Tuesday 22 June 2010: 3 years 9 months on . . .
I have always enjoyed travelling. Not that we travelled much as children.
In this week of Father’s Day, I have thought quite a bit about my own Dad. I have written previously about him having suffered a debilitating stroke when I was twelve years old. It left him speechless and paralysed his right arm and leg for eight years before he passed away in 1976. It left Mom, in her early forties, caring for a severely handicapped husband and four children – three at school and one who was only four when Dad was struck down.
Times were tight, but looking back on it now; Mom did an admirable job with very limited resources. Those resources did not enable us to holiday or travel.
But I was so privileged when I was selected to become an exchange student in 1975. (Read “Oklahoma is OK and so much more”) In a space of that one year at the age of eighteen, I got to fly for the first time and to visit many exotic places including Buenos Aires (Good Air), Rio de Janeiro, New York City, Los Angeles (City of Angels) and still my personal favourite, Londres! I saw my first TV at our hotel in Buenos Aires, Argentina, where I watched the cartoon Road Runner, all in Spanish! It was truly “good air”!
Hence, my excitement now at having the World in our country. I remember landing at John F Kennedy Airport in New York City and seeing our (now old) SA flag flying there together with the flags of every nation on earth. It gave me goose bumps and I had to pinch myself that it was all true.
Now, it gives me goose bumps to see those self-same flags flying here in South Africa and to hear those national anthems being played here in our Cities. For us, and for me, the World has truly come home! (And, who knows, maybe the first real international flag that I ever saw in my life – that of Argentina – will be seen flying at the 2010 FIFA World Cup final next Sunday at Soccer City in Johannesburg! Or will it be the second flag that I saw – that of Brazil in Rio de Janeiro?)
When I boarded that Aereolinas Argentinas flight in Cape Town in January 1975 headed for Buenos Aires, my travelling days started. And so, it’s pretty safe to say that my itchy travelling feet started in Cape Town – still today, as Sir Francis Drake said so many years ago, the fairest Cape in all the world!
With my illness, travelling is not so easy any more. But, we were fortunate to have been in the Western Cape once more. And, so it was, that last Thursday saw us leaving Cape Town yet again. This time, on our return trip to Port Elizabeth after having spent some ten days in the Mother City. (I always wonder when I leave whether I will be granted yet one more visit.)
Sean was at the wheel as we headed north along the N1 and Table Mountain recedes in your rear-view mirror. I was the front passenger, and Pera and Phil take up the back seats.
Ahead of us, lay the majestic dark blue mountains of the Klein Drakenstein and the Hugeneot Tunnel linking Paarl to Worcester. (In our family, still jokingly pronounced “War-Kes-Ter” from the days when the boys were not able to pronounce it properly as “Woes-ter”!)
But, today, the mountains looked distinctly different – as far as the eyes could see, the dark blue mountains silhouetted against the light blue sky were covered from top to bottom in snow-white snow! As Pera said, “It looks like the icing on Chelsea Buns!”
What a spectacle! All the way along the eight hundred kilometre road from Cape Town to Port Elizabeth, the clouds had pulled back – revealing blue skies and the mountains on either side of us covered in the icing. Some said it was the heaviest snowfall in fifty years. Well, the outside temperature varied between 5 and 10 degrees Celcius all the way back to the Eastern Cape!
We took a different route this time. From Worcester along what is known as Route 62, through Robertson, Montagu, Barrydale, Ladismith, Calitzdorp, Oudtshoorn, the Langkloof (Avontuur, Joubertina, Misgund, Kareedouw), Humansdorp and finally, ten hours later, Port Elizabeth.
The route brought back more memories – those of my days (15 months to be exact!) at the Infantry School in Oudtshoorn where I completed my military service in 1982/1983 after my studies at Stellenbosch University. It had been quite a change from the freedom and carefreeness of student life to the rigours of military discipline! So on those few weekend passes off, I used to escape Oudtshoorn and drive in the other direction back to Cape Town.
I relayed some of those memories to the family as we travelled along towards Oudtshoorn. Pera said she thought that the army had left “deep-rooted psychological scars”! – suffice to say that those two years for me were not always icing on the Chelsea buns.
In those years, there was a small labourers’ cottage next to the roadside halfway between Barrydale and Ladismith. Now, an enterprising person has transformed it into a roadside breakfast/coffee shop called Ronnies Sex Shop! It has become the toast of the world (pun intended!)
And when we stopped there in the middle of nowhere for coffee (no sex on the menu!), it seemed as if the world was there – Germans headed for the German/Serbia game in Port Elizabeth, and English headed for the England/Algeria game in Cape Town. Names and comments are written on every wall, in every nook and cranny, and business cards are pasted like wallpaper wherever possible.
Just after Ladismith is the Huisrivier Pass. Unlike most other passes that take you upward and over mountains, this one curves downwards into the river valley and then takes you up steeply again. Sean is in his element (and I get nervous!) when he can drive curves like this!
Then comes Calitzdorp, which is known as the Port Capital of South Africa. This appears to be quite an enigma as this town in the Little Karoo is nowhere near the sea. But this is not Port as in Port Elizabeth but Port as in the lovely sweet wine that is made from the grapes grown in this part of the world. Boplaas is the farm that has won numerous medals for its port and it belongs to Carel and Boets Nel who studied (and lived in Helshoogte Residence) with me at Stellenbosch. We discussed that soon, in accordance with European Union regulations, they will have to give up the name Port, as it is claimed to belong to the sweet wines of the Oporto region of Portugal and is contravening copyright and trademark regulations.
As one leaves Calitzdorp, you get that very distinctive smell that signifies that Oudtshoorn is close. In my military days, it was the first warning sign that your freedom was about to be lost. The next sign was the light on the concrete reservoir on top of Rooibult in the Infantry School. That meant there were 10 kilometres left to the statue of the infantryman pointing with his rifle towards the guardhouse at the entrance gate to the School.
I used to get to that point at about 23h30 on Sunday night (the pass expired at midnight). And that’s when I used to stop next to the roadside to change from my civilian clothes back into my military “step-outs” that I kept in my “wardrobe” – the boot of my red Toyota Corolla. One of my very important tasks in those days was to compile and read the early morning news at 5h30, 6h30 and 7h00 on the Infantry School’s closed circuit TV channel. It’s quite a shock to view those recordings now!
Today, I was excited when we got to that point. It was lunchtime and we were all hungry by now. But first, I took us on a drive past the Infantry School, the erstwhile Oudtshoorn Teachers’ Training College (now part of the Infantry School), the Parade ground, Uncle Samies Tuckshop and the Camp Take Aways Cafe. Then we headed for the restaurant that I could not remember its name but remembered for serving a good ostrich steak (Oudtshoorn, of course, also being well known for its ostriches and Cango Caves.) Well, we had a good laugh there – the dark coloured building that I recalled is now painted in bright yellow and red and serves as the Oudtshoorn branch of Adult World! Birds of a different breed, I guess!
Well, after driving through the town and past places such as the old Holiday Inn and Riempies Restaurant, we found a suitable place to eat, and then headed off down the Langkloof towards Port Elizabeth.
There was still excitement and icing on the buns here too, and even more so, because it was evident that there had been quite a bit of rain in our catchment area. (We were, of course, heading back towards our drought disaster area, water restrictions of 500l a day and, oh no, limited showers!)
And excited, too, because we were heading back to even more icing to follow the next day – we were fortunate to have tickets for Friday’s Germany versus Serbia football game at the Nelson Mandela Stadium in Port Elizabeth, Nelson Mandela Bay.