Journey to the centre of the erf

15 April 2012 - 02:37 By Ben Trovato
Ben Trovato
Ben Trovato
Image: Sunday Times

I HAVE been doing a fierce amount of travelling between Cape Town and Durban of late. The East Coast is hungry for crystal meth and perlemoen while the West Coast is crying out for marijuana and vindaloo. It's a lucrative trade if you don't mind being seen behind the wheel of a bakkie. Personally, I can do without that kind of stigma.

Anyway. It was just the other day that Brenda and I and her stinking epileptic dog Julius Seizure drove from coast to coast in a Land Rover that was about as reliable as Jacob Zuma's recall of his role in the arms deal.

Then I had to fly to Durban after my beloved Hyundai (may he rust in peace) was serviced in much the same way that a flexible Thai ladyboy on the mouth-watering buffet that is Phuket's Bangla Road might give you a service - then have his kick-boxing boyfriend mug you on your way out.

I was back in Cape Town for a week before loading up the Landy and pointing its snout in the direction of the Indian Ocean once again.

"Oh no you don't," said Brenda, sawing at the wheel as I set course for the Wild Coast. "You're not subjecting me to the Transkei again."

The last time we drove through Mthatha, I had to use a blunt machete to hack a path through baying mobs of matric certificate-wielding youths whose angry eyes reflected the horrors of Obersturmführer Zille's notorious Western Cape refugee camps.

"This time," said Brenda, "we're taking the civilised route." What? We're going via Paris and Rome? Apparently not. To her, "civilised" meant Beaufort West, Bloemfontein and Bethlehem. I was immediately suspicious of a route on which all the major towns began with B. I balked and whinnied like a highly strung racehorse but Brenda put her foot down. Once I had detached her stiletto heel from my instep and doused the wound with tequila, it was my turn to put my foot down.

By the time we reached the freeway we were trundling along at a cracking pace. With a top speed of 90km/h, I anticipated that we would arrive in Durban just in time for Christmas.

We were about to penetrate the Huguenot Tunnel with the same exuberance that the English settlers once penetrated the Huguenots when I noticed that the engine was running hot. The temperature gauge loitered with intent on the outskirts of the red light zone but I couldn't tell Brenda for fear of setting off another spectacular series of mechanical and matrimonial breakdowns.

Then I remembered an old trick my father once taught me. If you're hot, drink half a pint of anti-freeze. There was no reason it wouldn't work on an overheating motor. After all, what is the human body if not an engine, albeit one designed by a raving lunatic out of his skull on powerful hallucinogenics?

I pulled in at a garage and had a couple of hits on a bottle of Total's finest summer coolant, then poured the rest into what I assumed was the radiator. There were no problems after that. We both backfired a couple of times, but I blamed the dog.

Brenda seemed impressed with the Karoo and made little murmuring sounds whenever we drove past one of its many magnificent features. Like a penis-shaped rock. Or a tree that had given up and slumped face down in the gravel.

From what I saw, fracking is too good for the Karoo. Not even the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse would ride across this godforsaken landscape without travel insurance or medical aid.

Beaufort West was unremarkable apart from its sullen, troll-like inhabitants. Where most towns have a sign welcoming visitors, Beaufort West has a billboard warning that it is a criminal offence to have sex with children. What a delightful place. I think I shall spend my summers here.

I spotted a charming cottage down by the railway. The yard was full of colourful characters enjoying a drink and a chat. A few of the men were playing some sort of traditional game. Brenda said it was a knife-fight.

Next stop, the magnificent metropolis of Bloemfontein. Or, as white people don't call it, Mangaung. When the president is toppled from his increasingly precarious and yet oddly impregnable ivory tower later this year, it will become an adjective. "I have been well and truly mangaunged," one might say upon stumbling into a trap set by one's closest friends.

Brenda had booked us into what she described as a "cute self-catering cottage" on the fringe of the city. Bloemfontein doesn't have a fringe. It is the fringe. And the cutest thing to ever come out of Bloemfontein is Os du Randt, so I wasn't altogether surprised when we arrived at what looked like something the Boers might have built for British prisoners of war.

It was located near a river the colour of rotting plutonium and surrounded by a high-voltage fence. When I asked the owner about this, he smiled and said: "To keep the wild game out." Just then, a small group of wild game came walking past, talking and laughing among themselves. The owner gave me a knowing look, which wasn't easy because I could see in his eyes that he knew very little about anything.

Perhaps it will catch on. After all, euphemisms are hellishly hard to prove in court.

The cottage was designed by one of those murderous munchkins who trained at the Lilliputian School of Architecture, and could only accommodate Brenda, a six-pack and one of my legs.

Julius Seizure went exploring and made it as far as the electric fence. I had no idea dogs could scream. He smelled like something from a North Korean braai so we smeared him in cranberry sauce and had him for lunch. No we didn't. We locked him inside and went off to find the legendary Bloemfontein waterfront.

It was spectacular, if you like your shopping malls to resemble East German airports. My best was the parking garage, which had clearly been designed by two blind alcoholics and a goat. And everyone seemed to be in a tremendous hurry to get away from something. Each other, probably.