Text and Photographs by Chris Marais
We hear the insistent knocking outside from deep, deep in the snuggy folds of a down duvet way before dawn in our hideaway at the Richmond Café & Rooms, and the urgent voice that follows:
“Chris! Hey Chris! You guys have to come and see this!”
Must we, I wonder? What fresh hell awaits? Has a tree fallen over and crushed the beloved Karoo Space bakkie outside?
My wife Jules and I scramble out of bed, shuffle into some woollen slippers, open the door and walk right into a blue-white wonderland. Our friend and host Nicol Grobler is pointing with amazement at a Karoo courtyard gone utterly Christmas-crazy.
We begin our white-walking, as one does, with a bracing cappuccino on the stoep of the café. Below and to the south down the main drag, Richmond seems to have turned the page from a stark, grey late-winter hamlet not lacking in ramshackle features into something you expect to see on the lid of a large box of Swiss chocolates.
I don’t know whether to shoot away at just about everything I see, gulp down another mug of fancy coffee or break into a Yuletide yodel with the utter gemütlichkeit of it all.
Every tattered broekielace balcony, every gaunt old tree, every pitched roof and every barbed wire fence has been transformed into exquisite filigree. Lights left on overnight all around Richmond become Christmas decorations as the snow keeps falling gently to the ground.
“It’s like a swarm of snow bees,” says my wife as she sticks out her tongue for a taste of snowflake after snowflake.
Apart from our excited babblings, the town is shrouded in silence. Even the crunch of our boots is muffled, accompanied by the frenzied click of camera shutters and the occasional plop of heavy snow from an overloaded tree. Not one bird sings – yet.
On the walk up a side street to a little hill called Vegkop, the normally blue-green agaves have become graceful monochrome. Tall pines nearby carry snow tinsel on every branch. Clumps of prickly pears are rendered magical. Still, you feel like you’ve been suddenly transported to midwinter Transylvania deep in the Carpathian Mountains of Eastern Europe, possibly about to meet a brace of craggy Vlads over some hot cabbage rolls and a glass of home-made plum liquor.
And then three donkeys, bless their souls, stick their inquisitive ears out from behind the garingbome and you just know you’re right back in the Karoo.
By the time we reach the classic Richmond postcard setting of the old Excelsior Motors tow-truck parked in front of its art deco home base, the local kids and their brakke are awake and in the streets.
There are whoops of delights from many doorways as children canter out still in their jammies and begin to snow-fight with gusto. Birds awaken and begin to sing in the trees. Life has, just for now, become one of those old classic animated Disney movies.
- Read more in Karoo Roads – Tales from South Africa’s Heartland by Chris Marais & Julienne du Toit, which will be available as a First Edition Author-signed Print Book from November 2020 at R350 including taxes and counter-to-counter Postnet service. To order, contact Julie at email@example.com and she will put you on this exclusive list of Karoo Lovers – and Karoo Space supporters.