Operation Oysterhood: Camdeboo

OYSTERHOOD is reclusiveness or solitude, or an overwhelming desire to stay at home.

— @HaggardHawks

My love had been planning the road trip to the Camdeboo for a while, but I had no idea whether I would be able to join him because of Salieri, work and then, at the last moment, a COVID scare – but it all worked out in the end: Salieri’s condition was stable, I could travel and work (part-time) and my test came back negative. Off we went! Destination Camdeboo.

Being on the road in South Africa is a transcendent experience. The vast landscapes, the endless paths, the beauty of it all. Travelling in this country means being in a constant state of awe.

Our first stop was a friends’ farm. Great company, great wine and food and all around a landscape that is simultaneously unrelenting and generous. Our friends keep cattle and fowls and make the most wonderful cheese. Being on the farm with goats and hens everywhere made me constantly think of two of Karavan Press’s novels: Breaking Milk and An Island. And it was the first time ever I had a real opportunity to interact with hens and roosters and to get to know their rhythms and truly connect. Many of the birds on the farm are more like family members than farm animals. I will never forget finding Principessa between my blanket and the duvet, where she settled happily when I went to the bathroom. I was disappointed, though, that she did not gift me with an egg.

We headed to the Mount Camdeboo Private Reserve next and spent two blissful nights up in the mountains in a secluded pod – an architectural/design feat of note – before returning to the manor house in the valley for the last night of our stay.

Once again, the calm of the incredible landscape was soothing for the soul, and the game drives delivered the most fascinating viewings and adventures. On the last evening, on our way down the mountain, we encountered a rhino mom with her baby going up on the narrow path to the top to graze. They had right of way, so the ranger reversed for about two kilometers in the dark and we waited for the family to come up and disappear into the bush at the top. While waiting for these majestic beings to make their way, we heard the horror stories of poaching in the area before drastic security measures were introduced to protect the animals.

The Camdeboo is the setting of A Fractured Land, one of the first books we published at Karavan Press. Melissa’s descriptions of these landscapes are stunningly evocative and it was wonderful for me to see them with my own eyes and to imagine the story all over again.

You cannot be in this area and not visit Nieu-Bethesda: The Owl House, Dustcovers Bookshop and the fabulous Stirlings at the Ibis that offers a six-course menu, including the most divine garlic ice cream (only one of two puddings at the end of the meal), for R180 – yes, it’s true.

If this restaurant was in Cape Town, I would stop cooking.

If the Dustcovers Bookshop was in Cape Town, my book buying addiction would stand no chance whatsoever.

The first book we saw on display when entering was Breaking Milk, and the last one I spotted after paying was The Fifth Mrs Brink. I felt totally at home.

Outside the bookshop, we discovered that we had a flat tyre. A family visiting Nieu-Bethesda was passing by and the father and sons, seeing the despair on our faces, took charge of the situation and rescued us within twenty minutes. They were amazing!

The puncture and the need to have the spare repaired before the public holiday made us rush a bit through The Owl House, but I was not sorry. It was important for me to see the place, and it was nothing like I had imagined (way beyond what I could imagine), but there is something truly unsettling in the haunting house and its fantastical garden that did not make me feel comfortable. But I love the two owls I brought home from there.

Final stop was Graaff-Reinet. Even though it is a beautiful town with many fascinating places to visit, we were not entirely ready for the return to people, traffic and ordinary life, so we headed out to the Camdeboo National Park and The Valley of Desolation on Heritage Day. For the rest, it was reading, relaxing and another dinner with our friends at the wonderful Hello You.

And then it was time to go home …

Be kind. Wear a mask. Support local.

“Physical distancing remains one of the key strategies to curb this pandemic.”


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