Clem Sunter

The soul of the Klein Karoo

2011-12-28 08:05

Without doubt, one of the most picturesque parts of South Africa is the Klein Karoo.

Forget about Mick Jagger singing about getting his kicks on Route 66. There are far more kicks to be had sightseeing on Route 62, the road that winds its way through the Klein Karoo with mountains on either side.

My wife and I took our old Land Rover Discovery (the one where the spare wheel is prominently displayed on the back, not discretely underneath) down to the Western Cape from Johannesburg.

Fire, bottles and a Boxer

The first night we stayed on a farm just outside Colesberg, where the former stables for the horses have been converted into luxurious overnight accommodation. It does a roaring trade in commuters going north and south as the "halfway house". In the old days, it would have been where your stagecoach changed horses while you partook of victuals and porter around a blazing log fire.

The second night we spent in Prince Albert, having gone through Meiringspoort and had lunch in De Rust. The restaurant introduced me to a practice widely used in the area which we now call multi-product marketing - don't just sell banking but offer your customer insurance as well. In the case of this restaurant, besides the meal all kinds of articles were on offer from old bottles to travelling bags for your shoes.

Prince Albert in itself reminds me of Graaff-Reinet and Greyton. It has been discovered and done up, but still manages to retain the rustic tranquillity of a village in the middle of nowhere. The lodge where we stayed had a young Boxer called Baxter who kept us company at breakfast along with two "swallows" who spend half the year in Knysna and the other half in Shrewsbury in England. The local olive farm did good business with us since it became the principal source of Christmas presents for our friends in the Western Cape.

Next level

It was the following day that our trip took off to a different level. About ten minutes outside Prince Albert, you turn right onto a dirt road and go through the Swartberg Pass. It has to be one of the best drives you can do anywhere in the world.

The rocks have crazy patterns and come straight out of the earth. Then you go over the top and there in all its splendour is the Klein Karoo extending down the valley as a colourful patchwork of small farms. Driving down the dirt road through Groenfontein to Calitzdorp, we zig-zagged our way through farms and close to abandonded houses which suggest that life can be pretty tough and transitory if you are running a small agricultural enterprise.

At Calitzdorp, you turn onto Route 62 where we shared lunch with a pet ostrich at a cafe. Opposite was a church at the top of which existed a clock with arbitrary chimes that took you into a different world of time. We stayed on route 62 through Ladismith, past the radioactive springs and Ronnie's Sex Shop and turned off at Barrydale to Swellendam.

A time before

That brief glimpse of the Klein Karoo made me realise that there was a life before management textbooks and all the jargon that they have created; before we called people human resources; before being part of the value chain and becoming customer-centric; before measuring return on capital employed and discounted cash flow; before psychometric testing and performance appraisals; before corporate governance and financial transparency; before the whole obsession with capital gains and growth in market share and earnings.

I guess the soul of the Klein Karoo can be summed up in the idea that you do not have to be an investment banker in Johannesburg, London or New York to lead a successful and worthwhile life.

You can be a pillar in your local community and live among beautiful surroundings instead. Die Hel - a place we chose not to visit off the Swartberg Pass - is when you lose sight of the fact that the ordinary can be very satisfactory. Hmm!

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