Christmas in Africa

My aunt and uncle live in a holiday town called Plettenberg Bay, which is about five hours from Cape Town as you drive east along the coast. Plett is super popular with holiday-makers from Johannesburg and Cape Town alike, and is one of those places that is both breathtakingly beautiful and totally relaxed at the same time.

I have reams of childhood memories from Plett, as it’s a place where my family used to holiday just about every Christmas. The smell of the boardwalk – the varnish hot in the sun – triggered memories of my friends and I, walking along the wooden path onto the beach, where we would lie in the sun, or run, shrieking into the icy surf. There’s the kiosk on Central Beach, where I used to buy caramel sticks, cold and crispy and sweet, and sit, my feet digging into the cool deep layers of sand, as I had my sugar fix.

The town has changed a lot, yet also not at all, in the decade I have been away from it. A few years ago there was a massive flood, and one of the most popular beaches all but washed away. Now the ocean claims the sandy strip that tourists used to wander along, and the beach that once was the Lookout is an isolated segment, a fraction of the sandy stretch it used to be.

But despite the loss of Lookout, Plett still boasts numerous pristine strips of light, fine sand. Each beach has its advantages – Central is great for swimming with calmer waters, Robberg excellent for body surfing. And every strip was filled with happy families, young friends, and various tourists worshipping the sun on Christmas day. What did I do on Christmas? I spent the afternoon playing in the sand, swimming in the sea, and hanging out with my cousins on the beautiful, though bakingly hot beach. My only regret is that I missed a strip of my back when applying sunscreen. Two days later, it’s still horribly painful to the touch.


The gang of cousins

Aside from amazing beaches, Plett has loads of other activities to offer. We had to be selective, and decided to drive out to the Crags, about half an hour outside the town, to visit Monkeyland.

Monkeyland is a rescue operation that has taken in over 400 primates – most of which were living with people as pets. But baby monkeys grow into adults, and humans aren’t the best at taking care of them, so a lot of these animals end up here – in the largest enclosed forest in the world.

Squirrel monkey

In the hour it took to tour the park, we saw about a dozen different types of monkeys and primates including squirrel monkeys, capuchin monkeys, a gibbon, ring-tailed lemurs and one vervet monkey with extraordinarily blue balls. (“They’re like robin’s eggs!” to quote my brother’s girlfriend.)

Ring-tailed lemur

Look! A monkey!

We also walked on the longest suspension bridge in South Africa, which stands 18m above the ground, where you can get a monkey’s eye view of the forest.

Suspension bridge

All told, it’s a very cool place, and hey, who doesn’t love monkeys?

We plan a return trip to Plett when Josh is here, and will take in more of the sights, which include an Elephant sanctuary, a wild cat sanctuary, wineries, Puzzle Park, and lots of other places.

For now, we’re back in Cape Town and staying with my other aunt and uncle. I think that both girls were glad that we didn’t have to spend hours today in the car, and just before bed April announced to me that she had a really wonderful day. This was a few minutes after she had demanded that Uncle Keith read her a new story about Eric the baboon, which she received as a Christmas present. Her gregariousness is a delight. I just hope that we can do something to reign in her temper. While this week has been wonderful in terms of time spent with family and friends, it has also been exhausting and hard on all of us. With both girls sick, tempers tend to flare, and April has had numerous melt-downs over insignificant details. That said, she does understand what makes her grumpy.

“When I’m grumpy, I need to take a little nap,” she told her grandma a few days ago. If only she would follow through on her own advice a little more regularly.


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