Last week 2 friends and I and a Peugeot took a 4 day roadtrip to Cape Town. We decided that to drive the national road was just a fate worse than death, and chose, instead, to take the rout through the Karoo – the exquisite, desolate, semi-desert that covers most of the south-western area of South Africa. I love the Karoo. It’s empty and vast; boiling hot by day and cool by night, and somehow I feel like I can think more clearly when I’m there.
It’s full of small towns and snot-nosed kids and scruffy dogs and cottages with wide stoeps, designed to catch the breeze and keep you cool. The lamb you eat in the Karoo is the best you’ll ever taste – we don’t bother to call it “free range” becuase that’s the only kind you can get. Milk comes in recycled 2L Coke bottles, straight from the cow, thick with cream and almost beige, not thin, pale and white. Every small town has at least 2 butcheries, selling fresh meat, home-made boerewors and lamb chops, but the real treat is Karoo biltong, made from beef or, if you’re lucky, springbok. We bought beef biltong, nice and wet and chewy in a paper bag and grazed all the way to Cape Town.
We read Drummer Hodge by Thomas Hardy to each other as we sped through the dry flatness. It really is an incredibly sad poem, and brings me out in goosebumps every time.
We listened to good tunes, and counted windmills and waved to kids on the side of the road. We saw sheep and cows and springbok and warthogs and eagles. We stopped to spit in the Orange River and emerged, on Day 3, into the oasis of Prince Albert, the prettiest town with the best olive oil in South Africa.
It’s hard to really describe what the Karoo looks like, becuase it’s such a shifting landscape. At different times of day, the sand and rocks takes on different colours, and the vegetation changes all the time.
I know it’s verboten to say things like this, but I really do get a little bit of a thrill when I look up at the sky in this country.