Jozi to Cape Town in lockdown level 3: it's a road trip, but not as we know it
Cops are abundant, food is scarce, and even the famous Ronnies Sex Shop has fallen on hard times, writes Stephen Haw
The N2 from Joburg to Cape Town is not exactly "the road less travelled" but driving it in lockdown can make all the difference.
When the mists lifted, just the other side of Sasolburg, it became clear that not only were there very few cars on the road, which was to be expected, but also that what cars there were appeared to be "social distancing", as if the lessons of lockdown had inadvertently spilled out onto the road. Whenever there was any vehicular intimacy, at tollgates or in passing, people eyed each other with wary curiosity.
My "extraordinary" reason for crossing provinces passed muster at the many police roadblocks, mostly at provincial "borders" but also incongruously in obscure Karoo towns, but did not curry the same favour at any of the various eateries along the way. They were all closed. The shuttered doors of The Fat Butcher in Ventersburg struck me as particularly cruel.
In fact, the only place to get food was at the KFC drive-through in Colesburg. By this time we were so hungry that we devoured a whole bucket of thighs and breasts, which had my young son exclaiming that he now knew "why they call it 'finger-lickin' good'." And then it was into the Karoo proper.
The open road and a sense of freedom have always been the best of friends. Even in brutal times such as these, in which so many liberties have been lost, it's possible, if only briefly, to yield to the illusion that the road lies before you like a ribbon of dreams.
My favourite section is between Hanover (a town I'll never stay in again) and Three Sisters. I always like to put the windows down, turn the music up and take it real slow. If I'm feeling particularly devilish, I might even open a cold beer.
"Old rock", I argue, is the only music big enough to stand up to the demands of the road. My son vehemently disagrees and, eventually, as we approach The Sisters he's won a kind of compromise with a song called Sign of the Times by one Harry Styles. The lyrics - Just stop your cryin' it's a sign of the times, we gotta get away from here - seemed appropriate. I turn up the volume and just let my mind go for the first time in what feels like a long time.
The Sisters always amaze me. I never really see these distinctive hills "right" when coming at them from the Joburg side. From Cape Town, the third sister can seem to dramatically leap out at you from behind the other two, and what at first you take to be the cute younger sister quickly turns to leer down at you like the severe, over-protective older one. But they're always different and I never not imagine what it must be like to live in this wonderful nowhere.
I never not imagine what it must be like to live in this wonderful nowhere
And then it's a flat track to Beaufort; and down into the dark depths of the Swartberg mountains through Meiringspoort to the R62. The road is eerily empty and the shadows cast by the Swartberg creep like chilly fingers across the fields.
Between Calitzdorp and Barrydale we see two cars, and one of them is parked at Ronnie's Sex Shop.
I have my first lockdown beer somewhere other than my own home. Ronnie tells me that there is something seriously wrong with his granddaughter's eye, and that he's just got back from Cape Town but doesn't seem to think that the trip was a success. His son-in-law says things are so bad they might have to shoot one of their kudu, which are so friendly that they come up to the front porch.
I tell Ronnie about my dad and how I'm driving to Stanford because he's fallen over and seriously hurt himself this time. It's an unexpected moment of truth in these strange times, and it doesn't feel right to joke about how all the bras hanging above his bar would make for excellent face masks.
• Do you have a funny story about your travels? Send 600 words to firstname.lastname@example.org and include a recent photo of yourself.