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Published: June 23rd 2016
Remarkably similar to the Canadian prairies
Each of the last few days, I have thought “there’s not much today”, and each day has been full of activity and emotion.
Our day started with driving into the Karoo. I had mistakenly thought the Great Karoo
was a desert, but it is a semi-arid climate, similar to southern Alberta or, to our American companions, Arizona. The trees disappeared, except where planted around farmhouses, and “rhino grass”, a tough little bush, took over the landscape. Small hills dot the land that once was an inland sea. The conical mountains, so like the Lesotho hats, were built by underwater volcanoes during Earth’s Gondwana
phase (before the current continents). (This we learned in the evening but saw clearly in the daytime.) The Karoo is bordered on the south by the mountains and extends to the west. There is little surface water, and only the advent of the windmill allowed people (Boers) to farm by tapping into water on top of the granite bedrock. All along, many smallish termite and ant mounds dot the fields otherwise devoted to cattle and sheep.
we stopped to see a blockhouse high above the town, a former defensive fortification built by the British. Mainly
Memorial for those who died in the struggle for democracy
it functioned as a lookout point. In the town, we visited the excellent local museum, full of artifacts mostly from the Boer era. However, the ubiquitous Victorians were also much in evidence with their furniture, sewing machines, clothing, and so on. Also, to my surprise and satisfaction, there was a large tribute to Steve Biko
, a leader whose death, in my mind, was one of South African’s tragedies.
On walking down the main street, I came across a prominent monument to the “Struggle Heroes”, honouring local people who died trying to bring democracy to South Africa. More names than I might have expected. Nearby was a U-shaped building with the public library in one wing. Of course I had to check that out. It was modest and full of warm natural light. I introduced myself to the librarian; while I was looking around, she spoke to an official. This led to an invitation to the other wing, home of the municipal government; they even invited me to sit in on the council’s deliberations. Not possible, but I was impressed with their openness and hospitality.
On we continued down the road, past Steynsburg
. We continued to wonder at the inequity
Karoo Country Inn
Just imagine relaxing on the veranda.
even of a free RDP (Reconstruction and Development Program
) or Mandela house (named for his policy), compared to the usual middle class houses. The poor (Blacks) continue to suffer, but their lives are usually improving. In the evening, our guide, Chantelle, explained why as fast as new houses are built, more people move to town: when farmers buy their neighbours’ land, they keep only their own workers, thus a lot of farm workers are displaced from the purchased land.
we had coffee and tea at an old, large place called The Karoo Country Inn
. Many public rooms, including the Ladies Bar, have been conserved as they were in the late 1800s.
Similarly, a couple of hours later, we pulled into our overnight hotel, the Karoo Park Guest House
. It was an old, well-appointed, single-storey hotel with conserved public rooms and modernized bedrooms – at least mine is. The lovely spa-inspired bathroom included a claw-foot tub, which I soaked in after a walk through town.
Our “light lunch” included bunwiches and a substantial salad – mine was calamari. There were also fruit salad and yogurt, but I passed. In the two hours between lunch and our next activity, I walked a few blocks into town,
diverting to take pictures of some of the many homes dating to the early 1800s. Several churches were also historic, as were the fronts of some shops.
Our activity at 4:30 was more than ever expected. Chantelle, daughter of the hotel owners and entrepreneur, took us into the Camdeboo National Park
. She was an expert spotter, helping us to see Leopard Tortoise
, Red Hartebeest
, Cape Mountain Zebra
(an endangered species returned to viability by this park), and Kudu
. The Kudu were particularly hard to see. Also she drove us to a viewpoint to see the town and the Valley of Desolation
, which is actually a rock formation above a valley. All around us were gathering lightning and thunderstorms, which worried Chantelle not at all. We drove further to a parking point where we could climb the last 200 metres to the top of the mountain of the Valley of Desolation. This seemed dubious in a lightning storm, plus my camera battery failed. I decided I had taken lots of good photos and retreated to the vehicle where Betsy sensibly waited.
Our promised sundowner took place in the picnic shelter with rain and lots of lightning flashing in the hills and mountains. Chantelle spoke frankly about South African
Valley of Desolation
Rock formation of fearsome appearance!
social and political problems. She is so committed that she plans to run in municipal elections in 2016. Finally we took photos and departed for an excellent dinner at the hotel.
Dinner: grilled (outdoors) lamb chops, lamb sausage, roast potatoes, mixed stir-fried vegetables, beet salad, coleslaw, individual apple pies, and lots of white wine. Chantelle told us a tall tale, accompanied by a shot of something special unspecified as to origin. View map of route to date.
I recommend reading The Great Karoo
by Alberta novelist, Fred Stenson, about men from Southern Alberta who fought in the Boer War in the area of the Great Karoo.
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