First Stay On Our Land

We’ve just returned from a really productive 5 day camping trip on our land – I didn’t want to leave! It was such an awesome feeling waking up every day on our own land in the middle of the bush. We lost track of what day of the week it was, we guessed the time from the position of the sun, we planned our day around what we chose to prioritise or most felt like doing…. It was GLORIOUS.

Setting Up Camp

We left Cape Town with the Mystic Catmobile packed to the gills for her maiden bush adventure, ready for (hopefully) anything. The weather report (I checked two different ones, just in case) said we’d be hot and dry throughout our stay, with a bit of rain arriving the day we planned to break camp.

Princess Leesie (little white fluffball) taking up the whole space as usual with poor Shilah (the sad looking black and white one) squished in the corner

Priorities

We had finally received the correct boundary measurements for our property from the surveyor, which meant we didn’t need to try measure them ourselves (YAY!). We were eager to see the pegs in the ground and get a real sense of our space. One of our big priorities for this trip was to plan where we wanted things to go. We have a rough grand plan / wishlist (which of course may change as we stay on the land and learn more about it), but we needed to have exact meters for a few things. For example, we need to put up the fencing ASAP. In order to do that, the fencing guys need to know where we want our entrance gate to go. We also needed to plot out where we want our initial accommodation to go, as it would later be converted to the workshop.

Rough Grand Plan / Wishlist

Day 1: Setting Up Camp

Or: A Series of Unfortunate Events…

Day one was taken up with setting up camp and the misadventures of the compost toilet (which you can read about here). We also managed to pop our blow up mattress on a very sharp stick, break two holes through the bottom of our old tent with more sharp sticks (there were a LOT of sharp sticks, people), discover that the soil is really hard clay in some places (it took quite a bit of chopping and elbow grease to dig that firepit hole I’ll let you know), and other setting-up-camp hiccups that left us ready for an early night.

Camp – day 2

Day 2: Plans & People

We managed to get some sleep on the lumpy ground, but definitely were feeling a little stiff and sore. Amazing the difference between a 20 year old body and a mid 30s body, ne? Ah well, our enthusiasm (and loads of coffee) soon had us rearing to tackle the day. After we’d rigged the tarpaulin up to shelter the gazebo a little more (our cooler boxes ice was dwindling alarmingly fast), Russ decided to take a trip to Swellendam to see if he could find a camping place to buy a new blow up mattress (and get more ice), while I got started with plotting designs.

Phase One Plans – the fruits of the day’s labour

We walked the land together and hammered in sticks to get a sense of where things would go. It was quite exciting standing in-between two sticks representing the shed, knowing that soon it’d be home! Russ took a drive to Tradouw Pass to collect some divine fresh mountain spring water for camp and I attempted to chop up some wood for the night’s fire. I discovered I am SO not as strong as I thought I was and also wood is a lot harder than it looks.

During this embarrassing fail, yet another member of the community hollered a friendly “hello!” from the top of the property. We’d been getting these drop in visitors all day – I have truly never come across such a friendly community anywhere! So off I stomped, covered in sweat and dirt and stiff from a bad night’s sleep, to meet whoever was there – not exactly a happy camper. Well, Russ got back from his Tradouw trip about half an hour or so later and I was in stitches laughing at Werner’s stories as we sat around camp having coffee.

Werner and his wife Louise had arrived in Suurbraak about 3 years prior, and had camped on the land until they’d gotten a wendy hut, finally progressing to building their house. He said seeing our little set up was very nostalgic, and proceeded to share tons of useful information and funny stories of their experiences – a real treasure trove. He finally left with Russ and my spirits a hundred times higher than they had been, and an offer to visit him for coffee and a look at their setup.

We also met Rasta among the many new faces, a local chap who was looking for work and wanted to know if we needed any help with clearing. We thought it’d be a great idea to get a start on the boundary lines in preparation for the fence laying, so we asked him to come back the next day with his friend Jaapie. It had been a swelteringly hot day, so we ended it off down at the river.

Day 3: Cold Rain & A Hot Shower

Rasta and Jaapie arrived bright and early, ready to tackle the boundary line with Russ. The three of them headed out with tools in hand while I picked up litter (I’m guessing baboons got hold of people’s rubbish bags and tore them apart on our land – there was a whole swath of old rubbish around one area). The cloudy cool day soon turned wet – so much for the weather reports – so I moved the tarpaulin again to a haphazard cover over the fire and prepared a nice big pot of stew for the guys for lunch.

Day 3: Down comes the rain. Can you believe this tarp stayed up with the wonky sticks?

We’d bought a steel rocket stove to try out (in retrospect I really should have just gone with bricks, but in my defence it looked bigger in the picture when I bought it) and since most of the wood had already gotten wet in the rain, I thought I’d have more luck getting it going than a full fire. It worked pretty well, although it struggled with the damp sticks, and I imagine it’d work much better on flat ground rather than inside the fire pit which I think impeded airflow. Still, the stew cooked and was enjoyed by us all.

Russ’s huge pile of bush cleared on the back border

More neighbours popped by, including Rose and Roger with their baby Blue. Staying 3 plots down from us, they invited us over for an early dinner and hot shower. Guys, seriously, have I mentioned how awesome the Suurbraak community is??? We trotted off to their place that evening and had a lovely time – Rose does yoga in the area and Roger is a builder, he had a lot of useful advise and suggestions for us. It was great seeing the set up Roger had built – a lovely double storey with outside compost toilet and gas shower with rainwater, and a big stoep overlooking their large happy wild garden.

Day 4: A Tour With Werner

By day 4 we had met so many new people I was struggling to count let alone remember all the names! I am fascinated by the history of Suurbraak (you can read a bit about it here), so it was a real treat to meet Francois Gaffley and his son Ryan. His family have lived in Suurbraak for 300 years – in fact Francois stays on Gaffley street!

Our visit with Werner and Louise was so great. He first walked us round his house, showing us his various set ups from self-built kitchen to solar to water collection. They have chickens (along with cows and horses) and Louise has a lush veggie garden. Argh I can’t WAIT!!! Next Werner showed us two more properties – friends of his who he has done building work for and whose properties he manages while they’re away.

On our tour with Werner

Budget 3m x 6m Wendy House

In particular, he showed us a budget 3m x 6m wendy house he’d organized for a friend and could get us an exact quote on (rough price around R14,000). It’s perfect for our shed/initial accomodation!! The wendys are pre-made in panels which arrive on a truck and is erected the same day. Werner would first prepare the foundation for us. Because we’re positioned close to the river and in the valley below the mountain of many waterfalls, it’d need to be erected on stilts. Werner would sink about 20 or more thick treated timber poles into the ground with cement to form a solid base for the wendy to be attached to. He’d also add steel cables bolting the entire structure into the ground to ensure wind survival (apparently he’s seen some wendys end up in a neighbour’s yard in Suurbraak’s heavy winds).

Small and simple and IN BUDGET. On the left you can just make out one of the steel cables bolting the wendy to the ground to avoid a Dorothy scenario.

Insulation & Cladding

The wendy comes unlined on the inside, so we’d need to add insulation – I want to go with Isotherm 145mm. It’s eco friendly (made with recycled plastic), dust & allergy free and has a 30 year manufacturer’s guarantee. The 145mm has an R-value of 3.77 which is perfect for the Western Cape. It comes in at around R69 per m2 from Roof Insulations but I haven’t done a lot of shopping around yet so I’m not sure if that’s a good price. On top of that we’ll need sisilation, FR405 is fire retardant. We’ll then need to clad the inner walls once we’ve layed the insulation, I’m thinking a mix of shutterply (where we want to put up shelving) and rhinoboard.

Roofing

Finally, we’ll need to upgrade the roof. The budget wendy comes with a very thin corrugated iron sheeting (I think Werner said 0.23mm) and he recommended something thicker. I’ve previously done a bit of research into Zincalum – it’s pretty awesome stuff – so I’d like to go with the 0.53mm corrugated Zincalume AZ200 coastal coating. That should give us a good longevity. To read up more on Zinc cladding, these two articles are a good start – Thinking Zinc: Examining Cladding Options and Safintra’s informative FAQ on Aluminium-Zinc Coated Metal Roofing.

I WANT IT!

Fencing

Oh yes – and we’ve finally decided on what type of fencing we want to go with. We’ll be installing 1.2m jackal fencing with 3 lines of barbed wire along the top taking the fence height to about 1.8m or so. Initial quotes came in at a much heftier price than we’d anticipated (we’d been told to expect around R20,000 to fence our 232m border). So we’ve opted to fence only the first half of the property (the first 45m) to save on costs. We’re waiting on new quotes to come in, hopefully more in line with the budget we’d been told to expect.

An example of the jackal fencing with barb wire strands in Suurbraak

Goodbyes Til Next Time

Werner promised to get us the quote in a few days time, and reckoned he’d be able to have the wendy in place by the time we get back on 15 April, assuming the guys clear the shed area for him to get started. He also offered us storage space so we wouldn’t have to lug ALL our camping gear back to Cape Town again (AMAZING!) – and, even more amazing, he’s offered to loan us a gas fridge until we get sorted with solar! THANK YOU WERNER! <3

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