Awake to the sounds of the weaver birds starting their incredibly busy day and watch the dawn filter through windows after an extreme sleep in extreme dark, just delicious. My room is surprisingly warm considering there is no heating and the night has been very cold, thundery, a storm has grumbled and grizzled in from the coast and the morning while sunny is water coloured and wet. Breakfast is on the verandah, a feast of mealie porridge, breads, pastries and a collection of jams, cheeses and cold meats and then eggs and all the trimmings. The LP lads appear and Mark is toting his very large and very speccy camera taking photos of the manor house and garden and as we drink coffee and eat steaming porridge the mist rolls in, plonking in the garden and valley and visibilty that was a moment ago over the valley is now stuck at 50m. A lot of mumbling about light and what the day holds and Julene, the manager, tells us that the mist may well settle in the valley for the rest of the day but over the crest of the next hill the sun will be out and shining.
Yeah, right, whatever, being poms we know better and this country reminds me so much of Scotland, especially in the mist, that a mist is likely to hover for a while or several hours. Lingering over coffee and hoping for the sun the burn off the mist it’s time to move off as the LP minder is a little startled by the distance I plan to travel today including the detour to the National Park to see the daisies and succulents. Loading up the car realise that while parking near the weaver birds was a great idea initially they have unloaded an evenings and early mornings worth of poo on the roof and windows in neat conical piles……isn’t that lucky?? or does it have to be on the person?? Anyway after paying the bill and back out with a pack of goodies for the day find the car has been de-pood and washed, now how cool is that!
The retreat as well as it’s simple Cape Dutch house has three matjieshuis a few minutes drive from the retreat itself and designed along the lines of Nama dwellings, a basic framework of bent branches covered with reed mattings or more recently sacking cloth. I see them on this misty morning in their setting amongst the huge, rounded, red granite boulders and they blend so much into the landscape it is difficult in the mist to distinguish the dwelling and the geology. Just beautiful and a must , the retreat is a must, for anyone who is lucky enough to spend some time in this lovely part of the world….oh and spend at least a couple of nights in this special place as a base for the area.
Reluctantly leaving with instructions to head to Kamieskroon and the Namaqua National Park it’s out into the mist and within seconds of creeping along the road in the limited visibility an ambulance appears behind and sits right there and then overtakes into the misty blue yonder which a minute or two later over the crest of the hill opens into a sunlit valley making a lie of the previous 10 minutes of driving. Springbok and it’s township glow white and pastel coloured in the now blazing sun and determined not to be ‘lost in Springbok’ again it’s on the Calvinia road via Kamieskroon. I realise by driving into and out of Springbok that towns and cities, regardless of where they are, seem to have a pattern. There is the town itself which is primarily where business is conducted and there is a seperate place where people live. The townships vary as to what is available to the inhabitants and within them there may government housing, a long slow process but at least still on the move, and ‘shanty’ housing as we would picture it, water, power but at the heart of all this is there is no social security which coming from a country where social security is a linchpin, however meagre it’s deemed to be, that’s a huge revelation.
Definately wildflower country the information posts are well signposted and armed with a wildflower map, shaken heads and tutting about where I’m heading to and the time already but the park is possible it’s off on 27km of dirt road ‘but it is graded’ to the blankets of daisies and succulents that have transformed the country during these few quenched months. Lt D J Larter’s grave is also on the outskirts of the town and is one of those pieces of England in a foreign land where the grave of a British officer killed during the Anglo Boer war is recognized as the smallest piece of foreign land registered in South Africa. Anneliese at the information ofice tells me it’s not accessible as the landowner is reluctant to have tourists trek through his property but believes it should be as it is actually British territory..would one need a passport??
Corrugations are a plenty, enough to rattle the teeth to say nothing of the under carriage of the Getz and we pass a white knuckled driver and equally white knuckled passenger clutching the ‘jesus’ bar who do a u turn and head back for the tar. Two small water fordings and at 20kms watch a landrover pass wheel deep through a third water course and decide the getz would be window deep and a salvage job so it’s turn back and no park and no flowers. However having said that the scenery was spectacular, lucious lumpy red granite, patches of incredible green crops which looked like rice…surely not though it’s wet enough, blue tipped lupins and lakes and ponds brimming with water.
Back on the N7 and it’s driving, driving and yes driving and realise that it will be pretty straight through if I’m to get to Calvinia by nightfall. It’s still misty, clouds curling around the granite like smoke dribbling down into the valleys with their tiny farmhouses peppered on the landscape surrounded by big trees and winding red roads.
Through Garies and passing tiny towns announced by the spires of the central church, now a very common and enduring theme, the road becomes straigher as it passes through more undulating, gentler country with sheep grazing in scattered groups, the famous Karoo lamb that I will learn about……..and eat………later in the evening. The flowers are very evident in bright, startling patches and clinging to sharp cut rocks through which the road runs.
My map shows that the town of Vanrhynsdorp as a little dot from which Calvinia is just another dot on the map. In the folds of the Matzikamna and Gifberg Mountains it appears as a ribbon of white buildings highlighted as always by the central spire in an oasis of green and in the shadow of a HUGE plateau, tabled mountain that as I approach realise is part of the route to Calvinia. And so it proves to be, the Vanrhynspas 300m straight up on a road zigzagged up the mountain side, dotted with crosses and obelisks to mark those who didn’t make it up or down, only route for trucks and roadtrains and a viewing spot to see a family of mountain goats who teeter on craggy outcrops and no doubt make it up and down the mountain without the gathering sweat and doubts that are gathering like a cloud over me. As I begin the ascent as an Audi TT swooshes pass with driver and fixed grin and can’t decide if it’s G force, relief or a huge 007 buzz. We grind our way up in first gear with the occassional leap into second and back to first and after being stuck behind a truck for the last 100ms or so dread the thought of having to descend. However there is no descent and it’s onwards across the plateau of pasture, undulating gentle hills, an abundance of sheep and 150kms of straight road and telegraph poles with a new population of nests. Gone arer the groaningly heavy sociable weaver bird nests replaced by accumulations of sticks and what looks like red baling twine still built around the white ceramic pods on the poles. Can’t work out what inhabits them as there are kestrel looking birds that hover and perch and big white and black birds that do the same and see both in the nests. Perhaps they share the nesting spots.
Calvinia appears as another ribbon of white with a cental steeple and instructions to the ‘ Die Blou Nartjie’ are brilliant…. ‘Calvinia is very small, you can’t miss it’..mmm well got lost in Springbok so hey, who knows. I learn later that what is now the B and B and restaurant, oh and in translation a nartjie is a Mandarin…as in the fruit…so the Blue Mandarin… was the family home and shop of a three generation Jewish family and was/is part of an amazing history of a tiny little town in the Northern Cape that takes it’s name from John Calvin the reformer but was originally named Hantam after the Khoi word meaning ‘where the red bulbs grow’…what is the go with all this name changing. Hantam sounds much more appropriate!! Situated at the foot of the Hantam Mountains at almost 1000m above sea level..hence the hike up the pass I guess… in winter it can get to -8C and sometimes with snow! Was certainly very brisk and windy the evening I arrived and the rooms at the BN are based on the design of the very simple accommodation offered by a number of the old homes for farming families who came in to buy supplies decades ago. These rooms are amazingly well designed accommodating a shower, toilet, cooking and very spacious sleeping area in a small area……….on and with dstv which is a cable telly thing too!
The Getz has done a stirling job and she and I have long conversations en route as to how well she is doing as I know if we break down it’s going to be a long wait as I’ve reliably informed on several occassions since starting this trip that NO-ONE will stop regardless of how helpless we look. With her bedded down for the night it’s dinner at the restaurant and a table against a wall clad with a HUGE skin of a very large and battle worn mountain zebra. Dinner is a bobotjie which is a spicy, fruity, curryish lamb mince with lots of yummy potato and vegetables and an equally spicy glass of house red. None of the huge glass filled to a minimally drawn white line on the glass this is a huge glass filled to the brim………..alrighty then. The B and B is run by a family who seem to do everything from band b duties to cooking and the restaurant is packed, some of us visitors but the majority locals it would seem.
Another beautiful bed after a hot, hot shower and with a cup of rooibos tea……..don’t get me started it is DELICIOUS, this is the tea of teas and as Lillian, A and E’s housekeeper tells me is what you must drink for good blood……..and a couple of hours watching World Cup Athletics… Calvinia settles in for a cold night and I am very happy to be here in another tiny, but very special dot on the map.