Christmas 2013

The Rissington Rag - December 2013 Rissington Inn Should the images for some reason not show, click here to view this email online

Welcome to the
Special Christmas 2013 Edition
of the much sought-after and unusually prompt
- Rissington Rag -
views and a little news
from your favourite Lowveld lodge ...

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THE GOOD NEWS : 2013 has now OFFICIALLY been Rissington's busiest year EVER!

And ... of course ... the long-expected BAD NEWS. Farewell Nelson Mandela! There will never be another like you. But how wrong can the world be? Everyone thought Madiba's death would destabilise our society and that we would descend into chaos but instead, while the rest of the world is mourning the death of our hero, we South Africans are holding a huge PARTY to celebrate his long and incredible life. And quite right too. I love this country! Anyway, on with the news ...

A Christmas Day in the Life of an Hotelier

I was accused of being grumpy in the last letter - I know, can you imagine it? - so here's some more upbeat stuff instead ...
It is 36 degrees - and not snowing at all - as I write this and the first Christmas cards have just arrived. South African Christmas cards, perversely, are always covered with snow just like anybody else's. And reindeer and robins. But not the white-browed robins we get at Rissington...
So yes, it's wonderful to be reminded of the fabulously Eurocentric nature of our celebrations. But surely the reindeer could be replaced by kudu and the snow by blazing sunshine with turkeys on the braai? Father Christmas could wear shorts. Here he is, below, ready to go on safari. He'll obviously be recounting his experiences on Twitter by the look of his rather splendid headgear...

Santa goes to Kruger - or is that David Bellamy?
Admittedly, it would have been winter, if not actually snowing, in Bethlehem at the time of Christ's birth, the star-gazing would have been a bit hit-and-miss and you'd have needed a fire around which to gather whilst flock-watching. And anyway who's to say that those shepherds weren't just about to indulge in the local Judean Desert equivalent of a fine Karoo lamb chop (and certainly not reindeer meat) on the fire when the Angel of the Lord popped in and interrupted the preparations. Here, in an unusually handy service from a South African hotel, is the REAL Christmas weather:

Weather Averages for Jerusalem in December

And since Christmas is a time of giving, of which Rissington has always been a great fan, if you are looking for an ideal Christmas present, why not give a Rissington T-shirt or baseball cap ... and on a more serious note, we support both a school and an orphanage so if you are coming this way, do bring old clothes and children's books. Not pads and pens. Why does everybody bring us pens? We have pens in Africa! And we live in the middle of the largest man-made forest in the world so we are not short of paper either!

A True Story from a Rissington Guest

The perfidious Car Hire companies give lots of advice (and charge plenty of surcharges) to safeguard their clients and to insure themselves against damage to their vehicles but some Rissington guests were given a most unusual piece of advice the other day when they picked up their hire car from Nelspruit Airport...
They asked, quite reasonably, like good responsible adults, what the drinking and driving laws were in this country.
"You are not allowed to drink and drive," the employee of the well-known, to-remain-unnamed Car Hire Company said. When pushed for clarification as to what the legal limits might be etc, he went on to explain that there were absolutely no limits of any kind on how much you were allowed to drink before driving - if you can still see you can drive - but if stopped by a traffic cop, it was important not to be caught with a drink actually in your hand when behind the wheel. He went onto explain to the incredulous visitors that simply putting your glass between your legs was not advisable when espying a traffic officer (because the contents might spill) so the best plan would be to pass it to the passenger to hold, or put it into the cup-holder. If you are sober enough to find it, presumably ...

Cybele Forest Lodge - The Sad Demise of an Icon

Forgive a self-indulgent moment ...
This driveway lined with giant turpentine trees and decked with jacaranda flowers once led to Cybele Forest Lodge, my alma mater. I started my career as an hotelier there in 1983, and over the intervening years, like me, dozens, if not hundreds of people learned the gentle art of hospitality there. And we learned it from Cybele's ground-breaking and inspirational owners, Rupert and Barbara Jeffries.
Sadly, as of last month, the great Cybele exists no longer, due to the sheer stupidity and incompetence of those in charge of South Africa's land reform programme. I had a final, somewhat-emotional lunch there the other day, just before the said owners of 34 years moved out and the community took over. The lodge is now closed, presumably for ever, as nobody in government is prepared to assist the successful land-claimants to equip, manage and run it.
In a strange way, as the sun sets over one of Africa's greatest hotels, I believe (and humbly hope) that Rissington may be able to continue and to immortalise some small part of Cybele's legacy. I worked there for about ten years, managing it for the last few of those and Rissington has now taken on a couple of the Cybele staff, made redundant by the chaotic events of the past year. I also believe, after 18 years of Rissington and with my 30-years in the industry, that Rissington is one of Hazyview's last two country lodge hotels in the old tradition. I hope this is a mantle we can wear with pride. (And I will leave it to you to guess which the other one might be!)

Rissington WIldlife

We have become used to our huge shuffling leguaan (monitor lizard), our mongoose and our duikers and we have had some lovely kingfisher sightings already this year, including both malachite and pygmy, but at the top of the wildlife list at the moment is a pair of zebras who frequently hang around on the open lawns in front of the lodge at dinner time, letting out occasional intriguing whoop-whoop calls. They sound like car alarms and have guests scurrying to disarm their vehicles! And they are regularly joined by 11 wildebeest. It's saving us a fortune in lawnmower repairs ...

Rissington's latest resident
We have also rebuilt two of the dams in the main Rissington donga (river-bed) in the hope that we might lure back a couple of hippos when the water levels rise after the rain. After all, what's the point of having a hippo fence if you don't have a hippo?

Upgrades and some Gluten-free Nonsense

This is the boring bit that you have to read in order to make reading this letter into real work, if you are in the travel industry, or tax-deductible if you are not.
So what have we just done to make Rissington even better? We have refurbished and rebuilt the bathrooms in the hillside suites, tiled the outside showers and around the bath, added more pictures and pot-plants and generally upgraded those rooms. In fact, we have improved the shelving in most of Rissington's bathrooms and added more plants, carvings and pictures throughout. And we have taken out a number of subscriptions to local and international magazines to improve the reading matter and improved the aesthetics (and the smell) by introducing flower arrangements into the dining room and the library as well as to our welcome notes in the rooms.
The gardens are still an absolute triumph after the last couple of years' massive improvements. The road is holding out fairly well and we have improved the signage on our entrance road with distance countdowns for those who find a kilometre on gravel to be a long way!
Under pressure from the afflicted, we have also introduced a menu where, in addition to our significant range of vegetarian dishes, we show the diabetic-friendly and gluten-free items. In addition, we are now keeping a permanent supply of wheat-less ricecakes (a bit like eating beige polystyrene coated with superglue) and, for the lactose intolerant, soy milk (which looks and tastes like whitewash). And on the subject of horrible food ...
You may have read on Rissington's Facebook page that the Kruger National Park's catering is to be outsourced to new service providers including Mugg & Bean and Wimpy. Despite the purists' horror, this has to be an improvement and apparently Wimpy has agreed to replace their signature red plastic seats with a far more tasteful khaki version.
Of course, Nando's would have been better but somehow didn't make it - and please stop being surprised that we have Nando's here in South Africa. Like Appletiser, we invented it. In 1987. We are surprised you have taken so long to catch on everywhere else!
And what did we get from you in exchange? McDonalds Drive-ins! A second of these abominations has just opened in Nelspruit. At least, in order to eat at most Nando's branches you need to be fit enough to walk inside the building and order your food. It can even involve standing up for a while too so you could lose a few calories while you wait.

The Where in the World Competition

We had many, many attempts at the September Where in the World competition (picture left) and the answers given ranged from the Lake District to Poland and New Zealand. The photograph was actually taken at Glendalough, the Valley of Two Lakes, in Ireland's County Wicklow. The winners - absolutely spot-on with their answer - are two of Rissington's most stalwart supporters over more than a decade: Carol and Richard Veitch. They win a three-night stay for two, bed and breakfast.
Here are this month's pictures. The six make up the Christmas Competition, which traditionally wins the bigger-than-usual prize of three nights, dinner, bed and breakfast, for up to four people in a hillside suite at Rissington (two bedrooms, two recently refurbished bathrooms, sitting room with television, outside shower, air-conditioning, private swimming pool).
Where were these six photographs taken? Click on the pic for a larger version:
Get your answer to before 15th January to go into the hat for the prize. And remember, even naming one of the above absolutely correctly might well be good enough to win the prize...

A New Website for Rissington

The new website is live with an exciting light and digestible look and dozens of fabulous new photographs. See it here Do have a look. Please. It looks so great and really shows us off at our best.
My old travel story website is also still up and running on and you can keep up with the Rissington Facebook page by clicking below. LIKE us please and keep up with very occasional relevant news.
And, as always, you can still download Do Not Take This Road to El-Karama (by Chris Harvie) onto your iPad or Kindle. Buy it on Kalahari here or on Amazon here.
I was also responsible for the written content on the new Kruger Lowveld site, which can be seen here on It is a great step forward in the marketing of our region.

On Yer Bike: Our Travels ...!

We are off to Tanzania for former colleague Anton du Toit's wedding to Katie Brice-Bennett at her family's hotel in Marangu, Tanzania, the best launch point for an assault on Kilimanjaro and - evidently - for an assault on a marriage. Look up the hotel's website here: Marangu Hotel. I will report back on the event in the March newsletter.
Some of the bureaucratic stuff was dealt with last month, at the Department of Home Affairs in Hazyview, when, among other dramas, the office’s glass front door fell off its hinges and the Very Important Presiding Official confused the ID books and accidentally almost caused Katie to be married to Anton's father.
During our travels, which will include a couple of nights at Tarangire Safari Lodge, we shall be following my friend Nic Andela's maps specially designed for tablet-users - that's iPad owners, not the takers of Statins, Viagra, Prozac and Doxycycline. Keen travellers can download the maps HERE.

Give me your tired, your poor huddled masses, yearning to breathe free ...

The view from Rissington under a brooding sky
We continue to keep our rates down and our menu and drinks prices are also still unchanged. For the latest prices, check the website. And remember that we offer a corporate rate for people staying on business and generous discounts and upgrades to returning guests.
We also have space for one gap year student from March onwards and another from July. So if you know someone young, useful, intelligent and insightful who is at a loose end, ask them to get in touch with us.

Baobab room - complete with Baobab tree
And my Guest Quote of the Month from a departure note: "We had an excellent stay! The frog/lizard droppings here and there were surprisingly big, but they were always taken care of during the day. Thank you!" There you have it. Huge poos. The terrors of the bush.
Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year.
Come and see us in 2014. It'd be madness not to ...
Chris the almost half-centurion, Hlengiwe who is about to take in her fourth and fifth African country, Swirly Shirley, Kevin from Barberton who was kidnapped by a 9-year-old and a 10-year old on his 20th birthday but survived, Sipho who turned 50 in November putting him only a few months ahead of me, Kanan the Barbarian, Nikiwe (formerly of Cybele), Thandi the Head Chef, Cindy, Gertie (formerly of Cybele), Yvonne, Emelda, Betty, Thuli, Gladys, Sanny, Zenzile, Sisters Ntombifuthi (Foots) and Nokuthula (Noggs), Patience, Joseph, Aubrey, Sbusiso, Patrick, Rasta (whose real name, we have discovered to our amusement, is William) and Simon (formerly if Cybele). Not forgetting Hans and Stefan, the twins who are helping out over Christmas. And of course JJ who is the school's top player of kickball, whatever that it is. And Bull, the dog, who is a great and patient mentor to Rusty, JJ's messy new Jack Russell puppy!
And in fond memory of Cassim Mhlanga, who has left us for a better place. In our pre-wildebeest days, he pushed a lawn mower much larger than himself around the lawns at Rissington, day after day, from December 2001 until two days before he died in October.
And, of course, RIP Nelson Mandela. In his own words, dating back to 1994, he is "Free At Last".
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