Off the Grid, Off the Charts

It’s no secret that I enjoy living a relatively green lifestyle. Quite often I don’t get it right but I try what I can, when I can. So, this last weekend, I headed off to a farm in the Langeberg to visit my friend Pete, and to see what more can be done (successfully).

Let me just say that I was not prepared for most of what I experienced, but certainly not for the way I felt while there.

The road from Montagu to the farm is a 17-kilometre dirt road with about 15–20 water fords (driwwe) to cross. As you’d know by now, if you’ve been following my stories, I drive an i10, which doubles up as a 4×4 at my whim. Since I did get home Sunday night, at least we all know how the car fared. Every part of it, however, inside and out, was covered in dust, as it should be. And so was I.

For 2 days I had no cellphone signal. There was a landline and Wi-Fi, but I decided to keep my phone off while I was there. I was more interested in what I could learn from this experience than what was going on in the outside world. My internal world was rather grateful too.

Here are some of my impressions.

One of the first mind-benders was that there are only composting toilets on the farm. They are outside the main house, the closest one being about 3 metres from the house and the other one a stroll of about 100 metres past the shed. At the one nearest the house, you squat (in other words, no seat) and the other one, is a bit more like the Victorian kind we’re used to, in other words, it’s elevated with a seat. But no plumbing, just a bag from which to scoop a cup of wood shavings and chuck it over your digestive creation. And the best part? The reasoning behind this is that in about 6 months or so this pile of poo turns itself into perfectly usable (and non-poo-looking, feeling or smelling) compost. Which goes back into the farm soil. And goes against our modern concept of sending our waste water to the waste works and then paying to get the chemical-bombarded version back. And pay them too if we want bags of compost. You really thought it was all lawn and leaves? Sorry to break it to you, you’re probably buying your own poo back. For the more adventurous, and of course, for those who are in the position to do this, here are two links to composting loos.

Time takes on a whole new meaning when you are not bound by office hours. I learned that while this type of lifestyle requires that you do certain things every day, when you do them is not that important. So, here’s an example. You wake up without an alarm, make coffee (standard), then sit outside and plan the day, go down to the chicken coop with yesterday’s kitchen waste for the chickens to eat (except items such as onion and garlic), gather some eggs from their coop also known as the chicken tractor, make a decent omelette, take a shower, get started with the day’s chores. This mostly includes watering the nursery plants and swale banks all around the farm, and basically just checking that everything is OK, and if not that it’s fixed.

Meals were also on a different level, in particular that set hours were not kept. Also, meat is not consumed on the farm, mostly as a sign of respect to the owners, who are vegetarian. The reasoning being that the fridge is tiny and contains non-meat products, so if you don’t do meat, then the residual smell can be off-putting. And besides, there’s a great farm stall in Montagu that sells excellent game pies (R20 a pie) for the desperate. So, the first evening we ate left-over curry with salad and apple, mint and garlic chutney (from said farm stall). The next morning, left over salad went into the omelettes made from the farm eggs, orange slices and seed loaf with peanut butter and honey, topped with sprouts. For dinner we made a spinach, mushroom and feta pie (well, I watched most of the time), and the left over pie was brunch the next day, again with some salad and oranges.

As an alchemy experiment, we made a balm containing rosemary, nettle and lavender. It came in quite handy as I had fallen on my face just before the trip and looked a bit worse for wear by Saturday (many jokes of the “You should see what the other guy looks like” kind abounded). Pete remarked that I needn’t have provided a canvas for the balm, but obviously my clumsy gene was eager to impress. It has since turned into my new favourite cosmetic preparation. And it works quite well, because my scabs were all gone 5 days later.

And then there is the house itself. Most of the windows have no curtains, including the room I stayed in (it had no door either), the shower and bathroom (literally, the room with a bath in). Well, that’s if you want to bath indoors, of course, because there are 2 fire baths outside for those who want to be in the scenery and not just check it out while in the house tub. There are no burglar bars, and the one patio door doesn’t even have a key hole. Inside the house, there are only tiles on the floor, covered in colourful rugs, the walls are painted bright colours (think Mexican), and there is a very roomy loft. There is a resident boomslang in the roof where the vine pergola meets the front door. But also 3 hugely entertaining plaasbrakke (farm dogs) to alert those in the house of its comings and goings. Had I not driven so far to get there, I may have made a U-turn when told about the snake, but I got used to the idea remarkably quickly. Leaving the house was a whole different ball game than usual though (despite living on a farm already).

The vegetation on the farm was incredibly varied, from fat, lumpy cacti to dainty little flowers, pale hues to bright colours. We saw and snapped it all, and here are some examples…

As a bonus, just to not completely lose touch with the fact that we live in the 21st century, Pete also shared some information on the peer-to-peer payment system, Bitcoin, and the blockchain. It was really interesting, especially since I work in the banking industry. I will certainly keep myself up to speed as much as possible.

Overall, what I learned was that despite all the doom and gloom we see and read on the news every day, there are places of peace and abundance. Man, that daybed will wear my butt print on it for some time yet! Staring at the mountain with no clock to adhere to must be one of the best things I could have experienced. And the stars … I forget how many there are out there! These beautiful lights you can actually see twinkling when town and city lights don’t interfere.

Returning to the office on Monday morning was surreal. In fact, I struggled through the day and was happy to finally go home and just sit on my patio and stare at the mountains. As I should. Again.

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2 thoughts on “Off the Grid, Off the Charts

  1. Pingback: Growing Vegetables at Home in a Barrel 101 | The Tangled Pretzel

  2. Pingback: Off the Grid, Off the Charts | The Tangled Pretzel | WORLD ORGANIC NEWS

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