On the Beach

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Road Trip

Living in Africa, you have to do a road trip. Not one but lots.

In fact, lots of people argue that living in Cape Town is actually not like living in South Africa, let alone Africa. It has been said that Cape Town is a little bit of Europe, hanging onto the edge of Africa. I can see lots of Europeennes,  lighting a cigarette, flicking back their scarves and saying: "Mais non! C'est pas vrai!"

All I am saying is, is that some people feel you have not experienced Africa until you have left the CT postcode and The Mountain behind, so it is almost vital to get out to be certain to get your African credentials.

South Africa is one of those countries whose size and population density invite road trips. Throw on Journey's "Don't Stop Believing" and you can believe that you're living the dream like Thelma and Louise. Ok, look, if  I'm honest it was more Winnie the Pooh and the Lion King, than " Don't Stop Believing", but in my head it was the latter.

I don't think that there are many places in Europe that you could do a road trip in the same sense that you can here, or say (I imagine) the USA and Canada. On the streets of Bromley, UK, the road trip ideal dies pretty quick. Car packed, kids in, enthusiasm high. 30 minutes later, bumper-to-bumper on the M25 the dream dies and you feel that Michael Douglas in "Falling Down" was a reality show contestant, rather than a fictional character. That's not to say there aren't beautiful places to visit- there are plenty as the tourism figures show. It's just such an looooooooong ordeal to get there.  I swear, once on a trip to Cornwall (over 8 hours), my will to live tapped me on the shoulder, gave me a despairing shrug, took his  bags out of the back and left. I only wish I could have gone too.

Today we're off for 3 nights at a wilderness reserve near Clanwilliam, 270km from CT. Directions? Go out of Cape Town, head north, after 230km turn right, right again and look for the gate. Seriously. Look on a map. It's the Cape Town-Namibia route and, save for a few turns it is pretty much a straight road.

We picked up M from school and did a beer stop. 33km and 20 minutes later, any signs of urban habitation were a distant dream. The odd house, the odd hamlet but pure countryside.

The road was straight but with enough slight turns to keep away driving ennui. Occasionally, it was like a rollercoaster, making us and the kids squeal with delights as we sped up and down, the open road stretching like an arrow into the distance.

As you leave Cape Town, the vistas are wide and expansive, the hills a verdant green in spring (I imagine they look rather different at the end of summer- think dust). The further we got from the city, the emptier and narrower the road as we headed to the mountain pass that would take us into the Cederburg Wilderness. We passed by rolling hills that were a sundrenched yellow rapeseed, against the blue sky it all looked positively Provencal, reminiscent of a Van Gogh painting.

After Citrusdal, we hit the roadworks. This is how South Afrcian Road works go: a few km before, you are warned roadworks are coming up. As you get closer and closer to where they begin the amount of unseasonably dressed, miserable looking women wearing high-visibility vests, waving flags in a bored fashion increases. Your car stops. They walk past you waving flags- no eye contact. You see a sign "Roadworks for 15km. Waiting time +/- 10 minutes" Please be patient". The sign that is manually adjusted says " Stop". No sign of any cars coming the other way.  So far, just you and 2 other cars parked there in the sun, the sign attendant cradling a walkie-talkie to her chest, a thousand yard stare in her eyes.

Can you imagine the chaos, the road rage if this happened on the A1 in the UK, ever? It doesn't bear thinking about but you can rest assured that the Daily Mail would have a field day and Sky News would have plenty of disgruntled citizens to interview in the drizzle (on loop, obviously).

What happens here? We stop, we get out, we stretch our legs and nod hello. Everyone looks around surreptitiously to see if this a possible loo stop, one look at the driver of the high-elevation lorry, makes it a resounding no. It is silent but for the occasional vehicle coming the other way, and one joining our queue (and my girls baying to be let out of the car).

Eventually, the sign is languorously changed to "Go" and, slowly, we all pull away, speeding up and overtaking until the next roadworks. There were 5 in all and all passed in the same, pleasant fashion, the scenery getting more and more beautiful and lush.

The final roadworks over a mountain, where what can only be described a feat of engineering was taking place, as they blasted the mountain to make a wider pass. This being the main route between Cape Town and Namibia, there are a lot of trucks and one in particular, which looked like a 3 load Coca Cola truck, hauled itself up the narrow pass in a glacial, unnerving fashion.

On the other side of the mountain, we were greeted by narrow roads, winding their way through orchards and hugging rivers and streams.

Dutifully, we turned right where we were supposed to and passed through the town of Clanwilliam. This was the last time we would have mobile phone reception until we headed home, past this same point.

If we thought that we had been traveling through unpopulated lands so far, this was something else. A few kms beyond Clanwilliam the landscape turned into occasional towers of vast red, orange and black rocks- almost like lego which a giant child had randomly planted around the landscape. The road undulated and veered between the vast, towering rocks. Not a house, not a soul to be seen for 40kms.

Suddenly, on the right, a gate.

A red dirt, duty track meandered up and down through the scrub, fynbos and rocks. No sign of civilization.

4kms on, a sign "The Lodge". Up past the dam, past the ghost gum tree on the right and a dam shining sliver in the afternoon sun. Slowly, looming up beyond the bush and trees, the most perfect looking white homestead, stoep all around providing cool shade and cover from the African sun. A weaver's nest hangs over the pool.

On the stoep a mouth-watering, sumptous high tea served with homemade Rooiboos ice tea, all against the background of a perfect African vista.

The rest?

Frankly, I'm too busy stuffing my face to tell you.

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