Sunday, November 30, 2008

To Hell and Back!

- Joe MacIntyre -

Spending holidays in Prince Albert on Angelierbosch, the farm that belonged to my wife’s grandparents, Oupa and Ouma Schoeman, I became very friendly with the district surgeon, Dr van der Westhuizen. One evening in July 1958, he phoned me and asked if I would like to go with him to Die Hel(Gamkaskloof) early the next morning. He had to go there to see if there were any medical problems, and also to extract some teeth. It sounded a bit strange, but I agreed to go with him.

The next morning I met him at his house. From there we went to the entrance at the dry river bed of the Gamka. There we met two men from Die Hel who had been to Prince Albert in a bakkie which they had left at the entrance to the river bed. For me it was like going back in time. They were fit looking men with beards, reminding me of the Voortrekkers. They both had rifles and each carried a bag of salt. Dr van der Westhuizen started up a conversation as we began walking in the river bed.

Every now and then we came across a pool of water about hundred yards away. They gave us a sign to stop and one of them took his rifle and shot a kolgans (wild goose). It was the best shooting I have seen for a long time. This happened about four times without them missing. When the good doctor asked them why they never missed, they remarked: “Die koeëls is baie duur.” (“Bullets are very expensive”)

Eventually after walking for 2½ hours we arrived at the bottom of the valley which was Die Hel. It was like coming into the Garden of Eden. On one side in a field, a donkey was pulling a big round stone which was going round in a circle, crushing wheat on a cement floor, making flour.

On the other side against the hill, there were houses built in a fairly simple style. The houses were small, but had large orchards with different types of fruit which occupants dried and sold in Prince Albert. In these orchards I saw pigs which were so fat that their bellies touched the ground.

In some of the houses I noticed coffins on the rafters and asked for an explanation. I was told that if somebody died, the coffin was immediately available and in the meantime, they stored the dried fruit in them. In other houses, people had problems with their teeth which had to be extracted that day. I was quite shocked to see the teeth being pulled out without a local anesthetic. He charged one shilling a tooth.

By now it was about 5:30 pm (in winter) and it was starting to get dark when we came to the end of the valley and had to start our journey back. To think that people had to carry their furniture and in fact all the contents of their houses from Prince Albert!

Doctor van der Westhuizen was not worried about time, but I was not looking forward to walking over rocks in the river bed in the pitch dark. I was walking in front and it was so dark that I couldn’t see my hand in front of me. I could just notice mountain cliffs each side of me. All of a sudden I heard loud barks which were answered by a loud bark coming from behind me. I felt the hair on the back of my neck rising.

I got such a fright and asked my companion if we were in danger. He replied that he had made the noise in answer to barking by baboons. I was not impressed and for another hour we walked in silence.

After arriving at the entrance, feeling very tired and hungry, I asked where the car was. The reply was that we had to look for it until we found it! That was not easy as there were lots of high bushes. To me it seemed as if we were walking in circles for hours. Much to our relief we found the car!

After having had coffee and sandwiches at the van der Westhuizen home I got back in my car and headed for the farm. Heaven knows at what time I got there, but I slept till late afternoon. I had a very heavy experience, but after thinking it over – I would not have changed this for anything else!

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