Arriving back in camp just after sundown, we took a walk around the place before supper. At one side, there is a floodlit hide near a waterhole, where you can watch wild game considering a career in show business. After watching for a few minutes, we left it to the now rosy red visitors with sandals and socks, and bristling with lenses.
Adjacent to the hide is an information centre and a children’s play area. If you’re a parent who wants some peace and quiet, you can either feed your kid to a hungry predator, or you can leave him/her at this centre where a carer will do the deed for you. I’m exaggerating of course. Addo staff would never do such a thing. It is a blatant untruth that, for a small fee, you can buy an anaesthetic dart from a ranger for your rambunctious offspring. More’s the pity because there were a few little horrors on their cacophonous plastic motorbikes careening around the campsite who are only alive today because a hyena has taste buds.
We campers decided to treat ourselves to a meal at the restaurant and herewith another disappointed rant about quality and service. Upon being seated by a smiling waiter, we felt a sort of proprietary pride amongst the foreign visitors. A kind of, ‘Welcome to Our Country; hope you enjoy our wildlife and fantastic climate’. The place was a hubbub of activity with foreign tourists no doubt all eager to get a mouthful or two of what pleases the local palate.
Interestingly, there was a “Venison Burger” on the menu. Naturally, I asked our waiter what the venison was. Seeing the lack of comprehension clouding his face, we offered alternatives, “Is it Kudu, Rooibok/Impala, Ostrich….or what?” When he replied, “Yes”, we decided to let sleeping buck lie and accepted whatever came along. What we didn’t expect, was the Spanish Inq…. No, wait, wrong sketch. We didn’t expect our waiter to return with the news that there was to be no salad as they were unable to source tomato and lettuce. So, like good little second-class citizens, we uncomplainingly accepted our lot and gnawed on our mysterious burger (which possessed all the sinuey toughness of a Kudu that had expired after a migrating south from the Serengeti), without salad, wondering what the foreigners were thinking.
Our third meal at the Restaurant – we’re suckers for punishment – was supper on the second day. Let nobody accuse us of not giving them a chance. Mrs. Chips had Venison Hotpot and I asked for Ostrich Fillet. The waiter came back with the report that there was no Ostrich to be found on the premises. This was a blatant untruth as we’d spotted several dozen on our travels around the park, and a situation that, with a little foresight (and an appropriate weapon) would have resulted in a slightly depleted head count of the birds (hardly endangered), and a group of satisfied ostrich-fed customers.
In the absence then, of Ostrich, I selected the fillet of hake and chips, with the veg. of the day. This duly arrived with the usual (but not justified) aplomb. The vegetables were an eminently forgettable lump of boiled carrots and cabbage, both of which had the bejeepers cooked out of them. Closer inspection revealed that the hake was one of those factory-produced, uniform triangles of frozen blandness.
At all three meals, we saw only one basket of condiments for the entire restaurant. So when you asked, say, for the Tabasco sauce, they fetched the basket from another table. A short while later it was whisked away to other needy diners. If you then needed the Worcester sauce – tough luck china, you had your chance.
It was during our third meal that we watched neighbouring diners (German speaking tourists) ask for tomato sauce, only to be told that the restaurant was fresh out. Credit where it’s due though, a waitress used her initiative, removed money from the till and scuttled off to buy a bottle from the camp shop next door. The restaurant patrons only had to wait a few minutes before a beaming waitress returned with the requested sauce.
Observing these and other foreign visitors, one felt led to conclude that these people politely indulged the South Africans’ puerile attitudes to service and laconic responses to requests, as if saying to themselves, “they’re doing their best I suppose, and it IS a third world country after all; so let’s not complain because with the crime rate such as it is, chances are we’ll get our heads caved in round the corner.”
But I am not like that. I’m old enough to remember when South Africa was a desirable destination, NOT ONLY because of the wildlife and the climate. We offered top drawer service in hotels, resorts, airways, and trains. The Blue Train was world famous for its service as was their training restaurant in Johannesburg (who remembers the Blue Room?). Our national airways carrier now ranks down there with the also-rans and while the Blue Train still operates, it’s not a patch on what it used to be.
Yes – There will be chapter VI…Sorry hey