ll never know. What I do know that it pushed my own emotions about life to the forefront. Those emotions that were tucked so far away only to survive the onslaught of daily death announcements. Of wanting to be loved and to love in return. Raw, naked, able to cry the tears that have been unable to drop for two years.
We all need a Donovell to remind us about barefoot elegance, a reminder that we can’t just hurtle through the universe without feeling the effects of the pandemic on the most basic level of our existence. We need an Angala. A retreat in a lush garden far from the madding crowd where Chef Maxwell will cook what you want irrespective of what’s written on the menu, where you can lounge for hours next to the frog pool staring into nothingness, take endless walks, and sip good wine.
Venture out if you want. I did. To feast on Reuben Riffel’s double fried chips smothered in truffle mayonnaise and parmesan shavings at his new eatery, Let’s Frite, washing it down with pink bubbly from L’Omarins. One has to have one cheat eat. Book a therapist for a private massage in your room overlooking the valley below. Or yoga. All the stuff to rekindle the soft edges of your mind and body, a reminder that we are human, that we need touch and feeling.
Angala. Angel. Sylvia. Who is Sylvia? We are all Sylvia.
What To Do
Start your day off early and hike or bike the Simonsberg Mountain right on the property. Explore the nearby wine farms (three of South Africa’s top wine farms are within 5km of your doorstep). While you’re at it, visit the many top restaurants in the Winelands area.
Where To Stay
Angala is nestled between the mountains of Paarl and Franschhoek in the heart of the Cape Winelands. www.angala.co.za
FLY SAA flies daily between Johannesburg and Cape Town. Visit flysaa.com
Words: Ingrid Jones