Something unique and wonderful happened this year. The Easter long weekend was followed by a public-holiday-Wednesday and another long weekend. Easter weekend usually results in 85.7% of the Gauteng population heading towards the coast for a mini-break.
And I headed towards that little town I grew up in called Clarens. To get there I take the N3. And, unfortunately for me the N3 is the way to Durban.
So there were a lot of people on the highway and everyone was heading my way. This annoyed me, because I like to have my way and when other people interfere I get upset.
I got stuck in bad traffic.
When you’re driving 20km/h you have time to notice things. For example, the family with the heavily loaded car in front of me and their hamster. Yes, there are people who take their hamster to the coast on holiday. This means that either they don’t have an aunty to fill a food bowl or the hamster likes surfing. Either way, this poor hamster was packed up against the rear-windscreen and probably more distressed than I was at not having my way.
Then I did a little math. I was 40km away from the off-ramp I needed to take to get off the N3. Normally, that would take 15 or 20 minutes. But on 22 April 2011 it took me over an hour. It’s a good thing I had a sandwich and water with me, otherwise I may have died. Stopping at the One Stop was not an option.
Eventually I was off the highway. I looked back at the source of my torture and saw miles and miles of cars not reaching their holiday destinations. But it was okay, because I was in the Free State and there wasn’t much happening on the roads. I could drive without thinking about distressed hamsters and how many metres per hour I was driving.
And in certain pockets of South Africa, there really is nothing of interest.
And sometimes the roads lead to nowhere.
My trip back was fine. This was a good thing, because the following weekend meant I would be travelling to the bushveld.
My friend The Delia is pretty cool. She’s wise, fun and many different types of awesome. She is also really good with a guitar and does live gigs. One of these gigs would take her deep into the Free State to a tiny little town called Christiana. And I got to be her roadie.
So one Saturday afternoon we loaded up her car and headed out of the city. The trip down was uneventful yet pretty. The towns just got smaller and smaller as we got further and further away from civilisation. The trees and grass are uncultivated out there and it pleases me.
And even on that side of the Free State the grammar skills of the locals are not really great.
In one town with a population of 174 there are no less than four KFC’s. Two are within 500m of one another. In the next town Rainbow Chicken raise poultry to feed the town 45km to the north.
But on to the party… I had planned on being a wallflower for the night, but I ended up making friends with the other people my age and before I knew it I was barn dancing. And it was awesome.
Barn dancing is actually really complicated and requires a lot of concentration. I don’t think I could do those steps again without The Delia’s instructions. And it’s good exercise too. Because you’re having fun, you don’t even know you’re working out and that you’ll be stiff in the morning.
This is something I really want to do again. And when all the people dancing are dressed as cowboys, it can’t go wrong. As Justine would say: It’s very much of fun. Actually, she says things like: It’s very much of funny. But same thing really, and it work here.
But it got late and it was time to go so we loaded the gear back into the car and headed back to the guest house. And this is where the real adventure started.
Earlier that evening, while driving on the dirt road to the venue a really cheeky stone decided to bitch slap that part of the car that holds the oil. So while the party was happening, The Delia’s car was leaking. And after a just a few kilometres of driving the car stopped and it refused to start again.
So there we were, two tired women at some time past midnight, on the side of the road, in the dark that you can only experience in the Free State. And being really far from home, I couldn’t phone the boys I have on speed dial for when I run into speed dial, and The Delia couldn’t even cash in on her AA membership properly.
But since it was in the Free State, friendly people from the party drove past and even though they couldn’t actually help us in any way they insisted on standing on the side of the road with us until the tow truck arrived.
It did and it dropped us off at the guest house. They said they could fix the container that holds the oil (no, I have no idea what the real name is – that’s why there are mechanics in the world). In the morning we took a stroll to the main street in search of coffee and a newspaper. Finding both was a challenge.
But we wandered past the garage to visit The Delia’s car. It was almost ready and we felt relieved that we would get back to Johannesburg at a reasonable time. We found coffee and a shop that sold The Sunday Times. And we took a detour into one of those Chinese clothing stores where you find cute things for real cheap. It was turning out to be an okay day.
We managed to leave three hours later than the originally decided upon time. But 50km down the road, and just before the next town that damn car started to make really terrible noises. The Delia stopped at a filling station and that was it. The car had given up, it was dead.
And unlike that wonderful place that sells spare parts on a public holiday back in my part of the Free State, there was nothing even remotely similar going on there.
There were tow trucks available, but about three thousand complications about how to get the car where it needed to be. The engine had seized and there was no chance of heading back to the city in Renault comfort.
Our concern was not just for the car, but how would we get home? We were only 50km away from Christiana, which meant a couple hundred more to Johannesburg. The car was loaded full of The Delia’s equipment and we couldn’t just abandon it. And we had that thing called work the next day, neither of us could miss it.
Eventually an AA affiliated tow truck arrived, loaded the car (with us in it) and took us to the next town 50km closer to Johannesburg. I know it wasn’t much, but hey, we were making progress.
The problem was that now we were on the back of a noisy truck, facing the wrong way. And I started feeling just the tiniest bit car sick. But since I’m all about experiencing things, I went with it. And since the other option was making small talk with a tow truck driver, I got over it.
While all of this was happening, another kind person from the Free State with a bakkie had agreed to meet us at the tow truck depot and the equipment, The Delia and myself all the way home.
By now it was around 16:00 and we would have to wait about an hour for our ride. So I spent a bit more time in Renault comfort. It really is. And by this time, with all the snacks we had been eating, it resembled a lounge.
The yard where the car would stay and where we had to wait was unusual. The guy was professional and capable, and his fleet shiny, but the setting was odd.
To the X-Philes out there, think that episode ‘Home’ and you’ll have an idea of what it felt like. It creeped me out just the tiniest bit. And I am not lying when I say there were sheep grazing between the wrecks, and I’m just as serious when I say there was a white rabbit hopping around. And turkeys. Anyone who has seen a live one knows they are the most frightening thing with wings, ever.
That was the strangest place I have ever been with permission. The only place that is weirder is that place my friends and I snuck into as kids where there were skinned rabbits hanging from a clothing line. There was a sheep there too, but I imagine not for long.
Finally were met up with bakkie guy and his surgeon wife and after dropping her off at some hospital in-between, The Delia and I started our quest for food. In the Free State, kitchens close at 19:00, and garage pies are three days old. This is why I have much respect for 24 hour McDonalds. And you don’t even have to get out of your car!
We eventually got home. And although I’m due for a trip to my hometown, it has to wait a bit. I don’t often take advantage of available at all hours fast food, but my god, it’s good knowing it’s there!