It is here

Tomorrow marks a year since I shoved the last of the blankets and sleeping bags into the car and prepared for the Groot Trek. Joziburg™ to the Garden Route.

It is the biggest step that I had ever made in my life. Uprooting myself from my hometown, ripping my teenager away from her friends, bundling the dog and the parrot into a combustion-engined metal box, and sending the whole lot of us hurtling down the N1 and beyond.

People sometimes say that things like this feel just like yesterday – I beg to differ in this instance. It feels like it happened to another person. I have to look at TimeHop or my Facebook history to grasp the enormity of what I did, and even then… I am bamboozled by some of the images and observations.

I was exhausted, so utterly and completely exhausted, that I no longer paid attention to the “things I must do”. Luckily, I’d had the foresight to plan the journey to last three days – as opposed to the two days that most holidaymakers would – so we only drove for a little under three hours before our first stop outside Bloemfontein._DSC7336.JPG

We had been sleeping on the floor at our old house because the removal truck had taken everything away five days before, so the sight of real beds with real mattresses was incredibly welcome. Add to that a delicious solid dinner provided by an attentive hostess…we were sated.

The following day we headed for Colesberg where we had more comfortable accommodation, along with a meal fit for royalty – Karoo lamb at a truly sublime restaurant.

On the third day, the “big stretch” beckoned. Colesberg to Knysna.

I need to detour a bit here. Some ten or so years ago, I was in a car accident that left me with a deep-seated fear of driving. Imagine now, how I coped with over 1000km of horizon-busting tar? They say “suck it up, buttercup”. So that’s what I did. Sucked it up. No one would be there to save me. If I had a meltdown alongside the road, I would not be able to send an SOS and have some white knight rescue me. Shrinking violets never last long in the Karoo.

And so we headed for Uniondale via Graaff-Reinet.
The parrot would occasionally make an observation, in her very avian lingo. The dog would whine every few hours for a toilet break. The teenager would comment about the lack of food.

We dealt with it. The properly polite dog accompanied us into a restaurant, and the parrot held court in the front seat of my car (windows rolled down a bit) while a very chilled carguard looked askance at the car containing said parrot, while we ate.

Parrot, teenager, and dog all napped while I drove through the Valley of Desolation beyond Graaff-Reinet.

Lootsberg Pass – a trip down memory lane from road trips past as a child.

Uniondale. And a short resurrection from sleep for the teenager, who was looking for the ghost._DSC7342.JPG

Unsurprisingly, Uniondale up until the turnoff towards the Outeniqua Pass was scenic – but I was the only one who saw it. And I loved it. I know now that it is a trip I need to do again so that I can extract the astringent juices of experience from it.

We stopped halfway down the pass. I had an amazed teenager. A bursting dog. And a nonchalant parrot.

We had done what I had only imagined we could do.

And we are here. One year later.

Make no mistake: it has not been easy. I have drawn on reserves of faith in myself that I didn’t know I had. (My faith is in myself, and nothing else.) I have stared into the darkness, at 3am, trying to justify this piece of madness. Asking how I did it. Why I did it.

And yet? What else could I do? I am the master of my fate. I hold the keys to my success. I may need help and love and support, but at the very end it is only I who will be deciding.

I decided. I did. Here I am.

 

 

 

Start in the Middle

Many intriguing books or movies start the story in the middle. This allows the reader or viewer to ponder what came before. Why are the characters doing this? How did they get there? What will they do next? Does the past have a significant impact on their next move?

I’m here in the middle, making a new start. What came before is what brought me here. What brought me here is what affected me before. Life and endless circles. And endless running around.

Yeah, yeah, I’ve been slack. Four months of blog silence.

Why?

Because, winter. Oh, dear gawd, winter. Why did I arrive in the Garden Route during one of its coldest winters in memory? I brought my Joziburg™ assumption with me – that the Garden Route has one of the world’s most moderate climates (on average). Alas, I forgot about El Niño, which decided to turn the lovely southern Cape coast into North Antarctica this year.

Staying in furnished, rented accommodation that had a view second-to-none did not compensate for the icy howling gales that razored across the hillside where I lived. Luckily for me – and my teenage offspring – we found a house to buy, in George, closer to school and Things That Matter.

And so we have moved – to a home with a view to the mountains that soar almost 1500m to the sky.

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A gentle garden, mixing an English eccentricity with African forest. Birds that chirp and shriek and serenade, whilst stuffing their beaks with bounty from the feeder, or ending up as morning tea for the resident leopard-cat-tiger. Little thug! I had to dispose of the bloody remains of two fledglings, which were being butchered on the carpet in the passage. Two! He must have felt like a shopper who’d scored a two-for-one bargain in the bin nearest the checkout.

Right now, the house is an obstacle course of flattened boxes, half-unpacked boxes, toppling-over boxes, lurking boxes, boxes for charity, boxes with re-assigned contents, and STUFF spread out all over the place. I’ve made great progress in reducing the box population from almost 100 containers to roughly a dozen. Furniture that had specific uses back in Joziburg™ has been repurposed – the hall table is now in my bedroom because it simply looks better there. A lamp that lurked in the library is now spotlighting my desk. The whole process is almost a rite or a festival of new choices. Christmas with a twist?

My very astute daughter said to me recently that our Joziburg™ home was the cocoon and that we are now the butterflies in a new garden. It’s an interesting analogy. And if you knew my old home you would see the parallels. Dimly-illuminated corners (albeit interesting ones) are now replaced by air and sunlight. A sense of space and openness. Big blue skies, grumbling folds of mountains, forested dells with delicate ferns and shy orchids, and dust roads that unravel through farms that slumber in the heat. Beaches that glow like amber at sunset, waves lacing their way through rocks, with sea birds standing sentinel as they contemplate dinner.

Start as you mean to go. From the middle.

 

Postcards at Dawn

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   They march across the dimly-lit horizon, massive worn-down teeth of a sleeping dragon – the Outeniqua mountains, just before sunrise. Ragged edges. Smooth slopes. Shadowed ravines. A purple haze that looms out of the gloom. Fields and forests and valleys coating the lower slopes and flatlands.

 

 

I’m doing the morning school run, driving parallel to this moving, shifting masterpiece. The sun is still well below the horizon, the clouds splay out above, catching fire from beneath because the sun is still so low.

Every turn in the road, every dip of a valley, reveals new things that make me happy I made this move.

Farm dams that mirror the sky, and the cows strolling like grey ghosts to drink, their reflections as perfect as upside-down twins. Sometimes I can tell that the cows have already been milked, other times I can see their bulging udders – relief is probably an hour or two away.

On a slope, a cluster of sacred ibis shake out their feathers as they preen momentarily. They could be preparing to leave for a new Garden-Route ‘larder’ or else they may have just landed and are gearing up for a day of intense foraging.

Closer to town, the horses in the paddocks at the showground continue grazing – their meals have no set time. Eating is about living to eat some more.

During the past few months, the roadworks in town have snarled up what there is of a rush hour. Traffic cops in safety vests glow green in the half-light as they direct cars, trucks, and buses across unmarked intersections.

The return journey shows the other side of the palette. The sun is behind me, poking long rays across the land and dabbing peachy washes of watercolour on the dragon’s teeth. It’s as if I am being pursued by a paintbrush loaded with light.

White egrets, in rough v-formations, stitch their way above me in my car on the road below. At sunrise and sunset I see dozens of these egret flocks – back in Joziburg™ I was fortunate if I saw two or three in a group. Here, they feast in the hundreds on the insect life thrown up by the farmers’ ploughs, and on the bug life kicked around by flocks of sheep and cows.

As I wind my way steadily westwards, the road twists and begins its descent to the shoreline. This is where I like to open my window a bit and grab a noseful of the coastal bush. It’s a smell like no other – I picture it as deep olive green, heavy, damp, dense. Imagine if I could bottle it?

On the last straight run to ‘my’ village I cross the river. The water is as smooth as polished glass, a mirror of the world above it. On the rusty old supports of the old rail bridge, the resident cormorant ignores me completely. He has better fish to find.

A Recipe for Laughter

There’s nothing I like more than seeing something that makes me laugh or really think about what took place…and sometimes I stare in amazement! My arrival in the Garden Route has been punctuated by a series of these moments.

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On the second or third day here, we were confronted by a donkiekar trundling the streets of George’s suburbs, sifting through residents’ rubbish bins and garbage. In Joziburg™ there are waste pickers too, but the guys on those operations pilot ricketty trolleys that look like they’ve been salvaged from a warehouse yard. Self-drive and potentially lethal when they steer them down steep hills, fully loaded. Meanwhile, George operates at a more gentle pace.

Then there were the two gentlemen, in York Street the other day, who had stripped off their shirts and were engaged in a serious bout of fisticuffs in the parking lot of a small shopping centre. Security guards looked on, benignly. I have no idea what prompted it, but they were quite clearly frustrated with each other.

At the Pacaltsdorp offramp from the N2, two tractors in the middle of peak traffic. No one blinked.

A Friday afternoon, in the village, a young man strolls along the pavement, strumming a guitar and serenading no one in particular. Further down the road, three girls swoop around and across the street on their bikes. Traffic? What’s that? One is dressed in her best frock and shoes. Clearly, cycling with friends is a proper occasion.

Outside Pick ‘n Pay, friends exchange news, asking about someone whose baby is a tad overdue. It’s easy to park, just pull into the slot right outside the door of said Pick ‘n Pay. Across the road in the neat and green park, some people have fishing lines in the river. Dinner, or maybe just a way of kuiering for a bit.

Oh, and it is true. Awê [ah-weh] really is a valid greeting if you’re conducting a conversation across the main street. Joziburgers™ tend to make a joke about Cape slang, implying it’s an affectation or a mockery. It isn’t. Awê.

On the road out of Blanco, there is a berry farm. Yes, a real farm where you can go pick your own real berries of all kinds. The only berries I’ve ever picked have been from the fruit section at Woolies!

Last week, we saw a whole field of mielies being harvested – indeed, they do not come clad in cling wrap, or from the trolley of a mielie lady. The following day, that same field was being ploughed under.

The pair of donkeys, creating another generation of donkeys, right next to the fence alongside the road. A black cow, on the farm in the village, that seems to stay in one place in the field, day after day. “There’s that cow again!”

And then: Manners. Politeness. People here will always greet you, even if you’re at the stop street with your window wound down, waiting your turn to go. The pedestrian who is crossing will say hello. The checkout lady will say hello and “wannabeg” [do you want a bag]. Mind you, even when your car window is closed, you will be greeted by a small wave or a tip of the head from a passerby. At first, I kept looking back to see who the recipient was…until I realised it was me.

Farmers, in their bakkies, parked either side of the road, having a chat across the sleepy R102 from George to Great Brak. They’re in shorts and big boots-with-socks, wearing tracksuit tops, and mashed hats on their heads. I wave. They do too.

People want to talk. To chat. To natter. I have found my home! Haha. I know I am notorious for simply yakking to anyone who seems to be a likely target; well, now I am a target too. It’s really nice!

Something else, George is a city of schools and colleges. So many kids walking to and fro at starting and finishing times, passing by each other, depending if they’re from the English school, the Afrikaans schools, the high schools, or the primary schools. Government schools, private schools, technical schools, special schools. Schools. Schools. Schools.

Finally, the wild life…

Guinea fowl in our little enclave. Kê-kê-kê-kê whenever they get skrikked and take off like feathered rugby balls. Vast flocks of cattle egrets that fly over at random times. Forktail drongos with a sweet call that belies their clumsy name. Francolins pecking alongside the road. The cheeky robins and wagtails that tease our cats. The waterfowl in the dams on the way to town. Sacred ibis digging in the marshy bits. Hadedas everywhere. Grey herons stalking grandly amongst the reeds. The odd raptor glaring from the top of a tree [note to self: start looking hard at Robert’s Bird Book].

On the beach: seagulls shitting everywhere. Terns (I think), crying across the lagoon, then freaking out when we get too close. In the shallows: barely visible, tiny fish darting in and out the shallows – instant fish pedicure if you have the patience to sit motionlessly and wait for them to find out if you’re edible… Hermit crabs fighting over who has the right to the bigger shell. I never see the end of that because something always disrupts the altercation.

In the house: oh my…the blackest, shiniest scorpion I’ve ever seen. He’d been clinging to my camera bag (or sheltering under it) and got dumped on the chair. I thought he was plastic at first. Not. Mild panic, fetch a glass and some cardboard, send him on his way over the wall.

Ants. Ants. AntsAntsAnts. To the point where our pets won’t even touch their food because the ants are capable of building ant bridges over the water that is supposed to protect the food. I surrendered to buying an ant trap. Either the ants die or my pets starve. No contest.

Shongololos. I love them. These are small buggers, though. But you have to jump a bit if you look like you’ll squish one. I prefer them whole, not mashed. They can be found everywhere in the house.

Ticks. Farksakes. Ticks. The worst of the lot. The dog went a-wandering last week and obviously visited the tick maternity ward on the hill. Unbeknownst to us, he brought several dozen little ‘pets’ back, and left them all over the duvets. Small dots of ‘black pepper’ all over the cotton. Yack. Yack. Yack. We brushed the dog until he was rather angry at the excessive attention. We washed the bedding. We vacuumed like demons. Tea tree oil has been spritzed everywhere, and flea-and-tick drops administered.

Oh, and then there’s the golden orb spider. But she knows her place. Outside. Strung between the potato bush and the abelia. She’s wise…stay out of our house and we’ll stay out of hers.

It’s like another country

george-south-africaThe words from my daughter as we drove down into George. Nothing I had described to her had as much impact as when she actually saw what we had thrown ourselves into.

It’s more South African and, yet, less South African. Or maybe, less Jozi. ….. Ok, definitely less Jozi!

The landscape is greener, the cows more plump. The mountains make the Magaliesberg look like pimples. The drive from Great Brak River (our temporary home) is filled with “oh my gosh” sights.

great_brakYesterday morning’s drive to school: the guinea fowl pik-pikking on the kerbside as we drove down out of the Tuscan-staail estate we are staying in; farm dams with mist rising off them – waterfowl glaring into the depths in search of breakfast; cattle clustered around a farmhand as he feeds them warm mash; a small plane taking off from the airport; the sun blinding me as I came up a hill and found myself stuck behind a bakkie – braking skillz FTW; the very short traffic jam from the traffic circle up to the turnoff to school; the drive back home (20 mins) to a quiet, hillside house where I can connect with my clients and sort out their requests.

And the day before that! Oh, my! Meeting the people I’ve been in contact with since early this year when I set out to become part of this community even before I arrived. Like lost friends, but an easy connection. Brainstorming, gossiping, chatting, jokes and stories.

There’s just one drawback…. my Joziburger™ impatience.

Househunting. Jeez. I am going to need to kick back and just chill about this issue.

It’s hard. Houses move w-a-y too fast. Not that they are anything to write home about. Oh no. Pretty kak. Or boring. Or overpriced. Estate agents bemoan the fact that stock sells within days. I’m actually wondering if they don’t all get together at the local Spur ribs-n-tjips night and plot on how to scare buyers into offering, just in case.

drive2skoolBut… I have a roof over our heads and food in the fridge. The teenager is in school. The cats have been liberated and are quite enjoying their new abode. The only problem is that the dawg has separation anxiety, all of a sudden. I need to sort this out.

Somehow.

P.A.C.K. is a Four-Letter Word

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One month to go.

One month before we hit the road and flee my beloved Joziburg™ to settle along the Garden Route.

One month of trying to hang onto my sanity…onto my visions of a tranquil future.

Today I thought it would be an excellent idea todeal with the CD/DVD collection. It was a Confucian blessing.

INTERESTING…

I am so not happy. Not at all happy. There are homeless discs. And there are discless boxes. And I know for certain that there is at least on album missing. I know who the culprit is.

About my height, in Grade 11, female. With a penchant for chaos…

I confess I am not the tidiest person around. I have an awfully short attention span – I get distracted in the midst of one task and trundle off to sort out another. Or I do something more interesting. Or read a book that I just found under a pile over there. Or get an amazing idea that needs instant web research.

But leaving lids off, or discs out, or having broken cases/containers/boxes? Other discs all shoved together in a totally random box?

NO.

There’s another four-letter word that ends in “C.K.” and I have a sense it is going to resound a lot more frequently in the next month.

 

 

Six million other trees

 

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In August last year, I started this blog. I was in a pensive mood, caught up in my own thoughts about being a Joziburger™. A love/hate relationship that was part of what I had been and what I wanted to be…an editorial graphic designer vs a free-agent-who-will-do-anything-that-makes-life-interesting.

Some 220-plus applications for jobs, only five-or-so interviews, and only two replies………..that hurts. I have a CV that I am proud of, achievements that are singular, places I’ve been and seen, projects that wouldn’t have worked if I hadn’t thrown myself wholeheartedly into them.

That’s when you look in the mirror and wonder if your career was all just smoke….and mirrors.

 

…yes, hurts…

 

And not long after the blog launched, I decided I was quitting Joziburg™. Time to follow the dream I’d had since I was a pre-teen – go to the Garden Route, or live in the Klein Karoo.

I’ve done it. The house is sold. The transfer has been signed. The high school for The Empress has been chosen. In 48 days I am on my way.

To another place that has countless trees!

So, Joziburg’s™ Six Million Trees are about to morph into the Garden Route’s Six Million Trees! I am not leaving in order to never return – Joziburg™ is MY town….but I am following my heart.

Dream on.