We pulled up at the Tankwa Padstal in the Karoo. Officially, it’s on the R355 about 70km from Ceres, on the way to Calvinia or the Tankwa Karoo National Park in South Africa. Unofficially, it’s somewhere between nothing and nowhere. Two bikers were switching off their engines and taking off their helmets. We greeted them in Afrikaans and asked how their ride had been. They looked at us as if we were from outer space.
We discovered it was because they spoke Portuguese, but no Afrikaans. Their English wasn’t all that hot either. Such barriers were too hard to breach on a stinking hot day in the middle of a dust bowl, there where the wide open spaces get under your skin and into your bones.
The Tankwa Padstal (farm stall or road-side shop) sells anything from sweets, chips and cold drinks to matches, bug spray, and airtime. There’s also a licensed bar, its décor weird in a way that stops being weird the longer you spend in the Karoo. You can order drinks and snacks and sit inside – or outside under a cover that provides shade but does little to ease the heat that radiates up at you from the ground.
Then the Tankwa’s R355 will go back to being unhurried and lonely, the longest stretch of gravel road in South Africa without a fuel station or Wimpy.
Our first visit to the Tankwa Padstal
On our first visit to the Tankwa Padstal in 2012, only about a year or so after it opened, we loved the shop’s high counters with glass display cases from the olden days. We bought a really good homemade ginger beer and some fudge, and chatted to Susan Lange, who runs the place with her husband Hein, as if we’d known her for years. About the tiny library of Afrikaans light romances and children’s books that she ran from a corner of the shop, about the healing properties of Zambuk ointment, and about the prickly pears they grow on the farm.
Then we were back out in the glare of the sun and on our way again.
Sadly, the original Tankwa Padstal burnt to the ground in 2014. It was a distressing story of arson and hard feelings that festered in the blistering heat. The flip-side was how people came together to support the owners and help rebuild it. It is, after all, a solid part of the community, a place for those who live in this isolated area to get all the bits and bobs they might need, as well as somewhere to go and kick up their heels without driving to hell-and-gone to do so.
Note that the padstal is open from 9:00 till 17:00 every day except Wednesdays.
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