So we have been in Jozi since September and this day had to come. Growing up, a child of the south, driving was a must. Nothing is particularly close and parents look forward to the day when they no longer have to ferry children around to events or make a quick run to the store. Learning to drive usually comes at 16 for most southern teens, a rite-of-passage, if you will. For me, it was even earlier. Tractors for tilling soil and minding tobacco farms and such. I tell you this so that you know the confidence that I have behind the wheel of a vehicle. (Leigh here, he has also been riding motorcycles since forever.) I have alluded to the fact that in South Africa, they drive on the left side of the road and I freely admit that it gave me some trepidation. Therefore, I would have to test my metal on the open road driving on said left side and the last week of 2016 was just that test.
Charlene Harry, our dear friend, invited us to spend a couple of days in the town of her youth, Howick, South Africa. A mere 5 hour journey from our current dwelling in Marshalltown. The ever prepared Leigh, booked us a rental car for the journey and at my request secured an automatic seeing as this would be my first foray into right-sided driving on the left side of the road. We thought it would be prudent to not have to worry about shifting gears and such. We arrived on-time for our scheduled pick up just a bit nervous, but eager to travel outside of Johannesburg for the first time since our arrival four months ago (Wow! Has it been that long??) As we had been told by everyone here, South Africans work for 11 months out of the year and really go on holiday for the 12th. There were no automatic rental cars available! I know what you are thinking… We were thinking the same thing…But we made a reservation! Grrrrrr…. Moot point and after some searching for another vehicle in our price range (there were none), we decided to take the manual and be on our way.
First, let me say that I am a really safe driver (cough, cough). I do tend to speed at times (Did he really say…at times??) but within 5 mph of the posted speed limit (no comment) unless I’m on my bike then all bets are off! Fate decided to test me to the max this day for some reason or another. The drive started out fine. It was an exercise in self conversation and Leigh’s gentle reminding …LEFT SIDE…Left side. Turning left it was not such a big deal. It was the right turns that required maximum concentration. Before we go any further, I am happy to report that the vehicle was returned with all its original paint! Once we were well under way, it began to rain. Hummmmm. A bit further into the trip noticed a sign reading, “Severe penalties for any traffic infraction.” Further still, I realized we would be traversing a mountainous area ….Outstanding! The “white knuckle ” moment came rounding a bend on a four lane portion of N3 highway. it is a blind curve and yes, I was well within the posted speed limit. I guess here it is common for highways NOT to be separated by medians. This was news to me. As we were rounding the bend…in the rain…with a stick shift…the lanes narrowed and it appeared to me as if the driver of the on-coming semi had crossed the non-existing median and was in my lane! As it turns out he was simply in his lane that was about a foot from my door! Inside I was having a ” Chris Tucker” moment.
Outwardly, I had to exhale because Leigh was struggling for air! Sorry honey, I didn’t intend to take all the oxygen as I gasped. (It’s okay, Boo Boo.) At any rate, once that moment passed, I settled in and managed to keep us in one piece the rest of the drive. (He did GREAT!)
This drive, once my nerves returned to a somewhat normal state, was amazing! The countryside was filled with visual treasures. Wide open expanses, meandering rivers, lakes, soft peaked mountains, and wandering wildlife, all feasts for the eyes or eye in my case…I was not about to be caught unawares whilst driving on the left side! Other, more subtle difference began to emerge along the way. In the U.S., when you see a fueling station / rest stop, it is on one side of the highway or the other. Here there are two. One on each side. Same station, same stores just one on each side. And those stations are full service…I mean they check the oil, air, and fill the tank.
(Unfortunately, the options are limited on each side as well. I know… Spoiled American.)
Hitching a ride is a way of life here. We talked about the taxi’s and the hand signs given to show where you would like to go in a prior post. Here is one on display. I know its not the best photo, but it’s the best we could do at 100 kilometers per hr….and yes I was going exactly that! We found it interesting that some chose this method of travel rather than purchasing a vehicle but they do. Somehow they always find a ride. That would be maddening for me, but here, it all works! (Interestingly enough, it is not always economic reasons. Some hitchhike out of necessity, but some just choose to do it.)
The only damper on our 5 day excursion was the weather. It was overcast and rainy most of the trip, but still very restful and enjoyable! We stayed at Matt’s Rest B&B and Self Catering. Our room was quaint and cozy. The staff was excellent. They treated us like old friends returning for a visit and saw to our every need. The breakfasts were cooked to order and delicious. An all around great place to recharge your batteries!
I am smitten by that smile! (He is so sweet, y’all)
The highlight of this adventure came on Wednesday. We met up with Charlene and her childhood friend, Mpume, to tour the best of KwaZulu-Natal!
They called it the Meander, a stretch of highway and back roads that included: little specialty shops of Belgian Chocolates and Honey, an outdoor shopping center called Piggly Wiggly, Howick falls and best of all “The Capture site.” While I am sure most everyone has heard the story of Nelson Mandela, I’m not quite sure everyone knows the story of his life before his imprisonment and its his impact on life in South Africa. This museum does an excellent job of bringing that out. It is both an emotional and inspiring place to visit and we highly recommend stopping by if you are ever here! It was mind blowing to me to be standing on the very ground that President Mandela was captured so many years ago and the chain of events that followed. This all happened 3 years before I was born.
(We were trying to be cute…lol)
On to Howick Falls and its majestic beauty!
We want to say thank you to Charlene and Mpume for taking the time to share a wonderful event filled day in your home town with us! It was as lovely and beautiful as you two are and we truly enjoyed every minute of the trip. Thank you for introducing us to Chesa Nyama! That was delicious! (He loves anything with mostly meat!)
Well folks that about covers the high points of this trip and as you can surmise, I am writing this blog so the drive back must have been without incident! It will be a while before we get to travel here again as duty calls, but when we do, just know that I will post about our adventures. We still think the beauty of this place is the people and their warmth and hospitality. That is saying a lot given all the natural wonders that surround us here. We are gonna end this entry here with a few more pics to mark the event.
Till next time
Peace & Blessings
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