In this high-tech, 24/7 culture we have created, we want everything to happen at extraordinary speed. Even when on holiday, we cram as much as possible into a two week break, ticking as many items of our proverbial bucket list as physically and humanly possible. However, we are not allowing ourselves time to fully appreciate the destinations we visit and we certainly don’t make the voyage to our destination part of the experience. It is like we have lost the pleasure of the journey itself.
When researching slow travel, I came across a statement by Carl Honoré, who wrote the international best-seller In Praise of Slowness: How a Worldwide Movement is Challenging the Cult of Speed. He describes the slow movement as follows:
“The Slow philosophy is not about doing everything at a snail’s pace. It’s about seeking to do everything at the right speed. Savouring the hours and minutes rather than just counting them. Doing everything as well as possible, instead of as fast as possible. It’s about quality over quantity in everything from work to food to parenting.”
This indeed resonates with me and on my latest road trip to the Northern Cape, we made a concerted effort to make the journey unhurried and part of the overall experience, which has left us with some of the best memories. For “unknown” reasons, ones that often revolved around food…
Driving along the R355 between Ceres and Calvinia, a 250 km or so gravel road, offers a continuous expanse of mountains and succulent Karoo vegetation. Out of nowhere the Tankwa Padstal appears about 70 km north of Ceres, but as Roxanne Reid puts it so fittingly, it really is somewhere between nothing and nowhere. This quirky padstal with its eclectic décor sells anything from sweets to bicycle spares, from local medicinal herbs to fire wood, and from cool beers to moer coffee. It is probably the weirdest and most wonderful Karoo padstal I have come across with extraordinary friendly and hospitable owners. It provides a welcome respite from the Karoo heat, dust, and monotony of the road ahead.
On our way to Augrabies, we camped one night near Brandvlei at Oom Benna’s, a small private campsite on a working farm set in a landscape of salt pans. Oom Benna van Niekerk was the previous owner, who used to farm here together with his wife, tannie Miemie. Here, I was reminded of the stories of Oom Schalk. I could just imagine him sitting on the stoep smoking his pipe and tapping it occasionally against his veldskoen.
We were told to pitch our tents just anywhere. That is, if you can find a piece of ground more or less level, in the shade, and where you can squeeze a couple of tent pegs between the gazillion rocks. However, all that doesn’t matter anymore once you sit on the stoep with a glass of wine watching the sun set behind the quintessential Karoo windmills.
Kenhardt is a small town about 120 km south of Upington. Although the largest town in the area, it is just a provincial town set in a never-ending landscape of nothingness. We ended up having coffee at Oma Miemie’s Farmstall, a most intriguing looking place on Kenhardt’s main road. Walking into the padstal, I had to do a double take, as Roger Higginson (owner of Oma Miemie’s) didn’t only sound and look like Ricky Gervais, but even his mannerisms reminded me of this English comedian. Although born and bred in England, Roger now lives with his local wife in this remote town, but Oma Miemie’s couldn’t be more authentic Karoo.
Pofadder is another Northern Cape classic, a sleepy town on the road between Upington and Springbok. Nobody knows for sure where Pofadder got its name from, but South Africans fully agree that it refers to somewhere very remote, far away, and isolated from modern life. Driving into Pofadder makes you realise how apt this reference is – the town is seriously comatosed.
We found the intriguing Coffee Shop just off the main road, one of the only places that vaguely looked like it would serve lunch. It felt like walking into somebody’s house and asking for coffee and a bite to eat. The deeper you delved into this building the more bizarre. The rooms at the back were completely dedicated to an eclectic collection of beer mugs, old-fashioned radios, Dinky toys, and any other items at least 100 years old with a layer of dust about the same age.
However, making this conscious choice of including the journey as an integral part of our road trip, I rediscovered the pleasure of truly connecting with the places and communities en-route. It showed us that the Northern Cape has so much more to offer than just its beautiful national parks. The quirky, remote settlements, often the focal point of South African humour, with its beautiful people, give you a true sense of place.
Words and pictures: Louise de Waal