Located in the Cederberg, a mountain range within the Western Cape lies a quaint little village known as Eselbank. To tourists passing through, it’s just another site to see. To me, it’s a place where family gathers and where some of my fondest memories have been made.
Eselbank is a place where life moves at a slower pace, where one can happily forget the bustle of Cape Town. It’s a place where everyone knows everyone and where everyone knows everyone’s business. As the years have progressed, this little village has evolved – acquiring electricity, telephone access and more recently Wi-Fi. However, it still proudly holds on to its old-fashioned, farm style quality with animal enclosures, vegetable gardens and private orchards only a stone’s throw away from anywhere within the village.
As a child it was a place to escape the ‘pressures’ of primary school. A place where I could frolic in the Fynbos, have conversations with animals and at times see them slaughtered for the evening’s meal. It was a place I was assured to be with nearly all my cousins, and it was in our large group that the adventure of Eselbank was discovered and experienced.
Time was never a concern of ours. We would get up at the break of dawn to the sound of roosters welcoming in the new day and only return home once we felt it necessary. The day usually consisted of us hopping from one seemingly simple, yet strangely enjoyable activity to the other.
We’d often start off early in the morning with what we called “climbing mountain”, which in all honesty meant, a bunch of children climbing onto, over, under and between large rocks. I guess our idea of ‘a mountain’ wasn’t as accurate as we thought it was.
Other activities included collecting and eating wild pine nuts, catching tadpoles and frogs, gathering natural clay and creating little objects such as bowls and simply just walking through nature.
One of the strangest, yet most cherished memories of mine is one that involved the phrase “sweeties please”. It entailed our entire group walking up to the gate leading out of Eselbank. The gate prohibited free roaming livestock from escaping the bounds of the village; however it also meant that tourists passing through the village had to get out of their vehicles in order to open the gate.
We would all sit along a large uprooted pine tree, situated right beside the gate and wait for tourists to come by. As a vehicle pulled up, two or more of us would scuttle towards the gate and open it. Then we would intentionally look at the driver or his passengers and at times we’d exclaim with delight – “sweeties please”. If we were lucky, we’d receive a handful of sweets, sometimes chocolate and at times we’d even be given money.
If things went great, we’d split the bounty equally amongst the entire group. If not, it was every man for himself and ‘whoever received it, owned it’. To this very day, I am still unaware of who came up with the enterprising idea in the first place.
The best months to be in Eselbank are December and January, on account of the wonderful summer weather, and as luck would have it, that’s when everyone seems to be on holiday.
The intense heat of the day drives inhabitants and vacationers to the two most popular cooling-off spots in Eselbank, the Val (waterfall) and the Brug (bridge). Here one can recline in the shade of natural vegetation as well as enjoy a dip in the perennial river or water holes formed by it.
These cooling-off spots are usually brimming with people during the afternoon. Thus, they make for prime socialising locations, where fun is inevitable.
The People of Eselbank
To say the people of Eselbank have an old-fashioned way of life would be inaccurate. Yes, they do raise animals as a source of food, plant vegetables and fruit trees for harvest and live in houses with a dated, yet charming appearance, but they also enjoy the comforts of modern living.
Most inhabitants own televisions and are always up-to-date with local and international news; many of them own cell phones with Wi-Fi capabilities and are able to access the internet and their diets are supplemented with shop bought items.
The Moravian church plays a major role in the lives of those who reside in Eselbank. The church is responsible for the land in and around the village. Thus, one has to request land from the church in order to build or farm crops.
The agricultural land the church is responsible for does not only pertain to land for planting crops, but also to land used to plant Rooibos tea (a plant grown nowhere else in the world, but in the Cederberg). The planting and harvesting of Rooibos tea is a chief source of income to the inhabitants of Eselbank.
Eselbank is a place I have been visiting for my entire life and it has become part of who I am. It has been the backdrop to many of my most treasured memories and will always be a place I hold dear to my heart.