I haven’t blogged for over a month. Not much inspiration because I’m mostly still housebound and I’m depressed as all hell at recent developments in my life, which I won’t go into now but suffice to say that the virus has done terrible things to some people.
However, I did take a short break last month. From being housebound almost all the time to the other extreme – I flew to Pretoria and drove back to Cape Town with my sister in the car that she has kindly lent me. I’ve had to sell the touring minibus that I also used as personal transport so found myself with no wheels which is an untenable situation in this town, this suburb. It’s too dangerous to walk around here after sunset, I was spending too much on Ubers to get anywhere, and I can’t walk far anyway with my lungs as they are.
The flight was not as traumatic as I expected because precautions are taken by, and for, everyone. The wonderful commuter train system between Johannesburg and Pretorias was once again a delight to use – it’s a massive novelty in South Africa to have a rail system that not only works well but is safe and clean. After a few days in Pretoria my sister and I headed back to Cape Town. This is normally a 1600km journey – around 1000 miles – if done straight down the main national highway but my sister’s husband sponsored us to a few days roadtripping so we ended up doing around 2500 kms (1500 miles) and visiting parts of the country we had not seen before.
A first for me was Clarens and the Golden Gate National Park. After the flat maize and sunflower fields of the Free State, the exquisite rock formations and mountains of that area were a delight for the eyes and Clarens is a very pretty arty town, well deserving of all the attention it gets from wealthy weekenders from Johannesburg. We were not lucky with the weather – it was near freezing in the morning! – but still enjoyed it. Roadworks and excessive potholes prevented us from going along the back roads which would’ve taken us along the Lesotho border and those lovely Maluti Mountains so after the Park we reached the Karoo via the usual beautiful open spaces it’s known for.
We drove in and almost straight out again of some depressing Karoo towns, but the Valley of Desolation in Graaff Reinet made it all worthwhile. We also struck it lucky in that town with a delightful little guesthouse that we didn’t want to leave. We were on a tight budget so our accommodations were all simple but in this instance they offered a huge reduction so we were as happy as larks. My sister had never seen the Valley of Desolation so this blew her mind away, as it does all first time visitors.
Continuing our Karoo detour we then encountered lots of rain. This took me completely by surprise because I know the Karoo quite well and have never encountered rain there; in fact it hardly ever rains there, being a very arid semi-desert region. That didn’t last into the next day as we drove through what is known at the Little Karoo – less arid, more mountaneous and full of pretty little villages and towns. It’s part of the Garden Route tourist route so has all the benefits of regular traffic and people who expect decent coffee, good food and funky attitudes.
Of course this being pandemic times we encountered very few people. Other than truckers and farmers we pretty much had roads to ourselves; guesthouses were not full, and restaurants were sadly almost empty and closed early every evening. All of this guarantees prompt and personal service but the toll it’s taken on the tourism economy is catastrophic, as I know full well myself. Strangely, the devastating effects have not diminished the warmth and smiles of the people we did encounter along the way – from shops to guesthouses to restaurants and petrol stations. The pandemic has not dented the hospitality for which this country is famous.
Our Karoo detour lasted only five days but it was great to get away and to have a change of scenery, literally. And we did tick off 7 out of our country’s 9 provinces!