The “Sweet Spot” – near Barrydale in the Western Cape, South Africa.

Lockdown with a Viking – and Rudi’s great escape.

Rudi is a German-Spanish traveler who is presently farming in Barrydale in the Western Cape, South Africa. He holds a PHD degree in Engineering but, more recently, he became a Covid-affected tour guide. – Qualified to operate in all major provinces in South Africa but currently not able to pursue this vocation.

Among his diverse interests, (he brews Kombucha tea, practices acroyoga and makes an impressive pizza), he plays guitar, sings and writes songs in several formats, each quite different from the next in style and language (Spanish, English, Portuguese, German), and performs, when possible, as part of a duo with his South African friend.

Last year, unable to travel abroad for the first time, he lived in Cape Town in a well-situated housing complex with three other occupants, which offered many useful facilities including a wood stove for the winter months (he does not like the cold!), a swimming pool and a well-established garden, for a surprisingly low rental which confused him at the time. It was only when the owner’s youngest son, the recluse who lives in a hut at the edge of the property, made his eventual appearance and, (doing as he always did), provided the usual vehement declaration of his proud Viking ancestry to the new tenant, that the picture became clearer.

A self-proclaimed obsessive-compulsive, bipolar man in his late twenties, he would wake up very early on certain days of the week to perform clan rituals and fighting exercises. As he swung his “genuine Viking” axe through the air to the accompaniment of Nordic evocations and fierce wild-eyed gestures, he disturbed the peace, as he commanded his own over-sized theatrical space in the garden. When not engaged in these ceremonies he would happily chop firewood for everyone with his specialised Viking implement of destruction (for this was his passion), but otherwise he would do very little but talk incessantly of his direct peerage and passionate loyalty to specific Norse clans (some of whom he claimed he had visited in Norway). He also seemed to relish the opportunity of performing recriminatory acts of violence against “the enemy” in deference to his ideology and culture, and in true barbaric Viking fashion. Through much of his life he had consumed as many intoxicants and hallucinogenic substances as he was able to procure from the meagre handouts his family provided, which consequently necessitated unhealthy relations and dealings with the local street people, who sometimes visited him in his hut.

Before the Corona virus presented itself as the threat it would soon become to our country, (in the period which just preceded the first lockdown), the Viking one day had a lady visitor in his hut who, (presumably in return for favours rendered), when discovering that he had no available cash, demanded his laptop. She made a great deal of noise and started hacking at the chain which secured his computer to the table using his self-same Viking axe. Eventually, when it became clear that the gallant and heroic Viking had fled the area, yet the loud noise persisted, Rudi had to intervene and eventually called the police and charges were laid.

As a consequence of this police incident the Viking was heavily chastised by his family who threatened to banish him to Guguletu or Khayelitsha if he did not behave, so he relented, and things went quiet for awhile.

More recently, however, when the second wave of the Covid variant hit our country, the prospect of a hard lockdown with the Viking, (who by then had started to behave badly again), and with the other queer and grumpy IT loner (dubbed the “coffinetti” because he would cough loudly through the paper-thin walls of his room whenever he disapproved of Rudi’s choice of music, or to show his resentment to the occasional romantic interlude) … was all too much for Rudi to endure, so he fled.

Riding his BMW motorbike eastwards through vineyards and verdant farmlands, away from Cape Town, he traveled some 245 kilometres to a grand old house in Barrydale, near the Karoo desert, which he was able to procure for a low-rental due to the perceived travel restrictions at the time. With no plans for the future other than to spend some time away from the big locked-down cities, Rudi started looking around this picturesque and popular little town and speaking to the people he met.

Barrydale borders on the Klein Karoo but also flanges the Grootvadersbosch Nature Reserve to the south which has disparate climatic zones where Californian redwood trees some 40m high were planted over a century ago, and yellowwood, stinkwood, red alder and ironwood among others, all compete on the wet forest floor. Water catchment streams cascade in the lush and damp valley below while higher up, the vista from the eastern side reveals stark, parched desert terrain directly below the mountain edge, not half-a-kilometre away.

After receiving a delightful photo from a nearby “sweet spot” waterhole he had discovered (see picture), and also photos of his newly rented house and surrounds, he told me that he had an extra room and invited me to join him, but I was unable to travel at that time. I did not hear from him for a few weeks so I messaged him one day to find out how he was getting on in the wilderness of his choice. He phoned back in the evening and – true to form – told me that his life had changed comprehensively (if not irrevocably).

He said he is now a farmer with sheep, dogs, chickens, a 250 kg pig and a new-born baby lamb, and that he will be heading back to Cape Town in a few days to say his farewells, host his own birthday bash, and return to Barrydale with all that he can carry on his bike. He will also pack some parcels of his additional belongings for friends to bring to him when they visit, and with typical German organisational flair, these parcels will be distributed at his birthday party, two days prior to his departure from Cape Town.

So, at some point in his exploration of Barrydale, he had met up with a middle-aged farmer whose only labourer had contracted Covid and run away, and whose son, who was supposed to move on to the farm, had let him down. In order to restore the farm which had been badly neglected and had also recently been occupied by vagrants, he would need all the help he could muster. The farm is situated about 20 kilometres north of Barrydale on the road to Montegu, and then a further 10 kilometres up a dirt track.

In return for his labour it was agreed that he would be paid a basic salary, but if he were to restore one of the small houses, (currently in devastated condition), he could procure occasional lodgings. This would allow him to continue living mostly in the Barrydale house he now occupied, but would also allow him to move on to the farm on weekends, which would help the Barrydale house owner make some extra Airbnb cash and thus keep his own rental low. Rudi’s primary interest in this arrangement remained the fact that the environment and the physical work and clean country air all agreed with him and made him content. This could work out fine just as long as friends would visit from time to time and he would be able to make occasional forays back to Cape Town to be with the people he has befriended through the years, attend occasional trance festivals and play his music.

Being of predominantly Bavarian stock, (with a hint of Spanish from his mother’s side), he actually started out life on his father’s farm in Germany, but his father has long given up all hope of Rudi returning to his farm. In his youth he did not have a good relationship with his hard-working dad, who was uneducated and stubborn and was against him studying at university or travelling to other countries because he wanted him to settle down and work on the farm. So, one can only imagine his dad’s excitement (and bitter disappointment too), upon receiving a photo from his first-born at an animal auction in nearby Swellendam. The joy of discovering that his son is now farming again for the first time since his teenage years, almost certainly painfully tempered by the recognition that he was doing this on an impoverished sheep farm in Africa, and for virtually no salary (in Euro terms). – While, back home, just about two hour’s drive from Munich, his own farm was thriving but could surely use some help in his twilight years.

Rudi is a man of the sun. He escaped Germany a very long time ago (mainly because it was far too cold for him), and spent many years in Spain and the Canary Islands and then discovered Cape Town and the Western Cape which he has now adopted as his first choice destination during the southern summer months. Unlike most aspiring immigrants he had no difficulty at all getting permanent residence due to his academic achievements in Germany and the scientific papers he has published over the years. However, after having been formally accepted, he still had to wait a full seven years to finally receive his South African ID book, which he needed in order to take his truck-driving test.

In this period of intense frustration, grappling with the unfathomable mechanisms of the South African Home Affairs department, (during which time he was only in the country sporadically), he was continually informed that there was no impediment whatsoever to his application for an ID and that they were merely waiting for it to materialise, which it should have done some time before, but had not, until one day they finally messaged him to collect his South African ID. In an excited state he went early in the morning and joined the long queue at the Home Affairs offices. After a wait, he was finally at the counter and was just at the point of getting his document stamped by the lady behind the counter when suddenly, this uniquely South African anomaly called LOAD SHEDDING struck, and the entire area was plunged into darkness. Quick as a flash, and in an understandably agitated state after his seven-year wait, Rudi procured his phone lamp in one hand whilst holding a burning cigarette lighter in the other, and, cutting an imposing figure, and speaking in faintly Bavarian tones he yelled at the lady at the counter to stamp his new ID book without delay. And so it was, that he was finally able to obtain his “code 14” truck driver license for tour guiding. – In the hope that tourism will be rekindled someday soon, when international travel resumes.

Larry Margolis 2020