Thursday, 8 May 2008

An open road and big African skies make my heart go da-doef

Did your heart do a somersault as you hit the open road on the way out of town this last long weekend? Did you get a soaring, giddy feeling as you zoomed free of the sooty city outskirts and watched the landscape unfurl into singing golden grassland? Did you pump up the music, roll down the window, crack open the salt-and-vinegar chips and put your bare feet up on the dashboard?

Do you like long weekends?

Are you incredibly lucky to live in South Africa?

If the answer to all the above questions is yes please join me in a furtive little group hug.

I can't help but come over all touchy-feely and sentimental. I've just downloaded the photographs I took last Wednesday as my family headed out of town for a four-day stay in the Drakensberg, and each one of them makes me want to go down on my knees and beg for more public holidays.

The pictures of the resort where we stayed - the hikes, the landscape, the waterfalls and forests - are pleasing enough to look at, but it's the photographs taken on the way to the Berg that make my heart quicken, and my stomach sicken like a seven-year-old.

Any outward journey is bound to be more exciting than the homeward journey, but I don't think there's anyone on the planet who gets more excited than I do about the drive between Johannesburg and the Kwa-Zulu south coast, via the Free State town of Harrismith. (This weekend, we went only as far as Harrismith, before turning west towards the Drakensberg, but this didn't diminish my hysteria at all.)

I first made this journey as a babe-in-arms in 1962, and have done it three or four times a year over the past four decades, aiming either for our family cottage south of Durban, or, latterly, for the Drakensberg. As a six- or seven-year-old, I was so excited about driving to the coast that I packed my bags a week in advance. I ached with anticipation the night before we left - literally rolled around in my bed, clutching a gnawing stomach. My Dad shook me awake at 5 am, and bundled me and my sisters, wrapped in our eiderdowns, into his old Ford Fairlaine parked on the driveway, which was thundering and chuffing and smoking like a tethered dragon. We curled up, seatbelt-less, three dozy puppies in flannelette pyjamas.

For what seemed like hours and hours, I'd stare out of the car window, dazzled and carsickened by on-off on-off sulphur-yellow street lights. Then the sky went inky and I'd doze off. Two hours later, I'd wake to the sound of my mom popping the top of the coffee flask and peeling the wax paper off the mashed-sardine-lemon-juice sandwiches.

And always, it was the same wonderful, Free State landscape: mile after giddy mile of tawny hill and golden mielie field, a dizzying dome of pale-blue sky, and, in the distance, the grey smudge of Harrismith's Table Mountain, beyond it, the Drakensberg, and beyond that, two weeks by the sea.

I've never forgotten or grown out of that YIPPEEEEEE feeling of going on holiday, and I got it again, last Wednesday, driving the beautiful stark stretch of road between Harrismith and the Oliviershoek Pass. Me and Mr Husband have been to the Berg dozens and dozens of times over the past 30 years or so, as singles, on our honeymoon, with our babies, toddlers and tweens, and now with our teens, and the drive just gets better and better.

It's listed on maps as a 'scenic drive' but the word scenic doesn't even begin to describe how lovely this landscape is, with the vast glittering Sterkfontein Dam stretching chilly and wind-whipped to the horizon, and the little puffs of white cloud. It makes me want to burst into song. (In every case, a Juluka song - it's a family tradition to listen to Johnny Clegg on this stretch of road. All together now: E-Africa book-arla Benguela, e-africa book-arla Benguela, hey, now. Joking.)

Okay, enough of that nostalgic nose-wash.

Did you enjoy driving out of the city for the long weekend, or what?

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Audrey said...

We went north west this time, to the Marico. Very very different landscape to the Drak drive, another world entirely with koppies and thorny scrub, but uniquely beautiful all the same and the sky is just as big and yes, we are lucky lucky lucky. :-)

Muriel said...

Oh you have made me ill with nostalgia. Fantastically described, Juno - it brought back the dearest memories of our family trips from Jozi to the seaside. Thankyou!

settledowndude said...

Insprational Thanks Juno. Made me get it my car and drive (well to Delmas)just for the fun of it. Oh and My new swank car has a heat up the seat option, so I wanted to see how a warm arse felt. It was worth the cholera in Delmas, but I felt I had to forgo the sardine sandwitches. And yes robert Mcdoos is the skankiest etcetera.

Juno said...

Oh thank you for the lovely comments everyone. I have decided to remove the comment about the skankiest Mcdoos on the grounds that his very name defiles my holiday memories.

Next time,I'm taking all three of you on holiday - you can definitely come with.