The Karoo – vast, endless, isolated and humbling – is perhaps the one place where you can find true freedom. Test this by visiting a far flung farm. You’ll find cellphones don’t work there, nor do faxes and telephones can’t constantly haunt you. As you turn off the highway onto a gravel road that vanishes into the distance you can watch the cellphone reception bars disappear one by one until the screen blissfully states “no service”. Some experience withdrawal symptoms as this happens and turn back, but the true adventurer, the discerning tourist, in search of something different, will brave the route and feel tranquility creep into their soul.
Setting off down these less travelled roads is addictive. You find yourself constantly wondering: “What’s round the next bend?” Initially I was like a swimmer reluctant to kick off from the side of the pool because I was not sure how deep the water would be, but Wally was different. His philosophy was: “If it’s a road it must go somewhere.” And so we travelled on farm roads, old post roads and along countless gravel roads discovering the true Karoo. The further we drove the more we wanted to see. This pastime afforded us true enjoyment and absolute peace as we sat in the filtered shade of a thorn tree, sharing a flash of coffee and soaking up the ambience of the Karoo.
We often drove up into the mountains at the end of a busy day to enjoy a sundowner and maybe braai a piece of wors and watch the moonlight tint the veld with silver. As the day faded in a rich triumph of colour little creatures would begin to scurry about greeting the coming night and searching for snacks. I think the field mice amused us most. We would sit very quietly like pioneers beside our dying fire and watch as twitching noses and trembling whiskers appeared at the edge of the grass verge and beady eyes checked to see what morsels would be left.
Soon after Murray and Mariette de Villiers started a guest house on their farm, La De Da, on the outskirts of Beaufort West, the wife of a busy business man called to make a weekend booking. “We may not stay the whole time,” she said. “Husband appeared more than stressed and she too had an underlying nervousness. They were obviously tired, so they had supper and vanished off to bed, Next day Murray took them for a long drive to show them the Karoo and Mariette suggested a few good walks in the afternoon. The couple had ordered a warm-up supper for the evening, so De Villiers family did not see them after lunch.
At about 20h00 that night Murray was checking on things near the farm house when he heard a portable radio playing softly at the swimming pool. The visitors had obviously left it on, so he went to turn it off. As he neared the pool he saw them dancing in the moonlight in a close embrace. The remnants of their poolside dinner stood alongside an empty wine bottle. Murray softly turned and tip-toed back home. He knew the Karoo had worked its magic.