We are 4000 kilometers into our South African road trip with our ultimate goal: Cape Town. Mostly driving on pothole-filled one-lane roads, driving over ten thousand foot passes, bumping down rural dirt roads at twilight; With the human GPS, Helen, the navigator; three maps on her lap, directing the way.
We are unstoppable.
However driving in South Africa has been challenging to say the least. Here’s a shortlist:
Time: We have had to cover a lot of ground on most days; so up and out early in order to be at our accommodations by sunset. We drove hard all day with quick stops at sights along the way. For two days straight, I’ve had lunch behind the wheel, driving through the rolling hillside at speed.
Rules: They drive on the left here. Steering wheel on the right, shifter in the left hand; Constantly reminding myself “stay left”.
Our trusted steed: a Nissan 4×4 pick-up has been great but is woefully underpowered. I have literally had it floored half the time, downshifting and pushing the RPM’s to the red line. She is going to be happy to see the back of me when I turn her back into the rental office.
Trucks: logging trucks, mining trucks, overloaded sugar trucks dumping sugar cane all over the road and they all move SLOW! You have to pass them on these funky one lane roads, timing it just right as to avoid the oncoming traffic. Super sketchy.
Mini van taxis: driving without rhyme or reason, unloading passengers in the middle of the road, like clowns out of a clown car.
Road construction: everywhere. Detouring us down farm roads. Delaying progress and generally winding us up.
People: everywhere. Walking on the side of the road, crossing the road, groups of children no older than five walking right next to the asphalt.
Animals and Livestock: everywhere. Goats, sheep, chickens, cows, monkeys (yes, monkeys). Animals all over the place, grazing on the side of the road, running across the road, sitting in the middle of the road. Cows are the worst, you definitely don’t want to hit one of those: damn cows cross the road slower than a Seattle pedestrian.
The roads: suck. Potholes, zero shoulder, non-existent traffic signs. And signs that say ‘high carjacking area for 2 km’: simple translation: don’t stop for anything.
Crooked cops, I hate ’em. The other day, I passed two trucks in a no-passing zone at a speed almost doubling the limit. Halfway through this maneuver, Helen screams, “police cars!”. On the other side of the road there are policemen pulling over cars coming in the opposite direction. Nothing I can do at this late stage but floor it and hope for the best. We hold our breath for few kilometers and they don’t come after us. It’s a good thing, it would have taken a massive bribe to get out of that one.
This all may sound like a nightmare but I have been loving it, a true road trip adventure. All of these dangers and annoyances are behind me because now I drive like a true South African; fast, reckless and with a total disregard for anything that resembles a traffic law. Passing multiple vehicles without hesitation, missing the rear end of cows by a foot; I don’t even get off the gas for chickens anymore. I’m sure my friends will find this hard to believe for I drive like an old lady in the states, but it is true. I have regressed to my days driving a cab in Boston.