We are taking a holiday to Durban…and we are taking Bertha (our Mercedes ML430). Our anniversary and Diwali fall at the same time this year and it was our intent to combine the celebrations. And my dear Hubby’s gift to me was a week of shopping. He’s such a darling!
We managed to get out of town just a few minutes past 3, but seeing as how it was a Friday afternoon, the roads were already busy. Once out of town, however, the traffic thinned and we were left with a gloriously clear afternoon and room for Bertha to stretch herself. We leaned back and hit the road.
Hubby and his little sports car collect a lot of traffic fines. Late last month we received four of them in the mail, two issued on the same day from the same spot, only 20 minutes apart! Duly chastened and R2000 poorer, Hubby undertook to be more circumspect on our road trip and set Betha’s cruise control according to the posted limits. It turns out to have been a good thing: while the municipalities may rely on cameras to catch their speed demons, out in the bundu it’s traffic cops sitting on the side of the road just over the top of a hill or around the side of a blind curve. I saw more traffic cops yesterday afternoon than I see in an entire month in town! (Note to American readers: traffic enforcement is a separate division from law enforcement here and, unlike in America, law enforcement officers will not accost you for making an illegal U-turn or busting a red light. That’s the job of the traffic police.)
I have a theory about this... There are basically two tiers of cities in South Africa: the big ones like Joburg and Cape Town, and the medium ones like Bloemfontein and Pietermaritzburg. Every thing else is smallish by comparison, and some of the towns here are minute little specks of human habitation plunked down in the middle of nowhere…like Leeu Gamka. The biggest problem with these little places, I think, is that they lack any real source of revenue and they are too small and/or uninteresting to draw that stream of tourist bucks which keep other places alive. They languish as poverty pockets, unable to even properly maintain their municipal responsibilities. Then somebody introduced their local gendarmes to the traffic camera and not long after that somebody realized that you could use it to pick the tourist’s pockets without ever having to look in their tired eyes and try to puzzle out their accents.
Laingsburg is a case in point. Famous for no more than having been nearly drowned out by the Buffel River some 25 years ago, Laingsburg has joined the growing cartel of nowhere towns that have lost sight of the real reason for speed zones: reducing traffic speed for safety purposes, which can usually be accomplished by the simple expedient of parking a traffic cop car visibly by the side of the highway. Little more than a wide spot in the road, population less than 6,000, Laingsburg’s entire physical presence is little bigger than a couple of sizeable petrol stations and the obligatory bottle store…but it boasts a huge board at its outskirts bragging of how many thousands of speeders have been cited there in recent months. This may seem laudable at first glance, but when you stop to realize that the place is just one giant speed trap, it becomes obvious that this is likely the town’s main source of income. Why else would you be required to slow to 60kph (from the 120 of the highway) in order to pass a petrol station out in the middle of the desert? No agriculture? No industry? Need money? Put up a speed trap and rake in the bucks!
So, we managed to get through Laingsburg and a few other speed traps (one of them with a mobile courtroom right there to pick your pocket on the spot!) and after a Steer burger in one of the Engen stops (franchised eateries are the way to go when you are on the road…no menu mysteries and uniform standards of hygiene in the kitchens), we finally made it to Beaufort West…another town with a well-established speed fine industry, our destination for the night.
Hubby booked us into the Lemoenfontein (which means “orange fountain” or “orange spring” for you English speakers) Game Lodge just outside Beaufort West. We drove through town…very circumspectly, having left a wad of money at the police station there a couple of years back…just before 9 pm, and at the other side of town found our turn. The sign said it was the road to De Jager Pass but our instructions said to go only 1.6 km and then turn left again. Of course, it was darker than Satan’s heart out and the road turned out to be a dirt track replete with signs indicating water-filled ditches that we would have to drive across. But, I reasoned, it was only 1.6 kms and Bertha is an SUV, after all, so not to worry. High beams on, we rolled over the pebble-strewn surface until we found the sign to Lemoenfontein and duly turned left.
Well, if I had thought the De Jager pass road was a rough patch, it turned out to be a superhighway compared to the rutted track ahead of us. In the kind of pitch darkness that you can only experience out in the wilderness, we bumped and bounced our way for five kilometres up this swath that looked to be little more than a bulldozer’s bumpy track through the countryside. One lane wide and strewn with little boulders and big dips, it meandered through the rough terrain and up to a huge house that glowed like a jewel set on black velvet. We had finally arrived!
Tired from our journey, we didn’t waste any time on unnecessary amenities but went straight to our room. It was decorated in a “country living” kind of way, two wing chairs and a red Persian carpet set in front of the little Victorian fireplace, and the bathroom was a successful marriage of Victorian beadboard walls and footed tub with the modern double shower (two sets of temp control and two rain shower rosettes in a single large enclosure!). We were pleased to find the same brand of air conditioner that we have at home, so no time was wasted figuring out how it worked…it was 9 pm and still 27 degrees outside, and the room had a closed and stuffy feel to it. By ten we had turned off the light and within minutes Hubby was gently snoring beside me and I was drifting off to sleep. The one negative note was the carpet…sisal…a very unpleasant experience on the bottom of bare feet in the middle of the night.
It is now 7:30 am and Hubby continues to snork at my side. Breakfast is at 8:30 and we hit the road again immediately thereafter, but first I’m going to grab the camera and do a little prowling about. We are at a game reserve, after all…maybe I can catch a glimpse of something worth immortalizing!
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