From the sober reminder of a war torn past, to the creative genius of glass and concrete. A breathtaking drive through mohair and merino land down mountains that make you gasp to a garden as big as a province. Then back through fields of gold and skies so full of stars it was hard to see the dark, this was our road trip.
What is there not to like about a road trip? Let me count the ways. Getting out of Joburg, which can take at least an hour on a good day, as a start. Potholes, trucks, especially those that think it is cool to overtake each other on a hill; traffic cops lying in wait at every dorp, long, boring hours driving through the Karoo, fatigue, bad beds, bad food, and bad service.
We had none of that. Our recent road trip, delayed from January due to sudden and senseless lockdown restrictions, was sublime. Travelling to the Garden Route we did two overnight stops, the first in Bloemfontein. Why Bloemfontein, you ask? We’ve never been to Bloemfontein and it is only a four hour drive away.
Bloemfontein, the City of Roses
Arriving in Bloem on a warm, autumn afternoon, reminded us of the West Rand back home. Nothing wrong with that. Wide, clean streets, lots of orange face brick houses, and lots of friendly people speaking Afrikaans. We were grateful. One of the things we wanted to do was brush up on our Afrikaans. Plenty of opportunities to do that there.
Tea for two in Bloemfontein
Setting the theme for the trip
While in Bloemfontein we visited the Anglo-Boer War Museum and this experience set the theme for the rest of our trip. The museum is outstanding, well looked after, and extremely comprehensive, to the point of being a bit overwhelming. It sparked a renewed interest in the history of South Africa which Matthew augmented by finding a book called Dinosaurs, Diamonds and Democracy by Francis Wilson. This we read in bite sized pieces throughout our time away, completing it on the day we arrived back home.
National Women's Monument in Bloemfontein
Slow travel, like slow food, takes time
Slow travel, like slow food, takes time but is all the more enjoyed for its flavoursome and full bodied experience. Rather than the hurry up and wait at airports, squashed airless seats and unfriendly neighbours, a road trip over a few days allowed us to sink (our teeth) into the places and spaces we travelled through and to. It allowed us to notice the textures of the landscape, the movement of the sun. It allowed us to practice greeting in several languages, laughing at our clumsy tongues tripping over unfamiliar sounds and syllables. After Bloem, we visited Nieu Bethesda, George, Wilderness, Sedgefield and Knysna with a final stopover at Philippolis on our way home.
Philippolis main street
We are a very friendly nation
It is true what international visitors say - we are a very friendly nation. COVID is very much a city “thing” and hardly exists in the Platteland and barely on the coast. There is sad evidence of the decimation that lockdown has had on our tourism industry. Closed shops, sagging museums and gardens in need of weeding and neatening up blinked uncomfortably at us in the soft sun. But local travel has picked up and the small destination and stop over towns are grateful for any new energy driving their way.
The Woodville Big Tree, an 850 year old yellowwood
An important and sacred place
South Africa holds an important and sacred place in the history of the world. The first land mass that rose out of the watery depths was the Magaliesberg. The Cradle of Humankind talks of the origin of man. There was the diaspora out of Africa to the other land masses of the earth and then the return to the bottom of Africa by hunters and gatherers, herders, cultivators and iron-workers from the north colliding with immigrants from Europe and Asia. There was some peace and plenty of war. This country shone bright with riches that others wanted. First it was land, then diamonds and gold. And always a capitulation to those that wielded the power. With power invariably came aggression and oppression.
A great deal to heal from
We have a great deal to heal from and we have a great deal to hold sacred and grow from. If only we can move away from the squabbling and complaining. If only we can stop handing over our land, lives and livelihoods to new colonialists, powers both internal and external that just want to take. As hungry for the riches available, climbing over each other and us to guzzle and consume, hoard and deplete.
A window at The Owl House covered in crushed glass
If we can close the door on that and turn our faces to the sun. If we can remember that we are the custodians of something hallowed. If we can honour the call of our ancestors who drove us to be here to recognise this garden of Eden is for all of us and is enough. There is enough for all of us. If we remember that we are superbly resilient and massively creative we can make our country great again for all who people it. We can make our world a better place.
If you have the means, take a road trip. To remember and reconnect.
Until next time, Yours in feeling.
Matthew & Chantal
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