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  • Jack Gayer

A Pedacito Of Simonskloof In South Africa

Updated: Jun 19, 2022

I don't like to get up early. I like to stay up late and get up late. And, like most people, when I have had to get up at a time I don't want to and go to a job I don't want to do, a spring is absent from my step. But waking up every morning as the sun rose on Simonskloof in South Africa I was filled with joy and excitement.

"Eric's place", with permission from Simonskloof mountain retreat Instagram
"Eric's place", with permission from Simonskloof mountain retreat Instagram

Simonskloof is a mountain retreat a couple of hours' drive from Cape Town. The closest town is Montagu, which feels more like an outpost in the Wild West than a "town." Every weekend Jurgen, the owner of Simonskloof, and whatever volunteers were staying at his place would go into Montagu for a delicious breakfast sandwich and not much else.

"Koo Valley," with permission from Simonskloof mountain retreat Instagram
"Koo Valley," with permission from Simonskloof mountain retreat Instagram

It sits in the Koo Valley and, after passing through so many shades of yellow and brown, when the retreat finally reveals itself, it is like seeing a mirage or oasis as the green lawn in front of the main house sticks out in such sharp contrast from its surroundings.

Cogmanskloof Pass, by "J" from Flickr
Cogmanskloof Pass, by "J" from Flickr

Further adding to the mystical nature of the retreat is the fact that you have to drive through the Cogmanskloof Tunnel, a jagged hole that was created by using dynamite and gun powder on part of the mountain.

Driving through the pass feels like the symbolic entrance to another land, much like the wardrobe in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

The retreat offers no electricity but has running water and enough natural beauty that television and surfing the internet was the farthest thing from my mind. Directly behind the main house, also known as "Eric's Pace," was a hiking trail up a mountain.

I volunteered at Simonskloof for free room and board and one of my duties was maintaining the trails. It was hot, arduous work, and working with a fellow volunteer we barely managed to make a dent in making the trail more accessible.

One day, I hiked up the trail and found a tiny waterfall/pool of water. I took a glorified shower (no soap) and it felt resplendent.

"Dog" (from Simonskloof, with permission from Simonskloof mountain retreat Instagram
"Dog" (from Simonskloof, with permission from Simonskloof mountain retreat Instagram

Resplendent until some type of monkey started howling at me from all directions. I couldn't see them, but I could certainly hear them, which was highly unnerving.

Further, one or two of Jurgen's Border Collies that accompanied me on my hike and impromptu shower got spooked from the howling and took off. That was the end of the terrifying shower.

Terrifying showers became a bit of a leitmotif for me. For the first couple of weeks, I stayed in a tent under a nearly 300-year-old oak tree. The word magical came to mind when I saw the tent, nestled in privacy and ensconced in the tree's embrace. The accompanying outdoor shower, largely made of rocks, was equally stunning.

Until Jurgen informed me that Puff Adders, a snake that looks like the personification of evil, likes to cool themselves on the rocks of the shower. To paraphrase another travel lover, Matthew McConaughey, you take a pretty quick shower when a snake is about.

Closing my eyes to shampoo my hair was a particularly daunting section of the shower.

However, I have never enjoyed sleeping inside a house as much as I did after staying in a tent. I also wouldn't trade the experience for anything. Here lies the difference between traveling and taking a vacation.

A vacation is normally about indulgence. Pampering. Relaxation. When you take a vacation, you want everything to go smoothly and to take your mind off your everyday problems and struggles.

"Snake," with permission from Simonskloof mountain retreat Instagram
"Snake," with permission from Simonskloof mountain retreat Instagram

Traveling is still meant for enjoyment, but the focus is being taken out of your comfort zone. To experience something different from what you are used to. To shake up your notions of the world and the experience of living.

Anyone who has traveled and not just vacationed will tell you that being uncomfortable, being a little afraid, aren't bad things, rather they are an inseparable part of the experience.


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