THE previous time I was in Louis Trichardt — in the Soutpansberg Mountains, 100km south of the Zimbabwe border — it was named Makhado.<
That was almost six months to the day before a recent trip. Two days later, the courts ruled the pretty town should again be named after the Boer Voortrekker; one it had carried for 170 years; ‘Makhado’ (a Venda king) must go.
Now both names are colloquially used; there was some geo-political muddle whether we were in Limpopo or Northern Province! When I first trekked through this breathtakingly beautiful area a third of a century ago I was unequivocally in Northern Transvaal, of which locals were immensely proud.
Until recently Zimbabweans needing a short “sanity break” to RSA, away from shortages, power cuts, economic and political turmoil, or for a shopping trip, travelled to Polokwane (née Pietersburg). Now all major chains are in Louis Trichardt: 208km and two R23 toll gates (return) closer.
Inn on Louis Trichardt is a favourite with
Zimbabweans. An associate member of Inns of Zimbabwe, their Innsider card gives holders 20% off rooms and meals. And when that 20% is in rands and the only way most folk can acquire forex is on the black market at around ZW$50 000:R1, a worthwhile saving.
As usual the gleaming inn was full, mainly with Zim-registered cars late on Sunday, after a harrowing journey from Masvingo. Thankfully cool, we missed expected blistering October heat, but roads were awful, with pot-holes, gaping chasms, road kill, ranging from civet cats to donkeys, forming unwanted ghastly, bloody scenery changes.
Cows, calves, donkeys and skeletal curs wandered across the road, causing vehicles, already swerving to miss the worst damaged surfaces, to slew erratically, adding to the danger.
Beitbridge’s welcome includes the heart-rending sight of a 1 000 year-old, maybe two millennia, old once stately baobab, bulldozed for a soccer-tourism orientated pre-2010 road improvement plan, one suspects will not be finished. Three dead donkeys, one in a state of bloated malodorous putrefaction, lay in CBD streets.
There is a slack (compared to Botswana’s strict frontier crossings) foot-and-mouth dip, almost dry; probably weeks since disinfectant was renewed. But car tyres aren’t dipped and as baboons scampering unchecked from one state to the other, back-and-forth across the bridge over Kipling’s great, grey-green, greasy Limpopo, certainly don’t bob paws and claws in the mixture, it seems an exercise in futility. As hundreds of border jumpers in search of greener veldt, brave the croc-and hippo-infested river, snakes and armed South African patrols weekly, it’s hard to see why it’s there at all.
Crossing south involved almost three hours of bumbling bad-tempered bureaucracy, but we were surrounded by hundreds of Zimbabweans, clutching pathetic packages, trying for papers from unsympathetic RSA functionaries. Returning on Wednesday took 20 pleasant minutes.
Suites at Inn on Louis Trichardt are luxurious. Everything works: including power and water: lots of it, piping hot, in basins, deep baths and showers. A magnificent welcoming basket of fruit and chocolate greets guests. IoZ outlets don’t have TV or radio, but travellers down south demand mod-cons and an hour’s zizz on an Emperor-sized comfortable bed, after a soothing soak, munching fruit, sipping tea, watching World Cup rugby, was great.
In a cozy bar, icily cold Amstel put an edge on an appetite already honed for starters of succulent smoked salmon with cottage cheese, then nourishing brown onion soup.
Mains were the poached kingklip with asparagus and hollandaise sauce I had, or roast leg of lamb with rosemary and mint sauce or a vegetable stir-fry. I declined sweets of coup Denmark or rib-sticking Malva pudding and custard, but attacked a groaning cheese board with fresh fruit.
On Monday, Zimbos oohed and aahed over the sort of grilled rump steak and pepper sauce we once took for granted; or roast pork with sherry sauce; or vegetable pizza; after asparagus roulade with herb mayonnaise and grand home-made vegetable soup. Again I left sweets but tucked into cheese and biscuits
Kippers, served with full-Monty breakfast, were a dream, as were creamy garlic mussels with brown bread fingers opening Tuesday’s supper; soup was celery and apple. No prizes for guessing which main course I chose from roast beef with port sauce, vegetarian lasagna or grilled sole topped with shrimps and mushrooms, Lyonnaise potatoes, and seasonal veg.
After cheese board — with more varieties than previously— and port, I was convinced by folk at the next table that a melktert was not to be missed. So I didn’t miss it.
With Innsider card discount, dinner, bed and breakfast at Inn on Louis Trichardt costs R401,20 single and R696,85 for double occupancy of a suite in the Garden Wing or hotel.