Sophia van Taak and Toast Coet­zer share 12 les­sons they learnt while film­ing the lat­est se­ries of Weg Agter­paaie.

Sophia van Taak and Toast Coet­zer trav­elled 3 840 km along the back roads of the West Coast to film the lat­est se­ries of Weg Agter­paaie. Along the way they also turned in­land to ex­plore the Ceder­berg, the Kn­ersvlakte, Na­maqua­land, the Richtersveld and Bus


1 Al­ways carry a pock­etknife

It’s good to be pre­pared. If you have a pock­etknife at hand, you can join in the con­ver­sa­tion when some­one like Dun­can Theart gives you a bun­dle of bokkems and shows you how to skin them right there in the restau­rant of the Laaiplek Ho­tel. Su­lene Archer from Taai­bos Farm Restau­rant on Pe­droskloof Guest Farm near Kamieskroon also showed us how to cook a sheep’s head. You can use your pock­etknife to scrape the head clean and to cut juicy strips of meat from the lower jaw.

2 Some­one was here be­fore you

It’s a priv­i­lege to see a new des­ti­na­tion through the eyes of the peo­ple who have lived there for gen­er­a­tions. They know which wind brings rain, which gul­ley is home to the most fish, whose grand­fa­ther saw which ship run aground. Sto­ries and tra­di­tions keep the his­tory of a com­mu­nity alive. We also got to see many rock paint­ings as we trav­elled – the diaries of peo­ple who lived here cen­turies ago. At Ba­boon Point in Elands Bay (bot­tom left), we stood be­fore a wall full of wav­ing red hand­prints and won­dered about life un­der this over­hang. On Steen­bok­fontein farm near Lam­bert’s Bay, ar­chae­ol­o­gists from UCT are still dis­cov­er­ing arte­facts left be­hind by peo­ple who lis­tened to buf­falo snort­ing out­side their cave, as they planned how they were go­ing to col­lect mus­sels the next morn­ing. Long be­fore C Louis Leipoldt was buried un­der an over­hang on the Pakhuis Pass, a red ochre ele­phant cow and her calf made a home there. And to the east of the pass, at the Sevilla rock art sites (be­low), hunters ran with their bows and arrows raised and car­ried prey over their shoul­ders.

3 “If you wait long enough, the train will come”

This was the pre­dic­tion of the first paramount chief of the Gri­quas, An­drew Abra­ham Stock­en­ström le Fleur, af­ter one of his vi­sions. Also known as “Die Kneg van God” and “The Re­former”, Le Fleur saw the route the Sishen-Sal­danha rail­way line would fol­low in his vi­sion, even the ex­act place where the line would cross the Salt River. And he told a wo­man that she would one day hear the train but not see it… Le Fleur passed away and years later in 1976, when trains did in­deed start rat­tling down the line, the same wo­man could hear the wag­ons ap­proach­ing, but she didn’t see them be­cause she had gone blind with age. When we vis­ited Ratel­gat Farm, a sa­cred site for the Gri­qua peo­ple, this was one of the many anec­dotes that Thys and Va­lerie Men­toor (pic­tured) told us. They also told us about Gri­qua fes­ti­vals, memo­ri­als and the role of in­ter­ces­sors – peo­ple who pray on be­half of oth­ers – who are called “Die Vog”, mean­ing fog or morn­ing dew. As we trav­elled we waited for a glimpse of the train and we missed it a few times un­til one af­ter­noon in Vre­den­dal. We counted 340 wag­ons as the 3,8 km-long train sailed by. Le Fleur had many more vi­sions: He saw the Bri­tish royal fam­ily flee­ing to the Bea­con Isle Ho­tel in Plet­ten­berg Bay and he saw a great bat­tle in Cape Town that would leave “horses wad­ing through blood”. Time will tell, but one thing is sure: The Re­former was spot-on about the Sishen-Sal­danha line.

4 Bakkie is best

If a farmer of­fers you a ride, say yes! Ev­ery­thing starts to make sense when you get on the back of a bakkie. You’re in the sun and dust and you can smell and taste the farm. A dog will mill around your feet, bark­ing ex­cit­edly. When the farmer ex­tends a tanned arm to point to some­thing, you’ll lean over, closer to the open win­dow, to hear what he’s say­ing. You’ll nod and look and start to un­der­stand how dev­as­tat­ing the drought is and what a suf­fer­ing an­i­mal looks like. Haffie Strauss took us to see rooi­bos fields in the Agter-Pakhuis Val­ley and we joined Ju­lian Melck from Kerse­fontein as he searched for stray cat­tle. We drove through green vine­yards with Maree Botha in Vre­den­dal and went out with Koos Strauss of Ek­steen­fontein (pic­tured) to feed his live­stock.

5 Mir­a­cles hap­pen when no one is look­ing

The N7 is the main route con­nect­ing the ar­eas we ex­plored. Even though you can see won­der­ful sights along this high­way, the best sto­ries are found on the back roads. We hap­pened to be trav­el­ling on the Gamoep road at the right time. This dream of a back road leads from Kamieskroon past a quiver tree for­est, where the trees look like no­madic peo­ple on a trek to who knows where. Near Rooi­fontein and Ka­massies, the kop­pies of Na­maqua­land spill out onto the sandy plains of Bush­man­land. The ef­fects of the drought had been ev­i­dent as we trav­elled up the coast, but here it was in­tense. Noth­ing stirred in Gamoep, but a few kilo­me­tres fur­ther we spot­ted white bakkies and small trucks gath­ered on a farm called Dabeep. Green bales of lucerne popped against the yel­low land­scape, cour­tesy of Jan Scholtz from far­away Hartswa­ter, who had or­gan­ised drought aid for the farm­ers in the area. Kan­netjie Beukes (be­low left) and Nigel John­son from the farm Mesklip came to help load sup­plies. We talked to the Bush­man­land farm­ers col­lect­ing the lucerne and some of them were in tears. We couldn’t help get­ting teary-eyed, too. It felt like a mir­a­cle. This is how peo­ple sup­port each other, with­out any fan­fare, be­cause they care.

6 Some rocks are cooler than oth­ers

You learn a lot when you ex­plore the Richtersveld with guide Rey Janse van Rens­burg, in­clud­ing that white quartzite rocks scat­tered in the veld are about 12˚ C cooler than the sur­round­ing black rocks. “Cooler” is a rel­a­tive term in high sum­mer, but the dif­fer­ence in tem­per­a­ture means that the en­demic half­mens ( Pachy­podium na­maquanum) thrives on quartzite kop­pies. The white stones re­flect the sun and make the tem­per­a­ture of the soil more bear­able. When there is fog or dew at night, wa­ter droplets form on the quartzite (which also cools down quicker than the darker rocks) and run down to the root sys­tems of the half­mens plants. Yes, these an­cient plants have in­ge­nious ways of en­sur­ing they sus­tain their growth rate of 3 – 5 mm a year!

7 How to tin a sar­dine

Ever won­dered how the tinned sar­dines you buy at the shop made their way from the sea to your plate? Dur­ing a tour of the West Point fish-pro­cess­ing fac­tory in St He­lena Bay, you can find out. The sar­dines are caught near Gans­baai and trans­ported in cold wa­ter to keep them fresh. At the fac­tory, the fish are rinsed and sorted and their heads and tails are re­moved. The sar­dines are then tinned, sealed and cooked. All this hap­pens in one day! The tins are sorted ac­cord­ing to size, la­belled, wrapped and trans­ported to a su­per­mar­ket shelf near you.

8 Surf­ing is hard on the knees

Who hasn’t stood on a beach, wist­fully watch­ing a surfer ride the slop­ing curve of a wave? But if you’ve never done it, and now you’re go­ing to try in your late thir­ties, you’re look­ing for trou­ble. Sud­denly things like bal­ance, fit­ness and re­ac­tion time – words you’d ex­pect to hear on Su­perS­port, not the beach – come into play. In Elands Bay, Gigs Cel­liers showed us the ba­sics. We might have spent most of the hour-long les­son fall­ing down like sacks of Sand­veld pota­toes, but we got to feel cool and free for a few split sec­onds at a time.

9 Suc­cu­lents know how to sur­vive

When you travel through the Kn­ersvlakte along the N7 and you look out over the empty plains, it’s hard to imag­ine plants thriv­ing here. But bend down and you’ll see lots of suc­cu­lents grow­ing at your feet. Walk in the veld with an ex­pert like Chris­tine Wiese of the farm Quag­gaskop and she’ll point out all the dif­fer­ent species: bobbe­jaanvingers, kra­po­gies, but­ton plants, baby toes… small plants as cute as their names and built to sur­vive the hot and dry con­di­tions. Some suc­cu­lents grow a thick peel or keep their seeds in hard pods to pre­vent them from dry­ing out; oth­ers change colour from green to red to slow pho­to­syn­the­sis and con­serve en­ergy. Some even self­am­pu­tate limbs they don’t need.

10 Teach a man to fish...

Fish­ing is the lifeblood of the West Coast, yet the in­dus­try – and the com­mu­ni­ties that de­pend on it – is strug­gling. Still, in vil­lages like Pater­nos­ter, St He­lena Bay, Velddrif, Laaiplek, Dor­ing­baai and Papen­dorp, it’s how peo­ple put food on the table. In Papen­dorp, we joined fish­er­men on the Oli­fants River as they cast their nets for hard­ers. From Bes­sel Afrika, Ver­non Cloete, Oubaas Gertse (on the right) and Patrick Don (on the left), we learnt that fish­ing is also a way to turn your back on the dark side of life, like the temp­ta­tion of crime that plagues un­der­priv­i­leged com­mu­ni­ties all along the coast.

11 Live a lit­tle

This is what tan­nie Al­ida Lochner (pic­tured above) from Vre­den­burg taught us. Al­ida wasn’t al­ways a tan­nie – in her younger years she was a “tomboy” from Wallekraal (a farm­ing com­mu­nity near Hon­dek­lip Bay), who climbed trees when she should have been darn­ing socks. Even though she’s grown older, she still has a twin­kle in her eye. Al­ida’s se­cret to a good life is not to take your­self too se­ri­ously. Let your hair down. You only live once and no one can make your life ex­cit­ing but you. We took her ad­vice to heart and re­alised that many peo­ple on the West Coast live by her words. Peo­ple here live with­out pre­tence. They wear what they want, they say what they mean and they don’t care what other peo­ple think. Whether you mine for di­a­monds or if you lost your farm to the drought, you’re still my neigh­bour. Your bank bal­ance won’t make me love you less. What mat­ters is whether you’ll join me around the braai fire later.

12 Hope lies to the west

As the towns and cities of South Africa fill up with more and more peo­ple, parts of the West Coast still of­fer refuge for those seek­ing peace and quiet. Kleinzee, for ex­am­ple, was estab­lished be­cause of the di­a­mond min­ing in­dus­try, but it’s now turn­ing into a pop­u­lar re­tire­ment des­ti­na­tion. You can start over on the West Coast, leav­ing your past be­hind some­where east of the N7. In Hon­dek­lip Bay, artists like Deon “Vil­lain” Ven­ter and Madeleine Baum­garten (right) told us their sto­ries. It was re­fresh­ing to hear how you can change your life com­pletely. The West Coast is pa­tient and al­lows change. It of­fers com­fort and some light at the end of the tun­nel.










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