Fresh Karoo Mutton

I really love Graaff-Reinet. Seriously, I do. It’s such a quirky town with just so many little anecdotes that make you love life in South Africa. It is not a small town and has enough of the modern niceties to make living there pleasurable. But, it has not been swallowed up by corporate South Africa. Stopping by the Information office one morning, I proceeded to park my car on the main street and walk into the office. After being hit on inside by the rather attractive young receptionist, I go to the bookstore next door which is pretty well equipped. A sign proudly notes that all proceeds go to some animal shelter. Uh…yeah ok. I found Mario Puzo’s “The Family” for ten bucks. Good purchase. I emerge to depart on my daily travels. As I’m about to start my car, a lady points some space-age device at my window which silently prints out a little till slip. I start getting scared wondering if this is my death notice and I ready myself for assimilation by some alien spaceship. I lower my window and she smiles, shows me the slip (uh, oh) and tells me, “That will be R1.” That’s when my mind went, “kapweeoissh,” because it blew up. Behold the all-knowing device in the hand of a Graaff-Reinet local. It was undoubtedly the coolest device I have ever encountered in my life, ever.

If you ever take the bus down to George from Jozi, you’ll stop at the Engen on the main street in Graaff-Reinet. Here is a 24-hour shop. It probably is the coolest shop ever. Instead of some bland Garage Shop with prices that make you cry, it’s a typical corner shop with everything you need and then some with prices that will make you cry with joy. I picked up a soda and popcorn here. The soda is a locally brewed drink called Bashews (well, it’s bottled in Cape Town) that tasted pretty good. The popcorn was about double the size of the biggest cinema popcorn box. Together, these cost R5.50. Down the road is a supermarket NOT run by Checkers, Spar or Pick ‘n Pay, Here I get wine in a one litre milk container. It cost me R12. Yeah…

In my lodging, which is bigger than my present place of resident yet costs about half as much, I came across a little relic from the past. We once had a plastic bin purchased in the late 80s. It was pretty awesome but it disappeared. My mum did relay the story of its disappearance – an older cousin came to visit and my mum told him to take out the bin assuming he would take out the plastic bag and dispose of it. Instead, he took the entire bin outside for disposal…Its pretty odd how when things from your past pop up, the objects bring back a crystal clear memory and that warm, fuzzy feeling of nostalgia yet you will never be able to just bring up the memory under normal circumstances.

I love the town but I want the sea. The sea is a few hundred kilometres away but I have spidey-sense you know! My parents loved the ocean and its blue calmness. This has been passed down to me – a holiday is not a holiday if there is no sea involved. I set off down the N9 – sad but happy at the prospects that lie ahead. I enter the real Karoo.

It is a mystical land. Similar to the Free State, all one sees is rolling fields of nothing. This is the land of the Karoo sheep and the black crow. The romantic Camdeboo and Sneeuberg Mountains are but a memory. The wind is harsh and so is the sun. The sun is surprising seeing that it is mid-winter. It’s a landscape that tests your sanity. You feel like you are on a never ending journey that has no destination whatsoever as there really is nothing that looks remotely interesting that pops up at all. The drive, though, did bring back memories of those Binky books I read in junior primary school.

It must have been an hour and a half when I see the undulating mountains of the Grootrivierhoogte – the only blip in the landscape. I stop on the side of the road to peer at, well, this difference really. After seeing nothing for an extended period of time, it’s great to actually see something! I do spot a buck grazing…

At the foothills of the Grootrivierhoogte is the Beervlei Dam. Built in 1954, this dam stands completely empty and in disrepair. The authorities are so confident that this dam will never be used that the N9 is built through the catchments. A period of 55 years is not a long time when it comes to infrastructure and I was amazed that this skeleton graced the landscape. It does show us what a precious commodity water is in this land. The Karoo, Highveld and Lowveld are what characterise our country – not water. We need to respect this. The great Gariep is an anomaly in this land of drought. I do meet some road trip buddies that are on their way to Cape Town via George…

Another anomaly is the town of Willowmore. I drive into Willowmore in desperate need of some sustenance. I happen upon two quaint little eateries on opposing ends of the street. On the left is a pretty establishment called Sophie’s Choice. On the other is a more traditional place – a corner café where even the menu is made of meat! I opt for Sophie’s Choice. Apparently Sophie liked an antique shop with a very colonial vibe with a fire going in the fireplace even though it’s the middle of the day. The antique shop was ostentatious. Out back, however, was a fairy tale like garden. It seemed a bit out of place at the foot of the Baviaanskloof. But hey, they made some good quiche!

Willowmore is known as the gateway to the Baviaanskloof. Recently declared a World Heritage Site, this wilderness is undoubtedly the most beautiful part of South Africa. I’m tempted to take this route but the route is taxing. It is a complete dust road. Several sections of it require a 4×4 to cross. It is on top of my to-do list though…

I soldier on and am greeted by the unmistakable rock formation of the Outeniquas as I traverse the Potjiesberg Pass. It’s a quiet beauty broken only by the calls of an unseen bird.

Clouds and mist kiss the mighty Outeniquas as I snake down the N9 towards George. It is a drive of spectacular beauty. It is familiar territory – I’ve been up and down this magnanimous pass several times before – but it still leaves me breathless. I sit on a rock, gaze and smile…

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6 thoughts on “Fresh Karoo Mutton

  1. The bookstore mentioned in Graaff-Reinet is MCNAUGHTON’S BOOKSHOP. The bookstore provides free shelving for the SPCA and sells second hand books on their behalf. Since October 2008 R5789.25 has been raised for the SPCA. Thank-you for your support!

  2. Hi Shahilj

    Glad to see you’ve enjoyed your bottle of Bashew’s Cocopine.
    Bashew’s has been bringing bottled a lifetime of good memories since 1899.

  3. Thanks Christine 🙂

    Where can I get hold of these Bashews? I remember seeing some at Bravo Pizza in Pretoria but they had the case displayed as a show piece.

  4. Hey Bud.. Love you article.. And one part in particular is that about Beervlei Dam. The first time I saw this apparently dilapidated dam, I too was intrigued. So much so that I just had to find out more about it.

    As it turns out, the dam is kept in an empty state on purpose.. I won’t try and explain, but rather paste an excerpt from a website that I came across.. Enjoy 🙂

    “The reservoir of the Beervlei Dam needs to be empty at the start of the flood in order to store as much of the flood water as possible. The Karoo sediments in the area contain a lot of salts and it has been found that lengthy storage of water results in high water salinity. The mode of operation is that any floodwater is used as quickly as possible by the downstream irrigators and the reservoir is thus kept empty for flood absorption purposes. A similar flood attenuation dam has been built upstream of the town of Ladysmith (KwaZulu-Natal) and this dam has a large uncontrolled outlet in its base to ensure emptying after a flood. You will see from this explanation that the Beervlei Dam has not been decommissioned as mentioned by Mr Marachel, but is alive and well in its empty state! I have received many queries from members of the public as to why the Beervlei Dam is always empty. (Paul Roberts (Pr Eng), Secretary: SANCOLD)”

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