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Slow down in Slow Town

By Jennifer Stern

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Some small towns are naturally slow – stuck away in the middle of nowhere – but some have to work at it. The tiny town of Sedgefield, South Africa’s first certified Cittaslow town, is not in the middle of nowhere. It’s on the ever-popular, and only historically sleepy, Garden Route, so it’s had to work hard at slowing down.

The slow movement, which grew out of the slow food movement, is not about slacking off – it’s about taking the time to do things slowly and with purpose. It’s about taking time to do the things that matter. Walking where you can, smelling the fynbos, spending time with your family, spending time with yourself, taking time out of the office for lunch instead of guzzling something down in front of your computer – yes, even in Joburg. And certainly on holiday.

Embracing the concept of ‘slow’ was a brilliantly proactive way of dealing with the frustration of generations of Garden Route holidaymakers who gritted their teeth as they slowed from 120km/h to the seemingly tortoise-crawling velocity of 60km/h in a very short space as they hit the outskirts of the town. And the town has even chosen the tortoise as its mascot.

Slow food in Slow Town

Started early this century, the Wild Oats Community Farmers’ Market was one of the pioneers of the farmers’ market concept in South Africa, and it’s still one of the biggest and best. Unlike many ‘farmers’ markets,’ Wild Oats has remained true to its founding ethos, with a very large proportion of the stallholders being the actual producers of the food on sale.

There is artisanal bread, slow-cured charcuterie, organically grown veggies, home-made reserves and small-scale artisanal cheese, home bakes, and – I am prepared to stand by this statement – the best cheesecake in South Africa (if not the world). And, while the market is the epicentre, and possibly the initial inspiration, for the slow food movement in Sedgefield, you’ll find that many of the restaurants in town operate on the same principle.

Slow art in Slow Town

It was soon after the town decided to embrace slowness that they adopted the tortoise as their emblem/mascot/logo – and mosaicked tortoises started springing up everywhere. This was largely as a result of a concerted effort by a local NPO called Masithandane. After teaching a number of previously unemployed people how to do mosaic, they started the Mosaic Art Tourism Project that has culminated in the Mosaic Art Route, which – of course – should be explored slowly. As well as three huge tortoises (Slow, Citta and Skillie) to celebrate the town’s slowness, there are other mosaic works – large and small.

A five-metre-high giant mosaicked heart in the ‘heart’ of town signifies the slow and steady heartbeat of this mellow coastal village. There’s also an octopus’s garden, a 40-square-metre mosaic children’s wall, a war memorial, and – I think, the funkiest of the lot – the mosaic horses. Anyone who has driven through Sedgefield any time in the last half a dozen decades will remember the uber-kitsch, but noticeable, wall of prancing horses near the eastern edge of town. They were initially boringly black and brown (sort of horse-coloured) but now they are a vibrant rainbow of mosaic. And the Mosaic Village is a great spot to buy (or commission) a wonderful mosaic art piece. On Saturdays, there is an open-air market there.

Slow adventure in Slow Town

There are some places where you can do whitewater rafting, skydiving, downhill skiing and even volcano luge – all fast-paced, high-adrenaline adventures. But Sedgefield specialises in slower, mindful – even meditative – adventures. Sedgefield has one of the best paragliding launch sites ever. Kleinkrantz is a gentle dune of about 50 metres high, but – when conditions are right – you can fly from there for about 10 kilometres along the beach, riding the ridge lift from the dunes and watching whales and dolphins in the sea.

But for a really slow, mindful adventure, nothing beats the Garden Route Trail, starting in Wilderness and heading through Sedgefield. This is a great way to walk and paddle through some of the Garden Route’s best beaches, forests, wetlands and wide-open spaces, and it’s also an opportunity to learn about the various ecosystems you traverse, watch birds, identify plants and find interesting beasties in tidal pools.

And then there’s fishing – and it doesn’t get slower or more contemplative than that.

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