Koo ValleyAfter another bus jinx (this one was four hours late – because they got a flat tyre and didn’t have a spare, and the person that came out to fix it didn’t bring one either and had to go all the way back to Cape Town to fetch one) I arrived in the sleepy town of Ashton to start a placememt at Simonskloof Mountain Retreat. This is an off-grid campsite and cottage place up in the Koo Valley with no mains electricity (I’m writing this on the solar-charged laptop) and such niceties as solar water heating, paraffin lamps, long-drop toilets and pipe-donkey showers. Once again, the WWOOFer accommodation is a caravan, and during a particularly violent storm the other night the roof blew off (but all was not lost as I leapt into action with my Leatherman and some string and tied it back on).

Most of the work here is ongoing maintenance of the site – I’ve spent the past few days felling invasive wattle trees (with one of those triangular bow saws which is too small to get through all of the trunk), hauling them to a clearing and then trimming the branches with a machete. I have also earned top marks for expertly sealing one of the cottage roofs (with roofing felt and sealant paint) and then zero marks for trying to do the same thing with a water tank (the water absorbed the paint and now I have to clean it with a wire brush and re-seal it with water tank sealant).

Also living in the caravan is a rain spider (Palystes sp.), which is easily the biggest spider I’ve ever seen. Thankfully they’re harmless, unlike the dreaded baboon spider (a big-ass tarantula), possibly so-called because it’s big. In South Africa (and possibly the rest of the continent), anything big is given the prefix bobbejaan (baboon), so a big wrench is called a baboon spanner (monkey wrench?)! Anyway, I would prefer to have the caravan to myself but the infernal critter is too fast for me to catch and evict.

An English guy lives down the road from here, running a farm and adventure centre. His surname is Walters. I mention this because he and his wife have just had a kid, and called him Luc. Nothing unusual about that, until you take into account the fact that Luc’s middle name is Skyes. Luc Skyes Walters? Feel the Force, kid.

There is an enormous amount of work to do around here, and I’d quite like to stay for a few months and get the whole place eco-friendly. As it happens, it looks like I’ll do another week or three and then move on to Port Elizabeth. There’s another placement a-calling up near Pretoria, and I still have a hankering to see some more of Africa.


Clothing: Durable overalls you don’t mind getting dirty.
Duration: Approx. thirty hours (see below).
Works: Biceps, triceps, pectorals, quadriceps, calves.

  • Resistance row – saw through tree branch or trunk (alternate arms)
  • Famer’s walk – carry enormous logs to clearing for pick-up
  • Bicep curl – trim smaller branches

Repeat until there are no more wattle trees (approx. three days).