Day 38: Where tractors and vetkoek collide

I took a drive to Bethal. Yes, that is indeed what I did. We finished early at the Plant today so, using my adventurous spirit and petrol that I wasn’t paying for (I did but we’ll get to that in time) and took a drive to this well, little town. I was going to call it a hamlet but it was rather industrious looking as such and can’t really be called a hamlet. Then again, it is in Mpumalanga – the part that possesses all the coal mining towns. I did enjoy the drive thoroughly actually even though it wasn’t really that scenic. Then again, it was prettier than the drive to Ermelo. Oh well, I’m rambling – let us get to the pictures.

What possessed me to drive to Bethal was basically the Duvha turnoff. On our way out of Witbank, there goes a road that takes you deep into Mpumalanga. Before we get that deep, we turn at Duvha. What lies beyond? Does it take me to the land of milk and honey? Apparently not – it’s more like a badly kept road with several potholes and the marvellous view of mine dumps. It does clear up and just before you hit the R35, you get a nice view of Komati Power Station.

Komati is one of the Return-To-Service Stations that was mothballed in the late 80s and early 90s when supply way outstripped demand. Basically, there were several stations running for around 50 years, with 50 year old technology. It made sense to close down the plants that were using outdated technology and instead, use the larger plants that generated much more electricity at higher efficiencies. At that time, there were plants like Kendal with generators producing in excess of 600MW whilst older stations, like Taaibos and Highveld had generators rated at 60MW. Komati was one of the “old school” stations with, if you look at the picture, eight cooling towers. The generator set consisted of five 100MW units and four 125MW units – not as much as the six-pack stations but better than the antiquated 60MW units. Anyway, in recent years, electricity capacity has dictated that Komati, like Grootvlei and Camden, be brought back into service. So far, Camden is back online and Komati will be brought back onto the grid within a few years. One can see the new smoke-stack that has been built – just one of the modernisations that has been introduced to the station. Like Hendrina, these larger, older stations make for exquisite viewing and as I’ve said, it’s not exquisite like the Italian lakes but well, they do have that effect of awe on the mind!

The R35 runs, basically, between Middelburg and Bethal. From my experience, it was a relatively well used road (and by this, I mean that you passed a car every five to ten minutes as opposed to other roads where you won’t see a car for half an hour!) in really good condition and the odd sign pointing to a German sounding town. There were a lot of these towns on the way mind you.

As with all of these R roads, they have these weird little quirks which make the drive oh so enjoyable. One incident on this road was the appearance of this tractor on the road. As luck would have it, there was oncoming traffic when I reached the tractor! Once these cars passed, the tractor made a very sharp right; drove across the other lane and into the field. I just looked at it with that look on your face which mixes a smile, laughter and WTF.

So I reach Bethal and drive around, admiring the town. Then I find a Baby Friendly Hospital. Apparently, the other hospital in town is waging a war against babies since 1996 with both factions now at a deadlock. Bloodshed might follow in the next few months. Watch the press. Lol

As with all quaint, little towns, Bethal is equipped with a rather pretty looking church with a steeple!

It also has the obligatory Indian businessman that buys a centre and makes a pretty good living by selling to the townsfolk.

If you have read my blog, you would know how dumbfounded I am that people eat so much meat. Well, this just dumbfounded me even more – the store name implies that it is your one-stop vegetable market yet…THEY SELL CHICKEN!!!

I’m guessing this was jumping!

And this all brings me to this take-away establishment – a rustic looking tea room type shop claiming to sell. “The Tastiest Take Away Ever.” It’s a relatively eye-catching store on the main road into town and my eyes (and stomach) were drawn to it just to test out this claim. My problem was that, as a vegetarian, I was not able to sample their finest cuisine. Nevertheless, I thought that a good way to test the place out was to order Vetkoek which should, ideally, taste divine regardless of the filling. Herein lies my second problem – I walk into the shop, take a look at the menu and alas, it is in Afrikaans which is hardly a language I am strong in! I recognised the words “vleis” (grr…more meat!) and “kaas.” The kaas option would mean probably vegetarian unless these people grated some biltong along with the cheese. Judging from the menu, I wouldn’t be surprised. So I walk up to the counter, order a “Kaas Vetkoek” in my best Afrikaans, hand over my R5 (Yes, ONLY R5) and get back a paper bag with oil visibly seeping into it. It looked yummy, it tasted yummy too! It probably had more oil than a tanker as well. Seeing that I’ve not tasted a lot of Vetkoek, I’ll go with say that this was the ‘tastiest ever.’ Lol!

Oh I also bought boxers from this random clothing shop. R15 each – almost as cheap as Durban! I also ran out of petrol on my way to Bethal meaning I had to fill petrol! Shock! Horror! The sad bit was the petrol claims were not on my name meaning the R100 that entered the tank was lost from my pocket forever. It was truly a sad day…

The trip back took me back on the R35. The one thing I don’t enjoy is travelling the same road twice. It almost seems a waste of, well, exploration. It does have it’s perks in that you are able to stop and take pictures of the weird and wonderful sites that you didn’t capture onto celluloid because you were travelling at 120kph and by the time you stopped, you were a good half a kilometre down the road. You also “know” the route so any potholes will be anticipated and you can time yourself pretty well – especially if sunset is pending. These R roads usually have cat-eyes but there are many that don’t – travelling at night on these roads is not recommended. But these reason pale in comparison to driving down the great unknown through scenery you have never encountered before. Luckily, around 10km outside Bethal, there was a sign indicating, “Witbank.” So I took it…

The excitement of this road lay in the fact that it was nearing dusk and there were no cat-eyes on this road! Also, if you have listened to travel stories from people who go out to the mines, you are sure to have heard the mythical stories of driving at 120kph on the dirt skirtings on the side of the road just to avoid the potholes that would devour your entire car even if you had a Hummer. This road started beautifully – long, gently sloping and incredibly straight roads with maximum visibility where you could unleash the true power of your car. A few kilometres later, the road had me driving more on the dirt than on the road with occasions where I braked from 120kph down to around 20kph just to navigate the potholes. This coupled with me trying to beat the sunset made for one of the most exciting drives I’ve ever taken.

Tired, I entered into the municipality of Witbank with Duvha welcoming me back to civilisation. What I saw was the bare soul of industrial Mpumulanga and what we have done to it in pursuit of fuel, power and money. It was a rewarding drive though and, well, it put a smile on my face!