I am always on the lookout for truly green destinations to get away from the tyrannies of modern life. Who doesn’t need to go to the mountains to reconnect with oneself through Nature?
When I find out a potential hide-out is off the grid to boot, I leap for joy. You might think me sentimental, but I will never forget family holidays at a tiny seaside place without electricity as a child. Special evenings as the land naturally darkened. Outside we explored the rock pools with torches, knowing every octopus by name and where they lived and fed. Protecting them from others there to catch them. Indoors we played board games at lamplight. There is something about soft lighting that allows the entire body to chill when the sun turns his head away.
Most of us spend more than 8 hours per day with our eyes focused on a screen and feel the strain and resultant eye deterioration, as well as the effects of the constant stimulation to the nervous system. This is not my imagination – there is even such a disease as ESS – Electronic Screen Syndrome.
Google this and you will be enlightened.
Away from the bright lights
The longing for off-grid, low stimulation after dark is not just mental or emotional, but also a biological urge towards balancing the electronic life and the effects of sharp lights on the body. When the light naturally fades at the end of the day, the body’s pineal gland releases natural melatonin, which helps us to get a good night’s sleep. “Production of melatonin by the pineal gland is inhibited by light to the retina and permitted by darkness. Its onset each evening is called the dim-light melatonin onset (DLMO).” (Wikipaedia)
Now you understand why when one of our readers, Jurgen Wohlfarter from down-to-earth Simonskloof Mountain Retreat, got in touch, I knew it was an answer to an IT weary life.
We travelled through the Hugenote tunnel, past Worcester, then turned right onto the R318 in awe of the last winter snow melting on the mountains . Early blossoms in the Koo valley decorating rows upon rows of fruit trees. As natural beauty massages your eyes your body gets the message: time to chill. Then right onto a holy gravel road up the mountain, though lazy homesteads, the cell already dead, radio reception lost. “Private road – last place to make a U-turn” a sign board warns.
There is only one farm at the end of the road and that is the rustic Simonskloof. Little rondawel ‘office’ with PV panel on the roof. “This was my first solar attempt,” explains Jurgen, strolling across from the chicken run. “We’re erecting a new fence to protect the hens from the cats at night. Wild anddomestic cats paired up and their offspring hunt down the birds.”
He points at an orange cottage on the opposite hill. “There’s your cottage.” The other cottage called Yellow perches on another incline. Converted labourers’ cottages fitted with solar geyser, wood stove and gas cooking and fridge. The visitor dwellings are not huddling together – here you have distance, space, silence as your neighbours.
We even have an outside bath a distance from the house, perched on the slope surrounded by veld.
Strolling towards the farmhouse – also converted labourers’ cottages which Jurgen had joined up – Kanda, the Border Collie, runs towards us and nudges us in the direction of a path going steep uphill. Ok, here is our tour guide taking us up the kloof. We follow on the lazy Saturday morning. He waits patiently every now and then. What’s the problem? Well, I explain, we only use two legs, remember. Shame, he offers genuine compassion.
Uphill and in the midday sun we start panting. He leads us to a stream flowing down the valley. Not much water – they’ve not had much rain – but cool and refreshing.
A newly born baby tortoise scampers across a rock, bright yellow. Nothing slow about this one.
Sunburnt from our first exposure after the winter, we visit the permaculture veggie garden, stroll around Erich’s house and garden. On the stoep Oom Schalk suddenly arrives. This would be a perfect setting for a storytelling.
We settle in for a chat with our host. I love the story behind the story, so I want to know. “ Jurgen, how did you end up here?”
“This was my grandfather Erich Reschke’s hideout, now it’s mine.” Shaven head, I see now, without the big hat. Practical and spiritual with clear eyes. Grandpa came across from Germany on a ship headed for Australia, after the war. “Soldiers were not wanted in their own country.” The tragedy strikes me, as I get a sense of this man dealing with this double sacrifice. At Walvis Bay they docked to take in provisions and discovered that the locals spoke German. He duly disembarked and started a new life in Southwest Africa, where he married Ingrid.
Grandpa was a painter by trade and was responsible for many official buildings in Windhoek, specialising in the then fashion of painting surfaces to look like different types of wood. The children went back to Germany and Switzerland, where Jurgen grew up. Ingrid died in the 60’s. Erich heard about Simonskloof and bought the farm unseen due to the big oak tree advertised in the newspaper. “Oaks are Germany’s national tree and grandpa was looking for a final resting place.”
Until Erich moved in this was a working fruit farm, but he was not there to farm. Becoming a true hermit, he was not keen on visitors. When Jurgen used to visit, grandpa would see him coming over the rise and disappear into the valley. Hours later he would arrive at the house and ask if Jurgen was spying on him. During wartimes many end up victims for life. When he passed on, his last wish was honoured. We paid tribute to Erich at his grave under the spectacular oak tree with arms stroking the earth and around the grave.
This is also the spot where sacred sweat lodges are held and where you can camp next to the stream, using composting toilets. For the adventurous there are kloofing trips to be had down the Nuy Valley River Gorge conducted by Jurgen, a seasoned guide. Jurgen himself arrived at the farm for the first time on foot with a friend after getting lost in the mountains and a firewalk of hiking and kloofing to find his Grandpa.
In terms of the biodiversity present at this retreat, the visitor’s information file is the most comprehensive I have ever seen. A page devoted to almost anything you can image – the snakes, the frogs, the butterflies, the mountains, the plants. Swiss attention to detail feeds this student of nature, revived by the peace of the valley and already planning to spend much longer there next time.
by Elma Pollard