I?m in a tiny wooden room under someone?s house. I don?t know whose it is. All I know is that it says ?Home Produce, Feta Cheese, Jams, Preserves, Honey? on a sign outside, which was enough to lure me through the gate and up the driveway to where another sign told me to ?Shop?.
So here I am, shopping. I pick out some delicious rosemary-and-olive yoghurt balls and a combination of feta, sun-dried tomatoes and olives from the floor-to-ceiling assortment of jars. Then I carefully tot up my purchases in the counter book ? copying the jottings of those who came before ? and, finally, feed my cash into the Honesty Box.
There?s a strange sense of pride that comes with being trusted. In our modern, urban world, no one trusts anyone any more. Yet here?s someone who manages to trust everyone, every day.
Only in Napier.
This village is a needle in the haystack that is the Overberg region, in the Western Cape. A tiny, red spot on the map next to the bigger blob that is Bredasdorp. There isn?t a single traffic light in town and there?s only one bank, which is open on Mondays and Fridays, but closes for lunch. No shopping mall, no escalators, no parking marshals, no problem. What Napier does have is sheep. And power failures. There is one ATM and it?s inside the OK MiniMart ? which, incidentally, is my favourite supermarket anywhere.
For most travellers, Napier is a place you drive through: a blink-and-you-miss-it blur punctuated with the big, beige edifice of the Dutch Reformed church. But the magic of Napier only works if you stop. Not a quick petrol-and-padstal stop, mind; a proper stop, to stay over. Then you?ll really experience the clean air, the quiet, and the foreign sense of stillness that settles inside you like a pile of leaves. Being there is like meditating, only you don?t have to sit still.
On my first trip to Napier, I started feeling that stillness way back on the N2 as it took me further from Sir Lowry?s Pass and deeper into the Overberg. Hills rolled from the road, smooth as paper streaked with highlighter-lines of green grass and orange earth, the shadow of clouds creeping across the page. Somehow, clouds don?t cast shadows in the city.
It only took one visit for us to buy the cottage on the hill. Our whole family made the hour-and-three-quarter drive from Cape Town, in convoy, to check out the town, have lunch and see the little house with its green roof and tumbling garden. We all nodded in unison, signed the offer to purchase and drove home. Easy as that.
It?s called Sea Breeze Cottage, although the sea is nowhere in sight. But in the evenings, gusts of wind from the ocean at Arniston, Struisbaai and Cape Agulhas seem to billow off their perfect beaches and rush down through the valley to rendezvous on our stoep. They?re always welcome.
Napier is strange that way: it?s simultaneously close enough and far enough, on the way and out of the way. It?s only 20 minutes from Arniston?s aqua waves, but a world away from trailer-lugging traffic and seaside hullabaloo. Although the popular De Hoop Nature Reserve, Cape Agulhas, Stanford, Bredasdorp and quaint Elim, with its budding wine industry, are all within easy driving distance, Napier itself is unassuming and unhurried by the visiting hordes.
Perhaps I flatter myself, but I no longer consider myself a visitor: I?m a part-time Napierian who makes the trip about once a month. I?ve found my favourite haunts there and I?m getting to know the full-timers. I also love to walk along the main street with its magnificently named Moerse Padstal.
?Warm, sexy bread? reads a huge sign outside this farm stall and nursery, which is home to Stella, the biggest, most gregarious Great Dane I?ve ever met. Today, I?m sitting on a crate outside the Moerse with Etienne Kriel as he sorts seeds. His parents started the stall seven years ago and he handles the nursery.
'Did you know we?re surrounded by two types of veld here?' he asks. No, I didn?t. He continues: 'Ja, first there?s fynbos, which includes proteas, then there?s renosterveld, which is grey and undulating and has no large species or trees. We?re trying to conserve the renosterveld because there?s very little left.'
We take a walk along the road to admire patches of veldblommietjies between the farms? fences and the tarred edges. ?People think we?re mad, but these are the purest pieces of veld, because they can?t be ploughed,? says Ettiene. The blommietjie names are colourful flashes in his speech: groot bruin Afrikaner, bloupypie, lapmuis, lepelblom. After I say goodbye and walk on, I look for them on pavements and empty patches of land.
...They?re a creative bunch of multitasking maestros...
Back in town, the flashes of colour along the dusty main road are, in fact, the people. There?s Pinky with her bright-pink hair and bright-pink shop, where you can buy zebra-print pillows, bell-bottoms, feathery accessories and all manner of kitsch collectables. Further along there?s the proprietor of a cheery B&B called All Sorts, who keeps a massive collection of militaria ? bomb-shelter style, under the tea room. He also makes medieval-style chess sets using molten metal and knight-shaped moulds.
This is probably my favourite spot to stop, because there?s always news. ?Well, right now I?m working with two other guys on setting up a brewery,? says Craigan.
Angela quips with a smile: ?They all decided they?re passionate about beer. Then they looked up how to brew it on the internet.?
The Napier Way. Now I understand why.
?We?ve bought a second-hand, turn-of-the-century copper system. We?ve made 13 brews so far,? says Craigan. ?It?s a lager and people are loving it, so as soon as the licence comes through, it?ll be served all around Napier. We?re toying with the name Napier Bier.?
The Millars always make me think. They made the move from Cape Town about two years ago, trading in their jet-setting city life to find another way. The Napier Way. Now I understand why.
I?ve always been a city girl. I work in a high-rise and can?t start my day without a tall, trendy coffee in a takeaway cup. I breathe deadlines, in and out, and I sleep badly.
But in Napier, I?m different. I wear hiking shoes and an OK MiniMart cap. I walk my dogs for hours along endless dirt roads and dales. I stay up late to see the Milky Way, thick as curd in the sky, and to hear donkeys clear their throats throughout the night. And I sleep like an angel. I?m a quieter, funnier, messier version of myself. I?m happy.
There?s a lesson in all of this, one I wish I had learnt earlier: sometimes you need to stop to really start living. You have to stop and smell the blommietjies. You have to stop for feta cheese, and you have to stop and sit in the sun for a chinwag about babies and beer. You have to stop simply because you can.
Some places are designed to help you slow down to a healthy standstill, and the village of Napier is one such place. The secret is in not driving by. It?s in learning to stop.Article courtesy of Horizons, BA/Comair's in-flight magazine published by Touchline Media