Where The River Flows

“Life is like the river, sometimes it sweeps you gently along and sometimes the rapids come out of nowhere.”

– Emma Smith –

When we received a phone call in March to inform us that my stepdaughter’s mom passed away, we were completely overwhelmed with the sudden responsibility falling into our laps. The practical thing to do was for me to move back to South Africa to provide her with a home and some sort of stability. Now, eight months later, this lovely young lady I’ve ‘inherited’ is about to write her last Matric exam, before she heads off to university, and I head back home to Abu Dhabi.

It was a time filled with interesting challenges and opportunities, of which, I hope, I made the best. Finding myself back in South Africa for an extended period of time was a huge shock, and for the first time in my life I understood what people meant when they talked about reverse culture shock. This was perhaps amplified by the fact that I found myself in a small town, with its own unique set of cultural differences to what I am now used to. The fact that I grew up in a small town, ironically, did not make things easier, but more challenging, as it awakened memories of a life I tried my best to escape.

Parys, on the banks of the Vaal River, is a quaint place where coffee shops, restaurants, and antique shops vie for the attention and wallets of weekend shoppers, mostly from Johannesburg and Pretoria. It is trendy and buzzy over weekends, but sleepy and conservative during the week. Churches of every denomination imaginable adorn street corners, while more hide inside sitting rooms. Beautifully restored homes rub shoulders with unloved, crumbling structures. Pot holes and unkempt streets hide behind a well-maintained main road. Manicured lawns and over-grown sidewalks juxtapose between caring and neglect. It is a mish-mash of what is both good and bad in this new South Africa, struggling to find some sort of equilibrium that will be beneficial for everyone.

My first impressions made me sob, but through the gift of walking, I discovered many hidden treasures: the interplay of bright sunlight and deep shade; a seemingly endless blue sky; trellises with jasmine and ivy spilling their beauty onto sidewalks; leaves so drenched in sunlight that they became translucent, like shards of glass; sunlight glinting off the river; autumn leaves crunching under my feet; the piercing call of a fish eagle; a cat basking in the sun; the soft cooing of turtle doves; monkeys screeching overhead; and the scraping sound of grass brooms. And so autumn turned into winter and spring and summer.

Beyond those walks, I found my sanity, as I often do in a coffee shop. Koffi @ Kiki’s is everything I look for in a coffee shop: quaint and quirky, with excellent coffee, and a place where the locals congregate. It is here where I lingered over a cappuccino and freshly baked scones, watching as customers ebbed and flowed, listening to conversations drifting my way, ticking off every week, whilst feverishly writing in my journal. Best of all, it is also the place where I met wonderful people and made good friends.

Another great spot, where I spent many happy hours alone or with old friends, is the Dog and Fig, a craft brewery, just outside of town.

The Old Imperial Inn at Venterskroon was introduced to me late in my stay, and so I’ve only ever been there once, but is a lovely little place, where I definitely could have spent many more happy hours. About 30 km outside of Parys, it is a lovely drive amongst the hills, created by the meteorite that created the Vredefort Dome. During the summer months you should take your bathing costume along, as they have a lovely pool to cool off in.

Something else not to miss, if you ever find yourself in Parys, is the Hartelus Market, which takes place every first Saturday of the month on a lawn next to the river. With live music and a variety of good food, craft beer and wine, it is the perfect place to while away the better part of a day.

And while you are in Parys, why not pop into Kiki’s Vintage Photo Studio for a fun photo shoot?

Stayed: April – November 2017