There are so many ways in which I’d like to start this story, but I only have one chance…
“So, after 700km, we finally got wonky weather. We’d hoped for snow, but we got rain & floods. We’d also hoped for it to be in Sutherland, 350km from Cape Town, but we got the wonky weather right back where we had started 2 days earlier…”
“Us city-dwellers were chased out of town; word had spread about us”
“I can only see one explanation for the way we were treated at the restaurant, and I don’t even like to admit it. But as the only table with people of colour on it, and the only table not to receive service of any kind, one can only make one deduction.”
“it is a pity that, in the middle of the ever-more-beautiful Karoo, that the village of Sutherland fails so dismally to live up to the expectations of a cheerful and hospitable place. The charm and warmth is distinctly lacking”
“the farmers driving the bakkie that had passed us minutes ago must have been wondering how we would do it, but Geronimo (the low clearance Golf cabriolet) managed to cross the Doring River today with aplomb. Besides that, he crossed several rocky streams and a few massive puddles. He was quite the 4×4 cabriolet!”
“it may have been the last day of the school holidays, it may have been the day everyone came back from Knysna, and it may have been pouring with rain – but by sticking to the very back roads, we managed to avoid traffic jams altogether. Of the 350km we travelled today, about 250km were new to me. How awesome!”
We had a great weekend away – even though not everything transpired quite as planned or as expected, but on the whole, I wouldn’t change much – we had laughs and tears, we had warmth and coolth, we had silliness and seriousness, but above all we had an adventure, filled up the experience bank a little, with super friends.
The idea was to go to Sutherland, see some stars through SALT (Southern African Large Telescope) and hope for some snow. There was always going to be a snow vs stars debate, as they are generally mutually exclusive. In the end the stars won. Sort of.
On Friday night and Saturday during much of the day it rained, meaning that the afternoon obvservatory tour was OK, as it didn’t involve any star-searching (not counting the middle aged dame that kept telling me I look like Roger Federer…). We saw the large telescope inside with an 11 metre mirror in the base. It is truly an exquisite machine to see. The evening tour we gave a miss, as it was still overcast, and no matter how amazing a telescope is, it can’t see through the clouds (yet?). And besides, the 4 degree temperature (wind chilled to around 0) promised some white powder.
But it was not to be, and when we left the house for dinner on Saturday evening, the sky was clear. MC would rather have been playing with his telescope, but we went through to dinner, strong in the hope that the skies would still be clear.
2 hours later we were back, the sky still empty of clouds, and our stomachs still empty of food. We’d gone to a local eatery named after one of the planets, and sat down at the table we booked. After about 10 minutes of trying to catch someone’s eye, we spoke to the waitress who said she needed 5 minutes, but we could order drinks at the bar so long. Which we did.
After another 20 minutes, we stopped the waitress again and asked whether we could order. She requested yet another 5 minutes. After less than one, she arrived back at the table and stood there. She didn’t speak a word. So I asked my fellow ‘diners’ what they would like, and she took the orders.
About an hour and 15 minutes later we asked where our food was, and were told that it would be another 15 minutes or so. By unspoken mutual consensus we all got up, tried to pay for the drinks, didn’t get any joy, so left some money on the table and left the building.
This is when the waitress suddenly decided to speak to us. Telling us that the food is almost ready, that we can’t leave. We mentioned, very politely, that we had had no service from the start. That it seemed something had bugged her about us from when we arrived, and that if she was so very busy, a quick, “sorry, I’ll be with you in a minute” would have more than sufficed to keep us happy. But alas, not a word was said, let alone an apology. MC even mentioned to her that Karoo towns are known for the liveliness and charm, and that she had shown none of that. Her last words, “dan is ek bitter jammer” were too little too late.
As it turns out, we had enough leftovers at home, and we could get some stargazing in as well! It was so incredible to see the (very faint) rings of Saturn and the tiny speck of its moon Titan. It was great to see a larger white speck through the telescope and know that the presence of 3 of its moons means it was Jupiter. But it was truly amazing to see the moon through the telescope and see the craters on the surface. Makes you feel very small.
We also spent part of the weekend wandering through the graveyards in the area – including one well after dark on Friday night, armed with only a head torch. It was not at all scary / freaky or spooky. In fact the limited light gave it a certain atmosphere. It’s hard to explain, but I really enjoy walking through graveyards looking at headstones, dates, names, and even the names of the gravestone makers. It can tell you so much. And in this town, these were some of the more charming hosts.
Sunday MH and I were left to our own devices, and when we got the feeling that chilling in the guest house lounge was not really an option, we took ourselves on a drive through the town and its township, taking lots of pictures. We finally left town, and headed towards Matjiesfontein. 100km from Sutherland, we had entered that town on Friday, roof down, “it’s raining men” blaring on the stereo, having a great time in the sunshine. We’d continued with the roof down all the way up the pass to Sutherland.
Now we were heading and down again, and just beyond the “Danger! Fasten seatbelts and remove dentures” sign on a side road, we spontaneously turned off onto a dirt road in the direction of Ceres. With a quick glance at the fuel gauge (should be enough) we ventured onto a road that we knew nothing about.
And 110km later we still had enough fuel left, had passed only about 5 homesteads, and seen 3 other vehicles. But we had seen some of the most beautiful Karoo scenery. Low green fynbos shrubbery, lonesome trees, flat topped hills, rolling hills, lots of rocks and rocky outcrops, vast open plains and the road winding through beautiful narrow valleys.
My car doesn’t exactly have the highest clearance, so I had to take it slow each time we ventured through or over one of the very many streams that crossed the road. As you can imagine these streams could be quite deep or stony. But Geronimo took it all in his stride. We stopped once to check the depth of a suspicious looking puddle, but it wasn’t too deep, and we got through just fine. We did get a bit of a fright when we were suddenly confronted by the Doring River though. Not a particularly deep river, it was nonetheless flowing, it looked deep, and had a lot of what looked like soft beach sand in and around it.
For a moment we despaired that we would have to drive 70km back to the Sutherland road, but this I didn’t want to do. So I rolled up my jeans 80s style and waded through…the…cold… water…
The lack of depth was joined by a concrete base to the river on the opposite end, and this made me confident that we could cross. To keep the car light, MH also had to wade across the river, much to his amusement!
But we made it, and had no further hurdles to cross.
We managed to stay on off-the-usual-path roads from Ceres to and through Tulbagh, then through Church Street to Malmesbury and from there the back road to Durbanville.
One of the things I try to do in life is to have as many experiences as possible. Under the motto, “try most things in life at least once” i hope to not only have lots of fun, but to also broaden my frame of reference; to understand where certain feelings, fears, emotions, etc come from, and ultimately to understand my fellow human beings better.
It may not have been cold enough, but we had a lovely weekend 🙂