Monday, October 11, 2010

The day we got our "mojo" back


We got up refreshed, looking forward to the day's ride. We were settling into the "rhythm" of the ride. That's when rides are at their best. We instantly know what goes where when we pack, who does what, we move together on the bike etc. Nirvana.

The street we lived on:

More about the Karoo architecture later.

We had our shortest distance to ride today (230km) and specifically so. I routed us via back roads to Nieu Betesda, a place I wanted to show to Mrs.TR since I was there on the Love & War trip. I made sure that we would not be rushed so that Mrs.TR can browse through the town at leisure.

But first, a quick ride on tar from Colesberg to Noupoort:

Noupoort also has a small war museum, but unfortunately it was closed today.

And then we hit the gravel. I have to admit that the Eastern Cape is one of my favourite provinces. Great scenery and lots of variation.

Another interesting road sign. I found out later that this "sheep" sign is not as unique as the previous two at all, it's not something we see around where we live.

Like photographing churches in towns, I have also fallen into the habit of photographing houses in a rural setting.

I have never been here before. We rode up to a point where the GPS indicated a turn-off to the left. This was it:

MrsTR was unsure whether this could be the road to Nieu Betesda (and so was I) but just look at this!

According to the GPS Nieu Betesda is just over the mountain in the distance.

What's better than a gravel road? A gravel road with no fences. What's better than that? A 2 spoor / jeep track with no fences!

I was worried though that we might be trespassing on private land. Luckily we soon saw a farmer dosing his flock of sheep so we stopped for a chat.

He was very surprised that the GPS routes us past here, but yes, this road will take us to the Nieu Betesda road and eventually Nieu Betesda. The road has some gates and is never graded, but it indeed is a public road. JACKPOT!

Before we could get through this gate though we had to wait until the rest of the flock was in the kraal.

We could not believe our luck. We were riding "through Africa" on a 2 spoor. No fences. Just great scenery.

It felt like we were "overlanding". We were riding along at a leisurely pace, chatting and enjoying the moment. How often do you get the chance to ride through huge open spaces like this?

Sadly we eventually reached the "road to Nieu Betesda". This would be a great road in any circumstance, but after the experience we've just had it was kinda sad to be "fenced in" again.

This road runs via Cephanjes Poort - just look at this!

This day is just turning out to be surprise after surprise. Great scenery and variance, from wide open spaces to riding between trees, from dry areas to riding next to the rivers and streams.

Heading into the mountains:

Again, no fences. Just us in this wonderful landscape.

The last section to Nieu Betesda runs through a Nature Reserve.

And finally we ride into the hamlet of Nieu Betesda. It is a popular destination for those who need to unwind. Nieu Bethesda has no bank, credit card facilities or petrol pump, and mobile phones are discouraged.

The town is overlooked by Compassberg, the highest mountain in the Eastern Cape, and is lined on either side by hills.

The Dutch Reformed Church - inaugurated in 1905:

The police station:

More Nieu Betesda scenery:

Nieu Bethesda is home to a number of artists and crafters. Among the famous who called Nieu Betesda home is writer Athol Fugard who wrote some of his world-famous plays here.

But it is Helen Martins, creator of the Owl House and Camel Yard, who has immortalized Nieu Bethesda.

Helen Martins, a teacher, got divorced in 1926 after her husband abandoned her for another woman. Around 1928 Helen Martins returned to Nieu Bethesda and spent the next 17 years looking after her ailing and elderly parents who died in 1941 (mother) and 1945 (father) respectively. Left with few prospects in a small Karoo village, Martins became increasingly reclusive and isolated from the local community.

Martins became bored with her "dull" life and resolved to transform the environment around her. She started to decorate the walls and ceilings in her house with colourful crushed glass to bring some colour and light into her life.

She avoided people in general but once a year (at Christmas) she would open up the house and invite the locals to visit, enhancing the mirrors, murals and crushed-glass coated walls with the light of many candles.

The pantry still has bottles filled with crushed glass of various colours and sizes.

It is uncertain in which order Helen decorated her house and yard, but it is known that the inside of the house was basically finished before she started with the statues outside. In 1964 she employed Koos Malgas to help her make the cement and glass statues outside her house.

Out of over 300 sculptures this is my favourite:

No matter what you do or what you have, you cannot get time back. Of all it is the most important currency. The statue reminds me of the Afrikaans poem "Die Onverkrygbare" by Ingrid Jonker:

ek koop ‘n rok van crêpe-de-chine
met vingers op die tikmasjien
met goeie kos en ligte dop
sal iemand gou as vriend ontpop
met verse oor die graf en stof
koop ek vir my ‘n rantsoen lof
jou liefde kan ek myne noem
met mooimaakgoed en warm soen
kon ek verkry met geld en spel
die wyster wat die ure tel!

Martins drew on inspiration from Christian biblical texts, the poetry of Omar Khayyam and different works by William Blake. The sculptures were predominantly owls, camels and people, mostly pointing toward the east.

Although Helen Martins sought recognition for her work it was the source of suspicion and derision within the village. During her lifetime Helen Martins received very little support or enthusiasm about her work.

Her lifelong exposure to the fine crushed glass she used to decorate her walls and ceilings caused her eyesight to start failing in 1976. She took her own life by swallowing a mixture of caustic soda and crushed glass in olive oil.

  Helen Martins: 23 December 1897 - 8 August 1976

The Owl House has since been kept intact as a museum per Helen Martins' wishes and is now managed by the Owl House Foundation. Athol Fugard published a play in 1985 about the house called The Road to Mecca which was later made into a film of the same name. The house was declared a provisional national monument in 1991.

It was my second time here and I enjoyed sharing it with my wife.

Early afternoon we hit the road to Graaf Reinet:

Our home for the night: Heather's B&B

The symmetrical, square designed, flat roofed type house in an interesting type of Karoo architecture. It's a simple style I find quite charming. As shortage of suitable reeds in the Karoo, as well as the fact that there were no forests for timber nearby, put a pitched, thatch roofed house well out of reach of the average citizen and so this style emerged. It's was a simple, cheap and effective design and you'll find these in most towns around the Karoo.

Heather's B&B turned out to be an excellent choice. They are centrally situated, close to the Spar and they even have a swimming pool and braai area. Perfect for bikers who don't carry a lot of things on their bikes.

We did not use the braai area though. We visited my good friend Hamster who rode with us to the Rallye Raid in May.

Good friends and good food rounded off a perfect day. Life is good.

Our stats for today:

Sources: Wikipedia; Miss Helen


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