The people along the road


Our short holiday in the North this side of Botswana was then cut short hard and fast due to work dramas in the Cape. My friend and I had barely unpacked the bakkie, which was loaded to the brim, lit the fire and put our tired heads on the pillow when it was that time again – loading crates, packing suitcases and putting ice back in the coolers. Two days of travel up and now two days down to the south, with the red dunes looking almost accusingly at us in the rearview mirror.

The famous American author and Nobel laureate, John Steinbeck, said “People don’t take trips, trips take people” and I believe this tour took us.

These few days have tested us – head and body. Kilometer upon kilometer upon kilometer with a tight burst of bumps, bumps and potholes. “comms” with my friend’s work people, however, because of all the diminishing towers, the big prickly pear disappeared like the city bustle among the hills and ravines. Internet reception dropped to measly Karood drops almost all the way, sucking up all look-alike jollity. (Had it not been for the storm clouds that were building in the Cape at the work project, this silence would have been blissful.)

I think everyone knows the recipe for success for a good slog tour. It must be possible to draw down under a tree for the sins in the carefully-planned picnic basket; One must be able to turn off at a paddock, drink strong coffee with long, slow sips and consume chocolate cake. Another necessity is that the music playlist must roll.

To be up all the time Teams-trying to get calls that cut out every few minutes like a car tire that keeps deflating.

But, and here comes the “but”, such an incredibly challenging journey against time and technology (or the lack of it) yields unexpected surprises. Like teamwork and self-control that prevent people from getting into each other’s hair. If ever there was a test for a relationship, it is such a trip because Frustration and Disappointment slip in between the crates and suitcases and immediately sit up and grin in the back seat.

There is a saying: “prove adversity wrong”, and I believe we did.

Yet it is the people along the way – the strangers – who make these few uncomfortable days memorable. I have long forgotten about the burning eyes from concentrating on the road or the tight sitting surfaces from little body stretch. Now I remember the people who softened all the hard.

I’m thinking of Willie and Uncle Olin’s belt telegram that we brought out at the capable Nel’s of Upington for a vehicle that can master the sand and dust roads with grace. We were welcomed with big smiles at the silvery four-wheel drive, spears out and equipped for the forest. I think of the Calvinians, Ian and Oubaas, who went out of their way on the way and back to make us comfortable with a cozy place to sleep. I think of their fellow villagers there at Ciela’s eatery who, long after the sun had set and the snow on the Hantam was felt but could no longer be seen, opened the restaurant door especially for us.

Our tame bodies were anointed and our sleepy souls cheered up with these rural people’s hospitality, elegant simplicity and delightful stories.

I can’t forget warden Willem there at our almost-stay. Willem with his deep eye scar after a car accident. His stories of the nimble little rattle that climbs up and down like a human against the arrangements of the campsites and skillfully robs guests of their forest food, were not hair-raising stories at the time. Shortly after our arrival, the very small animal was outwitted after many attempts and moved by rangers to a safe place where he cannot open refrigerator doors…

We didn’t have our romantic break and the much-needed quiet time, but we both gratefully unpacked crates, suitcases and (still) full coolers in the Cape. Grateful that we traveled the few thousand stressful kilometers safely; thankful that our relationship survived, but especially thankful for the caring people along the way.

However, I also know that, no matter how well you plan, every holiday has its twists, turns and catastrophes. As Steinbeck also says: “A journey is a person in itself; no two are alike. And all plans, safeguards, policing, and coercion are fruitless.”

I’m going to look these people up again along our road. Maybe not today or tomorrow, but one day on a rainy Kalahari day.

How else then; our binoculars are still at Nel’s on Upington.

  • Lizma is an award-winning radio journalist and presenter and founding member of the Cape radio station, Smile 90.4FM. She has a master’s degree in journalism.