If the invite didn’t give it away, homemade lemonade and a tin full of cookies at the departure point sure did. It was the launch of the West Coast Way Culture Route and I was tagging along as part of a borderline uncultured group of bloggers and journalists from the inner city.
Armed with maps, smartphones and Twitter feeds we set out on the R27 towards Mamre, Darling and the !Khwa ttu San Culture and Educational Centre for a day of rich culture and adventure.https://www.westcoastway.co.za/west-coast-way-routes/
A Fairy Tale Mission
The Moravian Missionary in Mamre was our first stop. I was a little underwhelmed by the dusty streets of Mamre, but then we took a left, drove through a small dip and entered the lush, green fairy tale setting of the Moravian Mission Station.
The minibus slowed down – and with it life itself it seemed – as we stopped under an ancient tree next to a rock outcropping from which slaves used to be sold. The surrounds were so authentic, I half expected the Moravians themselves to greet us and Cape Governor Simon van der Stel lifting his hat to say hello.
Surprisingly it didn’t happen. Instead, we were ushered into the Tori Oso Restaurant – colloquial name for a kletshoekie or chat corner – for a briefing and scones. Filled with knowledge and confectionary we set out on the Mamre Heritage Walk lead by Aunty Stienie – a veritable fountain of facts.
From the Tori Oso Restaurant we walked to the original town jail – an impressively small building – which was later turned into a bakery. Passing the Old School we turned into a charming lane running along the stately Long House that used to be the barracks.
Crossing a pasture we reached the mill, and then it was on to the main attraction: the Moravian Church where I stood in awe (I think my mouth was actually open) of a magnificent organ – ordered from Denmark in 1887 – stretching to the roof in its original form. Aunty Stienie gave the group a few pious moments to take it all in before we headed back to the serene streets of the 18th century mission.
The new Mamre Heritage Walk
West Coast Way developed the NEW Mamre Heritage Walk, which is a self guided map, download it here to take with you on your next visit.
Back at the minibus I looked back at the sprawling yard. Again I imagined JF Kohrhammer and JH Schmitt – the original missionaries – seeing us off and Simon van der Stel, hat in hand in the background shouting, “Drive safe! And come back soon.”
Next stop was the Tienie Versfeld Wild Flower Reserve just outside Darling. Set in a wetland, the reserve is home to a plethora of flowers thriving there because the land has never been ploughed. Tucked between adjoining farms the patch of land is a botanist’s dream.
One such botanist, Martin Halvorsen also known as the polar bear on account of his white beard, greeted us at the climb-over-the-fence gate for the inside scoop on. Martin filled us in on the micro climate of the area – 2km down the road conditions change dramatically – and gave us a crash course in the local flora including the badly kept secret that under the surface of the reserve thousands of bulbs are waiting patiently for the current drought to break.
The air at Tienie Versfeld was crisp and fresh. Flower lovers lazily strolled along the carefully laid out pathways creating a dreamy effect worthy of an impressionist masterpiece. Like Claude Monet himself sat there with easel and paintbrush.
“San Spirit Shared”
Just off the R27 we reached the !Khwa ttu San Culture and Educational Centre – both a modern marvel and ancient eye-opener. Contemporary buildings on top of a hill overlooking Table Mountain in the distance are contrasted by a traditional San settlement a little way down showing how the first people co-existed in complete harmony with their surroundings.
Expertly curated exhibitions in the main building gave us a snapshot of San culture, but it was only when we headed down the pathway to the settlement below that the “San Spirit” took hold.
Sitting around a fire that sometimes could burn up to two years bows, arrows and leather clothing designed for the veld made the rounds to various oohs and aaahs from the group. With the sun beating down I sipped Rooibos and wondered about the ideal position to take in the small, at most, two-man grass huts.
Our tour guide wrapped things up and we headed back to the cool confines of the centre’s restaurant for a three course meal of note. The food was great, but I couldn’t help but think how much better it would have been to feast on the eland meat and snake tree berries at the little settlement below.
The way the San did back then, and still do today.