I was 16 when I first drove through the Karoo. The abiding memory of that trip was how sundry “polisiemanne” were peeved that I could be piloting a car through their backyard even though I was two years too young to have a SA licence. Sadly, for them, my Rhodesian licence was valid. I also remember the “miles and miles of bugger-all” feeling which hit me harder than any time previously when we had done the long journey by train. Perhaps that was helped by the lack of aircon in my mother’s Datsun 1200 and the summer heat, which made all four of us cranky. For many years, therefore, I was not a huge fan of the Karoo.
Image: Brendan Seery
Let’s face it, the place is only attractive for two hours in the morning and two hours in the evening. The intervening period is hell: in summer you bake and in winter you freeze. When the wind blows, you get covered in dust. Driving to the coast, I used to just want to get it over as soon as possible and I’ve done 1 200km journeys to the Garden Route to see family on multiple occasions in just one day. But last month, our two-week break in Knysna was founded on one thing: no rush. A stopover to break the trip was called for. Last time we did the trip, via Port Elizabeth, we opted to stay two days in the wonderful Mountain Zebra National Park outside Cradock. It’s sort of on the border of the Karoo and you get a lot more of the Eastern Cape type vegetation.
This time, because we wanted to go via the magnificent Meiringspoort, outside Oudtshoorn, we decided to renew our acquaintance with The Paddocks, at Kuilfontein outside Colesberg. There are five self-catering units, single and two-bedroom, with en suite bathrooms, as well as bed-and-breakfast cottage rooms called The Paddocks. Kuilfontein is always a welcome oasis, whether heading north or south. Invariably we arrive in the afternoon in the baking summer heat. But this time, the Karoo, sensing my wavering cynicism, decided to put on a spectacular show for us. For hours we watched the columns of heavy rainclouds ponderously marching over the horizon towards us.
Walker Bay evening, Image Brendan Seery
Surely, I thought, they will disgorge their rain long before they get here. The skies grew ominously dark but surprisingly there was no accompanying thunder and lightning. Suddenly the wind was upon us and the rain followed. For almost an hour, it pelted down, damming up next to the patio of our unit in The Paddocks. Just as suddenly, it was over. And, as the sun came out and a rainbow speared into the hills in the distance, I thought: I am sitting smack in the middle of the dictionary definition of Paradise. The world was full of the fresh smell of promise, and hope. Hope, because the Karoo is proof that a tough environment produces tough people, animals and plants. The Karoo has been through repeated cycles of drought, but even after the most devastating, the cycle of life continues. A lesson in there for all of us in these dark, threatening times: One day we’ll welcome the rainbow…
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