Karoo Space – Deserts in the Blood


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Spellbound by Sossusvlei – Namibian overlanders.

Words & Pix by Chris Marais

I did my Boys’ Own road trip back in the early 1980s across the desert states of the USA, listening to Willie Nelson sing Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain over Gospel Radio outside a New Mexican town called Truth or Consequences.

In 1998 I honeymooned with my wife Jules in an old rock ‘n roll train across the Nullarbor Desert of Australia.

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Across the Nullarbor Plains of Australia on the Indian-Pacific Express.

I drank Jack Daniels with my buddy Les Bush before dawn at Namibia’s Messum Crater soon after, and a couple of years later I went back with Jules and we wrote a book all about it.

In 2007 I went to Timbuktu on the dusty edge of the Sahara Desert on a very weird assignment that took me all along the Niger River to the fabled city of mud and scrolls.

Timbuktu from the air looked like a tan-coloured termite mound. From the ground it was spell-binding.

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Pella Cathedral in Bushmanland, Northern Cape.

And then I came to the Karoo eight years ago. And I’ve hardly left the place, except for the odd foray to the Land of Corn & Wine (Cape Town) to make books and sit in a Karoostyle cottage overlooking Simon’s Town Harbour.

But it’s clear as day – I obviously have a thing for deserts.

I know some guys like an island. I don’t mind a decent beach bar, for sure.

There’s a very good reason the prophets of old used to go to the desert and not the sea when they needed some inspiration.

You can give me a desert any day. Not the Lost Patrol, gasp-for-water kind of desert. That’s just crazy.

No, I’m talking about the Northern Cape Hard Man’s Karoo kind of desert that makes you hide away at lunchtime under shade with a cold beer for company. Out there, Fraserburg – Williston way.

And then you come out in the soft light for photographs and the world is just beautiful and look, some auntie driving a donkey cart passes by and flashes you the kind of smile that lodges here, in that place, forever.

In the mornings, with that first cup of coffee and the pre-dawn look of the desert – who can resist that?

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Can you really beat that for a backyard? The Karoo – Land of the Second Chance.

Then what about all the runaways you meet out there, every single one a remarkable character with something to say? Lives being colourfully lived.

Whether it’s a cheese-maker, a festival organiser, a museum curator, a blacksmith or a horse wrangler, it don’t matter.

Whether they tend sheep, drive tractors, tell stories or grow medicinal plants, they all tend to have a certain aura that makes me feel right at home.

I guess it’s because they have chosen to live in a wide open space where everybody fits in, where we can all start over again.

As my friend Lisa says:

“I like you just for that…”

Don’t forget to visit the Karoo Space e-Bookstore – lots of goodies for the armchair- and real-time traveller!

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Timbuktu – home of the Tuareg on the edge of the Sahara.

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