Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Christmas at Troutbeck in Zimbabwe

In THIS post, I mentioned a particularly special place in Zimbabwe, where some memorable Christmases were spent with my sister and her family, and promised to return there in more detail. I must apologise in advance for the poor quality of some of the pictures, they are photos of old faded glossy snapshots, so i was battling fading and reflections, but you should be able to capture the mood.....

For those of you in the Northern Hemisphere who experience cold Christmases, it may seem strange that we would hanker after the same, but so many Christmas traditions are geared towards bringing warmth and cheer in the cold, and are quite inappropriate here when one is wallowing around in the heat gasping for air, and the thought of slaving over a hot stove to produce Roast Turkey, hot plum pudding etc is far from inviting! So for us to spend Christmas in a place where one can gather around a blazing log fire while opening gifts and wolfing hot mince pies is a rare treat!

The Eastern Highlands of Zimbabwe are really beautiful, with many unique waterfalls, views of mountains and deep river valleys, and due to the altitude, a climate that is refreshingly cool in contrast to the sweltering summers elsewhere in the country.

Nestled amongst these mountains is the little village of Troutbeck, with pine forests, picturesque lakes stocked with rainbow trout, horseriding trails, and a great golf course, for those strange people who enjoy hitting a little white ball around! Along some of the mountain streams in the area are some adorable holiday cottages.
This brings us to Mpunguzungu, a privately owned rustic piece of heaven, which we were extremely blessed to be able to visit from time to time.
There was no electricity, no phone, just log fires and gas stove, paraffin fridge and lanterns, and fresh mountain water. It was on the brow of a hill overlooking a mountain stream compete with its own private waterfall and section of pine forest.
Here is the view of the waterfall from the cottage….
And the cottage from the waterfall.
On the side of the cottage was a stunning braai (barbeque) area under the trees, and we did a lot of our cooking on the fire out there when the weather allowed.
We would arrive down the steep and treacherous driveway, feeling like real adventurers, and the boys (Ian, Pete and Richard) would disappear into the forest to find the perfect Christmas tree.
Here they are … Ian trims the base, they bring it home over the log bridge that leads to that part of the forest, (Ian is hhiding behind the tree) and Rich triumphantly wields their prize.
It would be set up next to the permanent log pile that was kept to one side of the living room, and gave off the pine aroma which I will always associate with happy Christmases. It would then be sparsely decorated with the decorations that could be squeezed into the car amongst people, food, etc, and gifts set out underneath, while kids looked on in anticipation.
We would go off to the local dairy, to buy fresh milk, thick clotted Jersey cream, and home-made cheese for the Christmas feast. Here, Jane and the kids play with a new calf.
On Christmas morning, the family would go off to the adorable little church down the road, with a huge picture window behind the alter, overlooking the mountains. There was a warm and friendly atmosphere, and carols were sung with gusto!

Then back to the cottage, where everyone tucked into mince pies and chocolates, and began to unwrap the presents……. these pictures pretty much sum it up, eating and unwrapping, with love and laughter all around.
BUSTED!!!!!! To explain this picture, I have to give you a bit of family history. Jane is one of those people who have been very unfairly blessed with the ability to eat huge amounts of chocolate without putting on an ounce. It is one of the fundamental injustices of the universe that needs to be addressed one day! :). You also need to know that for many years, decent chocolate was as scarce as hen’s teeth in Zimbabwe, due to sanctions, and later the poor economy. (The local stuff tastes remarkably like soap!!!) She cannot resist chocolate, and over the years, Dave has had to be extremely creative in hiding any that made its way into the house, if he wanted a look in! Fast forward to this particular Christmas, and knowing that it would be a sure winner as a present, someone sent Jane a box of chocolates, beautifully wrapped. However, with her unerring nose, she sniffed it out and was unable to resist sneaking the parcel open, eating the top layer, and carefully re-sealing it to put back under the tree! This picture captures the moment when the missing top layer is discovered, and she has to confess to the crime! Look at the disbelief on Ian’s face.
See the writing on the wall behind us? Here is a close-up. It is taken from Tolkein’s writings, and is the elvish runes he invented for the Lord of the Rings. It means “fellowship by the fireside”, and couldn’t be more apt!
Then off for a walk in the forest, doesn’t this rock seem magic to you? I could fully understand why thoughts would turn to things elven, while strolling through these woods.
This would be followed by a swim under the waterfall, for those brave enough to face the ice cold mountain water.
Then we would serve our lunch, and tuck into a special African style Christmas meal together, (a sort of mixture of traditional treats and cold salads and braaied meat, accompanied by obscene amounts of trifle and chocolates!)



Ali Honey said...

That was just great! Wonderful that you kept all those photos.We have the same summer / heat thing here, not really suited to traditional Christmas fare.We do a mix of food types.
Season's Greetings!

DebR said...

That looks like such a beautiful place!

Janet said...

I just love looking at all your photos. What a fabulous place to have a family gathering....no electricity, no phone....sounds like heaven to me. And all that wood piled up.
I especially enjoyed the story about the missing chocolates! I know what you mean about the injustice of some people being able to eat huge quantities of the stuff without gaining an ounce.

Anonymous said...

Wow Sue!! Makes me miss West/Hoppe Christmas' even more!!!

Love you all loads!!

Laus (and tell Max Rudolph has a red nose!!)

Suzi-k said...

Glad you guys enjoyed it, I sometimes wonder if the memory-lane thing isn't a bit like the cliche sitcom thing of the neighbours boring you into a coma with their holiday photos and "little Johnny's" antics....
Laus, isn't that spelled RANDOLF???!!! And as I remember it, wasn't he a rude nosed red-deer!