SWARTBERGPASS - SPIRIT OF THE GREAT HEART
I regularly fly to Cape Town on business. I often sit in a window seat staring out over the wide and barren Karoo landscape passing down below. I sometimes wondered who would choose to live in such a seemingly godforsaken place. But beauty is where one finds it.
As a wannabe photographer I was captivated by the purity of light when we drove those roads less traveled – The Prince, Captain Underpants and I. Harsh at noon and in mid-summer the sun shines late into the evening. It cloaks the world in soft hues of blue, rose and orange as darkness falls. This brought peace to my jaded soul so used the bustle, noise and artificial light of big city living. Driving some 2 000 kilometers meandering through small towns, little hamlets and stopping in places I’ve never been before showed me the true splendor of wide open spaces
Living in the Hardemanskaroo is not for sissies. It’s a special type of solitary soul that chooses to live here, even in the small towns. Farming in such an arid and isolated part is definitely not for the faint- hearted or the café culture crowd, We drove almost horse shoe shaped route from Merweville, where we did not see a single human being or a motor-vehicle in the main street at high noon a couple of days before Christmas during the time we stopped to photograph the imposing church – I still think the town had been taken over by zombies who hide in the church during the day, onwards to Williston, Carnavon and finally to Loxton, some 400 kilometers. It’s really the back of beyond – a handful of homesteads, a sprinkling of the famous Karoo sheep, sparse semi- desert vegetation, no trees.
What was it like 200 years ago? The trekboere must have spent months on end without having any interaction with others which resonates in the age old adage of “in sickness and in health, in good times or in bad, in joy as well as sorrow” – It wasn’t an option to bugger off to dear old mum when the going got tough – If she was close she would have been living in the room right next to you!
I’m currently reading “Trackers” by Deon Meyer a South African novelist which I stumbled on recently. I’m reading it in Afrikaans, the language of my birth; the language of the Karoo. It’s a great read and the action is partly set against the backdrop of a farm in the Loxton area. Deon Meyer has a house in Loxton, but I don’t think he lives there permanently
In “Trackers” he writes, loosely translated -
These people belong to the Karoo, their intertwined (hi)stories stretches over many lifetimes and is part of the regions DNA. Here they tolerate and they forgive as loyalties had been forged over many generations. Their forefathers fought and died side-by-side in the Anglo-Boer War, there’s a shared suffering in an unforgiving landscape – through drought, pest and plague. The isolation meant that they had to learn to rely on each other and to tolerate. Tomorrow you have to face the same people, over and over, day in, day out – at the trading store, the church fête, and the sheep auctions
Beyond Williston there are some strange beehive shaped structures - Corbel houses built by pioneer farmers in the early 1800’s. There no trees in the Hardemanskaroo – miles and miles of nothing, sparse vegetation and rock. The area, however, has an abundance of flat stone and these were layered to build domed shaped huts. A mixture of wheat chaff and soil, preferably from ant hills as this has excellent natural binding properties, mixed water was used to bind the structure together and plaster the exterior. The floor consisted of a mixture of cow dung often smeared with animal fat and blood polished to a high gloss.
There is usually only one door and not many windows. The openings were originally covered with animal hides as there was no wood available to make proper doors or shutters. The high ceilings and thick walls provided excellent shelter – The Corbel houses were cool in summer and the walls retained the heat of the winter sun.
One of the unique features of these houses is that large flat stones protruding out of the dome at regular intervals. This was an ingenious solution to a unique problem. No wood – no ladders. These were used to stand on when the dome was built and also to reach the large flat stone placed at the top which could be removed for ventilation.
WILLISTON ROAD - THIS CORBELLED HOUSE IS CLOSE TO THE MAIN ROAD AND CAN EASILY BE TURNED INTO A SELF CATERING COTTAGE. PRESENTLY A STOREROOM. THE FARMER WITH HIS JACK RUSSEL "JAKKALS" IN TOW STOPPED AND TOLD US THAT ITS HASN'T RAINED IN SIX MONTHS
Corbel houses usually had outside cooking area and a Jacuzzi. The houses have survived for close on two centuries and one wonders whether its coincidence that very similar structures are found in Mali and also in the Mediterranean countryside – a building style that’s been around for some 4,000 years.
OSFONTEIN CORBELLED HOUSE
OSFONTEIN INTERIOR WITH IT'S BEAUTIFUL STACKED ROOF. THE YELLOW WOOD LINTEL ON TOP OF THE HEARTH IS ORIGINAL BUT THE PRESENT OWNERS HAVE NO IDEA HOW IT GOT TO THE FARM AS THESE DON'T GROW IN THE KAROO
Some Corbel Houses had been turned into tourist accommodation and we spend a night on one on the farm Osfontein between Carnavon and Loxton. It’s a great stopover when traveling through this area.
The Osfontein Corbel house had been mostly been kept as close as possible to how it used to be two centuries ago. A bathrooms in the original style was added and an electrical point for a small stove, microwave and fridge. The three roomed structure is lit with candles at night. There’s no cellphone or internet connectivity, no radio, no television – Quite a reality check for the Prince and I – both tech junkies who are used to be in touch at all times via social media and e-mail.
But it was absolutely wonderful to spend a night looking up at clear night-sky sprinkled with a constellation of bright stars. This is what I wanted – to get away from artificiality of Christmas in Jozi and this was the best way to acknowledge the existence of a God of my understanding.
(Oh ....I lied about the Jacuzzi)
OSFONTEIN LATE EVENING
I posted some photographs here – there’s a lot more in my Flickr album;
And there’s even more as they say in the Verimark ads. There are some Facebook albums about the Journey with The Prince and Captain Underpants, with commentary.