Roadtrip. The word conjures up images of beautiful landscapes, wide open spaces and roads that lead to unknown destinations. I love roadtrips; they are such fun adventures! But with adventure comes the risk of mishaps, or shall we call them Roadtrip (mis)Adventures.
Like that time when the turbo of our not-so-trusty Landy gave up somewhere between Ermelo and Piet Retief; a pretty dreary stretch of road in the eastern part of South Africa (and apparently a favoured area for car hijackers as the escape route into Swaziland is so close by, but thankfully we didn’t know this until after we were picked up by a friendly towtruck driver). We ended up in godforgiven place called Standerton where, when we entered the local pub, every person in the place (pretty much the town population, as there really isn’t much more to do in Standerton than getting drunk and forgetting about the whole thing) stared us down. We were probably the first, and possibly the last, mixed race couple that ever frequented that premise and we’re pretty sure some of those small-town-minds still haven’t recovered from the shock… Trust me when I say, Standerton need not be on anyone’s roadtrip bucket list (unless you particularly like hanging out in unfriendly pubs).
Or when I was driving on my own and casually glanced at The Screen; that thing which shows you everything from where you are, and how far you have left to where you are going, to temperature and what setting your complicated a/c is currently on (but not how to change it) and see the words “heavy fuel”. I panicked! Now what? There was plenty left in the tank, but I was driving on a dirt road so perhaps The Screen was telling me that I was using lots of it? But no, there’s Another Screen for complicated things like that (for which you need at least a PhD to make any adjustments at all) and it told me that fuel consumption was pretty normal. I’m not very good with cars, and certainly wouldn’t want to get stuck somewhere in the middle of nowhere on my own. “Whats wrong”, I asked my car Stig (in Swedish, as he is of the same descent as myself). Still just those two words “heavy fuel”… A stress-filled minute or so later, the words changed to “walk of life” and my Dire Straits cd happily skipped to the next track. So now at least I know that The Screen also tells me what I am listening to.
You also have to prepare well for a roadtrip. This includes everything from ensuring you know the route (and have a reliable map – do not trust gps directions in Africa), packing for all sorts of weather, making sure you have both cash and cards and stacking up on some padkos (food for the road).
The gps lady is about as trustworthy around here as our (by now long gone, and not missed) Landy who got us stranded in Standerton. This is why many places have written instructions on how to get there. My advice is to follow this old-school way of navigating, especially as taking a wrong turn in a place where the next town might be hundreds of km away can lead you far, far down the wrong road. Like that time I found myself with nothing but empty roads in front and at back, and the next town 190km away…
Padkos could be a blog all on its own, but I am going to keep it to a few short points that mostly relate to travel comfort. While I am generally a proponent of healthy eating, I must caution against substituting sweets with dried fruit. Although better for your body and your teeth, they do create a rather bloated situation in combination with all that sitting still that happens on roadtrips… I also usually think that staying well-hydrated is important, but I make an exception on roadtrips. The garages (petrol stations) are few and far between, and bushes even more so. In fact, along the 1,500km drive between Cape Town and Joburg there are only a handful of good-coverage bushes available. Neither of these are situated close to an appropriate place to stop. The same goes for many other roads in this vast country… Keep your drinking to a minimum, or be prepared to bare it all!
South African drivers are not very friendly road companions. Despite all the big talk about relaxing and African Time that I (the somewhat time-nazi Scandinavian) often get to hear, many of the people that would happily spend 3 hours preparing the fire for the braai (bbq) are not even able to deal with a tenth of a seconds delay when the robot (traffic light) turns green. South Africans on the road are like elephants in musth; they see everyone in their vicinity as someone that must be defeated… Steer clear or speed up (considerably).
Finally, if you are driving on your own, be prepared for some seriously weird conversations with yourself. The other day, I did a 9-hour marathon session on the N1 and if I didn’t know what I had been drinking (or rather hadn’t, as I was heeding my earlier advise), I would have been seriously worried about my ability to pass a sobriety test… I also discovered that the muscles that you can exercise while driving are your glutes, and that’s pretty much it (well, apart from the exercise that your arm gets from telling fellow road users what you think of their driving in sign language).