Johannesburg - There are sounds, and tastes, which I will forever associate with going on holiday in southern Africa, no matter what the destination.
Like the pinging of hot metal as it cools down, with the car standing in the shade of a lonely sentinel acacia tree as the vlaktes (plains) of the Karoo wash around it; and the rushing sound of a car as it approaches the lay-by.
Then the rising and falling whine of the tyres as the car blows past and the torn silence slowly knits together again.
Bacon and egg sandwiches, accompanied by a mug of hot sweet tea. It’s the sound, and taste, of freedom, of leaving behind the concerns of house and job, and the anticipation of relaxation somewhere at the end of the road. By the time the second sandwich and second cup of tea have disappeared, I’m getting itchy, eager to be back behind the wheel.
Years ago, Nissan used to have a marketing slogan “Life’s a journey; enjoy the ride”… and this still sums up for me the thrill of a road trip.
I love driving and I love this beautiful land of ours, where the vistas are endless and around the next corner can be a scene which takes your breath away.
As a working reporter in my youth, rather than a desk jockey, I would drive to odd places in search of stories. And, with a trusty road atlas (still has more soul than any GPS and, once you’re familiar with it, much quicker to use than the electronic gadget), I would plot back routes via different little towns. And I would wonder how a place like Boons (in the North West and little more than some towering maize silos, a garage and a general store) came by its odd-sounding name.
Each time I travelled, I would go out of my way to see something different – and would mark off each of the roads less travelled with a yellow marker pen. I continued that habit on family trips, much to the annoyance of my wife and kids, who all wanted to know “when will we be there?”
I remember one occasion, heading for somewhere in the lowveld, when even my wife’s complaints were silenced by the otherworldly stillness and peace at the top of the Steenkampsberg Pass (once listed proudly as the highest road in the then Transvaal).
The alternative routes became a necessity in the 1990s, for a young family with little cash – so we avoided the toll roads on our trips down to Durban to stay with granny and grandpa. And that trip was rewarding, especially the winding route past the Sterkfontein Dam and down the Drakensberg escarpment via the Olivershoek Pass into KwaZulu-Natal.
These days, sadly, much has changed on our rural byways. Many of the lay-bys are filthy, rubbish bins are overflowing and grass is seldom trimmed. And, with concerns about security, the appeal of a remote stop is tempered by the thought of being waylaid. We halted occasionally at a picnic spot near Sterkfontein Dam, but stopped after it became a crime mecca.
The large Ultra-Cities and One-Stops are what we frequent these days – and no bad thing either, considering they are safe, convenient and have generally well-cleaned toilets, as well as shops.
Also, many of the roads less travelled have deteriorated into well below what our president would scorn as a “road in Malawi” – filled with enormous potholes, which are not only damaging to cars but are also potential killers. Not to mention the fact that in provinces like the Free State and Mpumalanga many road signs haven’t been painted for years.
And, admittedly, we have also become a little like the lemmings who embark on the annual stampede to the coast, often blasting down to Knysna from Joburg in only one day. Stopping off at the Mountain Zebra National Park was not only sensible, but a treat – if you have been there you will know what I mean. But these days, you’ve got to book way in advance.
Yet, there are times when I still yearn to get out into the back of beyond. To experience the empty heart of South Africa, those Karoo vaults where time stands still. Where you know the next car may only come along in hours.
I was reminded of this recently when watching re-runs of The World’s best Motorcycle Rides on DsTV’s travel Channel. Presenter and biker Henry Cole headed for Cape Town from Joburg, but went via the Cradle of Humankind, Kuruman, Augrabies, Nieuwoudtville, Loeriesfontein, Calvinia and Sutherland. The scenery was stunning… and even Cole himself, who’s been all around the world on bikes, had to admit that parked on the side of the road watching an approaching thunderstorm was wondrous.
I’m getting an itchy accelerator foot again. But I am also looking for tips and advice about your “road less travelled” – those places where you feel part of a different world – because I am determined this will be the year of hitting the road. - Saturday Star