Road trip

“Road trip” two words that have spawned countless movies and books over the years, probably an experience not that fashionable in South Africa, is almost a rite of passage amongst college students in the United States of America with the annual spring break in Fort Lauderdale being at the top of the list. I suppose the closest SA teenagers get to a road trip is the annual pilgrimage to Margate by matriculants who go to this popular sea side town to let there hair down and from what I hear a few other things as well. A cult road trip movie would have to be Easy rider starring Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper and Jack Nicholson with a recent addition to that genre and one of my all time favourite movies “Wild Hogs”.

Do yourself a favour, the next holiday you plan don’t take the main roads, plan the trip via the back roads that were used before the National roads became the conduits between the major centres. Recently we spent the festive season with family in Port Elizabeth and the drive there was a flashback to happy childhood holiday memories as well as a sadness as to how parts of our country has deteriorated over the years. While there is a regeneration of some platteland dorps (Clarens being a prime example) there are unfortunately to many that have been left to the ravage of time and even iconic towns such as Grahamstown have unfortunately not been spared. Derelict and abandoned farmhouses,sports fields, roadhouses/padkafees, farm stalls, filling stations and shops in once vibrant and populated towns and villages such as Rouxville, Jamestown, Whittelsea, Seymour and Fort Beaufort bear testimony to better days before the pace of life got to hectic and time became all to important.

If you happen to be an amateur photographer then the journey on the back roads ensures countless photographic opportunities with scenes that you would not normally see or even stop for on the highway. Abandoned farmhouses, old steel railway and road bridges, ancient stone walls, river names such as Holspruit 1 and 2 or Kronkel and derelict railway sidings with names such as Tidbury Toll, “yes there is a railway siding with this name, its near the village of Balfour in the eastern Cape and I believe that this siding was the drop of and collection point for guests that stayed at the Katberg Sanatorium (today an eco estate situated in the Katberg mountains) back in the day when a train journey was the accepted way to travel. Sadly during the trip we came across many broken down railway stations and sidings, we never saw one train using the rail system that was once the pride of the African continent. Perhaps the biggest drawback on using roads less travelled is potholes, however again if you are not in a rush then this is also not a huge problem and on the 822 km journey to Port Elizabeth there where only two sections of road that the Minister of roads his Honourable Mr. “Slaghate Pothole” was unable to attend to before the festive season, otherwise the roads where not that bad.

Children these days have it easy when it comes to going on a long trip, back in my day, dad planned the trip to ensure that we stopped at the right places for petrol, I remember a trip from Johannesburg to Pilgrims rest would take seven to eight hours, now it’s a mere three (some may remember the fuel ration years, with no petrol over weekends from Friday 6pm to Monday 6am) while mom made “padkos”, for the obligatory side of the road picnic, with the mandatory hard boiled eggs that always had a habit of coming back to haunt the car occupants, especially on a long trip. Sadly many of those lay-byes are in disrepair (especially in the Eastern Free State) and this tradition has also been lost to the younger generation. “Its just not the same hurtling down the highway and popping in to a Steers or a Wimpy for a meal” One of my fondest childhood memories about family holidays has to be being woken up very early by my dad and carried to the car, while still in my pyjamas. If I close my eyes I can almost remember the smell at that time in the morning and I will always remember the excitement of waking up in the back of the car, knowing that we where on holiday and if I was lucky I was awake in time to see the sun rise, those are great recollections.

Boredom on the road back then was kept away by playing car cricket, eye spy, guess the car registration (for example TJ was Johannesburg and OA was Bethlehem) singing dull and repetitive songs (Puff the magic dragon springs to mind) and if you where lucky or rich a magnetic chess/snakes and ladders set. These days the kids have I pods, portable DVD players, Gameboy’s and multi-functional, linked to the internet cell phones to keep them occupied. However one constant with children over the years on a long trip have to be the dreaded words “are we nearly there yet”. How many times have we heard those words as parents or uttered them as children ?

A trip like this is not about the destination, its about the journey and discovering parts of the country that we have probably forgotten about.

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