Taking the wrong Rhodes Home

The road around Umtata to the Wild Coast was a hell-raiser!  Not because of the actual road but because of the drivers. They all seemed to be driving like there was no tomorrow, willing to risk their lives (and the lives of oncoming motorists) by overtaking on blind rises, double lines or speeding like they were on a German Autobahn, but with horses, cows and donkeys posing as minor obstacles. I wasn’t very excited about retracing our skid marks and so I thought it might be more relaxing to take the long road home via Satan’s Nek Pass, Elliot and finally Rhodes.

The plan was to drive to KwaZulu-Natal via the mountains in the Eastern Cape – a part of the Drakensberg that neither of us had explored. It made perfect sense to take the long road back and to get a taste of what we’ve heard from so many people; that it’s an exquisite part of South Africa.  Disappointingly, while ascending the tarred pass, the mist-belt tightened its grip on Satan’s Nek, lowering the white curtain and teasing us with fleeting glimpses of a spectacular canyon.

But as we neared the small town of Elliot, and the countryside evolved into plump, copper-coloured hills, the clouds lifted and the show began…

“Home is behind, the world ahead,
And there are many paths to tread
Through shadows to the edge of night,
Until the stars are all alight.
Then world behind and home ahead,
We’ll wander back and home to bed.
Mist and twilight, cloud and shade,
Away shall fade! Away shall fade!”

– J. R.R Tolkien

While I am completely content to be living where we are, this road trip was one those experiences when you’re so taken by a place that you begin to imagine what life might be like for us here… Yes, we’d probably have to be sheep farmers (which is not a bad thing when I start to think of the 101 ways to cook a baby lamb!) and we’d have to adapt to bitterly cold winters, drink copious amounts of hot chocolate and red wine and burn a fire in the old farm house for more than half of the year! We’d have to brace ourselves with the crisp dry air and endure night skies that one can only dream of; the mountains -like sleeping giants -silhouetted by a canvas of stars. A quiet night all except for the occasional howl of a jackal and the whisper of a breeze as it brushes against bare branches.  It was easy to dream in a place like this and for all those nagging worries and the bustle of everyday life, to be silenced and made very small by the ethereal beauty of this magnificent region.

“Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity”
― John Muir

The dusty road wound through the farmlands and followed the deeply cut curves of the Bell river. In the distance, with mountains huddling protectively, the historical Rhodes village came into sight, lit by a late afternoon soft orange glow, studded with herds of sheep and seemingly alive with stories from the past. It’s a quaint and affordable village, the gateway to the nearby ski resort, Tiffindell and the spectacular Naude’s Mountain Pass. I imagined how many tourists speed through the little village, with only snow boards and skis in mind, missing the white-washed houses, the creaky doors splashed with colour and the old post office and red telephone booth, still in service.

Though this trip back home started as a detour, it became the highlight. And while we did go onto the ski resort for a cuppa tea, the little village of Rhodes made it’s mark. That night, once the kids had fallen asleep to the sound of a crackling fire, my husband and I went outside for a nightcap. Dressed in about 4 layers of clothing, with beanies, gloves and thermal underwear – we ignored our smoky white breath and enjoyed the ‘homeliness’ of Rhodes. In the distance we could hear the Saturday night laughter coming from the local pub, the occasional bark of a dog but not much more. The little village commanded a ‘silence’ that almost made us forget that ‘tomorrow’ we’d be on our way home, back to work!