My camera bag (minus the camera) was behind us, left in a cloud of dust on a quiet dirt road somewhere in the Eastern Cape. We motored on. The road trip had just begun and we had a long way to go if we wanted to reach Maclear that night. Our thoughts were blissfully consumed by this new adventure and of what lies ahead; a masterpiece landscape around every corner.
45 minutes later, I realised what I had done. I’d left my camera bag full of lenses and camera equipment on the side of the road. I couldn’t be sure where exactly. But I had an idea – right at the start of the road!
Within seconds, I could literally feel the flow of blood punching its way to the top of my head. I thought my head might explode. I remained as calm as I possibly could in front of my new American road trip buddies, all the while thinking, ‘You bloody idiot fool!’
We retraced our trip at lightning speed, taking on the dusty corners as if I was in training for the Dakar rally. Along with berating myself, I started to wonder whether insurance would cover such a thing and worst of all, would I have to return to the hospitality trade full time? How could I possibly function as a photographer without my beloved lenses? But there in the distance, I could see a little black dot on the horizon. Could this be my camera bag? We’d passed at least 3 cars on our way back and the realist in me was shouting to myself, ‘Who could possibly resist a little black bag on the side of the road? We’re in South Africa for goodness sake!’ But my Peace Corps friends (a yoga/meditation guru and a very patient teacher/horror story writer) managed to keep me cool and even hopeful! And there it was, exactly where I had left it! Right then, I made a conscious decision to take things slower and to keep my head firmly attached to my shoulders for the duration of this trip!
It took us a while to get to Maclear, mostly because it was simply still a long way to go. We assumed that we would easily find accommodation as there is plenty advertised. But this is when the Eastern Cape took on a personality of its own; quiet and quirky! For an hour and a half we went from B+B to B+B, to guest farm, to Hotel. But no-one was home! And it was getting dark. On one occasion, we drove to a guest farm. Everything was open but no-one was to be seen except for an over-friendly Jack Russel that would not leave our vehicle. We then spotted someone who works on the farm and all they could tell us was ‘I dont know.’ We were perplexed at this stage as we had not seen anyone in this town! Eventually, upon ringing the 16th gate intercom of a B&B, an old lady hobbled down the driveway. She looked at us suspiciously; customers! When we told her that we had searched far and wide for accommodation but had not seen a soul except for herself, she told us, “Ja. There are some white people getting married and a Nigerian. Everyone is at a wedding. You wont find accommodation in this town.”
And so we drove to Ugie. Apparently the people who were getting married were from Ugie itself and so most of the accommodation in this town was also booked out! We had 2 choices. We could either stay in a famously haunted guesthouse that used to be an orphanage or at a place called 40 Winks. The Yoga/Meditation guru voted for good vibes and opted for 40 Winks and the teacher who has published a number of short Horror stories, would have loved the haunted house. But since the kids were with us, we decided on 40 Winks. Relieved and tired, 40 Winks was everything we needed after a long day of high drama and being on the road.
The next day, we needed to get all the way to Rhodes, which in theory, is not far. We got to the ‘Barkley-East outskirts’ and pulled over for a few photos . A few kilometers later – the vehicle began to tilt and the wheel began to grind. It was a puncture. My worst fear had come true. I only knew the theory of changing a tyre! And my husband – aka guru punctured tyre expert – was not with us on this trip! Shit.
But thankfully, the Horror story writer/teacher – stepped in an saved the day! John managed to change the tyre with an audience of about 200 bleeting sheep all hoping for something, maybe food? Once he had changed the tyre, we decided to back track once again, and to return to Elliot in search of a new tyre or a repair at least, despite it being a Sunday on a long weekend! Apparently everyone from Barkley-East who has any tyre experience had gone to Bloemfontein for the weekend! Eventually we found a friendly petrol pump attendant in Elliot by the name of ‘Superman’ who gave us directions to the ONLY Sunday operating tyre service in Elliot; Jimmy’s Dunlop Tyres. Jimmy managed to repair our badly punctured tyre and once again, we clambered back into the vehicle for the final leg of our journey to Rhodes Village.
We took it really slow this time, never going faster than 60km/per hour. The rest of the trip and the days ahead would mostly be on gravel roads. We couldn’t afford another puncture – especially having seen the state of the spare wheel after the puncture. If we were forced to use the spare, we didn’t think it would get us all the way home.
“So wear your strongest posture now, and see your hardest times as more than just the times you fell but a range of mountains you learned to climb.” – Morgan Harper Nichols
“Most of the time, beauty lies in the simplest of things.” – Winna EFendi
“When within yourself you find the right road, the right road will open.” – Dejan Stojanovic
Going slowly to Rhodes paid off. The kids could even jump out for a leisurely run and still manage to stay ahead of the vehicle, while the adults admired the enchanting Maloti mountain views.
Upon arrival, we set up camp as quickly as possible and walked up to the Walkabout Lodge for a pizza and a glass of wine. Cooking was simply not on the cards! While we waited for our oven-fired pizza, the kids were entertained by a fish tank, home to 3 black slightly freaky looking 10 year old frogs being fed chicken livers! All we could do at this point was laugh at the absurdity of this trip and the intriguing quirkiness of the Eastern Cape! Without doubt, the Eastern Cape Drakensberg mountains are one of favourite regions in South Africa. Though charming and quirky, it’s here that I get that feeling I long for – the feeling of freedom that comes with space and breathtaking, bold landscapes that captivate and seduce the traveller.
“Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilised people are begining to find out going to the mountains is going home, that wildnerss is a necessity.” – John Muir