Nieu-Bethesda: the small town in the Karoo that’s been my home for the longest stretch since starting this journey. Yesterday saw the end of my month-long stay. One of the most challenging parts of travel for me is leaving a favorite place again and again and again…

Regardless of what the afternoon or single-night domestic tourists have said, I feel like I could have spent years there before running out of things to do; there were always things happening at The Brewery and Two Goats Deli (where I worked in exchange for room and board) and my days off saw no shortage of hikes in the surrounding hills and canyons. Days in town were either spent at a coffee shop or bookstore (typical) or at the local attractions of Owl House or Kitching Fossil Centre. A few external factors threatened my perfect day in Nieu-Bethesda: poor weather, thorns and bee stings, dog puke, bar fights, larceny. But despite their (relatively infrequent) attacks I managed to live some version of the below almost every day:

My silent alarm clock is the faint glow of light is crawling through the window and slowly warming up my bedroom. Winter has been fast approaching and I consider waiting until the sun is a bit higher before leaving the safety of my duvet. Instead, I stretch and roll out of bed to throw on a pair of shorts and lace up my shoes. Through the back of the property, I limbo through the wire fence and head up one of the hills that overlook the town. Knowing that I won’t be spending 8 hours of the day behind a desk has its way of motivating me out of bed.

I arrive at the top of the hill just before the sun sends a glare across the town as it crests the horizon. Depending on the morning, I’ll do some yoga, meditate, write in my journal, or read a chapter of my current book. Today, I’m reading travel essays by Lawrence Durrell which I had picked up from Dustcovers (the amazingly stocked bookstore in town). The essay is ‘Landscapes and People’ in which Durrell describes the ‘Spirit of Place’, navigating the relative importance of landscapes and scenery versus the people and characters that occupy them. It’s a concept that I’ve thought about often and helps explain why most of my photos from trips include landscapes and not as many human subjects. Although people and my interactions with them make up an overwhelming portion of my travel experience, my words or photos never seem to do them the justice they deserve. My landscapes aren’t much better, but you can’t offend a sunrise…

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Sunrise view of town behind the house

Back down the hill to get started with the day. I make my first of several coffees I plan to consume before noon. The familiar smell of ground coffee fills the room. Andre, the owner of The Brewery, gets ready to go on his morning cycle while the other volunteers arrive and we start getting the place ready for business. Tables cleaned, kegs and bottles stocked for the day. Other than helping customers, we’ll have a variety of other jobs to do for the day such as:

  1. Roasting coffee
  2. Feeding the bees and jarring honey
  3. Brewing, bottling, and kegging beer
  4. Tending to the bar
  5. Making and serving platters
  6. Collecting duck eggs
  7. Making soft cheese from fresh milk
  8. Slaughtering sheep
  9. Plucking chickens
  10. Butchering an entire cow
  11. Trimming peacock wings
  12. Weeding the garden and picking vegetables
  13. Taking care of the new puppy
  14. Irrigating the fields
  15. Preparing family-style dinner
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Not quite the Two Roads shuttle back home
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Flash Ernesto
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Platter vir vier
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One of many batches of the Karoo roast
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Half-succeeding in making red peppercorns

Sometime between 4 and 5, depending on hard we worked that day or how many customers we still anticipate, we close the front gate to dissuade anyone else from coming in. There are always some stragglers who will stick around for a sundowner but most of the work of the day is done. I start a fire in the water heater for a shower later and toss on my shoes for a run around the town. I still have a crippling dislike for even light jogging but trotting the trails and small streets around town have become a compulsory part of my day. The persistent view of Compassberg mountain in the distance looks like a painting with the purple sun setting behind it.

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A good spot for a morning journal session
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Valley hiking in my backyard
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Hot water for my evening off-grid shower

After a hot shower, dinner preparation begins. Tonight it’s fresh short ribs from the cow that took the better part of the day to butcher. The meat hits the braai just as our hunger starts to pick up. We’ve eaten dinner a bit earlier than the typical South African 9 or 10 PM so that we can have something in our stomachs before going to the local pub; a band from Cape Town is around to play the blues.

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Burnout in the pub
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Kitching Fossil Museum
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Owl House #1
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Owl House #2

If I’m at the pub past midnight, due to either late music or a rowdy group of bikers who’ve come to town looking for fights, I’ll eventually make my way to Anrich’s house to cook a second dinner. Last time it was burgers but tonight its a quick spaghetti bolognese along with Leighton and Beulah. Everyone’s hands are busy and when the food is ready the busy chatter turns into the chomping of teeth and sounds of satisfied appetites. After food and a few final gin and tonics, I make my way back home to bed. I spend the next 15 minutes of quiet walking with my head craned back. The light of the moon is enough to light the trails on my way home. Back home I’d likely plan to sleep the late night off until well into the afternoon but much like the summer of 2011 in Connecticut and my prior half-year living in South Africa, something about my current lifestyle has me from wanting to spend much time in bed. I expect I’ll be awake again in just a few hours…

Other key moments during my Nieu-Bethesda month:

  • Reading as many as Andre’s books as possible
  • Helping to turn a whole cow turned to mince and bones
  • Chats with Frans the sculptor neighbor about a future filled with 3D printers
  • Diffusing the bikers after fights in the pub
  • Discussing podcasts and cryptocurrencies with Andre
  • Practicing Spanish with Estibaliz, another volunteer from Madrid
  • Getting my place broken into
  • Slicing my thumb and passing out from the blood before getting a chance to eat those which were described as “amazing burgers” for a second dinner
  • Seeing exposed fossils of pre-dinosaur reptiles in the riverbeds
  • Chappy

 

Posted by:k@dontfearyourfood

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