Walking the heart home

For the past 25 years, Terry de Vries has dreamed of building a wellness retreat and healing centre. Kamala House Karoo Retreat in Barrydale is that dream fulfilled, writes BIANCA DU PLESSIS.

Terry de Vries in the labyrinth at Kamala House .

ONE COULD SAY that the bones were cast for young Terry. As a daughter of the erstwhile rector of Stellenbosch University, Mike de Vries, and maternal granddaughter of a chairman of the board of Naspers, Phillip Weber, an illustrious career in journalism was almost a fait accompli. She was well on her way, juggling the management of Die Burger’s Stellenbosch office and parenting her young son when, in 1994, a particularly gruesome case prompted a hard rethink.

The brutal killing of a family in Die Boord, a family-friendly neighbourhood in Stellenbosch, meant Terry’s reporting was splashed on the front page of every Afrikaans daily. “As a journalist, it’s wonderful for your ego to have your byline on the front page every day, but submerging oneself so totally in the horror and pain of others made me question who I was and what I was doing for a living,” she recalls. She’d sunk into a deep depression following her divorce and was struggling to find meaning in her life. There had to be more than school, study, work, marriage and children.

The deck at Kamal House overlooks the medicinal and food garden.

Terry resigned and spent two years lecturing at Stellenbosch University’s Department of Journalism before she decided it was time to break away. Far away. She and her son Josua (then five) toured the USA in a combi for 10 months, with friends joining them at times. Although she’d done a course in reflexology while working as a reporter at Beeld newspaper in Johannesburg, followed by courses in reiki and aromatherapy in the Cape, her spiritual journey started in earnest on the highways and byways of America. Terry did a course with Chris Griscom of The Light Institute in the Bahamas and studied to be a yoga teacher at the Omega Institute for Holistic Studies in New York State.

Even as a child, she looked at the world through spiritual eyes. “My first ‘spiritual realisation’ happened when I was about two and a half years old. Our family used to holiday at Rainbow Valley on the Gonubie River close to East London. One day, the rest of the family went on an outing while my gran stayed at home to watch over me. To keep me from running down the porch stairs, she stacked a table and chairs across the entrance.

“I’ve always hated feeling boxed in. I have a visceral memory of sinking to my knees and gliding through the obstacles like a snake. I ran down to the river. Sunlight slanted through the trees, sparkling on the Coca Cola-coloured water. I saw a lizard on a rock on the opposite river bank. We looked each other in the eye and suddenly I felt that time didn’t exist and that I was part of everything and all of this – the sunlight, the water, the lizard – was part of me. It was an out-of-body experience. It was also the first time I saw the divine in all of creation,” Terry recalls.

Although this was a few decades after Albert Einstein first declared that matter and energy are intimately related and that time is an illusion, it was an unusual insight for a small child in 1960s’ South Africa to come to. “I’ve always been intrigued by energy and science. As a young girl I could see colour fields around people. I thought it was normal and only later realised that I was seeing auras – electromagnetic fields – around them. I studied for a BSc degree straight out of school and did Honours in journalism afterwards, which catapulted me on a different path,” she says.

The deck overlooks the garden with slanted sunlight on the slate circles.

Much like a labyrinth draws one away from its centre, only to unexpectedly yield the sacred destination, Terry’s route during the past 25 years was not a straight one. Her first encounter with a labyrinth was as a yoga student at the Omega Institute. “Josua was always very moody when I picked him up from childcare at 5pm. One day, during one of his moods, we happened upon this circular pattern. Josua started walking and skipping along its path and as he went, I saw his mood change from difficult to delighted. At that point in my life, I had never even heard of a labyrinth! When I came back at the end of 1997, I started an intensive study of labyrinths. My first labyrinth experience in South Africa was with Dr Peter Frazer, who built a labyrinth outside Barrydale in 1998.”

Terry built her first labyrinth in 2001 in Jan Marais Nature Reserve in Stellenbosch. The following year she walked her first camino. It proved to be a seminal moment in her life, as her beloved dad passed away when she was 150 kilometres from her destination. On the camino, as in life, there was no turning back for Terry. In the following two decades she travelled far, often on foot, to deepen her understanding and knowledge of spirituality, visiting sacred sites all over the world, building labyrinths wherever she went, walking pilgrimages, studying sound healing and finding her own healing voice. Her commitment to wellness and healing is profound, joyous and informed.

Terry’s love of colour and pattern is evident throughout the house.

“Will it be a silent retreat?” I enquired anxiously before visiting Terry at Kamala House Karoo Retreat. “No, don’t worry,” she laughed. I was part of a group of yoga novices who joined Terry for a few days of mindfulness, stretching, breathing and eating delicious vegan food. Kamala House Karoo Retreat is what one would expect of Terry: bold, earthy, generous, colourful, peaceful and inspiring. How she found the property is yet another turn in her circular story. It already had a labyrinth when Terry first saw it in 2018. Even before the property became available through a serendipitous sequence of events, Terry had called her sister, Lize van Dyk, to tell her that she had found her next home in Barrydale. “I’d always wondered which one of us siblings would move back to our roots,” her sister replied drily. Their dad had been born and raised on a farm just outside Barrydale and was granted honorary citizenship of the town in 1980. Terry’s path was coming full circle.

Enter Johann Slee, an old friend and celebrated Stellenbosch-based architect who is known for his love of the colours, textures and climate of Africa. Barrydale is famous for its beautiful slate work and rough- hewn Karoo slate can be seen in everything from buildings to garden walls, animal enclosures and decorative finishes. Johann’s first response when he saw the site was: “Goodness, Terry, we have to do something beautiful here.”

“I wanted to create a place that is grounded and that speaks of the unique soul of Barrydale,” says Johann. “We wanted the buildings to be part of the stone, the texture and the colour of the surroundings. Plus, it isn’t a regular home. Everything was done to incorporate and reflect Terry’s very special, spiritual way of seeing this world.” What Johann loves most about Kamala House is how the building and garden are coming into their own.

René Slee, who designed the lush garden, enhanced the feeling of tranquillity. “I wanted to create a garden where people immediately felt drawn to explore it, where the abundance of nature surrounds you,” she adds. Her creation has the whimsy of an enchanted garden, wild and abundant with meandering pathways, but is also a robust food and medicinal garden, feeding body and soul with its bounty. V