Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Boesmanland, Hantamwereld and Verneukpan

I was responsible for causing the start time and start place to become somewhat arbitrary. Because I live way north I elected to wait for the group at Ceres. The official start point was the Winelands Service station on the N1. But then those who woke up too late for the N1 start also decided to make Ceres the start point, catching up with the group from behind, but arriving ahead of it in stead. We arrived in singles and pairs. The Johnny Clegg music, “Scatterlings of Africa,” kept running in my head. And it set a good mood right from the start. This is so much more than a riding adventure and a been-there-done-that adventure or a time trial. It’s a social adventure and a different-cultures experience. It’s also about getting to know one another, finding new and special connections and accepting a helping hand when you are tired. It’s setting aside time from the business of what we call “my life” and experiencing living for a few days.

And so the Scatterlings of Africa set off from slightly north of the original start point and slightly south of the original start time in the direction of Calvinia and along the R355.

There were some punctures and runnings out of fuel but we all made it. The road is good. It’s not like punctures are inevitable, but there are stones and wheels can find them. It makes one appreciate a backup vehicle and trailer. Peter provided the backup vehicle. I’m not saying I would not have gone on the trip if we did not have backup, but it made my decision easy.

At Calvinia while waiting for the puncture repair, we met Jan Rossouw, a farmer there. At first I thought he was the repair shop owner; He hung around and chatted with us. It was only later, when we were ready to leave, he said goodbye, climbed in his bakkie and drove off. He’d just hung around chatting and talking because that’s what people do in the Hantamwereld. Jan dispensed with much wisdom and counselled everyone. He had no difficulty asking very direct questions, which I learnt is the Hantam way. To Ruth, “Het jy ‘n man?” and to her negative reply, “Dis goed. Hulle maak net moeilikheid.” He also advised the men, you must take the first woman who wants you. Don’t ever choose one yourself. You will choose the wrong one.

We had lunch at the Hantam Guest House—recommended by Jan Rossouw of course. It is a museum. Well, it’s a national monument and the owners have collected wonderful stuff. I had home made pie and “slaphakskeentjies.” Slaphakskeentjies literally translated into English is “floppy ankles”! I was prepared to order it to find out exactly what I would get. Would you believe, slaphakskeentjies is Hantamspeak for screw noodles in mayonnaise!

There was a dirt road alternative to Brandvlei. I took the chicken run. Ruth and Chrisma joined me. I love travelling on dirt, but this dirt sounded like dirt of a technical variety and I was tired. So, we took the tar road to Brandvlei. I was not wrong. This is hard country. I checked the place names on sign boards along the way; Brand-vlei, Breek-been, Breek-yster. Everything is either burnt or broken or waiting to get burnt or broken.

I was happy to overnight at Brandvlei. The ride to Verneukpan on the next day was not long or difficult. There were a few bumps that had me with all wheels off the ground and some gates materialised from nowhere and required some pretty innovative stopping strategies.

We went to Die Windpomp for supper. If you ever go through Brandvlei, have a meal at Die Windpomp—“Die beste pomp oppie dorp.” Some of us tackled the Windgat burger single-handedly—Check the photos—This is not a matter to be taken lightly. This is a burger that’s afraid of nothing and needs a big appetite. I’m writing a lot about food and eating places, but it’s a big part of what makes the trip memorable. I was sitting in the bar at the Brandvlei hotel and a goat came in through the window! I was drinking Coke, so I know it was a goat. “He shares the back yard with 3 Great Danes and he thinks he’s a dog,” the proprietor told me.

We made it to Verneukpan! I’ve travelled past there before. But I’ve never been and I’d all but given up hope of one day riding on the pan. So, this was a big moment for me. There are no trees in this world. We had gazebos in the backup truck and I had visions of a dozen people sitting tightly together to get some shade. I worried unnecessarily. The camping facilities are absolutely practical and a wonderful sight in this flat and hard land. There’s shade and windbreak and all that’s needed. Look, I have a healthy respect for the Verneukpan surface after trying to sleep on it, but it’s not an ordeal. My frame resists hard flat surfaces and it gets cold at night!

Gustaf got a shade past the 200 kph--Measured by GPS nogal! I tried a run myself. But it's scary; When you travel on tar you "know" the road goes on and on, but on the pan it feels so much faster because you can see the "end" It feels like you're going to run out of surface.

We were fortunate in the context of mishaps and injuries. Nappy rash was about the worst that happened!

Despite being tired, I sat around after the meal and drank coffee, not too much because one doesn’t want to get up in the night. We chatted while we had wood for the fire. Gustaf said to me, “You are privileged to have your daughter ride with you on an adventure like this. I hope one day my daughter will ride with me.” Yes it is a privilege. It made me think back to an incident in my childhood. My father and I were travelling somewhere in Namaqualand. In those days all roads were dirt roads. In fact I saw tar for the first time when I was about 8 years old. We stopped in a small place, it could have been Bitterfontein, and he bought a few bits of meat at the butcher. We stopped later and we made a fire at the side of the road and braaied and ate. My father had a beer. I had a lemonade. I remember he added about two spoons of beer to my lemonade so I had a shandy! I was pleased my mother was not there. I was pleased that I was the focus of my fathers’ attention. It was a small, special moment for me. Sixty years later I can still see the smoke curling, the color of the sand and I can still feel the specialness of being there with my dad! I wonder what it meant to him. We should never trivialize moments spent with our children.

Would I do it again? When you’ve shared some difficult moments and some fun moments with a group of people, you become closer, know one another better and the warmth and camaraderie that grows out of such an experience is something that you can only get by doing the thing. Does that answer the question?