Skitterland Sitterland Sutherland
Everyone needs to spend at least one weekend in the Karoo. The best time to do so is anytime, but, for me, its wintertime, when it’s stark, bitterly cold, dry and brown, when it seems dead and desolate. Hunters are flocking there in their droves now, its hunting season and most households traditionally stock up their deep freezers with Venison. While watching sport on a Saturday evening a staple here would be beer, droëwors and biltong (dried sausage and jerky). It all goes together like braaivleis, sunny skies and Chevrolet.
We fired up our Land Cruiser and headed for Sutherland, also known as Sitterland, Skitterland, Sutterland. Our accommodation would be a small cottage on a farm a mere 1,5km out of town. Driving into the village was reminiscent of the lone horseman (Clint Eastwood) on a slow trot entering a one horse town on a dusty road leading to nowhere. The Hotel on the one side, the bank and trading store on the other. A few locals milling about waiting for something to happen.
We only stopped for the key to our cottage. I couldn’t wait to dress up in all my winter woollens so that we could head out to the Planetarium to look at the galaxies. It was freezing, as soon as the sun set the cold set in. The slow grinding of the windmill told us we'd arrived, I would take a photograph of this iconic implement every South African grows up with, soon to be replaced by solar panels and wind turbines.
SALT hosts the largest telescope in the Southern Hemisphere and daily tours are held. We did the night tour, the visitors centre was interesting, but, unfortunately a little neglected, not all the lights worked, some of the displays have broken and the cleaners haven’t been around for a while. A pity. We saw the witnessed the perfect African sunset, saw the sickle moon, Venus (the evening star) and Jupiter while waiting for total darkness before heading to the telescopes.
Our guide, Pieter was informative gave us a good peek into the night skies and we were blown away by the magnificence all around us, the majesty, size and relative insignificance of our earth in the big picture. We found the Southern Cross, tracked Venus and Jupiter, saw the craters of the Moon, got winters’ toes, frozen noses, but these little minor discomforts paled by comparison!
I managed to take a few photographs of our surroundings on the farm and a selfie in the Museum, the disk is a reflector used in a telescope (I think!).
“You arrive and arrive, and the more you arrive, and once more you see the same vast nothing you are coming from. Believe it or not, that is the very charm of a desert – the unfenced emptiness, the space, the freedom, the unbroken arch of the sky.” The Historical Karoo – Chris Schoeman