Road trippin’

January 1, 2014 Comments Off on Road trippin’

A couple of times this week, as we’ve driven between our timeshare resort and the village of Clarens, I’ve caught a glimpse of a bridge over a small river. The bridge, and the road on either side, appear to be the forerunner of the broad highway we now use to go to Clarens, and is no longer in use. But it makes me smile, because it takes me back to the holiday journeys of my childhood, before the roads were wide double carriageways with expansive emergency lanes.

When it comes to holidays, my childhood was spent on the Garden Route. With the exception of one set of friends who lived in Johannesburg, most often we holidayed with family and friends in George, Knysna, Stilbaai and Stellenbosch. And to get there from Port Elizabeth, we piled into my parents’ drab green Peugeot 404, and drove.

All families have their road tripping rituals, I imagine, and we were no different. I’m old enough to pre-date seat belts, so there was none of that. The three of us bounced around in the back seat, my sister and I at the windows and my brother in the middle – a dangerous place to be, given that he was often caught in the crossfire of our frequent fights.

There was no stopping at roadside restaurants as one might today. My parents had to be frugal and so we always took our own food – the much anticipated padkos. I don’t remember all of it, but I do remember that there was always coffee, and I loved to dunk a Marmite sandwich into it. And there were always boiled eggs – not those horrible over boiled, green-yolked things, but slightly soft-boiled eggs that oozed unctuously, saltily onto your tongue.

There was no radio in the car. We had no game consoles or DVD players or MP3 players. You could read, if it didn’t make you want to hurl (which is why I never could read in a car) or you could look out of the window. And you could sing.

And so, we looked out of the window, and we sang. We sang songs that only ever saw the light of day when we travelled. We sang One Man Went to Mow and The Quartermaster’s Store and You Can’t Go To Heaven. There was also one, alarmingly, called The Darkie Sunday School. I’m glad I don’t remember too much of that one. I suppose that’s what happens when you’re brought up white in apartheid South Africa. But we would sing and sing, with my mother, until my father begged us to sing what he called The Silent Song. Everyone’s a critic.

But what I remember most of all, is how beautiful – and arduous – a drive it was. The mountain passes, and there were several – twisted and turned on narrow roads that perched precariously above steep drops. If you looked down, the view was dizzying, terrifying, and you knew you would fall to your death if the car put so much as one tyre in the wrong place. No singing was allowed on the passes.

My mother, a forester’s daughter, would point out the differences between natural forests and cultivated forests, and proudly show us which of the cultivated ones her father had planted. I remember the precise picnic table we always used at Storms River Mouth, where we always made our first stop, and the time my sister and I were disturbed by a clumsy group of embarrassed men, who accidentally disturbed us as we squatted behind a bush for a pee.

And I remember the Coca-Cola rivers. The rivers along the Garden Route, in certain places, look like cola. They’re not dirty; there’s a geological reason for it, which escapes me just now. But they look just like Coke as they swirl over rocks on their way to the sea.

Of course, there’s a lot to be said for the beautiful new roads, for safety, for clean ablutions, for all of the things that modern road travel brings. But it’s good to remember the simplicity and frugality of the past sometimes, when we weren’t distracted by gadgets and gizmos so much, and could entertain ourselves for hours with nothing but the scenery and a few songs. And it’s also good, from time to time, to go off on what my kids now know as an Adventure: sometimes, even just driving around town, I take an unfamiliar road just to see where it goes. And they roll their eyes and groan good-naturedly, but it’s always a lot of fun.

All of this talk of road travel brings me to my hopes for 2014. That I’ll celebrate the good things in the past and strive to incorporate that sense of a simpler time into the way I live – every day. That I’ll lift my eyes from my screens more often to watch the scenery, and sing whenever possible. That I’ll appreciate the beautiful new roads as they rise up to meet me. And that once in a while I’ll give myself permission to go off the beaten track a little, and see where I end up. Because who knows what wonders may lie in store? Who knows where those roads may lead?

I wish the very same for you, wherever you may be. Happy New Year, everyone.

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