Last day on the road, and we’re heading “home” – home, that is to our friends in Bela Bela, aka Warmbad. We leave Mpumalanga region early this morning and will be back into Gauteng this afternoon, both of which, I believe, are part of Limpopo Province which used to be called the Transvaal. (I think I've got that right, but someone please feel free to correct me.)
The owner of the guest house in Graskop told us to be sure to look into the tiny town of Dullstroom en route because of all the great shops there. Well, if there’s one word that’s sure to turn Ole Brucie’s interest off it’s ‘shops’. However, I did manage to get him to stop at a café there that dates back to 1893 for coffee. The sign outside said they have Illy coffee so my hopes were raised of getting a pretty good brew. I asked the waiter for a cappuccino with an extra shot. That didn’t translate, so then I said “extra expresso?”
“You want cappuccino and one expresso, Mam?”
"Well, I want them both in together in one tall cup" was my reply. Very doubtful look from him but off he went. When my coffee arrived it was in a regular small-ish cappuccino cup so I figured it would be intense. Not so – it wasn’t at all. When the bill came I paid the guy what it said, but then he came back and said he hadn’t put the espresso on the bill and he wanted another 14 Rand ($2). I failed to ask him for another bill, so I figure I actually got ‘done’. I’d had a regular capp which he’d properly billed and I’d paid for, then he probably got the extra cash I gave him when he came back to say he needed more money. Oh well – I think that’s the first (and, hopefully, only) time I’ve been 'done' here.
Just down the road (on the N4 near Middelburg) we pulled into a fuel stop that beats hands down any of the full-service transport stops we’ve ever seen in the United States. It was, literally, gorgeous! Can a gas station be gorgeous? Well, yes. There was a fabulous restaurant with huge picture windows looking out over a slope away from the station where they had a large pond around which were zebra, red hartebeest, elands, emus, duikers and steenboks (we needn’t have gone into the Park!) and, inside the station (if you weren’t using the restaurant) there was an etched glass (with wildlife) picture window and polished tree stumps for seats so that you could sit and watch the animals. I actually photographed the Women’s washroom because it was so beautiful, with African statues, end cuts of wood decorating the wall above the wash basins, roses in vases, etc.
The busy city/town of Middelburg was a bit confusing to get around in. We just seemed to run out of good signage to point us out of town and back on to our highway. We made a turn that took us into a very nice neighbourhood of upscale homes with beautiful landscaping, but we both realized this could not be our route because there was no real traffic on it. I suggested that we turn around and go back to where we last knew where we were. No way – not Brucie. He kept on going until we’d passed through this nice neighbourhood and were back out into a stretch of open land where he made a couple of turns and I said “We should turn back now before we don’t know which way we came.” Not he.
We saw a lone African man running down the road and asked him which way to the N11 but his response was very confusing. Bruce carried on and took a few more turns at which point we realized we were getting quite deeply into a huge township. We asked another man who was sitting in a work truck at the side of the road for the way to the N11 and he also gave us further instructions that we attempted to follow. By then, I’m telling Bruce that we are somewhere we should not be and, in fact, we are getting some very curious looks from people as we cruised through. For myself, I don't want to look like we are "touristing" through poor neighbourhoods just to see how less fortunate people live - I'm very uncomfortable with that idea - and we had no reason to be there. (Other than being lost, of course!)
Luckily, we saw a police pickup truck coming in our direction, so we waved him down. The guy looked totally puzzled to see us there and we told him we were lost. The cop gave a long low whistle and said “You are VERY lost! Wait over there and I’ll be back in two minutes.” Good as his word he was back very quickly and asked how we’d managed to get there and where we wanted to get to. (I asked Bruce to field that one!) Then he told us to follow him and, thankfully, we had ourselves a police escort out of the area. It was winding and twisting to say the least – we would never have found our way out on our own. Later, when we were telling our Bela Bela hosts the story Bruce was laughing and down-playing the situation, but Anschu told me later on that she and Charles had talked about it afterwards on and agreed we were very lucky to find that cop, given recent stories about tourists caught in such neighbourhoods. There are signs all over the country warning people about car-jackings where, if your doors are locked, groups will simply smash your windows and pull you out and make off with your vehicle and stuff. One fellow had told us how he and some friends were slowly driving through an area one time with stuff lashed on to a trailer and, when they got to their destination, found everything was gone. Apparently, it's not uncommon for guys to simply jump on the back and throw stuff off as you're driving along!
The rest of our journey back to Bela Bela was completely uneventful and we arrived here around 3pm to a very warm welcome – it felt good to be “home”! Charles and Anschu’s daughter in law Marietjie is also here with her two children. Her husband, Marais, is currently doing the Cape Epic Tour - we watched that day’s coverage on TV later that night. It’s a seven day event averaging 100kms per day of grueling mountain biking that 700 teams of two are participating in. The TV coverage alone was exhausting!
So here I now sit - in the afternoon - on the verandah at Anschu and Charles’s lovely home, catching up on my writing. I got up early again to see the animals outside the fence - I don't get tired of it at all! Bruce and Charles are napping having just returned from another very long ride in the heat, as is Marietjie who has just had her tonsils out. Anschu is entertaining her grandchildren and I am keeping an eye on a family of warthogs just outside the fence and some zebra.
Some of the stories we just heard over lunch were slightly unsettling (for me). One tale involved a puff adder that was on the door mat just behind where I am now sitting and the other was of a black mamba that they found in their gym, just down the other end of the verandah. Marietjie was telling the story of the puff adder about how Charles simply shot upstairs and Anschu, who is a tiny person, came outside blasting at it with her pellet gun.
Hmmmmmmmm…............ I thought, taking a cautious look behind me. So far so good, so far so good: no snakes for me - yet! And only another four days to go - I can't believe this trip has gone by so fast!