Retreating to Groenfontein

After surmounting the hurdle of some serious work deadlines and an art competition, it was time for a much-anticipated holiday to a little green patch of paradise: The Retreat at Groenfontein.

Chatting to a friend, the conversation went something like this:
Me: It’s about 45 mins away, but feels like the middle of nowhere.
Friend: So you live in the middle of nowhere and go on holiday in the middle of nowhere. Maybe it’s the same place.
Me: … Nowhere has a lot of middle in it.

Exactly. And we still plan to see ALL of it!

Thursday… more like Windsday

After a soupy lunch and a late departure from De Rust to Groenfontein, the husband and I took a fairly slow drive along the Oudemuragie back road towards Calitzdorp. And, while the scenery was spectacularly washed in afternoon winter sunshine, by the time we arrived at our oasis, everything in the bakkie was covered in dust. Fortunately we’d arrived in time for coffee and biscuits.

Having not slept much the night before and rushing around in the final stressful hours before slipping out of the clutches of normal life, the comfortable room was calling and I easily climbed under the soft throw on the bed and closed my eyes…

The Retreat really does live up to its name. For three days we occupied one half of the Weaving Shed, which contains a gloriously sized king bed, a beautifully cosy bathroom and a comfortable ‘lounge’ with a very effective ceramic fireplace. Outside, we took coffee on the veranda, which wrapped ¾ of the way around the Weaving Shed, offering lovely morning and afternoon sunshine. Coffee could be ordered at any time and was accompanied by delicious crunchie or choc chip cookies (or both).

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Dinner in the main house

Brought over from England (and assembled like a Lego set) in 1902, the main house at The Retreat is a huge Victorian jubilation of solid walls, high roof, curly gables and beautifully maintained doors and shutters. The large windows allow ample light in, despite the deep wrap-around veranda, and the interior design had me taking copious mental notes for my own Victorian home’s restoration (which can hopefully start soon…).

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Dinners at the main house are usually shared with other guests and we met a stunning couple from East London who’d ventured into this section of the middle of nowhere to enjoy hiking and biking and food and wine. Thursday’s three-course dinner was a delicious pork bone broth, followed by venison stew of kudu, braised in brandy and cooked in a red wine sauce with all the extras (think roast potatoes, cheesy cauliflower and broccoli, roast veggies and fresh salad). Dessert was a crème caramel with strawberries and blueberries… rounded off with the all-important coffee.

Tumultuous night

Stuffed and ready for bed after a long and dusty day, I descended under the covers after contemplating the flames of the fire… which was when a loud, boisterous berg wind blew through the mountains and down into the valley. The wind swept through the foliage outside our room, whipping trees around and hammering everything in its path… including something on the roof, which resisted the onslaught with a persistent plaintive squeaking noise that lasted… and lasted… for six hours! The roiling, rolling, thundering wind caused an unrelenting chaos in my head that no relaxation exercises or deep breathing could keep at bay. It was sleep deprivation torture and I thought I would go insane.

At 03:45 I got up to face this loud invisible demon, stumbling out of bed and peeking through the curtains: the bright light of the near-full moon cast dark shadows under the trees and shrubs that seemed to dance in a frenzied rhythm with the wind’s disorganised tune. I reasoned with myself: the cottage hasn’t blown away – you’ll be fine. Mr Rautenbach, however, continued to sleep fitfully, and if it wasn’t the wind and the squeaking keeping me awake, it was his restlessness.

I watched the clock tick over to 04:15 as the noise continued outside, and wandered into the mental territory of: What have I done to deserve this?! It was desperation of a different kind after that and I fell asleep because I just couldn’t help myself any longer.

Friday 11 August

Bleary-eyed and with a prickly tiredness that no amount of caffeine could smooth away, I pulled myself out of bed and into a somewhat vindicating shower (that bathroom is awesome, I’ll admit) before the husband and I made our way down to the main house for some breakfast. We were the first ones to the breakfast table (as the wind still pulled at our jackets and got in behind our ears), so I imagined that our coastal friends had also experienced the full brunt of the angry weather last night and chose to sleep in. When they did arrive at the table, their faces said it all… but we agreed: some hiking in the mountains would surely make up for it.

In spite of the wind, we were greeted at the table by a wide variety of bird life. From the two very tame Southern boubous, to around 30 weavers and a million mousebirds (as mousebirds don’t know how to travel in small numbers…).

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The feathered creatures were fed with a buffet of fruit and other feed, so our sit-down breakfast consisted of food and a show!

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Breakfast each morning was a choice of yoghurt or porridge, with nuts, stewed fruit, muesli, raisins, bran, fresh fruit (melon, pineapple and kiwifruit) and cheeses. This, followed by a choice of eggs (we opted for poached and omeletted, respectively) with fried tomato, bacon and a variety of sausages. And of course, freshly-squeezed fruit juice and – at this point, life-saving – coffee (or tea for the more well-adjusted in society).

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Pepped up on food and warm beverages (and a post-breakfast nap), we headed into the mountains to see how many of the walking trails we could find and follow, and distract the presence of the wind by moving our legs.

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It was a partly cloudy day, with some parts of our walk spent sweating in the sunshine and other parts spent pulling our hoodies up around our necks.

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The sounds of babbling water lead us further in towards the rock pools.

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After so much sleep deprivation, I was ready to jump!

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The beautiful noise of rushing water…

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We first found the rock pools (in summertime these will be easier to traverse as you’d just jump in and swim upstream) before doubling back onto the Klipspringer Trail, which required a bit of a climb up onto a ridge to the left of the farm. And we really did see the reason it’s called ‘Klipspringer’ – the sound of falling rocks gave away the presence of a buck fleeing over the stones, it’s furry white bum going thattaway

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See that winding trail? Yup.

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Incredible 360-degree mountain views that made me feel like I could stretch out and touch both sides of the horizon.

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Note the wind still on a warpath of craziness!!

After a two-hour walk, we arrived back at our cottage. What did we have for a lunch? That’s right: a nap.

Let me show you stuff in the meantime:

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One side of the Weaving Shed – also our front door for the weekend.

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I spent many an hour on that couch while the fire was going; writing and thinking (or just thinking…)

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The place of the afternoon naps!

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The place where I fulfilled my promises of whiskey and chocolates.

Do not feed the animals

You know that feeling when you wake up from an afternoon nap and you don’t know where you are? Best ever.

And then you go outside and fresh coffee and biscuits are waiting for you.

And what else is waiting for you?

That’s right: Misty. Misty’s waiting for you.

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Because Misty wants your Tim Tams.

That was the hardest I’ve ever had to resist a dog, but I respect the owners’ wishes that the dogs not be given treats. She still came back to sneaky-sneaky empty the milk jug, though 😦

Basking in the post-coffee haze of joy, there was one thing that could have made the day just perfect… and then it started falling: rain. The fact that the crazy-scary wind from last night could be transformed into the soft pattering sound of rain this afternoon is part of nature’s charm. If this kept up then all of last night’s forced wakefulness would be forgiven…

Friday dinner

I’ve been teetotalling for the most part for the last two years, and every so often I break my commitment to total sobriety and enjoy a drink. Tonight was one such occasion on which I partook of the amazingly non-sweet Boplaas Cape Ruby (port) as well as a superb wine at the dinner table. The snoek starter was followed by a tasty gammon (and I’m not really big on pork) with kei apple sauce (made from the kei apples directly from the garden) and a range of mustards; accompanied by roast vegetables (including the most delicious roast beetroot I’ve had in a long time), roasted greens, caulirice, roast potatoes and salad. This was chased with a tiramisu with strawberries and blueberries, and some lovely company to boot.

And then this is where the night ended…

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Saturday 12 August

After a night of rain falling on the roof (and no wind whatsoever) and a deliriously long 9-hour sleep, the temperature was considerably cooler and the world a little prettier.

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We enjoyed breakfast inside, then took a drive to Calitzdorp and ambled around a couple of wineries and shops. Evading the grasp of city life in C-dorp, we escaped back to the farm where I asked for some horse snacks with our afternoon coffee.

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These were not some snacks made of horses, but rather some bribe material so that I could keep the horses busy enough to let me get some photos of them.

Success!

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I was a little wary at first of shoving my hand into a horse’s mouth, but soon we became good friends… They got a little jealous of each other and – yes, I said it – horsed around.

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Never ones to shy away from a challenge, we decided to try the most difficult trail. Any guesses as to what it’s called…?

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Having seen and heard the baboons in the mountains, I expressed my concern, but Mr Rautenbach suggested I find a gun-shaped stick.

So I did. And it came with shotgun noises and everything.

Tsch-tsch… BOOM!

And so we began walking the relatively easy path… which was only relatively easy until it began to ascend rather steeply and rapidly. At one point it was a bit difficult to spot the blue and white painted markers… which was about the same time that my vertigo began to rear its head. Where my knees refused to bend, I pulled myself up by the hands… more mountain-hugging for this person right here. Where we couldn’t see the trail markers, we simply followed the flattened vegetation and the baboons’ own markings… of which there were plenty!

And soon we were on top of the world again.

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I can’t tell you the altitude, except that it was pretty damn high up. The Baboon Trail follows the ridge to the right of the farm and descends quite quickly again behind the paddocks, which are to the far left in this picture:

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All the baboons were in the ostrich fields (they didn’t like the noises my stick-gun was making) and they didn’t pay us any mind. We took a slow saunter back to the farm as patches of cloud broke apart and ushered in some gorgeous sunshine.

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Despite knowing we didn’t have anymore food for them, the horses were still friendly enough to come and say hello. I put out the back of my hand and as the horse sniffed, time stopped: each time she exhaled, her nostrils flared and warm air brushed over my fingers. It was surreal; a gift of a moment meant just for me.

Saturday dinner

After a lazy afternoon spent reading and writing, and enjoying the fireplace… jackpot! Dinner consisted of a Karoo-themed banquet of epic proportions: ostrich carpaccio lovingly draped over ostrich-liver pâté, followed by Karoo mutton stewed in red wine with another wide array of vegetables and sweet potato. And desert: an apple tart with raisins, layers of ice cream and topped with strawberries and blueberries.

Can you say ‘spoilt’? I can… just not with a mouth full of dessert!

Sunday 13 August

Enjoying another lie-in, but fully aware that our holiday was soon to come to an abrupt end, I experienced a deep gratitude for the human privilege of being able to enjoy nature with all five senses. Going away is not just about a passive ‘escape from reality’, but an active taking in of everything that another place has to offer.

After our final breakfast, hosts Grant and Marie sent us on our merry way with warm hugs and a generous gift. We will surely be back again to this gorgeous place!

If this blog has inspired you to visit The Retreat at Groenfontein, you can find more information here. Also check out their video 🙂

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Lunch in the Mountain Folds

At the risk of sounding incredibly unfit, I got into bed last night feeling absolutely spent – quads aching and fingertips rough and alive from scrambling up and down rocks, on what must have been the most perfect winter’s day in the Little Karoo.

Hello again. It’s been two quiet months of working hibernation as the desert winter descended upon us, blanketing the Swartberg range with a week of snow before the temperatures shot back up into the upper 20s last week. The only appropriate response to the weather this month would be bewildered amusement… as we went from this:

Swartberg

…to this…

Half snow

…to this:

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With personal goals directly in my mental crosshairs, all my time and energy in the last two to three months has been expended at a desk or on the floor (with blankets and a heater to complete the winter resistance) and it’s almost time to come up for air… With a dodgy shoulder, ugly headaches and weird pins and needles in my hands (no, of course I’m not overdoing it…), the outside called and I responded with a pair of hiking boots and over-enthusiasm.

Two sets of local farmers, two well-travelled French “wwoofers” (yes, that’s a thing) and one ex-city-girl, we headed into the lower reaches of the Swartberg East – first via 4×4 and then on foot. After being holed up inside for so long, to then experience the endless rolling mountains from horizon to horizon was a soul-expanding experience. It was as much an ethereal experience as it was a grounding exercise to breathe this in:

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…and then to observe up close the magic of these little flames of nature.

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The closer we got to the “kloof”, the more we could hear the gentle sounds of rushing water, and the steeper the gorge became. No worries, let’s just use this climbing rope to get down to the waterfall.

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Trigger: vertigo. While my left brain understands that the world is not trying to tip me off the rocks and into every open chasm, my sense of orientation says otherwise. So it was a bit of a challenge to climb down a rock face that felt like the neverending edge… wondering how much of a shallow splash I would make if I slipped and bounced all the way down.

With the gentle (and very patient) coaxing of an experienced bush guide and the sound of lunch being eaten without me, I just had to trust that there would be no head injuries on this day… and eventually made it down to this…

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And these patient people 🙂

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Rossco playing “Where’s Waldo?”

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While the climb back up the rope was a lot easier – mentally – it was still pretty hard on the legs and hands (pins-and-needles notwithstanding). And with each metre of ascension, I promised myself that it would be worthwhile to do daily planking and push-ups lest I find myself hugging a mountain like this again in the not too distant future.

Tired bodies aside, there’s always an opportunity for yoga in the mountains – literally getting a new perspective on things.

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And then sacrificing (horrible) form so as not to head-butt the yoga instructor 😉

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What I learnt today?

After a hearty meal of hot vegetables and only my second coffee of the day (unheard of!), I dragged my happy-tired body into bed and realised that this is what the end of every day should feel like: that I’ve done as much as I can with all my physical and mental resources, and that the sleep I’m about to undertake is truly earned.

This is how I would like the end of my life to be as well: that I’ve spent my time and resources putting in as much as I got out and that the sleep I’m about to undertake is truly earned…

Colour Healing Energy Workshop in De Rust

What better way to spend a chilly Sunday afternoon in De Rust than participating in a colour workshop – an introduction to Colour Healing Energy. As an artist, anything to do with colour is very exciting; but combine colour and its subtle yet significant effect on our lives and what can be learnt from our awareness of its energy – it’s invaluable!

Just walking up the road to a colour workshop already made me aware of the veritable rainbow around me – even though we’ve had a dry summer and are heading into a cold winter, there’s still so much green around town. The bougainvillea and hibiscus trees with their vibrant, fiery flowers are raging against our somewhat schizophrenic climate, and the town’s 360-degree mountain view lends itself to a backdrop of soft greens and blues. Even the semi-desert is a colourful place!

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Karen Miller practises colour healing from her home, which was incidentally one of the houses that had attracted me to De Rust in the first place. I’ll admit, I’m a little green with envy 😉 You know when a house just feels light and comfortable and there’s a balanced energy about it? That’s Karen’s house, which is also adjacent to a beautifully done rock garden made up of just the right balance of solid boulders and flowing labyrinths.

The Colour Healing Energy workshop comprised a range of visualisations and activities with both subtle and overt indicators for what participants need to look at in themselves to find balance and clear away stuck energy. With the right colours in front of me (both literally and in my awareness), it emphasised the areas I need to focus on – creativity and expression being the two I struggle with the most. As someone who writes and paints for a living, surely this shouldn’t be a problem, right? Well, it wouldn’t be if I wasn’t overcome by the terror of making mistakes every time I sat down to express myself. Perfectionism much?

Creativity embodies a scary place for me. My challenge is to write the words and paint the pictures anyway, and slowly but surely crawl out of that hole of anxiety and recognise that with each opportunity to manifest my inspiration, I get closer to who I really am. Having this knowing reflected back at me in the form of colour subtleties is powerful stuff…

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My favourite part of the workshop was – obviously­ – the drawing exercise. I had committed to leaving my perfectionism at home, so I absolutely relished the opportunity to “free draw” and go beyond memory, straight to a place where no thinking happened before I made the lines on the paper. The most difficult part was drawing while other people were in my space, so to push past those fears and just do it anyway was a big jump towards expressive freedom. I felt that something became unstuck right then.

And the picture? Well, I’ll suspend my fears if you’ll suspend your judgement:

Free drawing

Each form and colour is significant, and while I didn’t necessarily consciously choose the blue, green, orange and purple, I know why they are significant to me and what they represent. The relative symmetry of the image is also interesting, as well as the fact that I filled up the whole page instead of safely staying away from the edges.

And when I have the time and space to give it some focus, I will absolutely be painting this image properly, so get a good look now because it won’t stay this way for long. 😉

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An afternoon well spent!

The workshop was two hours long (short?) and I felt very happy with both my contribution as well as the benefits I experienced. There was just one thing that could have made the day even better than it was…

Yup: cake. Karen makes a pretty delicious lemon cake (with its bold citrusy glow), which paired perfectly with a vanilla-infused coffee. What a beautiful afternoon.

Full of colour, cake and coffee, I trundled home with a huge smile on my face (especially with this view), ready to get creative and immerse myself fully in the experience of fearless expression!

Le Roux Street De Rust

If you’re interested in attending a workshop in future, follow the De Rust In Motion Facebook page and look out for the event listings for Irissa Sanctuary, or send a message via that page.

Have a colourful day!

One Year in the Little Karoo

Today last year was Friday the 13th. It was also the day we moved to the Little Karoo.

I think the perfect double-barrelled description of the whole experience is bewildered certainty. It absolutely had to happen, but how it happened is still a happy mystery.

We are here. We love it. The end.

What I’ve learnt in the last 365 days

I still get asked if I’m happy to have relocated and I still maintain that leaving Joburg and moving to a Little Karoo village was the best decision (yes: ever). In the last year, I’ve learnt that this kind of transformative life journey isn’t as uncommon as it seemed at the time and that there are plenty of other people in the Little Karoo and Garden Route area who have done exactly that for exactly the same reasons.

Peace, tranquility, safety, beauty… and excellent port.

I’ve also learnt that there are a lot more people who want to do the same thing, but don’t know where to begin, so I always try to hold the torch for them (you?) and lead by example. If my example is anything to go by, what you will do a lot of here is walk around, look at the sky (maybe paint a little) and eat cake, so if you can live with that, then by all means: MOVE OUTSIDE! 😀

How life has changed in the last 365 days

I could reflect on this until I die, but let me summarise:

The extra space is magical

Until I had it, I didn’t know it was something I wanted this badly. Extra space. Space to move around in; space to call my own; space in which to just sit and think (preferably in a hammock); space in which to create and learn and love and cry. Space to stare at, especially from the top of a hill with other mountains and clouds in the distance. Space. Can’t get enough of it now because it’s into space that my heart has expanded and my mind has explored and my imagination has flown.

It’s as much about the infinite space of the soul as it is about the physical space of the mountains upon mountains that layer the horizon.

The dogs love the extra space as well, so I’m glad to have now fulfilled that promise we made to them quite a few years ago.

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Structure and discipline

Before you spit your coffee through your nose, hear me out…

In a place as beautiful and timeless as the Little Karoo, it’s very easy to get lost in the slow pace and sense of persistent serenity out here. What’s changed in the last year, though, is that I am following through on all the things I said I would do one day. In spite of being fairly busy as a freelancer, I feel like it’s much easier to bend time to my own daily structure here than it ever was in Joburg.

Daily walks. Daily (mostly) art. Daily writing. Daily gratitude (again, best achieved in the hammock). Clean(er) eating. Mind-body awareness practice, such as yoga and meditation. Better quality sleep (not difficult).

What has helped a lot with making the time for these things is doing them with other people. Finding people to be accountable with has been awesome and it’s helped me to progress quite far – physically and mentally – in a short amount of time. Ironically, Joburg can be very isolating, especially for a freelancer, and now the daily writing and weekly check-ins are done remotely with P… who’s in Joburg! 😛

Nevertheless, structured discipline = results and I finally feel like I’m getting somewhere.

Natural inspiration

I’ve always loved nature. I love the fact that I have a keen eye that finds all the little creatures … but little did I know that these little creatures would inspire me to change how I express myself on canvas. The fact that moving here has literally changed my art is surely testament to this decision to relocate. Even bigger than that is how finding this beauty is something that – through painting – I can hopefully transfer to others.

Being inspired by nature is like having direct access to the Breath that flows through everything (and every thing), and it was not something I could reach out and touch in the city.

Not. Even. Close.

Bauhinia Purpurea sunbeam

Figuring out what matters

Natural resources matter. Time matters. Family matters. Stability matters.

It only took one drought and a crisis-level water shortage to figure out that I have wasted so much time and energy on things that don’t matter.

Like hair.

Yes, I’m serious.

But shaving my hair off also became the perfect analogy for cutting the fat from many other areas in life. Anger – don’t need it. Guilt (banish the word SHOULD from your vocabulary) – don’t need it. Anxiety – don’t need it (though I still struggle with this a bit… but working on it). Fear – don’t need it. Status and labels and an always-on connection to work – don’t need it.

Do You Yoga

Self-awareness matters.

The broad expanse of the Little Karoo will reflect back at you exactly the way in which you look at it. And I look at it lovingly and with my Buddha-smile every time I cross it and the Outeniqua Mountains to visit my parents (at least once a month, sometimes more) because they matter to me now more than ever.

And cake matters. Life happens now. Eat the damn cake.

Oh how I love cake

Forever grateful

The most significant part of this move has been the opportunity to assess my own reactions and ability to adapt to the unfamiliar – and there have been many new and unfamiliar things that have confronted me in the last 365 days.

Finding ‘home’ is not about finding a physical place and going, “I’ve arrived!” For me, it’s been about finding something inside that’s akin to an anchor that can be picked up when the ship needs to move, and dropped when the ship needs to stay in one place. Moving here and re-establishing contact with what matters has allowed me to discover that anchor.

One of the things that still stands out clear as day was when we arrived at our new address this time last year. I opened the car door, shifted my legs out and, putting my left foot on the ground, just feeling an intense sense of I’m home.

It’s like finding true north – if you know where that is, finding your way in any other direction becomes possible.

Have a wonderful weekend, from the Little Karoo ❤

 

A Little Piece of Donkey Heaven

There’s no donkey emoji on WhatsApp, so when I tell people about the Karoo Donkey Sanctuary, I add the little unicorn emoji because it’s the same thing – a magical creature with the power to make you smile… BROADLY.

On Monday morning, I was not in 100% good health, but nothing was going to stop me from driving one of my besties an hour down the road to donkey heaven – just a couple of kilometres outside of Prince Albert in the Little Karoo.

Arriving at the Karoo Donkey Sanctuary, I was immediately aware of a serene peace about the place. Perhaps it had something to do with the cool and overcast day and the welcome rain that had fallen in this very dry part of our country. Or maybe it was the weather coupled with the neat and organised camps housing an array of animals – most of whom were fat and healthy while others were very much on the mend from former lives of neglect and exploitation.

Having made a special appointment, we were met near the windmill by Kate, who suddenly swept us into an unexpected yet fantastic and engaging tour of the sanctuary. We were introduced to some of the iconic donkeys and horses that have become the faces of goodwill and humanity after being rescued from the Hartswater auction earlier this year, and, having seen the photos, I couldn’t believe that these were the same animals – gleaming coats and big bellies belying the suffering they’d experienced seemingly a lifetime ago.

The sanctuary’s Facebook page has a ton of heart-warming photos of the animals in their care and the stories that accompany them will make you feel like part of the KDS family. How special it was to be able to take some of my own snaps with the especially cuddly donkeys 🙂 I’ll let the pictures tell you the rest…

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The landscape surrounding the sanctuary is a huge part of its peaceful and serene feeling.

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At KDS, the piggies rule!

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Baby Sabrina and Pips having a moment ❤

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This pair of survivors making a full and happy recovery. How gorgeous are those socks! (Look at them before [here] to see their incredible transformation.)

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The mega herd with the Karoo rains in the distance…

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Twinkletoes insisting on love being given and received 😀

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The collie isn’t too sure whether pigs should be herded or not… The piggie has other ideas!

 

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First a serious selfie…

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Now with a big smile!

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First a scratch over here…

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… now a hug!

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The gorgeousness of Miss Ginger!

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Baby Sabrina having a dusty nap…

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It’s a donkey’s life at Karoo Donkey Sanctuary!

For anyone who wants to visit the sanctuary, please make an appointment with Kate on 084 202 5169 for the following days and times:

KDS Facebook Poster

Any and all donations welcome. Please use their website donations page here – it’s really easy: DONATE

An Art Experience in De Rust

In the early light of Easter Monday morning, the last of the KKNK traffic began to caravan its way from Oudtshoorn through De Rust and the Meiringspoort Pass and beyond… back to reality. While Oudtshoorn recovers from the hullabaloo of the ‘fees, it’s worth noting that a remnant of the annual festival now lies midway down Schoeman Street in De Rust:

The De Rust Art Gallery is a real thing!

De Rust Tourist and Information Office

In the lead up to the 2017 KKNK, I asked to occupy some space on the front stoep of No. 11 Schoeman Street for a “pop-up expo” – to show that art creation in this little village is still very much alive and well, in spite of a seemingly inactive period of display and exhibition in De Rust itself. Simultaneously, a veritable collection of art by local and national artists was being hung up on the walls of the Tourist and Information Office (see here for a preview), so it seemed like a right-time, right-place synchronicity.

Had you passed through town last Monday, you would have caught a glimpse of this splash of colour, which eventually saw the light of day after months of being trapped in my studio. 😉

Rautenbach Art Expo 2

(The plastic covers are for protection from everything from diesel fumes to bird effluvient and the sticky hands of curious children… and to give buyers the peace of mind that the art is undamaged and ready for their walls.)

Rautenbach Art Expo

Since moving to De Rust almost a year ago, it has been difficult to avoid the intense imposition of nature’s influence on my art, so for this round of creating, I simply let it take hold and carry me through some interesting and colourful garden-oriented paintings.

Rautenbach Art Bee

This spring bee is one of many bees (some complete, some that still need to be painted), but it’s been a centrepiece in my studio display and I hope she can find a home where the beauty and pragmatism of bees can be celebrated.

Rautenbach Art Grasshopper Echeveria

This grasshopper was hiding in amongst some rogue echeverias in a rose pot. The shadecloth overhead gave everything a hue of greenish blue – hence the cool colour influence… which just is not done any justice by a photograph and must be seen in person!

Rautenbach Art Frog Amongst Leaves

Rescued out of a watering can last winter, this little guy was just begging to be painted… so here we are. 🙂

Rautenbach Art Aloe Frog

And, because where there is one frog, you will always find more… here is another one. So many beautiful greens in this painting, which is just yearning for a white frame and to be hung up in an indoor space that needs some outdoor inspiration.

Rautenbach Art Suikerbekkie

My precious suikerbekkie is still available and is another piece that can only truly be appreciated in person. With the cold, clear winter afternoons in De Rust, I’m hoping to find more sunbirds in my succulent garden this year and maybe some more paintings will materialise from that inspiration as a result.

My collection isn’t all birds and bees – there are a couple of pieces that my like-minded petrolheads will appreciate too – but my nature paintings are tangible proof that the magical village of De Rust has already beautifully influenced not only my art, but my whole perception of living and appreciating my immediate surrounds.

Looking for something to do in De Rust? Why not pop in at the Tourist and Information Office at 11 Schoeman Street and experience a wide variety of art while you’re in search of your next Klein Karoo adventure or a place to lay your head. In a few follow-up posts, I’ll be featuring some of the work that’s on display, but don’t let that be a poor substitute for experiencing this De Rust art in real life!

For more of my own art, mosey on over to my art blog or my Facebook page and enjoy your virtual visit!

The Magic That is Numbi Valley Permaculture Farm

Before we get stuck into this piece and you silently mouth off at me about needing a break from a place that literally means “the rest”, it helps to consider that sometimes even the idylls of village living can close in around one… especially when you live, work, create, eat, sleep and exercise (and eat some more) in the same place, 24/7.

That being said, a couple of weekends ago, my Plus One and I packed a bag, bundled the children into the bakkie and drove the long and treacherous 8km down the road – turning off at the delightfully named Middelplaas and weaving our way past the sheep farms and along the canals to arrive at our heaven-away-from-heaven: Numbi Valley Permaculture farm, De Rust.

Walking through the dense proliferation of squash vines, veggie patches and fruit trees that comprise the organic edible garden of Numbi Valley, we inadvertently snuck up on Kath who was busy in the kitchen, chopping garden-fresh veggies to go into the pot. It was only 2:30 PM and I was already looking forward to dinner!

Kath and Ross’s home is a hand-built cob cottage with a large living room window that lets the mountains inside and makes you instantly want to get your own farm and build your own cob house. To visit Numbi Valley is to be instantly schooled on what it means to live off the land completely and to love it in the absolute.

Numbi Valley De Rust

Tiny indigenous plants as lovingly cared for as the large ones…

Letting the dogs out, we settled into the self-catering cottage and I was secretly enthralled by the little fireplace next to the shower. Mr Rautenbach and I have a huge 15sqm bathroom in desperate need of a makeover, so I’ve been trawling magazines and looking at other people’s bathrooms (not in a, like, weird way or anything…) to get ideas of what to do with all that space. After this stay at Numbi Valley, I’m 90% sold on having a fireplace to heat bath and shower water…

Numbi Valley De Rust Bedroom

Open and airy – everything is just so inviting!

Numbi Valley De Rust Bathroom

Cob and copper add to the rustic charm of the cottage.

Little Karoo summers are scorching, but on the weekend we visited the farm it was overcast with on-and-off drizzle – the kind of precipitation where you don’t mind being in it because it’s such a relief from the heat. So that’s what we did: we be’d in it.

Numbi Valley De Rust Rain pool

Ahhh… that never-ending view.

While the boys went off to play tennis in town, Kath and I took the dogs for some Little Karoo bosveld exploration on the wild side of the 70 hectares that make up the Numbi Valley property. Aside from the crunching of the dried vegetation and quartz stones under our flip flops (some hardcore ladies over here…), the only sounds in the air were the slight breeze that pushed the indecisive drizzle around and… nothing.

Numbi Valley De Rust Kathryn Eybers

The sounds of nothing…

The noise that nothing makes is something that not everyone gets to appreciate – you really have to listen out for it. It sounds like time passing – not that of one second to the next, but it’s the sound of millennia unfolding as you contemplate the slow shifting of the mountains and the wrenching of the tall aloes as they hurl themselves ‘away’ from the sun in the hot, dry summer.

Numbi Valley De Rust Aloe head

Numbi Valley De Rust Aloe

The sign of many, many summers in the scorching sun.

Nothing is also the sound the dogs make when they’re up to mischief. Texas – my yellow dog – got lost first, but we located him with the help of Russia, my border-whippet, who subsequently decided to go wandering off herself. No sooner had we got both of them back in our sights than Texas decided to fall into the (fortunately dry) canal. He didn’t get hurt, but the more he tried to get out of the canal, with its sheer walls and concave bottom, the more he increased his chances of injury. And the more attention we paid to trying to get him out, the more Russia seemed like she would jump in too, considering this looked like an awesome game to play – one that engaged the humans fully!

Fortunately Kath’s years of bush guiding and general outdoors smarts came in handy when she effortlessly slid down into the canal and devised a trick with a single rock, which meant we were able to hoist my 25-kilo dummy of a dog out of his self-imposed predicament. I also learnt that pulling a 25-kilo deadweight up by the scruff of the neck with one hand (while lying chest-down on gravel) was not entirely impossible… And of course Kath needed no help in getting herself out of the canal unscathed.

Texas was fine, if not just a little shell-shocked, and he stayed well away from the edge of the canal for the rest of our walk.

Hammock Huntsman

This gorgeous Huntsman joined us surreptitiously by the hammock.

For as long as the sun stayed up, the four of us chilled by the plunge pool.

The natural pool – which features regularly in guests’ photos of Numbi Valley – is filled with spring water, which is emptied into the olive grove every few days, scrubbed down and refilled with fresh water. Olive grove?! you exclaim. Yes – Numbi Valley’s much prized organic-grown, cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil is a one-of-a-kind product that is as perfect for cooking eggs in as it is for use in a massage – also one of the delightful treats you can experience (…and I have…) during a stay here.

Numbi Valley De Rust Swimming

Russia cooling off after a bush adventure.

As the day ended, the clouds lifted a little and the sun treated us to a grandiose flourish of a golden goodbye. It was time to light the fire and sit down to Kath’s mouth-wateringly good, duvet-cooked (Ï’m not joking) vegetable stew. Don’t take my word for it; when you visit 😉 ask her how it works.

Numbi Valley De Rust Sunset

The cob house and studio below the sunset.

Numbi Valley De Rust Pizza oven

When dinner isn’t cooked in the duvet, it’s pizza in the oven, which Ross built himself. Be sure to ask for the pizza dinner when you stay at Numbi Valley – it’s THE BEST pizza.

As the fire burned low, so did our chatter and by 10PM it was time for bed. We’d tucked the pooches in earlier, but by the time we got back to the cottage we’d caught our second wind and decided to enjoy some freshly-ground coffee next to the fire.

Numbi Valley De Rust Cottage

Isn’t this just the perfect place for contemplation?

The Mister and I sat and listened to that time-bending silence – sipping coffee – and discussed our long-term dreams and plans.

We continuously acknowledge and express our gratitude for how blessed we are to be where we are and still have the opportunity to earn a proper living while enjoying the richness of country life. We’d encourage anyone who has even a whisper of a desire to ditch the city to do so.

Not sure if it’s the life for you? Come stay at Numbi Valley Permaculture Farm, just outside the village of De Rust on the N12/Route 62, and see how fast your feet want to plunge roots into these mountains…

Numbi Valley De Rust Mountains

Texas, appreciating the view.

The Next Day
After a comfortable night’s sleep, it was the first cool morning I’ve experienced in a long time and was actually craving a hot shower. Having experienced a cloudy day the day before, the solar-heated water was only lukewarm, which meant… dun-dun-duuuuun… I got to play with the donkey. Now I know this is the Little Karoo, but I’m not talking about a donkey donkey, but rather the shower-side fireplace.

Striking a single match, igniting the kindling, and closing the little iron door, it took 4 minutes flat to generate piping-hot water. What a way to start the day!

We would have loved to sleep in and enjoy a mid-morning coffee and a stroll around the garden, but prior arrangements called for an early departure. Not to worry… Numbi Valley Permaculture Farm is the kind of place that you definitely come back to for second helpings.

Ray’s and Shine in De Rust

I forget why we planned it like this, but about 10 days ago, Evie and I agreed that we’d go have scones for breakfast after our sunrise walk today. Not gonna lie: I haven’t been able to stop thinking about those scones, so what a build-up to this morning’s treat 😉

Sunrise

We were up and at ’em, treading tarmac and gravel by 6AM, went to feed a neighbour’s (cutest) doggies, then consciously chose all the challenging hills, killing time and calories as the day got brighter, moving ever closer to THE END GOAL.

Ray's Coffee Shop

This morning just seemed different… and not just because it’s windy today. There’s a chill in the air, and while we’re expecting another 36+ degree day tomorrow, the seasons are definitely changing and I’m quite looking forward to winter this year… being better mentally prepared and all.

Before we dive into the good stuff, I’ll recall a story from this morning’s hill climbing:

There’s one deceptively steep hill up 4th Avenue, and it’s the second day in a row now that I’ve crested that hill with an intense experience of gratitude – not just the gratitude that the burning in my glutes can subside, but a general feeling of thankFULLness for the here and now.

Then, we were talking about dreams and goals, and as we crested another one of the monster inclines, Evie said to me, “Just hold that image in your mind…” and I swear this is what I pictured:

Scones and cappuccino

Ray’s Coffee Shop is at the end of Schoeman Street before the bridge on the Meiringspoort side of De Rust. The menu is full of firm favourites – no matter what you decide to eat, you can’t go wrong. And the coffee is consistently amazing.

After 10 days of 5+km walks, culminating in today’s efforts at such a friendly destination, I immersed myself completely in the indulgence of dessert for breakfast. Because look at them… just LOOK AT THEM.

Scones

What a perfect way to start the day, enjoying a (second) cappuccino and this as a backdrop:

De Rust

I still get asked, nearly a year after moving here, whether we’re still happy about our decision to live in De Rust. Question is: what do you think?

Cooped Up in De Rust

When people ask me “Why De Rust?”, there are many reasons, but one of the reasons we chose this particular house in this particular place was the large backyard. And with a large backyard comes the potential to grow things and feed things, and grow things to feed oneself (and maybe others… let’s see how this goes, shall we?).

Three weeks ago, we acquired some chickens from an awesome farmer just outside of town. As you can see, it’s a progressive family: two moms of different colours raising a child together 😛 We haven’t named them yet, even though I’d love to give them human names like Claire (hey, chicken! ~ inside joke…), Abigail and Nancy… or some such.

Mr Rautenbach is not convinced.

chickens-01

Meet The Chickens.

Their primary role is to slowly but surely till the soil, eat the pests that come to the surface, and deposit nutrients to fertilise the top soil. The chicken coop is a home-made piece of brilliance that can be moved around: as the chickens finish with one patch of old grass and sand, they can be moved to a fresh patch. And they love it, making quick work of any grass and weeds the moment they get moved.

They get fresh food and water every day, as well as a handful of “scratch” and bits of fruit and vegetables. And in return, we get…

chickens-02

Yup – fresh, healthy, free-range, nutritious eggs.

In just two weeks of being in their new home, the noir chicken decided it was time to start laying. What a racket… followed by the discovery of this little gift. Well, not so little, considering it’s practically the same size as a shop-bought jumbo egg (hence the racket, I suppose).

Free-range egg on the left. Shop egg on the right.

chickens-03

Just look at them… and the little one is getting bigger too. What a beauty. After each protein deposit in the laying box, I thank them and wish them a happy day… I’m totally convinced this is why they continue to lay eggs for us 😉

chickens-04

Tuesday – one more egg. Then by Wednesday we had four: the d’or chicken was not to be outdone. (If noir is French for black, then d’or is French for golden… since orange is French is also… orange. Quirky…) She decided to share the rental in the laying box and soon egg production was doubled!

chickens-05

By Thursday evening, half a dozen. And counting.

chickens-06

Little story: On Thursday afternoon I made the grave mistake of opening the laying box while goldie was still in it. Have you ever had a chicken hiss at you? I’d sooner face off with a rinkhals (again; true story) than interrupt a laying chicken.

Let us continue…

Since Mr Rautenbach was in Joburg last week, I decided to wait until he was back before “proofing” the eggs. That happened yesterday morning…

chickens-07

The eggs all passed the fresh test by sinking in a jug of water, then it was time for breakfast.

A bit of context: I am not the world’s most versatile cook. Kitchen creativity is best left to people who have that kind of time – I don’t; and I choose to apply my skills elsewhere. However, survival requires me to know how to work the gas stove and what olive oil is for 😛 Most days when I “cook for one”, it’s salads, omelettes, some form of carbohydrate, and black coffee – boring diet, but it works for me. I confess I do pep it up with cake from time to time.

(I think I’m setting you up for a non-Instagrammable picture of breakfast…)

Anyway, fortunate enough to be in possession of this very rare Numbi Valley organic-grown olive oil, breakfast got underway (and you’ll hear more about Numbi Valley soon).

numbi-valley-olive-oil

The eggs were easy enough to crack, but the shell membranes were thicker than I expected and had to use a knife to puncture them (sign of a very healthy hen and super fresh egg, apparently). The yolks were almost dark orange – a wonderful change to goopy yellow yolks of shop-bought eggs – and I fork-whisked them with no other ingredients.

A few minutes in the pan while the toast was going and voila

chickens-08

Delicious with a bit of black pepper.

We’re super happy with the chickens and hope they live long and happy lives with us.

Disclaimer: I can’t help the look of resentment on my dog’s face.

 

Walking Lessons in De Rust

Tough to believe, but it’s been a month since the sunrise walks began.

What started out as a struggle to wake up at 5 AM and take to the streets has now become a highly anticipated day-starting event that sets the mood and productivity for the rest of the day… and which I’ve only missed once (due to zombification).

It dawned (yes, yes…) on me that there are lessons for the taking on these 5 – 6km morning walks, which can be applied to everyday life. Make of them what you will:

1. Habits can be changed

Waking up at 5 AM is not fun. I don’t think it was ever meant to be fun, especially now that the sun is rising later and the darkness is lingering for longer. However, it’s easier. With a little acceptance and responsibility, anything difficult can be made easier – especially habits.

I’ve also learnt that 5 AM is not the enemy. The enemy is when I don’t go to bed early enough to make waking up at 5 AM easier. So, after a month of conviction with great reward, my propensity for being a night owl has changed. A good habit, if any, to alter.

2. Smile through the hard parts

De Rust village is positioned on the side of a hill. This means spectacular vantage points from balconies and backyards. This also means steep inclines and challenging hills (especially at 5:30 AM).

Evie and I have progressed from seemingly avoiding the steepest hills when we first started out, to now actively seeking them out and ensuring we include the Four Big Ones on our daily outing. As incline-fit as we’ve become over the last few weeks, I still have to catch my breath near the tops of the inclines; but what really helps is grinning and shaking my head: You chose this. YOU COULD BE SLEEPING RIGHT NOW! (Haha, but not really, I LOVE the walks!)

But just as the inclines get tough, we crest the top – smiling – and then the burning hamstrings and deep breathing is over. The lesson: smile through the hard parts. They don’t last forever.

When I say “incline”, it’s like the hill has its own little horizon: just look at that drop-off in the street:

incline

That’s Evie 🙂 She’s awesome.

3. It’s always better together

Part of my motivation for wanting to move to De Rust was the easy safety of the village. I used to walk in my suburb in Joburg, but it didn’t always yield the most pleasant experiences, and taking the dogs walking with me always ended up in either me or them getting super irritated with each other. Not great vibes.

I had committed to morning walks when we first arrived, but the doubt started creeping in: this place is tiny… there’s only so many times you can walk the 3.6km of available village roads… what if you get fit, but bored? Why even start anyway? (Hence reading on the treadmill in the middle of winter…)

And then one day, a coffee meeting turned into the brilliant suggestion of the sunrise walks. And here we are, four weeks later.

walking-buddy

So the lesson is: if you struggle to commit to something, find someone who wants the same thing and enjoy it together.

Earlier this week, we pondered how even though we’ve walked the same streets (and in different configurations), there are always new things to see, and everything looks different depending on the time of day, and the mood in general. Context can overlay a variety of masks on familiar content…

And besides: tuned-in, funny, interesting and supportive companionship is the best antidote to any risk of boredom ❤

4. Look for the novelty

Habits are a wonderful thing. Every day we wake up early and are out walking by 5:30 AM. The walks last just over an hour and we vary our route, but it always consists of a configuration of the same 4-ish km of roads (most of which we cover twice to get good mileage out of them). Every day at more or less the same time, we go and stand at the top of the hill and I take a photograph (okay, about 18 photographs…) of the sunrise.

Surely it’s the same over and over? Nope. Every day the conditions vary: the sunrise is different (95% of the time), and it’s possible to detect even the slightest change in temperature, or whether the air is signalling that rain is on its way. Some mornings the bees are out, or a neighbourhood cat will (scare the bejeezus out of me and) stroll across our path for a greeting full of purring and stroking. On a muggy morning, perspiration will gather and trickle down my lower back (I detest sweating and the first time this happened I thought it was a spider..).

sunrise-242

And some mornings, we get the opportunity to make new friends:

chatty

The lesson: no matter what you’re given to work with, look for the new. What haven’t you seen yet?

sunrise-ostriches

5. Appreciate where you are

I don’t think this one needs any explanation.

Gratitude walks with me, in my shoes, breathing in the same air and looking through new eyes every day.