South Africa in the Winter

I watched the news one morning in our apartment in Cape Town, surprised to see snow in Johannesburg. Even though I knew it was winter in South Africa, it was July and we’d only just left summer in the U.S. A day, a plane ride, and a 3-hour car ride later, we arrived in Kokstad, South Africa, southwest of Durban and 1302 meters above sea level (or 4272 feet).
The owner of our B&B warned me before we left the U.S. “It’s cold,” she said. “Bring a scarf.” And I did. What she didn’t tell me was that her lodging had no heat. And no insulation. It was 3 degrees Celsius (that’s 37 degrees Fahrenheit) when we arrived at her place about 5 p.m. She had our little country cottage ready for us with two portable electric heaters working over time. Pointing out the fireplace, the owner told us she had closed it since some prior renters had burned the mantle. So we had no choice but to freeze.

Wearing long underwear, wool socks, fleece jackets, hats, scarves and mittens, we cooked a pasta meal and drank hot tea and hot chocolate to warm up. After dinner we huddled around the insufficient heat of the heaters, laughing at the absurdity of the place and the expense. We were paying almost $200 to stay there!

We headed to bed early. The kids wore wool hats; their sheets warmed by electric blankets. My husband added a throw rug on top of our bed which lacked its own electric blanket. Somehow we slept and survived the inevitable cold midnight trip to the bathroom waking at 7 a.m. to the sound of the maid setting the dining room table for breakfast. In spite of the zero degree temperature (Celsius), I found the kitchen door wide open as she brought food and dishes back and forth from the main house. The sun was up casting its warmth against the icy car windshield, the patches of snow behind the cottage, and the freezing ambient air.

We ate our hot breakfast quickly before it cooled, packed up the car and left the peaceful and charming, but cold, dairy farm for the warmth of our SUV, heading west and south toward the coast and warmer weather.

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