Thursday, July 26, 2012

Back home, with some detours

All things have an end (except for sausages, which have two, as we say in Germany...), and so I had to leave the wilderness and head back into what I've come to jokingly call "civilization".
Mama Schade's Blackforest Cake

First was a week-long stopover in Cape Town, to meet some old friends, tie up some loose ends and catch a plane back to Europe.
The best part of the week was my host Sheila, a lovely lady who had been part of the solstice-activities up in the Karoo and invited me to come visit when I was back in town - so I moved into her guest room, complete with my own bathroom and a heat blanket under the bed sheet, to preheat the bed on cold winter evenings. Oh how I love technology!

Birthday brunch
Sheila and I celebrated her 71st birthday together with lots of good food and wine, and had more of the same during the rest of the week. I also got to experience what life in South Africa is like living in one of the gated communities or "complexes" - very safe, very comfortable and with a lot of driving. The regular coffee shop is "only" a ten minute drive away, you can be in the city in a matter of half an hour on the highway. But there are green fields, beautiful views from the breakfast table and security guards to make sure you can sleep easy.

Breakfast table vistas in Durbanville

During the week I also met my previous host's daughter, who lives in Cape Town, is almost exactly my age and just had a heart transplant 8 months ago. We spent a day having coffee, enjoying classic cape views and collecting some golf balls for her dad... The feat of travelling once around Southern Africa seemed pretty insignificant compared to growing up with a heart disease and having to get used to your own mortality as a teenager.

Michelle trying to blend in with the guinea fowls in the background

And finally, the main reason for coming back to this city, I had my first capoeira-batizado! Sadly without much of my capoeira family, since lots of them were on summer vacation, but still very exciting for me. My mestre Espirrinho handed me my green first belt, and my "godmother" Mordaca gave me my nickname: Beterraba, beetroot, apparently because that's what my face looks like after playing.

with Espirrinho

When I finally got on my plane home, leaving the CT capoeiristas behind was the hardest thing. But in Dusseldorf, my real family was already waiting for me, with a beterraba-bouquet and a blackforest cake! What more could you want?

Brother + beterraba-bouquet
Now, after lots of sentimental pictures with friends and family, what's next? I'm traipsing around Europe for a little while, and then seeing if maybe I can stomach "civilization" for long enough to get my PhD here - I'm doubtful...

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Modes of transportation

After my rather brainy solstice weekend with the Dr. I was to follow a several-month-old invitation to David's home farm further up in the Karoo, near Graaff-Reinet. His cousin Philip, leatherworker and horseman, a carbon copy of Captain Haddock with his beard, cap and tobacco pipe - if only his voice wasn't just a tad to squeaky - had told me I must come up there and learn how to ride a horse.

Philip - what a character.

So on Sunday afternoon, I climbed into the farmer's 6-seater Cessna, for the only airborne leg of my whole trip. He had learned how to fly because he decided it was the most efficient way to travel accross this vast country - and I definitely prefer it over driving! Couldn't stop grinning for about 10 minutes after the stomach-turning ascent, and then got to steer the plane for a little while. It's really difficult to keep the thing level inside a cloud, because everything outside is just white, white, white... But there is a little instrument for everything, including a water balance, so we didn't crash and made it to Coetzierskraal, the Luscombes' family farm, in just over an hour.

What keeps an airplane up in the clouds


Of course the rain in Laingsburg stopped when I left, and it started raining at this new place as soon as I arrived. I moved into one of the now grown-up kids' rooms, and went for a stroll of the vast meadows, complete with rivers and willow trees. And ostriches. And angora goats! Those look just like sheep, really.

3 stoves! The one in the middle has a little fire going.

The next day, after a breakfast of oats cooked by the maid on an old-fashioned wood-fired stove, Plip and I went out to capture the horse I was supposed to ride. Her name was Venus, and she was with a young fole and quite grumpy to be made to carry me around on her back. My excitement made up for her apathy though, and so we managed to do a few circles inside a pen, then a few lanes on a larger field. After two days Venus, the fole and myself spent a whole morning exploring the farmlands all by ourselves. (I'd rather not tell you how the first time I got off the horse to open up a gate, she wouldn't go through the gate at all, turned right back around and trotted back to the stables. And how I had to take off my shoes and run after her through an ice-cold river. But it did happen... only once though!)

I'm on a horse!

Precocious baby horse

Horse riding makes a lot of sense out there, especially in places where a car can't go: One morning, David, his girlfriend and I drove out to a more remote part of the farm where the river had flooded a road, and promptly got the pickup stuck in the mud. It took about 5 men and half an hour of hard labor to finally get the vehicle back on solid ground.

The Karoo as seen from horseback

I stayed at Coetzierskraal for almost a week, and really didn't want to leave at all. But after 6 days I washed the farm dust and horse hair out of my clothes and got back on the road, down the grand N1, through Laingsburg and Hex River Valley. David's son needed his car down in Cape Town, and so for the first time since the beginning of the trip I was driving myself - back to the place where it all started.

(No,f course I would never be taking photos while driving. Ever.)

Friday, July 6, 2012

Winter solstice

When I got off the train in Laingsburg, I was headed for the sheep farm of David Luscombe - a giant patch of arid land with merinos and damaras roaming more or less freely on it. The farm house had a warm fireplace and - for a change - working hot water, but no electricity. David arrived a few hours after I did, and I spent the next two days learning all about sheep farming. Apparently merino sheep are a bit dumb, and tend to get eaten by jackals, so they decided to switch most of their sheep over to the much more goat-like damara sheep. Those don't give wool, but nice meat, and because they sleep in one big flock at night, the jackals can't really get to them.

The plants wer enjoying the rain

Unfortunately it started pouring rain on my second day there, and both the local workers and the local sheep didn't like the unusual weather in the least, so the herding halted. I settled next to the fireplace with a headache and a fever (for a while I thought I had caught the malaria, but in hindsight it was probably just the flu), and waited for the main attraction of my stay: the winter solstice workshop of Dr. Cyril Hromnik.

CH taking pictures of the solstice sunset lining up with a person seated in an ancient worship site

I met Cyril a few months ago through his son - he's a historian studying pre-European African civilizations, and is particularly interested in certain stone structures found in Southern Africa. David's farm has got lots of heaps of rocks, little walls and strange man-made enclosures all over it, that no one was able to explain for a long time. Cyril noticed that all of these stones line up with the movable sky, i.e. the trajectories of the sun, moon and planets. His explanation? Indian gold traders moved down the Eastern coast of Africa long before the year 0, began mixing with the local population and brought with them their religion - the resulting culture he calls "Kenna".

Adjusting the marker for a solstice sunrise observatory

Apparently very similar structures are found in India. And once Cyril started looking for patterns in the temples, as he calls them, he discovered that some of them form shapes from ancient Indian mythology, for instance Rama's bow and arrow. To further corroborate that idea, lots of African languages turn out to have Dravida (i.e. old Indian) words in them!
For the last decade or so, Cyril has taken groups of interested people to David's farm to observe solstices and equinoxes from the old temples. About 5 of them showed up there last Friday, and together we spent the weekend clambering over rocks and staring wide-eyed at beautiful sunrises and sunsets over distant mountain peaks and between little monoliths.

Since the weather remained cold and wet (Desert? Lies!), the traditional South African Braai was moved to the fireplace in the living room. Yup, cooking over open fire can be very civilized!