Text & Pix by Chris Marais
The little desert backwater town of Merweville is very popular with movie directors looking to shoot something in a dry space that looks like the Great American Southwest. It could easily share ‘twin-town’ status with Tombstone, Arizona.
I’ve got us a room at the Springbok Lodge. It’s huge, with a frightening array of kuierplekkies, little party nooks. There’s a braai area, a fire pit, a braai room, a bar, two kitchens, a lapa and enough rooms for all our neighbours back in Cradock.
On our late afternoon walkabout, Jules and I come upon strings of exotically flashed-up bee-eaters, resplendent in tropical party colours of emerald green, yellows, a hint of turquoise and a host of black accessories.
At Muller’s Shop, we pop in for tinned mussels and fresh farm butter. Are we perhaps not looking for Woolworths? We find a pack of biscuits and a couple of cold cokes – good enough. Now where’s a Cape Times?
“I’m sorry, we don’t have them,” says the friendly woman behind the counter. “But here, would you like to borrow my Huisgenoot?”
We look up Jan Mocke, the koster (verger) at the NG Mother Church.
Mr Mocke is a treasure. While Jules interviews Jan inside, I traipse up a little hill behind the Mother Church for a photograph. As I’m setting up my ponderous tripod and gear, I look up and see deep and dark banks of rainy weather galloping up towards us all the way from Cape Town. I capture the church, the town and the thick cloudscapes in one very dramatic, lucky set of shots.
We all go on a jaunt out to the ‘Englishman’s Grave’, the last resting place of some bipolar Tasmanian gent from the Anglo-Boer War.
And this is a typical Karoo story. Walter Oliphant Arnot committed suicide in these parts after leaving strange messages in his prayer book. However, the townsfolk of Merweville promised his family overseas that they would look after his gravesite forever – and so they are…
Marina Witbooi, who works at the lodge, bakes us a treat the next morning out in the lapa oven. Within 20 minutes her arrival, we are all feasting on panbrood filled with various tasty accessories. A long Karoo nap is immediately called for.
Late that afternoon, Marina returns (as arranged) with a whole gang of children and a couple of donkeys, built small in ‘biblical ass’ fashion. A complicated little interlude follows, during which the donkeys are vaguely attached to the cart. Then they’re off, on their through-town photo shoot, Marina holding the reins in dignified style.
** The following year brings good rains to Merweville, turning the area into a “Paradise”, according to Kallie le Roux.
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