Tackling the open road is like an episode from Mad Max

It’s like Mad Max out there on country roads; free-for-all, anything goes or at least anything that can go, goes. Who cares if the tyres are smooth, the lights don’t work, bits of the car are falling off and bouncing along the road like an unguided missile, or if you do a u-turn on a blind rise or overtake on a solid white line ? No-One it seems; Winner takes all and first prize is staying alive.

Realizing this was the single most terrifying aspect of my own personal crazy 1 000 km dash from Luderitz in Namibia to Cape Town. I drove from bright daylight in the desert into the dark through rain, sleet mist and bitter cold to Cape Town. And I wasn’t really even in a hurry, just being stupid. To arrive alive is one thing, it’s driving there that’s the problem.

This is what happened.

I had spent the morning wandering around Kolmannskuppe an abandoned diamond mining settlement slowly being reclaimed by the Namib. It is often featured in local movies and various soap operas. By noon on the road again. I thought I’d do about 500 kms or so then stop for the night. This would get me across the Orange and the border into South Africa and maybe to Springbok, Kamieskroon, Garies or somewhere thereabouts for a good sleep before tackling the last leg. I had already done over 5 000kms on dusty Namibian roads in three weeks and was getting saddle sore.

Before I left I scrabbled about, furtive as a smuggler, on my knees in diamond restricted area to fill my water bottle with sand. Blame it on the bossa nova or whatever, but I’ve always wanted some Namib sand, so happy as wedge-snouted lizard with my bottle of sand I set off. By night-fall I was still feeling strong and well across the border with the sand tucked safely under the seat.

The first sign of the mayhem which lay ahead was as I came down the pass towards Springbok. Up ahead a truck had skidded in the rain, hit the bank on the other side of the road and overturned. With blue lights flashing in the dusk and bee-baarps bee-baarpoing all over the place, I slowed down, then pressed on into the rain-splattered dark.

Springbok squelched by over my right shoulder, then Kamieskroon and Garies. By now I was thinking that maybe I could reach Clanwilliam for a hot shower then crawl under some feathers at a Bn’B somewhere to sleep.

My mistake was stopping at Vanrhyndsdorp on a Friday night. But I was nearly out of diesel and I was hungry and cold. Talk about Mad Max. There were cars being refueled that could barely stand on their smooth tyres, drivers who could hardly stand at all, passengers sipping dark red wine from Styrofoam cups, brandies and coke being poured into mugs and handed into the back of open bakkies, shivering barefoot children everywhere running around to keep warm, taxis laden to the hilt with people and luggage roaring off into the night, one headlight pointing at the ground the other to the sky as if high on Viagra. There heavy trucks hauling trailers powering down, brakes decompressing as they aimed for the diesel pumps and everywhere people yelling and screaming at each other, some at the local take-away eating pies, schlap chips, all freezing in the dull neon lights of the garage forecourt.

Few of those vehicles would have passed even the most rudimentary road test, and fewer of their drivers could’ve walked a straight line. I shuddered to think that they were competing with me for a place on the narrow tar as they drove their way and I drove mine. I crawled back to the highway and thankful to be stone cold sober and seriously wide awake.

Just outside Clanwilliam a car had skidded off N7 and into a ditch. More bee-baarps bee-baarping, more blue lights flashing and few kilometers further another, this one on its roof, the night lit up in red flashes from the ambulance parked nearby Ahead Pakhuis Pass blanketed in mist so thick that I could hardly see the front of the bakkie beyond my windscreen. By now, so close to home it seemed silly to stop. Besides how could I sleep wired on adrenalin, doing all I could to avoid being maimed in my own road wreck.

The good thing about the rain is that the Namaqua flowers are better than they have ever been. Dams are full, farmers happy, thirsty lands are aflood; water, water everywhere and every drop to drink.

All I saw on were two my two probes of light, pointing into the dark and the glare of traffic, and all I felt was terrified as heavy trucks appeared out the dark barreling towards me in a halo of blinding light, then roaring away, swallowed up by the night behind me. I managed in the end to arrive alive. And pleased as punch, I was to be under my own duvet at last. And the sand? It’s in a tall glass vase on the floor, one day soon I’ll sift it for rocks.

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