Why I hate National roads

Leaving Gariep Dam, I had the choice of taking either the N1 or the R58. Seeing that the detour to the power station was scheduled later than I expected, I took the National route from Gariep Dam to Colesberg.

This stretch was a meagre 44km in total. And, I mean, even though it is the country’s premium National Road, how bad can it REALLY be? Here’s my list. It is that bad!

• It sucks.
• Traffic!
• No real scenery.
• You are speed restricted. Not that I condone travelling over the legal limit but on a National Road, you can have three lanes and the speed limit will be 80kph. Furthermore, traffic cops are everywhere and even if you aren’t travelling fast, you always end up braking when you see one of them meaning a less efficient drive.
• It sucks.
• There is no risk travelling on a National route. Everything is shown to you like a pre-schooler. There is no chance of you hitting a cow as the freeway is fenced off with electric wire that can make a medium-well steak out of said cow in seventeen seconds. Every hazard has a sign warning you about the hazard and a sign warning you that you are going to see a warning sign. You don’t need to calculate how much petrol you need seeing that there is a garage every five kilometres.
• Caltex Star Stops, Engen 1-Stops, Shell Ultra Cities, Total Petroport and whatever they call those Sasol jobbies. Excuse me whilst I go puke.
• You can’t just stop in the middle of the road and look around in awe at nature’s beauty.
• Construction never ever ends.
• It sucks.
• Rest stops are designated. It doesn’t matter that there is an exquisite view of a dam and mountain at one point – the freeway dictates that you must stop 2km down the road with a marvellous view of a koppie with half its side levelled out.
• BMW X5’s – these don’t take R-roads. It will damage their 4×4 suspension and there is nobody on those roads to cut off.
• You can’t travel at 80kph when you want to enjoy the view because said BMW X5 will have its bright lights, fogs and stadium-strength roof-mounted spotlights glaring at you if you do.
• It makes you sleep.
• It sucks.
• If you are on a single-lane freeway and encounter a truck, you’re screwed. The traffic means that you are following that truck all the way to Beitbridge (even though you just got out of the Huguenot Tunnel!)
• Too many sign posts telling you everything you don’t need to know and more.
• Mountain passes are WAY too tame. Van Reenen’s Pass is easier than driving up my driveway and the Tsitsikamma Toll Route, um, it bypassed SEVEN mountain passes.
• Did I mention it sucks?
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Straight roads, more straight roads and the disappearance of Tortoise

I was at the Toy Shop in Woodmead a few months ago. I had just got an email at work instructing me that I will be put on forced leave for 15 days in June. Yes, that is indeed more leave than some companies give their employees per year. I hadn’t taken these days off and, as with the laws with all government and parastatals, one MUST take a certain amount of leave within a certain period otherwise the employer can be blamed for not allowing their employees adequate breaks. Most companies just pay their employees off – I think this system does work better as it means you don’t suffer from work burnout. Anyway, back to the point; whilst in the pursuit for a box of assorted Lego, an amazing thought lit up in my cranium – use those two weeks for a roadtrip around this beautiful land of ours, better known as Msanzi but also known as South Africa.

Two months or so of planning culminated with me departing Jozi and seeking my fortune in towns not founded on Gold. The planning was top secret with a select few (i.e. people I needed help from or people I wanted to come along…and a few extras :)) basically so I didn’t have to explain to people what and why and how and with who and all those really buggy questions that didn’t need answering because, frankly, I wasn’t sure myself. The intent behind a roadtrip of this nature was solitude, peace, relaxation and appreciation by the sites that the country offers. Two weeks of no internet and devoid of contact via cell phone. I had an itinerary planned but, well, let’s just say that is out the window and I don’t know what my next move is until I make it. It’s scary, yet great.

Leaving Jozi was easy. A brown haze bathed the city in a noxious mix of the wonderful flavours being spewed out all from over the Vaal Triangle. Crosby, Stills and Nash accompany me as I headed due south towards the industrial town of Sasolburg on the R59. This town was built upon the exploits of coal – this time, to produce oil for automobiles and the like, from coal. This plant is one of the biggest contributors to the pungent smells that sometimes engulf Gauteng. The plant was producing so much that I couldn’t even see Lethabo Power Station which usually is visible from at least 30km away. It is an impressive site though showcasing the ingenuity and drive that South African engineers had in the past and still have today. The plant itself looks like a city and due to the low oil prices of yesteryear, after the units at Secunda were built, it was said that such a large undertaking would never be viable for Sasol to undertake in the future. Low and behold, Sasol wants to compete with Eskom for the precious yet abundant coal of the Waterberg and a new plant is to be built up North near Lephalale. I do hope they put in some equipment to keep the air clean…

I continued along the R59 to the hamlet of Parys. I have visited this quaint little town before and had a party of note. This time, I see it in a sober state – it’s just so pretty. It really is a good looking town with everything that you want (well, there is no Louis Vuitton store but c’mon, this is the Platte land!) is neatly available around the corner. I soldier on towards Vredefort (I didn’t see any dome or crater). The road was superb – the section between Parys and the R501 turn-off to Potchestroom had not a single pothole and made for fun driving. I soldier towards Viljoenskroon and the nothingness that characterises the Free State Platte land. It boggled my mind – look left and you see a featureless, flat landscape. Look right, it’s the same! It is, however, perfect for growing crops – the silos in the Free State are of a size unimaginable.

Viljoenskroon provided a welcome stop for me. I struggled to actually find a food store in the town. After a drive through the entire town (which took me two or so minutes), I happened upon the Total Service Station (which had Excel petrol) and the garage shop which sold a variety of food. And by food, I mean meat – even the Margherita pizza had meat. I found a Vegetarian option. Free Staters aren’t renowned for the pizza making abilities. It filled me at least.

The R59 can be thought of as a service road. If you are going towards the major centres (like Kimberley and Bloemfontein), it is advisable to take the N1 or N12 – the other roads are farmer’s roads. It cuts through the farmland and offers farmers a route to transport their wares to the required destination. As a result, weird sites do occur such as two tractor drivers driving side-by-side, even though the road is a single-carriage way in each direction, so the drivers can have a nice chat. I waited a few minutes for them to talk their stories before I got past! Just before that, I encountered a van transporting maybe 20 old geysers. Now we know where old geysers go to die…

My intended route from Viljoenskroon onwards was at Hoopstad, join the R34 and go towards Bloemhof, the Bloemhof Dam and the N12. Just before Hoopstad, I turned right onto the R34. Throughout my journey, I was travelling West and the sun happily stayed on my right. Turning onto the R34 meant the sun would be glaring down at me head on. The road glistened from the years of dripped oil – this oil is the type that’s embedded in the surface and poses no slippery road threat. It does shine A LOT though! As I accustom my eyes to this new sensation, a very chilled out brown cow decides it’s time to cross the road. As I’m travelling at 120kph, this cow becomes rather big rather quickly. I swerve right and miss the cow by, well, very little. My car is top heavy and starts snaking. I swerve back left to correct the car then back right and then left again. Very lucky to be carrying the extra weight from my luggage, the car corrects and I am thanking God for keeping me safe! The cow merrily walks across the road. I pull into Hoopstad to regain my composure.

The town has a really nice cathedral and some Indian people. Actually, all these Free State towns now have Indians!

The cow experience was an important one: Be vigilant. One can go for countless Advanced Driver courses but unless you implement this, you will always be in danger. Watch the road and look out for anything that is suspicious and look for escape roads always. Your life is on the line and I think it’s best if you do take care.

The cow was a product of the township adjoining Hoopstad. Travelling the country, one notices the set form of every town in South Africa – a previously advantaged White town (with all the tourist features) with a township next to it. In most cases, the township is bigger than the actual town lets not tell anyone that. Hypothetically, if a new town springs up in South Africa, I wonder what the layout would be. This layout has worked – provide the town with a readily-available labour force. Yes it has worked but It also has brought immense poverty, hardship and terrible living conditions to millions but lets not mention that either. I doubt any chartered accountant in this new hypothetical town would want to live next door to a domestic servant though…

The R34 tested my alertness as it is a severely potholed road. At the end of it is a reward in the form of the Bloemhof Dam – an exquisite body of water in the middle of dry and drab Platte land. This, unfortunately, is where Tortoise, my companion who is a tiger, decided to leave us. He liked the place way too much. I’m going to be a terrible dad!

Joining the N12, I entered Bloemhof where I intended to stop but it was devoid of any substance that would warrant a stop. Not stopping was a pretty bad choice in the end as the road between Bloemhof and Warrenton is severely under construction. Christiana was my next stop with very little light remaining. I have heard this town is highly visitable but the dying of the light meant I had to rush. Although, I witnessed a wonderful sunset – the first of many I presume over the Platte land.

The drive between Warrenton and Kimberley is, well, it was night so I’ll just say “appeared” rather, to be a gentle downhill seemingly reaching the nadir in the centre of the Big Hole! Around 50km before Kimberley, one is greeting by the city lights of this town – stretching kilometres in each direction. It gave me that feeling when you drive down at night on the N2 from Umhlanga towards Durban.

The size of the town judging by those lights was pretty misleading as when I reach there, I’m picked up by Kershen who leads me to his place. When we get there, he tells me that we just drove across town in five minutes. Oh well, it is dark though. I will explore more in the morning. Tonight I shall be taken to The Halfway House Hotel, better known as “The Half”. Since 1872, it has provided an oasis for thirsty travellers making their way between Cape Town and Jozi. Pretty appropriate – Here’s to inebriation…