Day 2 of the PharSide South African Road Trip from the Drakensberg to Plettenberg Bay covering a distance of 1200km's in a single sitting… it was one hellova epic journey…
If you missed Day 1 of The Road Trip… then best you check it out here
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After a couple hours sleep in Jagersrust after sleeping with one eye open, we got up at sparrow fart at around 5am. We knew we had a long journey that was likely to take the entire day so the earlier we left, the better… naturally. Although for those who know me well, I hardly function at 7am let alone 5am. It was still pretty dark when I was place in the drivers seat and strapped in with strong coffee being fed to me intravenously via a drip, we then bid Jagersrust farewell and started our accent up Oliviershoek Pass, even Little Switzerland was in complete darkness as we drove passed. As we got to the top of the pass we stopped at this was a prime photograph spot especially at sunrise… although like I said, it was still a bit dark, hence the outcome :) I guess the berg just didn't want its picture taken by me for some reason Minutes later we crossed over the Natal/Free State border and almost straight away one of the biggest woes of the day was about to commence. Boys and girls… Have you ever heard of a Stop/Go? Well I cringe when I hear two words so closely together. Basically, South Africa is undergoing a major overhaul of the roads. You see, instead of the government maintaining the roads bit by bit over the years, they've suddenly realised, "Oh My Gosh! I can't believe… the roads are terrible.. lets fix it all, now, one shot!" which fair enough its great that they are fixing the roads, but it becomes and absolute nightmare for anyone travelling this kind of distance. Basically what happens is the close one lane for a number of kilometers and run a Stop/Go system at each end. So basically you can wait roughly 20-40mins while they let all the cars that are queued up on the other end through and then your queue gets its turn. At least you get to stretch your legs a bit doing laps around your car while you wait. This was the first one that we ran into… 1st of about 11 throughout the journey… and you can only do about 30km/h due to the slow trucks etc. We turned left at the T-Junction near Harrismith heading west towards Qwa Qwa. The roads were buzzing with hundreds of people walking on the sides heading to work for the day, and when I say hundreds, I mean like a multitude of people leaving Twickenham Stadium after a Springboks vs England game. A little while later the sun was rising brightly to a crisp morning where everything just seemed so clear and fresh. Lesotho began to appear on our left and it wasn't long before we arrived at the gate of probably one of the most hidden gems of South Africa, Golden Gate National Park, which is so unreal that you battle to keep your eyes on the road whilst driving through it, very untouched and timeless. As our journey continued along the Lesotho border on our left going through places like Ficksburg and Fouriesburg, and trust me when I say this, these places are so tucked away, petrol pumps with LCD screens will probably only arrive there in 2020… and ofcourse, Wimpy and other fast food chains, cause when I asked the oke at the petrol station if there was a Wimpy in town to get some breakfast, the oke looked at me as if I was from another planet… life is slow in these places, but its awesome…. I mean, seriously, check the latest model cab they got :) A couple hours later and a few massive Stop/Go's along with other roads that we so badly riddled with potholes it seemed they hadn't been maintained at all during my existence we turned onto the R701 outside Wepener heading towards Smithfield. Now notice there is a nice R infront of 701 meaning its not a S road that would stand for sand or dust road…. well… the road started as a dustroad and after discussions with The Jen whilst she confirmed with Google Maps on my iPad 2 that we were on the correct road, we came to the conclusion that the road was probably just a couple Km's of dust road and we were quite likely to be cruising along smooth tarmac in no time… we were badly mistaken… 80 frickin km's later we were still waiting for the tarmac, my arms were completely shot by the end of it from keeping a firm hold of the rattling steering wheel. After leaving Smithfield we were back on tarmac again and way behind schedule so to was time to put foot heading towards Bethulie and Gariep Dam. Now the great thing about taking alternative routes is that the roads or straight and if you see a car in 15mins its a lot. As we charged down the road you'd swear I was a fireman racing to a fire but first needed to drop my pregnant wife off at the hospital cause she was in labour. It was awesome and did a good job at blowing all the dust off the Mamba from the dust road As we drove passed Bethulie, memories started seeping through the cracks again, because once upon a time, this area was home, we used to live at Gariep Dam (formerly known as Hendrik Verwoed Dam) and Bethulie is where the Phreak went to school, which is the reason why she still speaks the taal with an Afrikaans accent When we arrived at Gariep Dam, I was quite shocked, this place had not changed one bit in the last 16 years… seriously, not one bit. However it was the first time I'd ever seen the dam over flowing since the whole time we lived there it was in massive drought. The dam just happens to be the biggest dam in South Africa, runs on the Orange River, 120km's long and a mile wide… just so you know
We were now at the very arse end of the Free State and crossing over the Orange River which forms the border to the Eastern Cape. From now on for miles and miles, if you saw a car in the space of 20-25mins, it was a lot. This part of the Eastern Cape forms part of the Karoo, which is a desert, which means theres really not much going on there, its as if civilisation doesn't really exist out there. The towns are spaced quite far apart in the region of about 60km's on average. These "towns" virtually ghost towns as it is, proper one horse towns that you would never have thought existed. Seriously old, like Boer War old and backwards, you really don't know why people live there. It's a bit of an eye opener and quite an experience, because these people just do there thing all day every day with little or no care in the world, but it seems they schmaak it, or just have no idea whats really out there. Although sometimes you wish you can join them just to have a proper break. It's like the complete opposite extreme from London, an old toppie just parks there on his stoep watching the sun go up and down. The places in question are towns called Steynsburg and Hofmeyer, probably where Steve Hofmeyer really came from but doesn't really want anybody to know, seriously, you'll understand when you see the place one day.
The road between Steynburg and Hofmeyer is pretty much dead straight for the most part, although don't be fooled by it being straight that you can put foot, although by now I was quite an master at dodging potholes approaching at high speed. Unfortunately it was along this road that this journey almost came to a very sudden halt. As we were shunting along, we were approaching a blind left due to the height of the grass on the side of the road, as I came flying around the corner alarm bells started going off in my head because within sheer split seconds I realised that the car approaching at a rapid pace was in fact in the same lane as me. I noticed her veer left on the inside so within that moment I decided to go right and wide whilst screaming blue murder at the dumb cow and at the same time negotiating the pothole that was on her flippin side of the road. If I was feeling tired before this moment I was wide awake with my heart racing fast enough to propel a jet engine. Basically what had happened, is that this STUPID person approached a reasonable sized pothole on her side of the road that was metres away from this blind corner, so instead of slowing down to negotiate it considering the was no telling what was coming around that corner, she decides to go around the pothole on the other side of the road, and murphy's law, it takes around 15mins for cars to pass each other on this road but at this place at this time, now would be the time for two cars to pass eachother. For the next few Km's there was complete silence in the car as we digested what had just happened and how closely that came to going completely wrong. I don't even want to imagine what may have happened if I was slightly less alert at the time.
As we headed on through Hofmeyer toward Craddock, The Jen was sleeping away as she did, I had my foot on the pedal at a good angle simulating cruise control, this is when one of my most memorable parts of the entire journey occured and will not be something that I'll forget anytime soon due to how perfect the scene was and how everything just fell into place. I was taking in the wide open scenery that was the Karoo, Just to the right I could see a rain storm showering down on an area in the distance, the song that was playing on the radio… Toto – Africa… I couldn't think of a better song that was more fitting for this moment, in my mind I paused for a moment and just took everything in, its that one moment that your spirit calms and you feel humbled by your surroundings seeing Africa for what it truly is, it's a beautiful place. When we arrived in Craddock I could feel the strain of the journey taking its toll. We decided to pop in at the Wimpy which is very well advertised along the way, although I was a little worried about having a big meal fearing a massive case of "Maagies Vol, Oegies Toe" setting in, since it wouldn't really take much. It was around 4pm and I'd been driving for 11hrs due to the Stop/Go's, dust roads etc. It killed me to think we still had another 3hrs to Port Elizabeth and then another 2.5hrs to Plett from there.
The road from Craddock does perk you up slightly, you feel like you are getting closer to the coast since it becomes noticably greener, the roads a little bit more windy, and the landed isn't so flat anymore. We were making good time and things were looking really promising when about 1hr outside Port Elizabeth as you start hitting the mountain passes, we hit Stop/Go's, not one, but two and a massive hold up due to a truck crashing into a bank which caused a massive backlog between the two Stop/Go's that basically caused a gridlock because, do you honestly think the two Stop/Go's commicate with eachother? C'mon, get real. This added about another 2hrs onto the journey. I was hoping to make PE before dark so that we would be on the N2 which is naturally a much better road to be on free of potholes when its dark. Unfortunately thanks to this cockup on the mountain pass, it was already dark while we were on the mountain. Whilst waiting at one of the Stop/Go's I got out the car to stretch my legs and got chatting to the oke in front of me, turns out he was also on his way to Plett and had painstakingly driven from Joburg. Unfortunately we didn't get to see much of PE since the sun had already gone down by the time we got there which was pretty much the case all the way down to Plett from there, couple with the fact that I was just not in any mood to fuck around anymore, my new mate in front led the way as my spotter charging along at speeds that I'd much rather not mention, whilst I kept behind checking if he got flashed or pulled over, basically letting him take the fall if the moment ever came, but hey he didn't seem to mind, he wanted to stay in front :)
We arrived in Plett at 10pm that evening after spending 16.5hrs becoming one with the drivers seat that it wouldn't surprise me if that seat is now molded perfectly to the shape of my arse. It was the end of an epic journey in itself that really was an experience that I'm so glad I did, but was just as glad that we were finally at our destination, that being the absolutely stunning, Laird's Lodge in Plettenberg Bay. I'll tell you a lot more about it tomorrow since due to the unbelievable top notch level of hospitality that myself and The Jen received, it deserves a decent write up.
Lets just say, imagine you'd just spent 16.5hrs in a hot tin can covering 1200km's and you open your suite door to this…
Pure bliss, heaven, sanctuary! … enough to make a grown man shed tears of joy I slipped into a coma that night.
Check out the pics from Day 2 and check back tomorrow for Day 3 where we got our pics taken with Cheetahs and other wildlife… not to mention a certain "little" bridge called Bloukrans….