What a day. I shall call it, Adventures Along the N14. Anyone who's ever travelled this road before would know that statement oversells it by a mile, but what can I say, I’m an optimist. Already one day behind my planned date of departure, I packed my bags, loaded my car and started my journey from Pretoria down to Cape Town. The plan was to drive for 15 hours straight, heading down there as fast as possible to go start a life in the city I’ve always wanted to live in. Well, so much for planning. I kissed my parents goodbye, chose the road less travelled and made my way to what is arguably the warmest place in South Africa, Upington.
All excited, my car packed with all of my favourite things, plus music and audio books for days, I set off. First on my playlist was some long forgotten Johannes Kerkorrel as I made my way past Diepsloot(1) and a bit further, the stupendous Cradle of Humankind. Too excited for the unknown road ahead, I made no plan to stop at the home of Mrs Ples. I did, however, pay a visit last November to say hi to our more recently discovered friend, Homo naledi(2). The road ahead was beautiful. Rolling green grass, maize along the road, children in uniform making their way to school and the occasional sunflower poking its head out greeting the daylight. To complete the picture, there were also a few guinea fowls trotting around looking as ridiculous as ever, a long-tailed whydah floating by and eucalyptus trees, in all their majesty, swaying in the wind. Everything beautiful. The perfect setting to start daydreaming.
Passing Klerkskraal dam I looked for a place to pull over for my morning coffee, but found no inviting road to take me closer so I kept on by. Apart from a few churches and old willow trees, Ventersdorp had little to offer so I made a Shell Garage(3) my breakfast spot. Being a big fan of picnics I unpacked my cooler, brewed my coffee and sat in the wind trying my best to keep everything from blowing away.
Recharged, I set out again listening to Cage the Elephant, Cigarette Daydreams, swimming in some long forgotten nostalgia. An email brought me back to the present. It was a fellow Couchsurfer, securing my accommodation for the evening(4). Wonderful, I had a place to sleep for the night! I stopped at a lovely little coffee shop, Turning Point, as I entered Sannieshof, complete with a garden of inspirational quotes. The one read:
Forgiveness is unlocking the door to set someone free...realising you were the prisoner.
Deep for so early in the day, but I liked it.
Making my way further I saw a meerkat crossing the street. It reminded me of a meerkat onesie(5) I used to own. Back when I lived in South Korea, my friends and I bought these animal onesies for Halloween one year and ended up wearing them everywhere. Humans are weird. Why do we enjoy dressing up like animals? I always imagine the reverse. Just imagine a little bunny, with a robe, wearing human skin slippers. Terrifying.
My daydreaming was interrupted by a sign for an art gallery. Without thinking twice I turned off onto a dirt road, extremely excited with the hope of finding a farmhouse converted into a gallery with some lady making art, living the dream. No such luck. After a few kilometers on a bumpy road, with no gallery in sight, I decided to turn around. My little car was not made for dirt roads and I started worrying about everything rattling on my back seat. I searched for another art gallery in the area and Google Maps took me straight to an open field in the middle of nowhere, Delareyville. Strike one for Google Maps.
Disappointed I made my way further. Delareyville is nothing more than potholes and dust, but it does happen to be named after a boer general with his very own song(6). It’s the small things that entertain one on the open road. Every time I overtook a truck I flashed my hazards giving thanks for letting me pass. Each time I looked in the rear view mirror waiting for a response, but alas, not a single truck flashed back. Not a single one. The next town I came across was Vryburg. I only mention it, because Wikipedia describes it in the following way: “It's sometimes referred to as the Texas of South Africa”. Well… I’ve been to Texas and I’ve been to Vryburg… and the person who made that statement is a greater optimist than I.
I kept wondering what happens to all the ideas and thoughts flashing through the brain while daydreaming or dreaming for that matter. Where do they disappear to, just moments after you wake up and how do you find them again? The brain is strange. A billion things happening all at once with us barely being able to hold on to, or bring one of those ideas to life. It’s frustrating. They slip away so suddenly. The moment something distracts you, like the road kill you just dodged, you are brought right back to reality and you start realising you’ve been listening to the same song on repeat (Joe Strummer, Mondo Bongo) for who knows how long, making it nearly impossible to retrace your train of thought. If you lose thoughts in that manner, did they ever really exist? There's now way of telling.
Anyway, Kuruman, was the next town along the way and it actually did have something special to offer. It’s called The Eye and it’s a natural spring covered with lilies in the middle of town. I walked around it to stretch my legs before the last bit of the journey, thinking how lovely the little town is. My love for Kuruman didn’t last long though. As I got back to my car, a not so friendly stranger decided that I looked liked an easy target. As I closed my car door he kept on opening it, yelling things and distracting me while his buddy was trying to open the passenger door to grab whatever his greedy little hands could grab. My first instinct was to lock my doors and I did so just in time. I shook my head in anger and amazement at the guy still banging on my window and drove off. By the time I crossed the intersection he was back on the corner, laughing with his friends. Not today my friend, not today. I left Kuruman shaking quite a bit realising that if the handle on my passenger door wasn't in fact already broken and unable to open from the outside, his buddy would probably have taken off with my purse, my phone and most of the things I own. What a way to start my journey. This is exactly the reason why people are too scared to go places. Kuruman you disappointed me.
I played some Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros to lift my spirits and noticed the landscape changing from grassland to more bushy trees. It looked like there was a fire recently. I thought it might be best to call the Kuruman Police station and report the incident. I spoke to a lady telling her what happened and described how the guy looked like. It didn’t seem like she was paying much attention so I repeated myself and asked if there is any way that someone can be put there on patrol since it probably happens a lot. She sighed and said she's aware of the problem and yes it happens often. After a moment of silence, I started repeating myself and she suggested I rather speak to the Commanding Officer and gave me his number. I never got through to him.
It was a long stretch of road until my final destination for the evening and I had no intention of stopping again. It was just me and my favourite band, Grouplove chasing the sun for the rest of the afternoon.
Closing in on Upington I started noticing the first grapes which filled my heart with joy. Grapes reminds me of the Cape and that’s where I’m heading. After 10 hours on the road, I made it to a restaurant, Bi-Lo, where I waited for my Couchsurfing host, Ralph. The long day of adventuring was rewarded with a great evening spent with a lovely human being. I highly recommend Couchsurfing since it never disappoints. Amazing people are scattered all over the earth and this is just one way to get into contact with a few of them. We came to a conclusion that life is about sharing experiences and that you are never too old to do, or learn new things. Exhausted I collapsed on my bed. Day one, done. Bonus, I also made friends with a lovely lab. Dogs are the best.
(1) Diespsloot is a big township in Northern Johannesburg
(2) Cradle of Humankind kind is a UNESCO World Heritage Site which includes the Sterkfontein Caves in which numerous fossils have been discovered including Australopithecus africanus and more recently, Homo naledi. It also includes the Maropeng Visitors Center containing wonderful exhibitions taking you back to the dawn of man, all the way through to the present.
(3) The term garage refers to a gas/petrol station.
(4) CouchSurfing is a wonder social network on which you can find people all over the world that will host you for free.
(5) Onesies are one-piece garments that are one of the best inventions ever, because you can wear them anywhere, anytime, always. Check out onesie.land for example. (I am totally biased on this topic.)
(6) Boer is the Afrikaans word for farmer and also refers to the descendants of the mainly Dutch settlers of South Africa. Koos De La Rey was a bad-ass boer general who fought in the Second Anglo-Boer War with his very own song written a century later sparking some controversy. It did, however, benefit some people who never paid attention in history class forcing them to consult their high school textbooks again.