After our last supper in Calvinia we walked out of town along the road to Nieuwoudtville to view the intense sky without the light pollution from the town. I need to do that again, probably near Sutherland. To lie on my back and stare into the heavens. Essential kit will include an ultra warm sleeping bag. That night the temperature in Calvinia was 1°C. I believe it had surpassed 30°C during the mid-afternoon.
Sad as it was to leave Calvinia with so many unfulfilled plans, the next leg of our journey contained one of its defining highlights: the Tankwa Padstal. This was supposed to be a pub crawl, after all.
If you look at a map, there is only one obvious way to get from Calvinia to the padstal; 167km in a straight line down the R355 to Ceres. Only, when I tried to plan the journey using Google maps, it was determined to take us on any other route than the R355. The preferred option was 223 km via Middelpos. While it was tempting to explore the home of Anthony Sher’s excellent novel about his presumed smous (peddler) ancestors, that would have meant an extra 56 km between us and mecca.
A brief inquiry in Calvinia before setting off suggested that the R355 was “fine” and definitely the best way to get to the Tankwa Padstal.
Three-and-a-half kilometres later, we turned off the tar on to the R355’s gravel. There was a bakkie (ute, small pickup truck; sometimes Afrikaans words are just better) stopped on the other side of the road with its owner flagging us down. My heart sank. Was this an omen?
As I wound down the window the gentleman, who seemed non-threatening, asked: “English or
I professed to having some knowledge of Afrikaans. He asked if we were going all the way to Ceres. The Tankwa Padstal was mentioned and he was satisfied. It turns out there was a “Camino” taking place from Calvinia to Ceres but that the walkers weren’t anywhere near the padstal yet. Our new friend was a benefactor donating some “pampoene” and we could save him the trip. How could we refuse?
He made several trips back to the bakkie to retrieve three large boxes, which we thought was a little
cheeky, given the smallness of our rental car. But we’d agreed. After he sped off gratefully, Richard and I peered into the first box. Fed was standing by baffled. I don’t remember if it was Richard or me that blurted: “These are not pampoene and they are all vrot.”
We had to explain to Fed that pampoene were pumpkins, that these were in fact butternuts and that vrot meant that they were way past their sell by date (you see, the superior Afrikaans word strikes again).
Just as we were setting off again and approaching our cruising speed, a big black 4x4 came roaring past, going in the same direction and drowning us in a cloud of dust. A few expletives later, and having focussed on the gorgeous Bloukrans Pass for the next 20 km, we came across the offending vehicle again, this time changing a wheel at the side of the road. Smugly slowing, we wound down a window and asked if we could help.
“Ag, we’re OK thanks,” the driver replied, adding, “this R355 is notorious for punctures.”
We had gone just far enough for our disquiet to subside and our smugness to solidify when a tell-tale
plop plop plop sound reared its ugly head from our offside rear wheel. Our spare was at the bottom of a tightly packed boot and our luggage was strewn on the side of the road when the 4x4 approached from behind. He stopped and offered help. We had the situation covered and were just about to decline when one of my compadres whispered, “Why don’t we give him the pampoene?”
Somewhat reluctantly Mr 4x4 agreed. As he loaded the boxes into his bakkie he peered in.
“But they’re all vrot,” he complained.
I must say we were a little relieved that we weren’t going to be the ones to palm them off on to the caminoistas.
One puncture down on this “notorious” road and no spare left was a bit stressful. Quite a few kilometres later we came across a bunch of signs. Most of them were a bit knackered looking but one stood out. It was bright, shiny and professional and proclaimed “Tyre Shop”. Our excitement was a little tempered by the less ostentatious sign underneath explaining that it was 7 km and 3 gates away.
We persevered anyway. The road deteriorated dramatically after the second gate and we questioned the probability of a further puncture on the way to the tyre shop.
We were close to turning back when we came over the brow of a particularly difficult hill to see the
Tankwa tented camp sprawling before us. This is the home of AfrikaBurn, the South African equivalent of the Burning Man festival. The Tankwa area is a bit like a moonscape anyway and the relics of burned out sculptures gave this part of it a feeling of the aftermath of Mad Max.
As we descended there was a reassuring sign directing us to the tyre shop and another asking us to report to reception.
We steered straight towards the tyre shop.
This was where the reassurance ended. It was a somewhat makeshift barn filled mainly with detritus including some dead mountain bikes. There was a pile of pretty shredded tyres, though, so we decided not to give up just yet.
We went in search of reception. A sign pointed to a “TV lounge”. There was no one in sight so we walked in to find a collection of old car seats tastefully arranged and looking out at the Tankwa. Sublime blues/rock was emanating from the next room. This turned out to be a rather fine bar, which, in turn, led into the reception area. Only there was no receptionist and, no matter how much we rang the bell, one did not materialise.
Feeling despondent we were returning to the car when a smiling face appeared from the camp on the
other side of what looked like a dusty parade ground.
“Can I help you?” he asked.
“Can you fix a tyre?” we chorused.
“I can’t but there is a man somewhere around who can,” he replied rushing off in search of this person.
He reappeared not long after with another young smiling person.
“Are you the chap who can fix our tyre?” we chorused again.
“No, but I know a man who can (a bit of poetic licence there), I’ll see if I can find him.”
He set off with us in pursuit. As we rounded a building we came across a third chap simultaneously
donning a trouser clip and mounting a bicycle facing in a direction that would take him away from us.
Happily he saw us out of the corner of an eye and spun around grinning.
“What can I do for you?”
We repeated our chorus and, with no further ado, he whipped some keys out of his pocket and opened a large container standing next to the detritus shed. The door swung open and our spirits soared. The place was tidily kitted out for repairs.
John (for that turned out to be his name) brought out the appropriate tools, a tub of goo and some strips of stuff that looked somewhere between processed dried fruit and dog shit. First he extracted the offending article that resembled exactly the tip of a stone-age arrow. In a trice he had inserted the all-gooed-up strips and was testing the tyre in an old enamel bath filled with water that was standing nearby.
“All done,” John pronounced, rolling the tyre back to the car. I must say that it now definitely looked as if we had run over dog shit. It still did a bit, too, several thousand kilometres later when returning the car to its rightful owners in Durban.
“That road back to the R355 is pretty bad,” I said querulously. “What happens if we get another puncture on the way out?”
“Then you’ll just have to come back,” John chuckled.
Richard, who was shelling out the necessary, very small, amount in payment, asked a little cheekily if we could get a drink in the bar, eyeing up the threesome who had come to our aid.
“Of course,” replied John, “I can do that, too.”
We repaired to what turned out to be the Onverklaar Bar, another of the Karoospace 21. We hadn’t thought we had had time to get there but who’s going to look a gift horse in the mouth. Happily standing with beers in hand, our three most charming hosts smiling from behind the bar, we find that
John is from Zimbabwe and his two helpers are from Malawi.
Everywhere we have encountered Malawians and Zimbabweans, and it seems they are everywhere in the hospitality trade (including the aforementioned Travellers Rest), they have impressed us with their well-mannered eagerness to help.
“Do you want some snuff?” John interrupts the reverie.
“It’s free,” John proceeded to load snuff into two small receptacles in a metal strip atop a Heath Robinson contraption. It was clear that he was going to hit the other end with a wooden mallet he had in his hand.
Richard and I thoughtfully allowed Fed to go first. With his nostrils perched on a guide just above the
snuff and his eyes closed as instructed, John proceeded to whack the mallet down, propelling the powder into our friend’s nose.
Having seen Fed come out of it unscathed, I too had a go. Very pleasant it was, too. Just what the doctor ordered to dislodge days of Karoo dust from one’s proboscis.
Before leaving, John asked us what we thought a blackened indentation in the bar counter top was. We had no idea. He seemed pleased at this and explained that it had been made by a biker doing a burn out with his rear wheel lifted on to the counter.
Such is life in the Tented Camp.
We made it back to the R355 without further incident, now feeling pretty peckish and really looking
forward to the Tankwa Padstal. En route we passed the camino walkers trudging along, some of them
carrying flags. As we sprayed them with dust we couldn’t help wondering how they would be feeling
when discovering that today’s hard earned victuals were to be vrot pampoene.
We should’ve learned not to be smug.
We finally arrived at the padstal for our next Broomfield moment.
It is closed on Wednesdays. It was Wednesday.
Luckily Richard had some padkos (another perfect Afrikaans word meaning road food) that sustained us until Matjiesfontein.
As soon as we got there we repaired to the Laird’s Arms Pub where, drinks in hand, Richard and I were too cool for school to partake in a ride on a red London double decker bus, despite the persuasiveness of the Victorian-costumed, bugle-wielding, local impresario.
Fed fell for his charms, however, and thoroughly enjoyed the experience, which included a 100 metre journey up the main street of the restored town and a tour of the Lord Milner Hotel, where we ate in some style a little later.
Between Matjiesfontein and pausing at the airport, we stopped for lunch at one of the Cape's oldest wineries where two of us embarrassed our third podner by posing with frames celebrating Spier's establishment in 1691.
And so to a brief respite in our Karoo travels. Richard to the Tugela Falls to photograph them with his
drone, Fed back to Turin and me to Hermanus to catch up with my gorgeous family. Actually Fed came to Hermanus for a few days, too, and caught up with some whale watching.
Three generations of Eriksen descendants catching the winter sun. L to R Kate, Shelley-ann and matriarch, Judy, now aged 91 and still looking amazing. Kerry (a.k.a. Kinx) took the picture.