By Chris Marais and Julienne du Toit
Just more than 20 years ago we knew nothing about the Karoo, that endless dry country that spans the midriff of South Africa.
Then we began to explore the backroads, villages, people, cultures, farms, mountains, railway sidings, beasts, weather patterns and classic literature of the Karoo. And we kept a constant lookout for the Storyteller’s Delight: something or someone with an eccentric twist.
Karoo Keepsakes I & II
The first book of ‘takeaway treats’, Karoo Keepsakes, was designed as a travelling companion that would eventually end up on your coffee table. It contained colourful mini-bites of narrative, in collections of people, places, animals that dwell here, the odd and the historic.
We challenged you with these words:
“If you can’t stand the sight of wide-angle landscapes, quirky little cantina-like padstalle at roadside, flashes of springbok rushing across the plains, the pure peace of waking up on a midwinter’s morning on a Karoo farm, the call of the super jackal at sunset and the lunchtime laughter of the great story-tellers of the Eastern Cape Midlands, then simply pass on by.”
Reader support took Karoo Keepsakes through three print runs until 2013, when we launched Karoo Keepsakes II. It kept the same glossy format, only bulkier, with more stories.
Road Tripper – Eastern Cape Karoo
Living in Cradock, we find ourselves at the hub of South Africa’s most underrated road-trip region: the Karoo Heartland. We are a cluster of 14 towns and settlements, with the best people, the biggest horizons and most diverse farm spaces in South Africa.
Middelburg, Nieu-Bethesda, Aberdeen, Klipplaat, Willowmore, Steytlerville, Jansenville, Pearston, Somerset East, Bedford, Tarkastad, Hofmeyr, Steynsburg and Cradock all lie in the Karoo Heartland.
Farmers, hoteliers, restaurateurs, fishermen, writers, photographers, artists, musicians, cooks and crafters live here. Each seems to have the sublime knack of telling a good story – which had us hooked from Day One, all those years ago.
So we made a book called Road Tripper – Eastern Cape Karoo, which basically says it all. This is a guide you keep in your cubby hole when you travel through our region, a book that will give you the info you need to be more than just a day-tripper or, gasp, a tourist. It turns you into a traveller. And it gives you options.
Karoo Roads I & II
With Covid-19 in 2020, we all spent more time at home. And with all that home-time, we flipped through TV channels, watched news broadcasts and then, praise the heavens, turned back to good old books.
One of the few positive spin-offs of the pandemic is time to sit down and read for pure pleasure. So we published Karoo Roads – Tales from South Africa’s Heartland. It’s a timeless collection of some of our favourite stories from past years, in long-form journalism with a generous helping of black and white photographs.
The steam train drivers and their stokers who came to roost in De Aar; ten cement dancers in a veld-frenzy on a farm outside Loxton; the Rasta golfers of Calvinia; an offbeat night in Aberdeen; the rockers of Barrydale; a freak springtime snow blizzard in Richmond; the deep-sea cowboys of Port Nolloth; the mountain cowgirls of Graaff-Reinet; how the Gariep Dam was built; the midnight ghosts who walk the veld and the windpumps that bring the water – these were some of the Karoo stories in the book.
Once again, reader demand nearly depleted our stocks, just in time to bring you Karoo Roads II – More Stories from the Heartland.
And we ask the questions:
What’s it like, to follow a raging river in flood as it crosses a desert? To sit quietly at sunset in a grove of quiver trees that glow like golden goblins in a moment of magic?
What’s it like, to be with the children of the Hard Man’s Karoo, as they dance the Nama Riel in the dust of Williston? To be enraptured by a ferocious game of Karoo farm cricket?
What are your thoughts, strolling about a Karoo graveyard replete with famous names? Or bidding for a champion Merino stud at a ram auction where only Graaffrikaans is spoken?
Can you imagine a time when circus lions roared in Karoo villages, when Boers and Brits fought pitched battles in the Sneeuberg Mountains?
Do you know that the Karoo brews its own kind of tequila, that the best koeksister baking lessons come from Brandvlei, that the finest draadkarretjies are to be found in Philipstown and that fresh meat was once stored under the marital bed in a corbelled house?
Moving to the Platteland
And then the online echo chamber of daily news and analysis began to resound with reports of people (especially those with young children, internet-based careers or a desperate need to downsize) wanting to leave their city lives and move to the countryside for more space and security.
But few people tick all the boxes when they move to the platteland, and there are in-migration lessons to be learnt, especially from the likes of us.
Presenting Moving to the Platteland – Life in Small Town South Africa, based on more than 150 interviews with people who made the move, those who failed and those who succeeded. There are lessons to be learned from other people’s mistakes
How did they do it? What made them do it? Where do their children go to school? How did they get their restaurants, guesthouses and businesses going? How did they find their niche, their creative sweet spot, their perfect little dorpie?
The answers to these and many more questions about life in the country are tackled in Moving to the Platteland. This illustrated and author-signed book offers you decades of insights, warts-and-all experiences and advice on the practical and the social aspects of thriving in a small South African town.
Although many city-dwellers are looking to the South African coastline for new homes, we suggest you give the Karoo some time. It might snag your heart, like it did ours.
If you need to complete your Karoo Six-pack of Books, please contact Julienne at email@example.com for prices, banking details and courier options.