Pretoria to Cape Town: A Road Trip Through South Africa. Part I

4:41 AM Jmo 0 Comments

     "Nothing behind me, everything in front of me, as is ever so on the road."
-Jack Kerouac, On The Road

     A new continent. A new life. A new future. A new road. 
Metaphorically and physically, South Africa is a new direction for me. After living the past two years in Asia, making my own way in the world, meeting an incredible man, and taking a chance; life has brought me here. To say it's all been easy would be a lie. An expat existence always comes with its fair share of weight and, at times, heartache. But the incredible family that I've left back home for this jaunt of my life has in many ways come here with me. Their love, encouragement, and mental postcards keep the wind at my back and a string tugging me onward. And, with a kind hand leading me forward, the red clay Earth that South Africa brought to my feet was more than warm and welcoming. 

Will this be my greatest adventure yet?

     Though I've been graced with an incredible welcome, I felt a bit overwhelmed (even now that I've been here 3 months, these waves come and go). A new continent, new friend group, a new start: The privilege and clarity that comes with a clean slate also brings about feelings of unsteady footing and 'what-ifs'. But. Just like a suitcase, those feelings of doubt must be packed away. I've realized that in order to truly take in the beauty and offerings of a place your heart must be open. Even if that means vulnerability. Have your mind about you but leave it open to the vulnerabilities that come with being out of your comfort zone. How else are you supposed to grow? 


     My introduction to South African life was a virtual downpour of stimuli via cross-country road trip. The plan was simple: 2 weeks, a beginning and an end, and the journey in between. We departed Pretoria in the early AM hours and headed South West following our room mate and friend, Jaco. Jaco's family owns a farm outside of Hopetown, approximately 660km (410 miles) away from Pretoria and that was to be our first stop. 
     Driving out of the city the landscape steadily changed from highway overpasses to rural communities and townships. Now, those unfamiliar with the term "township", as it is known in the South African sense, may begin to conjure images of the middle class suburbs of the American midwest. ( I grew up in a place called Shelby Township, Michigan) But, white picket fences and multi-car homes are not uniform of these townships. South African townships, formed during the years of Apartheid, are typically severely underdeveloped. Townships suffer from lack of infrastructure: Access to sewers, water, and electricity are in serious need of rehabilitation. Driving past, I must say, I've never seen anything like it in my life. Shacks are assembled together out of tin and found materials, power lines dangle from haphazard posts, and trash collects near fences like tumbleweeds. Driving out I saw one such township assembled under billboards advertising a luxury brand of vodka... such a stark reminder of an excessive wealth and a government that is being run without the peoples' best interest in mind. 

     Past the townships on the outskirts of the urban sprawls, South Africa's countryside breathed new life into itself.  The countryside inhaled and exhaled heavy with color. Spring green reeds pulled away from the flat red clay. The clay broke to a bright, saturated, blue sky and dense clouds. And the air was so thick and heated from the sunlight being trapped between itself and the hot pavement. (Our car didn't have air conditioning either by the way...) There were small little bushes and tall gangly trees that reminded me of a Dr. Seuss book. And occasionally, to my overwhelming excitement, we saw a few ostrich from time to time. We were driving through the Karroo (a South African semi-desert) and it was a beautiful adventure.

     We stopped along the way in a little town that could've passed for a 1970s re-imagining of the Wild Wild West. Storefronts had hand-painted signage with palettes of pale yellows and worker-blues. The shops were single story and most of the language was in Afrikaans (an offshoot of Dutch).
     Getting out of the car we were met with heat. Intense heat. These little towns along the way were purely exposed to elements of the Karroo, yet showed little sign of a survival mentality. It was obvious that the people here worked hard. But, these towns still managed to have a quaintness about them. 
     We made a special stop at a biltong shop for a must-have, South African, cultural experience. Biltong is similar to beef jerky in The States (though every South African will deny this to their death bed!) and is incredibly popular. We walked into the shop and was immediately greeted with humid, salty-sweet, atmosphere. Lining the walls of the shop was hunk after hunk of cured meat ready for your choosing. Typically made from beef, biltong can also be made from game animals such as springbok or kudu. (Even my beloved ostriches.) Chris and Jaco, clearly feeling like kids in a candy store, picked out a selection for the lady at the counter to slice up.
     I had a taste, straying from my otherwise vegetarian diet as I tend to do when I visit a new country.. And I must say it was pretty good! Our cut of meat was deemed "wet", so it was a little bit raw on the inside and not entirely dried through like the American stuff. Am I addicted? No. But it was nice to munch on as a part of our road trip snack selection. And, being the proud South African that he is, I couldn't help but sneak a look at Chris' smile, curling from the corner of his lips, every time I had a piece.

Dam outside of Hope Town, South Africa

     We continued on, passing through Kimberly, and followed Jaco at a turn off down a dusty dirt and gravel road. Jaco's family's farm was idealistic and beautiful and exuded growth. The outlying karroo was hot and harsh, but this was a little oasis. We were greeted by farmhands, puppies, and his family. His household spoke Afrikaans so I tended to be out of the loop, but I felt incredibly welcome regardless. We were fed and treated like family. A beautiful introduction to South African farm life.
     The family farmhouse was old and oozed of history. Every wall was covered in paintings, prints, or farm knick-knacks. I commented to Chris that the kitchen almost looked like a set. It was a beautiful open space with old, hearty, appliances and years of wear all charmingly put together as gingerly as the bowl of lychees on the table. Everything looked to be an antique.

Incredible weaver bird nests.
Be sure to look up into the trees here to spot these little guys. They're pretty common!

     Now, as previously mentioned before, the country is still moving on from the Apartheid era. But, in some cases, some people didn't quite get the memo... Meet the town of Orania.
     Orania, described as an Afrikaaner "enclave" by Wikipedia, is an all white all Afrikaans town in the middle of the karroo. This town only welcomes white, preferably Afrikaans, residents and it's ultimate goal (as stated by its founder) is to eventually become its own independent Afrikaner state.
     Now, if that sounds strange to you... you are not alone. Many South Africans would agree with your sentiment and see Orania as being a dim light in an overall progressive generation. South Africa is moving on from the terrors of segregation and Apartheid and this current generation is proof of rejecting the "old" ideals. Orania has turned into a joke to most people in SA. That being said... we couldn't help but check it out.

     Orania was ...strange. Driving into town is was easy to see that this was a small bubble of a community. It was quiet. Everyone that saw us, stopped and waved. Town welcome signs and messages boards were flooded with right-wing idealogical propaganda statements in Afrikaans. The neighborhoods were tight and condense and full of small homes. I later learned that the town of Orania is actually a private "farm". That way, the owners of Orania can decide who can move in and who can not. Interesting. Strange. Almost a time portal back to another era..
      For Jaco's family, Orania is the closest town to buy things like gas and groceries. When they can, they tend to avoid it and would rather travel further on to Hopetown. But we were in it to experience it. We stopped at a little art gallery and bakery shop because Jaco and Chris insisted that I should try my first koeksisters in the heart of old world, Afrikaner culture. A koeksister is a small, twisted, donut-like pastry. It has a similar texture to a French cruller and was doused with sticky-sweet syrup. (These can be pretty addicting. We finished our pack of Orania koeksisters before bedtime on the farm.) We also stopped off at a little restaurant overlooking the Orange River to have lunch. The entire menu was in Afrikaans and the boy who served us couldn't of been older than 15. We ate, we joked, and we reveled in our location. Were we actually here?

    Gaining its foundation from one of the founding fathers of right-wing extremism in South Africa, that era is still held in high esteem in Orania. Though current black politicians have made recent visits to the settlement, including the President, monuments to the old Apartheid leaders still stand. I thought that was the most shocking thing about this place. I guess it's on par with Southern States in the US still flying the Confederate flag. The majority sees it as ignorance while others see them as a sign of pride.
     Essentially, the people of Orania just want to be left alone. The settlement was founded on the ideals of cultural preservation and solidarity. Now. I'm all for preserving one's cultural identity. But. If part of your cultural identity has somehow skewed itself into thinking that in order to preserve your own you must outlaw another... you need to check your ideals.
"Welcome" to Orania.
Correction: Some people are Welcome to Orania.

     (Now, with any personal piece of writing... these are my views and outsider perspectives and should be taken as such.) Anyway!

     Night time in the karroo is stunning...

Absolutely stunning.

     We took a pick-up truck (bakkie in South African slang) ride out onto the outskirts of the farm to enjoy the last few hours of the day. The eerie twilight gave way to cooler air and the nocturnal appearance of some springbok. Once the sun completely went down the stars came out. I mean.. like, for real. So many stars! The only other time I've seen stars like that was in the middle of the Australian outback, far from civilization and light pollution. I couldn't believe it. Through the dark, velvet curtain of the sky poked through endless amounts of light. Orion's Belt was visible but was almost lost in the shuffle of all the rest. 
     The next night the wind picked up and the sky offered yet another incredible view. Out on the farm, as dinner dishes were being finished up and the boys were relaxing on the back porch, I walked around the outside of the house to take in the sunset. I had to run inside and tell everyone to come out because this is what I saw....

100% authentic, no photoshop!

     I've heard of the long-awaited "African Sunset", but this was just incredible... To my right was a small storm, gaining wind and speed, with slanted beams of rain. In front of me was a vibrant sky painted with intense reds and moody purples. To my left was a diluted palette of purple hue and maroon. And at my feet was the family dog, rolling around trying to take my attention from the view. Leaving this place was going to be difficult. But with a start this good, it was hard not to see that this entire trip would be amazing. 

My partner in crime.

     Look for Part II of Pretoria to Cape Town this coming Tuesday! I'll cover the second leg of our journey including Hermanus (a beautiful coastal resort town near Cape Town) and what it's like to have Christmas in Africa.

Our route:

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