Winging it to Wuppertal - An adventurous road trip
"Let's take a trip to Wuppertal! If I recall from my previous visit, it's about a 10-kilometer drive down this road". I say to my sister as I turn the car onto a winding dirt road.
"Are you sure?" she says.
"Oh yes," I say "It's just a little way down the gravel road into a valley below".
We were on a road trip to the Cederberg region of the Cape. We rented a small motor vehicle, it was in the month of December, it was blisteringly hot, the Cape experienced an unusually vicious heatwave that season. As we meandered down the hill into the valley, the kilometers were clocking up on the odometer, but Wuppertal was nowhere to be seen.
We passed fields of pristine fynbos and curiously shaped rock formations which glimmered red in the midday sun. This breathtaking sight took our attention away from our immediate demise of not knowing how far ahead our destination was. As luck would have it, a donkey cart appeared on the road a distance away. We stopped to enquire about Wuppertal just to be told that we still had 50-kilometers to travel.
Luckily we were going downhill all the way, because the vehicle was running low on fuel and I knew that we would possibly not make the destination. So wherever we could, we free-wheeled down the mountain towards Wuppertal, total enthralled by the beauty which surrounded us.
Wuppertal is an oasis in the craggy wilderness of the Cederberg. A hamlet that serves as a Moravian Mission station. As the little rental vehicle chugged into the village, one of the first structures next to the Moravian Church is the old church bell and the welcome picture of a typical Cape Dutch cottage.
As we drove along the narrow potholed gravel roads mesmerized by the quaint architecture and lush informal gardens of the homes, a wonderful sight caught our attention. In the extreme heat of the summer afternoon, the village children were frolicking and cooling off in a muddy damn. One of the children ran up to the vehicle, when we asked where we could fill the car with fuel, the answer came back "there's no filling station in Wuppertal". But, we were told, "you could wait for the dominee (priest) to return from his journey to the city, the dominee stores fuel for tourists". Relieved to hear this we asked when would the dominee return and were told: "maybe tomorrow, maybe in a few days".
There was accommodation available in the village, I was excited and willing to spend a few days with the local folk, but my sister was adamant to escape from the heat as the town is situated in the bottom of a valley and at that stage, there was not a hint of a breeze blowing. To calm the situation down I suggested we take a drive (the sweltering heat made it unbearable to walk) to do some photography and to have a bite to eat and a an ice-cold beer.
The lush green of grapevines hanging heavy with fruit was a refreshing sight. We saw many folk sitting on their verandahs under the shade of the vines, protected from the harsh sun.
"How do people make a living in this isolated world?" was my question.
We were told that most families in the community depend on a cash crop of rooibos tea as well as small-scale livestock farming and, many skilled craftsmen hand sew veldskoen - a traditional soft suede shoe.
The eccentricities of the community forced me from the car to engage in conversation with the people. A grandmother and her granddaughter caught my eye and invited us into their home for refreshment and a chat.
In the brightly decorated home, as we sipped freshly brewed rooibos tea we talked about families, cultures, recipes, and all things women generally natter about. Eventually, the conversation was directed to the reason for our visit and our plan to leave the village as soon as the dominee arrived so that we could get fuel. In her spritely manner, the grandmother laughed and said "Oh that could a long time, but I have a plan'. She promptly got onto her cellphone made a call to a friend in the village who was willing to sell us 10 liters of fuel.
Needless to say, we were overjoyed at the prospect of taking the winding road back to civilization.
At the local tearoom, we enjoyed a hearty chicken pie with a fresh garden salad. Unfortunately, we did not get to have the ice-cold beer we were both looking forward to, when we placed the order the server looked at us as and said: "Nay Madam, this is a Mission station, we do not serve alcohol here".
I tell this story because a few years ago, the Moravian Mission Station of Wuppertal was mostly destroyed by raging wildfires. About 200 of the quaint houses were destroyed. The houses are being rebuilt again, but we were very fortunate that we got to experience and take back memories of the quaint town as it stood for many many years.