Saturday, 25 September 2010

Not so trashy, these trailers

As an early birthday present for me, my sister and brother-in-law took my kids and me away for a night to the Old Mac Daddy Luxury Trailer Park in the Elgin Valley. Being stuck in a two-hour traffic jam over Sir Lowry’s Pass made finally getting there – the last stretch along an 8km farm road – even better.

The Elgin Valley really is incomparably gorgeous, and the hillside site of the trailer park allows for the most magnificent views across farmlands and orchards to the mountains beyond. The afternoon we arrived there was cloudy and wet, but this didn’t detract at all – to the contrary, the landscapes looked fabulously moody, and the low cloud cover gave a contented feeling of cocooniness.

It’s a pity that the human element was less inviting. A woman who turned out to be the manager (apparently, at Mac Daddy, ‘manager’ means walking around a lot while avoiding eye contact with your customers) wasted no time in informing me that the bookings my sister (who had not yet arrived) had made were insufficient for the number of people expected in our party (seven), and that they’d have to ‘charge extra’ to make up a sofa bed in one of the trailers. (The trailers accommodate four people – 2 adults and 2 children up to the age of 16 years. Given that the sofa beds on which the children sleep are easily big and sturdy enough to accommodate an adult such as myself – I am both big and tall – I have to assume that the age restriction relates entirely to Mac Daddy’s bank balance, rather than the actual logistics of accommodating an extra adult.)

I was surprised by Ms Manager’s assertion, as my sister’s middle name may as well be ‘Organisation’, and I told Ms Manager this. She shrugged noncommittally, then pushed the bill under my nose. ‘Sign here,’ she said.

‘This is my sister’s birthday present to me,’ I said. ‘I’m not responsible for the bill, and I wish you hadn’t even shown it to me.’

Ms Manager shrugged again and turned the page. ‘Then sign the indemnity form,’ she said.

This somewhat hostile and unapologetic attitude was repeated by other ‘senior’ staff, including the resident chef. At dinner later, we waited patiently for over an hour to get our food, which we ordered from an astoundingly limited menu containing one meat dish – lamb shanks, which presumably had been prepared in advance and needed only plating before serving, and which turned out to be lukewarm and tasteless. Becoming increasingly hungry as the tables around us got and finished their food, we finally ordered a salad to bridge the hunger gap. It never arrived.

It didn’t escape our notice that salads and bread were supplied to some of the other tables around us, and that every single other person in the restaurant was fed before we were. Why were we so roundly ignored? Was it because most of the tables were couples and we were a larger party? Were they punishing us for being shirty? It was a mystery. (When my brother-in-law quizzed Ms Manager about this – and a few other things – the next day, her answer was that ‘uptake had been better than expected’ and thus they hadn’t had enough staff. This is just not an excuse. Mac Daddy isn’t a place you pass on the road and pop into on the off-chance that accommodation will be available – it’s an end destination in a cul-de-sac valley.)

Also, dinner here comes at an ‘extra charge’, but no prices were displayed on the menu. And where else, in the middle of nowhere, are you going to find a place to eat, anyway? Why don’t they just up their per-night charges a bit and include dinner? The constant ‘extra charges’ (breakfast was another) were intensely irritating.

(There was one human being – the enthusiastic, cheerful, unfailingly polite and hardworking Kenneth, who showed us to our rooms, and was on duty as a waitron at both the dinner and breakfast shift – who almost made up for the manager and chef’s surliness. Thanks, Kenneth!)

When my sister arrived, she immediately established that Ms Manager had indeed got it wrong – my sister had booked three trailers which could, between them, comfortably accommodate 12 people, so far from not having booked sufficient accommodation, she had technically reserved five extra berths. (I hate this ‘grabbiness’ that some enterprises display – it’s as if they’re so sure they’re going to be ripped off in some way that they unashamedly and aggressively make sure they secure every last possible penny, and give no thought to the impression this leaves. Given that our total bill, for one night, came to about R5 000, this was just bloody annoying.)

Anyway! On to the good stuff. The redoubtable Kenneth showed us to our trailers, and what a lovely experience they were! The trailers themselves are mainly the sleeping areas, and each one is attached to a modular-style living and ablution area with floor-to-ceiling glass. My daughter and I were accommodated in ‘Yellow Submarine’, complete with a periscope, table-top Arctic map, sub-style doorway and ‘emergency supplies’ cabinet stocked with tinned food.

My sister and her husband and their kids took the ‘Mills and Boon’ trailer – possibly not the best choice for an old married couple travelling with offspring, but wonderfully Barbara Cartland-style romantic nonetheless, all done up in frilly pinks and with a glass ceiling over a ridiculously luxurious double bed.

My son slept in splendid isolation in ‘Metalmorphosis’. This trailer was the least photogenic but the most interesting, I thought. The entire interior is magnetised (the reason why my son, the only one among us with no fillings in his teeth, was billeted here!), and everything, from the light fixtures to the cupboards on the walls, could be moved around. Also, much of it is made up of a huge magnetised puzzle – hours of stoned fun could definitely be had in this one!

The design and layout of the trailer park is very interesting. No effort has been made to ‘blend in’ the trailers and their attached living areas with the immediate environment, but far from being jarring, this actually gives them added cachet – this is no bunny-hugging-hippy trailer park; it is a ‘statement’ venture.

The huge 'barn', with its dazzling picture windows, houses the bar and restaurant, a library (woefully understocked – come on, guys, get someone to go to a secondhand bookshop and fill those shelves!), a computer hot desk, the reception area, and a kids’ inside/outside entertainment area.

The gardens, planted with indigenous species, haven’t yet grown in – the park only opened in July this year – but when they do, this hillside caravan park-cum-luxury lodge will be a sight to behold and an experience worth having. Let’s hope the staff and the food have grown into themselves by then, too.

PS: Have cow pajamas, will travel.

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Claudine said...

That does look lovely! I see on their website they now include a continental breakfast in their trailer prices and their evening dinner menu isn't so expensive either. Will definately have a look at staying there for a night whenever we are in Hermanus.

Muriel said...

Hi Claudine. The continental breakfast is included; the cooked breakfast is extra. I thought the dinner price, for what we got, was a bit steep. But overall it was a fab experience and I do recommend it.