Butter cupcakes, Coca Cola Art and the Cloudy Karoo

Whilst driving towards into town from Calitzdorp Spa in the Karoo, I sent an sms and when I looked up, we had reached the end of it. We had had our fill of hot springs and hiking at the resort and wanting to explore what Calitzdorp was all about, but had missed it in a blink of an eye. Luckily we doubled back and turned left at a sign reading ‘Port and Wine Farm’ to see what treasures we could find. Once of the beaten track of route 62, white roses lined the old roads besides the vineyard and pretty, little houses with empty porches passed us by.

I suggested we stop at this interesting looking coffee shop on the corner. It wasn’t so much the sign advertising ‘ home baked cakes and cappuccinos’ or the painting on the porch saying we could get massages and pedicures, but the exquisite paintings hanging all around resembling Coke’s original ads that beckoned me inside Die Handelshuis ( The General dealer).

It was like stepping into a room of old world brilliance. There was so much for the eye to take in, preserves of chilly sauce, jams and espresso beans were stacked up against the walls in shelves, more old Coca Cola paintings with pale, beautiful women decorated the walls. Some were sipping on Coke, others pouted their red lips and another fell off her ice-skates. Through a red, transparent curtain, an antique cupboard housed all the spa’s products. A bronze grammar phone stood to one side. A police sign, old traffic lights and a tin Five Roses tea sign were mounted on the walls around a pool table signalling ‘not for public play’.

And that was before I had taken a bite of my chocolate cup cake with butter icing. It was utterly mouth-watering and perfect in everyway and even had those silver balls that mommies use to decorate cupcakes for their kids. My cappuccino complemented it superbly and I slipped into a trance as the hospitable owner, Tracy came over to chat to us. She shared her wealth of knowledge of Calitzdorp with us while we merrily munched away. It took her and her husband two years to restore this place to its former glory after it was deserted for 10 years after serving as the general dealer selling everything from clothing to cement. The tiny church I had just taken a photo of, was St. Mark’s church originally one of the smallest churches in the world seating all of 10 people. I wondered what use that would’ve been, as that was probably just big enough for the local priest and his family to fit in.

She highlighted just how serious the recent bird flu epidemic was for this little town. Hundreds of ostriches were culled and burned on farms in the area leaving farmers with no way to keep all the staff. Ostriches that had been trained for years to take tourists on rides were wiped out, affecting that sector of tourism too. The repercussions for a place this small was huge and she said it would take about 5 years to recover from it all.

She told us about their partnership with the artist who owned the gallery next door, Marinda Combrink, and how this coffee shop was used as a exhibition hub for her paintings. One of those Coca Cola modelled on the originals could set you back R4500. I mentally added it to my list of things to get for my future house one day. I bought a bag of dark roast espresso before leaving and it turns out her sister makes this coffee in Johannesburg. My Dad promised to bring some of his American tour groups to her shop when they passed, she smiled for a photo with her husband behind the counter and we left high on sugar and ready for a drive.

This coffee shop actually marks the original Main road that comes alive during the Calitzdorp Port wine festival. After the small church we saw ‘ Die Langhuis’ were the first postal agency was housed and Katz’s shop which is one of the oldest buildings in Queen street. The Karoo Life Bed & Breakfast and Restaurant was home to the town’s wagon builder and blacksmith until cars were invented and he was put out of business. Many of the other houses along this road had charming Cape Dutch gables and were either Karoo Victorian or Neoclassical in style where butchers, auctioneers and attorneys once lived.

And to think we would have missed this wonderful experience had we just driven on by.

Owners Tracy and Peter Farrell