Road tripping in South Africa

Posted by Joe Starke on 4 February 2010

After more than seven months elsewhere, it is good to be back in the South African sunshine.

As a result of the need to catch up with friends and retrieve some of my widely scattered belongings – a nomadic lifestyle means that many of one’s things unfortunately have no permanent home – I have been moving between Cape Town and Joburg during the past few weeks. Due to the need to relocate my car from up north to down south, I was obliged to do the trip by road – a prospect that I looked forward to with enthusiasm.

The Cape Town to Joburg road trip (or in this case the reverse) is a classic. It is one of those things that most people have done at least once and for some, many times over. Whether it is to take up a new job, start university studies, visit family or friends, or just for fun, it is a journey that has a lot to offer. Overall, it is symbolic for me of new beginnings, of possibilities. The last time I covered the distance was almost a year ago, at which time I took a very windy way including the lovely Swartberg Pass and several other back ways as I felt the need to experience a road less travelled (or at least one less travelled by me). If possible, I much prefer to take things slow and easy, but this time (what with certain deadlines hanging over me) I was unfortunately forced to take a more expedious route: the good old N1 express.

The peri-dawn departure that I had planned turned out to be hopelessly (and perhaps predictably) unrealistic. Several delays later, I eventually got going at around 11h30 – an inauspicious start considering the distances I was planning to cover that day. But, once the traffic of Joburg was behind me (now there’s something I won’t miss!) and I had a full tank and the wind in what remains of my hair, worries of all sorts slipped away…

I really love driving: flapping an arm out the window for extra lift; long, straight, truck-free strips of road where the accelerator develops a speed-hungry mind of its own; half-heard broadcasts from local radio stations I am unlikely to ever find again and the chance (while maintaining an eye and hand or two on the road of course) to let the mind wonder.

In his thoroughly insightful (if somewhat odd) book “The Art of Travel”, Alain de Botton remarks that journeys are the midwives of thought. I couldn’t agree more. There is nothing like travelling to get things bubbling in the brain area, and this trip was no different. And so, as I cruised along through big cities and small towns, across the Vaal and Orange – both wonderfully swollen by recent rains – and in perpetual awe of the breath-taking mountains lining the route, I found myself reviewing the year that has past since I last came this way – a tumultuous one for many reasons. Many hours later, with the sun slowly setting, the moon rising full in the sky behind me and the feeling that I had gained at least a little perspective on things, I finally pulled into Beaufort West for a much-needed overnight stop.

Starting the second day of my trip with the always-anticipated Wimpy breakfast (yes I know, but you miss them too when you are away, be honest), and with self-analysis done for time being, I got to thinking about the question of hunger. Now in the sense in which we normally use this word, it would have been correct for me to say that I was hungry just prior to enjoying my “wake-up” special with coffee (and it hit the spot I can tell you). But… that feeling isn’t real hunger – though of course I have no idea what real hunger feels like. And that’s just the point. I do realise just how lucky I am to be able to say this, for there are very many in the world for whom genuine hunger is a tragic, daily reality – a thought which occupied my mind for several hours as I made my way through the Karoo that morning. It must be deeply disturbing: an endless knawing beast eating at you, sapping you of your last bit of strength, driving you to sometimes desperate things…. And then I thought “Imagine trying to go to school and learn something with that feeling inside?”. Mmmm…it’s a hard truth to accept that this is the case for thousands of South African children…

In the coming months, myself and nine others will be preparing for the 30-day Life 2 the Limit survival challenge on a remote tropical island in the Andaman Sea. Though we are hoping to find as much food from the surrounding ocean and jungle as we can, there is a good chance we will face hunger at some point – and it probably won’t be of the pre-Wimpy-breakfast variety.

See: Things To Do In Cape Town, South Africa

Though I am looking forward to the challenge with great anticipation, the prospect of not having enough to eat is daunting. One of the main goals of Life2theLimit is to raise funds for charity, with each participant nominating an organisation that they wish to support. I have chosen the Peninsula School Feeding Association (which currently feeds more than 220000 school children in the Western Cape a daily meal) simply because I cannot imagine how hard it must be to get up and go to school every morning with an empty stomach. To find out more about the challenge, which charities we are supporting and how you can help, visit: www.life2thelimit.co.za.

Sadly, due to certain currents of change in my life, I will be selling my much-loved car soon and my road-tripping days will be suspended for a while. As a result, I will have to find other ways to get the mental juices flowing. If, however, you are lucky enough to have the chance to get out on the open road sometime soon, I hope it is thoroughly enjoyable and that you find yourself stimulated by the journey as much as you are refreshed by the destination. Oh and if anybody is looking for an experienced though still robust Rav4 3-door, let me know…