The Manager’s Diary –  Richard Illet, General Manager’s letter to friends about the fun and games of life at !Xaus Lodge

by Richard Illet, General Manager, !Xaus Lodge


Hello Family and friends
Hard to believe March and April has come and gone, it seems like just the other day that I was getting ready for the !Xaus Lodge phase of my life. All the packing up of my home, the emotions as I packed up my pictures and bits of furniture that had made up my happy little cottage after selling Montagu Vines. Soon I was packing “Dundie” and saying good bye to friends and the start of another phase of my life – here I am with four months gone.

Well the month started with my estranged love affair with the Osmosis machine! One evening I tasted our “Osi” tap and the water was “brak”. Normally it is lovely and matches any bottled water and is in most instances better. We have had the water analysed and it really is great. I have taken the bold step of having labels printed and ordering bottles so we can have our own bottled water -that’s how good it is. Anyway I digress so back to my beloved machine. Up I go to the plant, pull the pipe out the tank that it is filling and take a mouth full – sure enough there is a good hint of “brak” in the water. So quick action is required we isolate the two full tanks so there is no further contamination and then leave the last one to fill with this “brak water”. Sadly the two isolated tanks have been contaminated. I then start asking why? The two maintenance chaps and myself form a huddle and we start trying to think of why and where this brak water could be coming from. I then remembered that when the Lions had been around and the filter had popped out under pressure I had noticed two “O” rings had been damaged from when the filters were originally installed and when I had pushed the filters back I had obviously disturbed a seal combination that had held even though there was damage. What I think was now happening is that under 40 bar pressure salt water was being forced through the seals and in to the fresh water. To confirm my theory I phoned the water treatment chap who does the servicing of the machine and sure enough he confirmed that the theory was fact.

I wondered why the seals had been damaged in the first place so I called the maintenance chaps for another “huddle” and sure enough I was told that it’s a hell of a job to change the filters and each end of the filter has 3 rubber seals or “O” rings – the filter then slides in to a stainless steel pipe and then two brass ends are sealed in place with cir-clips. They hold everything inside the tube. The process is simple: The filters are very fine .02 microns (smallest Bacteria .04 microns). They are hollow. Salt water is forced through the filters under great pressure. The clean water is gathered in the centre of the hollow filter and is still under pressure so it is forced through a pipe and into an outlet pipe and hey presto clean water.

There is great debate over reverse osmosis and many say that because of the fine filter a lot of good minerals are also removed. I would tend to agree although our water analysis does show we have a number of minerals still in the water.

Because our machine is not an “off the shelf” machine and was actually made by a local chap in Upington, there are some variance in tube lengths so some filters are easy to slide in to the tube and others, I was told, had to be whacked in to the tube with a 4 lb. hammer – there is the problem good old bush engineering – a hammer sorts out all problems as does a monkey wrench! The “O” rings have caught the sharp ends of the tubes and have been damaged. I would have thought a bit of Vaseline and a tap would have worked but then again this is the Kalahari.

Right so I am eager to show that I can cook and also repair osmosis machines so I head for the workshop to find “O” rings. I find a few and then decide to phone the chap again and find out how difficult is this job. He says if you have all the right stuff and patience you can do it but be careful as the ends of the filters are plastic and can be damaged easily. I look at our booking schedule and think No – at least brak water is better than no water. I phone the chap back and say can you service the machine for me as I need sweet water – I am told in a months’ time! I then ask “if I load the entire machine in to my bakkie pumps and all and bring it to you can you service it over a weekend?” I wait for the negative but to my surprise I am told “bring it”. The Kalahari has some great people or so I think – read on!

richard and crewOne night we have 13 guests in for dinner and I am cooking up a storm in the kitchen with the chefs. Starter has gone out and the pans are all on, heating butter to flash cook carrots etc. The fillet is in the oven and I am making the red wine Jus when all of a sudden there is a bang under the oven area and I look down to see flames spewing out from under the oven – oh shit something has split and gas is leaking. The chefs run out the kitchen and I shout to the head chef as she is exiting to turn off the gas bottles. I grab a fire extinguisher and suddenly stop – if I cover everything in extinguisher powder we have nothing to serve as main course. Guests consist of two authors and two professors amongst others – I can just picture the comments on trip advisor! I drop to my knees and look under the stove (it’s a big industrial stove and oven set up) and sure enough a gas pipe had moved (Guess when they were cleaning the stove) and was touching the 200 deg bottom of the stove. The rubber had caught alight and had burnt through until the central gas carrying pipe had burnt. I pulled it out and at the same time turned off the gas tap feeding the pipe. Thank goodness the flame died and I put a cloth over the smouldering pipe and dinner was served on time. I and my two chefs were on adrenalin high. We had been discussing earlier, the strange things that happen in kitchens!


claude looking at picturesMarch has been the snake month – sitting one morning at breakfast with guests I noticed a bit of a commotion going on with our resident Crows just on the dune next to the dining room. I went to investigate to find them having a fight with a Cape Cobra. They flew off when I arrived only to leave the Cobra in combat with our resident Guinea Fowl – Claude. The guests were delighted to have a front row seat to this battle. The Cobra eventually slithered off leaving Claude feeling very proud of himself. Claude is the only Guinea Fowl in the park. He flew in from a neighbouring farm and has made himself quiet comfortable at !Xaus Lodge. We (illegally) feed him in the morning and evenings and he parades up and down for guests but he really is quite doff. The Wild Cat, Mongoose and Caracal have all had a go at him but he has survived. One morning I woke to find Guinea Fowl feathers all around the back of the kitchen I thought the worst. Staff were put on “find Claude” duty. No Claude so we think well he was nice to have around and I do hope it was painless. That afternoon I was chatting to guests and suddenly we heard the “un-oiled squeaking wheel barrow wheel noise” and from around the corner enter Claude – we were all delighted to have our feathered companion back.

snake1In my stay here so far, I have had a bad habit of leaving my office door open. John, one of my guides, stops me one morning on my way to the office from the dining room to say “he thinks a Cobra has just gone in to the office”. We tentatively enter the office and start the search. John peeks in to a box that has bushman crafts in it which was about to be sealed and posted to a craft shop in Joburg and there is our snake. John manages to flip the box closed with a stick and he carries it out and tips it over on to the sand have a look at what came out – can you imagine sealing it and posting it. Not good PR when some shop keeper opens it!

Well the story of snakes does not end there. The next morning I walk up on to the dune next to my office to turn on the generator and I notice a Puff adder track so I start tracking and about 10 metres away under an Eland Bush I see the following:

That night I find the tracks of the same Puffy and I found him under the decks he really is a beautiful snake and now resides for most of the time in our swimming pool pump housing. I always have to be careful when removing the covers to back wash the pool.

Snake stories are not over yet. One day we have no guests in so I get the guides together so we can go for a drive and just chat about the veld. Driving along Ou Sis spots this beautiful Mole snake. Vehicle is stopped and I am out like Billy Ho to take the photo, I must say I am getting to like snakes and understand them better. I treat them with the respect they deserve and never play the hero or take chances as they are unpredictable and can move like lightning.molesnake

I was unaware that Mole snakes puff like a Puff adder and when taking the photos I heard the puffing and whizzed around thinking there was a Puff adder in the bush behind me. I still have a lot to learn about snakes. This Mole snake is a beauty. Well that’s the end of the snakes. I have seen a few beautiful Cobras’ in the veld when collecting guests and if I am on my own I always get out the vehicle to have a closer look. They really are beautiful and hated for a “fear factor” only.
Since I have been at !Xaus Lodge we have had very little rain. One night at the end of Jan we received 10 mm and we were ecstatic, this took our rain total to 53 mm so far for the season with only 3 months left of the rainy season. Normally our area gets around 150 mm a year. Nothing would prepare us for what was to arrive over the Easter weekend – 63 mm in 3 days with huge winds driving the rain on day one and two.

table setupWe were full on Good Friday; guests were out on their sunset drive and sun downer on the dunes excursion. We could see lightning all around us but on our pan and at the lodge there was not a breath of wind. I asked Hanne’s my maintenance chap what he thought the weather would do as I wanted to set the tables up outside on the decks to take advantage of the lightning show that was playing out in the distance and the beautiful sunset. Now Hanne’s was born in the area and worked as a ranger in the park so knows its moods well. He assures me this will all be in the distance and the storm will skirt the pan about 10km away. I give the instructions – “set up the tables outside and let’s create that Kalahari Lodge atmosphere”. This is done complete with Claude’s feathers tucked in to serviettes. Looks lovely and I am happy. All it set and the guest arrive back and the next moment the table setting is flattened by wind and rain. Here is a picture of the table setting the night before and a photo with me and my staff cooking up a storm. I really do have some delightful staff. They are all eager to learn.

Anyway back to the rain. The wind drove the rain horizontal, guests ran for shelter and we were left picking up glasses and trying to drop the dining room flaps and really batten down the hatches. Took me back to my sailing days. Zips broke and the Velcro around the windows would not hold and the flaps kept popping open. Dinner was scheduled for 7.30am, Beatrice and I were on Kitchen duty – needless to say dinner was only served about 1.5 hours later. Tables had to be reset, flaps and doors had to be tied down and buckets put under the leaks. The kitchen was thrown in to darkness as the water came in through the light fittings and tripped the lights.
The guests loved every minute of the saga – not my staff. This was day one we still had 3 more days coming!

Looks lovely doesn’t it, the tables the night before – well something very similar just got flattened!Auob River day 2

The rain continued unabated for 3 days. We had 13 German doctors in, amongst others, who had travelled this far to experience the hot Kalahari. I assisted taking them on to Mata Mata and the Namibian border after their stay with us and The Auop River, which last flowed in 2000 was flowing. The !Xaus Lodge pan was full and I would have made a rip roaring trade if I had canoes to rent out. Was quite romantic at night (after the rains) with the stars reflecting on the water.

Oh nearly forgot the end of the Osmosis machine saga! The repair chap says he will fix the machine within 3 days and I can collect it on my way back from Upington. Three weeks later and I am still waiting for my machine! We had to buy in bottled water, I was furious as I was just getting expenses under control and we had a busy guest’s schedule. So Kalahari guys are so so!Rain 038

Well that wraps up my newsletter up until mid-April – never a dull moment at !Xaus Lodge. The late April, May/June issue is packed with Lion tales, naughty staff tales amongst other things.

Love to you all I miss you all but am holding up well in this corner of South Africa. Some days I wonder why I do it but as I ponder these thoughts I am struck by something truly beautiful and it makes it all worthwhile. Until next time.

15 April 2013