The Cederberg mountain range elongates its monstrous, supple arms around a quaint town, rooted in the stomach of the rocky giant. An assemblage of houses peep out amongst the streams of trees running through each and every alleyway of this destination. This green cluster of foliage is more prevalent on the outskirts of the town, due to the innumerable bodies of coloured dots hanging on the branches like earrings.
Welcome to Citrusdal, which not only homes numerous citrus trees, but also a big heart in this speck on the world map.
If the earth has a keenness for you, perhaps it would exhale a breeze in the direction of your adventures and miraculously scoop you onto a road rhyming with…
The R303. At the end of this road, after you have been engulfed in the rip tide of trees, tractors and friendly farm workers, you will find the biggest attraction of Citrusdal: The Baths.
“Goeiemore Meneer, het U ‘n bespreking?” says the ‘sleutel-man’ of the main entrance to the Baths. With a smile brighter than the fruit overpopulating the town almost touching his ears, Hermanus Koopman enthusiastically leapfrogs out of his office. His clipboard follows his swift movements, almost like a bee stalking the scent of a sunflower, while he disappears around the stationary vehicle, jotting down the necessary details before suddenly hopping back into his lookout spot. The robotic walky-talky voice awaits the instruction to open the gate and beckon its visitors in.
The excitement of floating around in 43° Celsius water springs cannot outshine the friendliness of the gatekeeper, leaving everyone with either a smile or a ‘grappie’ so humorous that retelling it will not do it justice.
‘Citrusdale is my huis. Dit is my geboorte plek. Hoe langer ek op ‘n ander plek bly, dit is nie vir my lekker nie. Ek dink teveel hierna toe.’
One of 12 children, Hermanus has lived here for approximately 54 years. He worked for carpenters in Cape Town for six years when he was younger but says, ‘die stad se lewe is nie so lekker nie. In die platteland is dit skoon maar in die stad is dit vol rook.’ In 1986, Citrusdale and its fresh air running alongside drew Hermanus back like gravity, being the perfect place where he could raise his three children with his wife, Susana Koopman, who have been married for 34 years.
“Ek is trots op my werk en het baie lief vir dit,” says Hermanus comfortably.
After working on the citrus farms for 17 years as a production manager, where he lost his one finger to an accident with a grinder, Hermanus first started working temporarily as the guard at The Baths’ gate before being offered a permanent position. “Ek het eers nie geweet hoe om met mense te werk nie en toe besluit ek dat nie streng moet wees of kwaad lyk nie,” explains Hermanus when talking about developing his social abilities working with guests. His invitingly warm nature emanates from every corner of his soul, inviting the visitors to his office as a refreshing break on their way to explore the natural beauty of Citrusdale. “Vir my is dit so lekker as hulle hier kom en dan sê hulle vir my dat hulle my later gaan sien,” says Hermanus.
Looking through the office’s window, a small body with lava-red pants bolts excitedly towards the building. “Oupa het jy die heater gesteel?” enquires Shanee Friedericks while making her daily escape (or visit) from her pre-primary school, closely situated to the gate and where her grandmother works as a teacher. “Ek het nie baie vriende nie. My familie is my vriende. Ons praat so lekker dat ons vergeet om ons goed te doen,” says Hermanus contently when reflecting on the rock that grounds his colossal mountain of a heart; his family. His family tree was large enough to extend two extra branches and make loving space for a young brother and sister whose mother is going through rehabilitation for drug abuse. He always has ample love clustered in his heart, enough to share in the lives of these two children. Hermanus says, “Ek het baie lief geraak vir hulle”.
“Citrusdale gee mens vryheid.” The freedom embedded in the town’s lifestyle allows Hermanus to express his appreciation and fondness for nature. Growing his own rhubarb, carrots, watermelon, cabbage, beans, onion and spanspek in his garden, Hermanus has to keep guard over his garden gifts, otherwise his wife shouts, “Oompie, kyk hoe eet die bobbejaan jou laaste waartlemoen.”
Illustrating his love of improving his culinary skills, he enjoys making fish dishes, especially because ‘visvang is eintlik my hobby’. Barbels, bass and yellow fishes cease to greet their neighbours in the Olifantsrivier when they nibble on the frogs Oompie caught as bait. His grandchildren enjoy chasing the fishes away when he is trying to catch dinner, whereas in the past, his children used to accompany him on buchu picking expeditions. Climbing each intricate crevice of the mountain, finding the plant with the ‘blaartjies wat blink’, the children would follow and shout, “Pappa kom help my hierso,” with Oompie replying, “nee, ek het nie vir jou gesê om saam te kom nie.” But sometimes, the alone time is necessary. On Saturday afternoons after work, he grabs his ‘kierie’ and vanishes into the mountain’s body, getting lost in its existence, no excuse necessary.
Not being able to attend church as often as he wishes due to transportation difficulties, Hermanus practices his religion through the way he chooses to enjoy and respect the world. Citrusdale’s very own Snow White, nature’s way is ingrained in him, innately pushing him to live for the earth and from the earth. If he is not busy rescuing the stray puppies wandering the roads, he is calming someone when a bee is hovering nearby by saying, “Nee, los hom. Hy sal jou nie steek nie. Net as jy vir hom gaan waai.”
This might be a holiday destination for many, but Citrusdale is home to Oompie. For Hermanus, home is a place where family can harmoniously grow and love, together. He has no plans for moving as his heart is firmly set in the Cederberg stone.
“Ek gaan sterwe hier”.