David Moseley

North by North west coast

2015-09-16 09:46

David Moseley

Thanks to my work, I’ve seen a lot of South Africa. This is surprising for a Capetonian, because most of us don’t know what happens at the end our street addresses. Never mind a knowledge of past, for us the neighbouring suburb is a foreign country.

My geographic education of the country started with university. When I passed the sign near Plettenberg Bay saying “Welcome to the Eastern Cape” that was my first foray into the area and the furthest I’d been from Cape Town. When I arrived in Grahamstown and saw men riding donkey carts I started to regret my decision to study so far from civilisation. After a week in the Eastern Cape, though, I knew I had found my “home”.

Since graduating, I’ve been back every year, sometimes more than once. My wife is from Grahamstown, her parents live there, my heart is in the city, and if ever an opportunity comes for us to head ‘east’, we jump at it.

Then, a week into my first job I was handed a plane ticket, entrusted with the company’s rickety old Citi Golf company car and told to spread my wings in Johannesburg.

I clearly didn’t spread far enough, because weeks after returning I was sent on assignment to Potchefstroom. I’ve been back twice since then; which is the equivalent of someone surviving a shark attack only to swim back to the shark to ask if it got it what wanted.

Durban. Tick. Drakensberg. Check (four times, in fact). Pretoria, Port Elizabeth, Hankey, Graaff-Reinet, Bloemfontein – where I had the honour of handing Os du Randt his Springbok jersey - check, check and check again.

Hell, I’ve even been to Benoni, and Soweto, which for an oke from the ‘burbs is almost (almost) tantamount to acknowledging that there is life beyond the V&A waterfront.

What the travelling has done, though, is open my eyes to life in South Africa. You can read and write all you want about this wild, nutty, beautiful country. But you have to see it to believe it.

The only provinces and places missing from my collection are Mpumalanga, Limpopo and the Northern Cape. That changed yesterday, when, thanks to Jan Braai’s National Braai Tour, I drove out of the Free State and past a road sign signalling I’d entered the country’s largest province (the Northern Cape, just in case you haven’t looked at a map recently).

Currently, I’m three days in to the National Braai Tour, bashing this out with the noise of the Augrabies Falls in the background. Actually, that’s a lie. From my window I can see a sign pointing to the falls. I’m really in the reception area of the Augrabies Falls National Park because it’s too damn hot to sit in a tent. It’s even too hot to drink beer. Okay, that’s also a lie.

The National Braai Tour is an initiative that Jan Scannell – the man behind National Braai Day and the Jan Braai persona – started last year in an effort to get people to visit parts of the country they have heard about but not necessarily seen in the flesh. Thirty teams of four joined ‘Braai’ for the first adventure, a number which has doubled for the 2015 edition.

Over the years Scannell and I have become friends, and this year he invited me to experience the Braai Tour first hand. I’ve also been conscripted into being the tour’s internal communication’s person, by virtue of, in Scannell’s words, “being the most eloquent” person here. So not only do I get to see the sights, but I also have to send countless whatsapp messages to the masses in an effort to get them from A to B. You can imagine how that’s working out.

This year’s tour started in Maselspoort – not named for a measles outbreak, but actually after a gentleman called Mr Mazel who once owned land in the area – and is currently at Augrabies Falls National Park, en route to the final destination of Tietiesbaai on the west coast.

So far, I’ve seen the Big Hole, which lives up to the hype of being a really big hole, and learned that the Northern Cape is the biggest province in South Africa (I’m one of those people who hasn’t seen a map lately). The province has also lived up to my expectations of it, which have been formed by reading books on the region that were published in the late 1940s.

These books, written by Lawrence Green, depict the region as a harsh, desolate landscape that left many adventurers either insanely wealthy or actually insane.

Others simply ceased to exist, like a South African constable Green writes of in ‘To The River’s End’, who was stranded in the desert when his horse bolted.

Farmers recognised the horse and immediately sent out a search party, but the constable was never found. Two years later his perfectly preserved skeleton was found, lying desperately next to a small whole he’d started to dig, presumably to catch some rain water.

Green, the unfortunate policeman and many others of that bygone era would be stunned to learn that an area that was seen in their time as a wild outpost of the Cape Province is now home to the world’s second biggest wine-producing operation. I have the internet, and that snippet of information was news to me.

From Kimberley to Augrabies it seems as though you cross the Orange River countless times. The river, as it was in 1867 when the first Orange River diamond was discovered, is the lifeblood of the region we have driven through. Rather surprisingly (to this first time visitor, at least), table grapes and citrus fruit are grown in the area, while there are vineyards as far as they eye can see.

We stopped at the Kakamas operation of the Orange River Cellars, which according to the wine makers there, is the largest wine cooperative in South Africa and in the southern hemisphere, as well as the second largest in the world (based on the amount of tons harvested).

Certainly Green and others of his time would be perplexed to see the rows and rows of vineyards along the river. Even for the modern ‘explorer’, the lush greens on one side of the road contrast starkly with the arid landscape on the other – and the jarring landscapes are often only separated by a thin stretch of tar.

The winemaker at Kakamas, George, says the Northern Cape is the most beautiful place in the country. His family has lived here forever. Looking out from a tiny patch of green grass and over the dry scrub towards a dull orange sunset, he offers without prompting, “I’ll never leave here. I love it.”

The idea of the National Braai Tour is to get South Africans’ to celebrate their country and appreciate our surroundings. So far I’ve learned a few things about South Africa and realised there is a lot more to be discovered.

The title of the tour also tells you something else; and right now I need to go and protect my potjie before the Augrabies dassies make off with the contents. A baboon has already skulled my muscadel.

Tomorrow it’s on to Springbok and the Namaqualand National Park, where large, burly men will skip gaily through the spring flowers.

- Follow @david_moseley on Twitter.

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