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Posted on: Friday, 9 April 2010

Pitching a tent – stories from the road by Ruan Smit

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Kroonstad Sky

Kroonstad Sky

For more than 8500 kilometres I have cycled with a tent, sleeping bag and mattress not opening any of the bags at any point during this two month journey. In Kroonstad I had to. Every piece of equipment still in its packaging and with the smell of new I pitch my tent under the stars of this Free State town. As the little piece of blue canvass grows into a shelter from the cold night, I become excited and almost feel like that boy who pitched his tent in the back yard of his house 20 years ago.

I unzip the top section and from my newly blown up mattress I can see the stars hidden away by a singular tree that would shade me from the predicted rain. My thoughts start wandering and eventually ends at the point where I entered Kroonstad during the mid afternoon sun with a light breeze helping me forget about the sun on my bare skin…

In Kroonstad I met people. In fact I met two people that helped me understand more about this town and the Free State. Their characters were ones that showed little fear and much determination.

Kroonstad

Kroonstad

David is a gardener. He sits himself down next to me on a soft piece of grass as I am eating a late afternoon snack. With him he has a plastic crate filled with all the items you would associate with maintaining a garden. David walks five kilometers every day with his heavy equipment in order to tend the gardens of the people here. “Do you have a garden?” Unfortunately not, I answer, as I try and understand the movements and choice of word that he uses. He loves what he does. In fact he has been working to perfect his art for more than two decades. He shows me a house across the street, “that’s my garden”. He shines with a certain pride in the work of his hands. I understand that this man gives meaning and beauty to the gardens of other people; completely selfless he shares his talent with a community that appreciates every flower that he has carefully given water to.

I cycle further in the town. I am stunned by the sandstone buildings that stand tall amongst later generation buildings. They were built with what the area has provided and are a sort of public statement of how beautiful the Northern Free State is without being vain. The afternoon has gone chilly and as I reach for something to cover my sun burnt skin I see a sign that I automatically connect to the warm taste of coffee.

Kroonstad

Kroonstad

The coffee is hot, but I’ve heard that the people in this area are known for this. I swallow the first sips slowly and realize that I’m being watched closely. Well my cycle is standing next inside the coffee shop so I’m not that easy to miss. I can sense that this man wants to ask me a question but I wait to see how he decides to approach the scenario. “I like to talk a lot” he suddenly blurts out and from that moment he does not stop for a second. He has an opinion about everything, he admires most things and it seems that he enjoys sharing ideas. I am grateful for the conversation. As he carries on I listen intently to how he structures his words and how he explains the dreams of others.

His family used to own the fruit and vegetable shop down the street but when his father passed away many years ago they decided to sell it. He mentions that he is lonely but before I can ask about this statement he has already moved on to tell me that the Free State gives you great friends, honest ones.

My thoughts start trickling back to where the stars are in focus. I can hear the river from where I am lying and I smile. This place has a unique beauty. An owl disrupts my thoughts and for a moment I don’t quite understand why it has taken me so long to find a camping spot near a river or in the veld to pitch my tent …

Kroonstad Links:
Kroonstad Attractions
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