Driving in the Karoo: arid semi-desert as far as the eye can see, interrupted only by the occasional aloe that gives an almost surreal contrast to its bleak surroundings with a bright red flower stem. Straight roads that disappear into the hazy horizon, and endless blue skies. Hotel California is playing on the radio, and it hits a spot: this could be heaven or this could be hell. There is actually a place in the Karoo called die Hel. It is a remote valley, deep in the Swartberg, that up until 1963 was accessible only by foot or horseback. It is thought that an animal inspector who visited the valley in the 1940ies gave the place its nickname (the official name is Gamka’s Kloof) when he described travelling there as “hell”.
But this is definitely roadtripper heaven. The feeling of complete solitude while driving along one of the endless straight roads, not a soul in sight. The delight at a little dorpie that appears up ahead in the distance, promising a roadstall with cold drinks and fresh biltong. And the mountains growing nearer, offering the possibility of a cool stream. Pink sunrises give way to hot, sunny days and glowing, orange sunsets mark the passage to icy cold, starry nights.
Karoo roads should not be travelled in a hurry. Slow down and see the beauty that resides in the endless landscape. The rust, gold and ochre of the soil, the silhouette of a waterpump in the distance and a flock of sheep gathering at a waterhole. The small flowers that somehow manage to grow in these impossible conditions, and the sudden burst of green where a tiny stream surfaces.
The locals say that there are people that travel through the Karoo, and there are people who learn to understand the Karoo. One thing is certain. Once you have allowed her enough time to show you the beauty that lies within, it will stay with you forever. You can check out any time you like, but your heart will never leave.