The challenges of lockdown

lockdown at montusi

2020 – our lost year.  2021 – our recovery year?

Montusi’s 2020 was unremarkable in its absurdity.  Just like the rest of the world, it all started without too much hassle, until March came around.

Our lockdown months were blissful in that we were able to immerse ourselves in mountain life, but terrifying in our financial realm.

Emerging from the hard lockdown into the Covid era was also terrifying.  Suddenly the responsibility of keeping our guests safe while providing personalised and engaged service fell upon us with new protocols and operations.

We purchased a fogging machine, trained up our staff, altered our operations and returned to the core of our drive: giving people the space, comfort and peace to grapple with this new world.

Losing our international travellers was a huge blow. Historically, 70% of the guests who visited Montusi Mountain Lodge came from Europe and the USA. We’ve had to rapidly move into the local market. Hosting more South Africans has been an education in itself.

We are learning our own habits and tastes and have done quite well in adapting to this. Some of our returning guests found it quite refreshing to come to Montusi and hear South African accents instead of the usual German, British or Dutch tones!

hiking at montusi

Hiking became very popular during the lockdown

We have loved showcasing our beautiful Berg to locals who have never ventured into the mountains. Hiking has also exploded in the Covid era. Sharing the breathtaking views that hiking trails offer with newbies has been so fulfilling. It’s like sharing your favourite song with someone and finding that they resonate on your level, despite different backgrounds and interests.

It seems the beauty of the wide open spaces has enchanted our nation and it is an honour to guide people into their newfound enthusiasm for the mountains.

In an effort to be more in line with the South African spending ability, we have introduced a new page on our website: Special Offers! For our South African residents, we have some great special rates and even a couple of action-filled packages.

December arrived with a very positive forecast. Our booking sheet looked “pre-Covid normal” for the first time since March and we were cautiously optimistic. We made our plans to manage our celebrations within the Covid guidelines and everything was on track.

And then, on Sunday the 20th, Anthony (founder of Montusi, Dad to Loretta, Catherine and I) had a fall that had him air-lifted to Bethlehem where he was admitted to the ICU.  Jean (the queen of Montusi, Mom to us three) headed off to Bethlehem to be with Ant.

We were all hugely shaken by the uncertainty of Ant’s condition, as well as their absence for Christmas and New Year. It was the first time that Ant had been away from this valley over Christmas in all his 72 years. It was also Jean’s first Christmas away since marrying Ant in 1974.

Between the oldies’ absence and the limited space because of Covid social distancing, it was the first time we as a family didn’t have dinner in the lodge on Christmas Day. It was the weirdest Christmas of our lives thus far!

And just to add to the storm, our freezer room failed on Christmas Eve mid-dinner service!  While we were frozen in panic (yes I did that on purpose) with no ice cream or sorbet to serve with dessert, Ammilette the waitress burst into the kitchen and shook us out of our panic with a “What will Mrs Jean do?! Go get your house ice cream!”

Off to the staff homes we rushed to scavenge what ice cream we could find: half a 5 litre got us through the service.

And then Uncle Cyril’s “family meeting” on the 28th had us reeling again… Instead of gathering for our NY Eve cocktail party, we made individual snack platters and drinks for each family to enjoy at their suites.

We still burnt down the big bonfire but sent the guests on little walks around the dam while they enjoyed the view, carefully spaced away from others.

The Universe had a good laugh at us: the one time we weren’t setting out the outdoor venue for the NY bonfire, it didn’t rain! Every year it rains as soon as we have the bean bags, chairs and champagne table set up. But not 2020. Nope.

It was a perfect evening for lounging under the nearly-full moon or night swimming in the dam, which we couldn’t do this year.  Hopefully, 2021/22 will give us both the perfect weather and the ability to gather with confidence.

And so here we go into 2021… What it holds, we’re not sure. But we do know that 2020 has given us the resilience to ride whatever waves come our way.

We wish you all a manageable year ahead.

When it gets too much, come out for a bit of soul restoration in the mountains. We’ll be waiting!

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