Sunday, July 22, 2018

Southern Tip: Zen and the art of road tripping

The Southern Cape coast has always powerfully and mysteriously fascinated me, thus drawn me to it.

It's big sky country: the southern ocean is expansive, never-ending. There's nada in your way, a definite sense that nothing stands between you and the world's end

It's the awesome, even overwhelming sense of being at Africa's tip: it is this far and no further.

The next stop, southwards, is Antarctica, about 6,900 km away.

To put that into perspective, bear in mind that the African continent measures about 8,000 km from north to south.


I had no idea where I was heading as I left Cape Town that midwinter's afternoon of my spontaneous road trip. It was the end of June. Merely days from the winter solstice, and this far south, the days were short.

There are only two main routes out of the city, the N1 or N2.

Thinking that I would head into the semi-desert Karoo - seeking breathing space and solitude - I began making my way towards the N1, which begins within sight of my bedroom window in Woodstock.

I was still uncomfortable in the hired car, also anxious. We were still strangers then. That would, naturally, change over the next ten days: The Zen of Hire Car Relationships.

I didn't get to the N1 - this national route runs from Cape Town in the south to the Beitbridge border post at Zimbabwe in the north over a distance of approximately 1937 km. Exactly when I saw a claustrophobic back-up of traffic en-route to the highway I shot awkwardly, abruptly down a side road. And decided to take my chances on the N2, whose source is also not too far away from home.

The N2, on the other hand, extends from Cape Town - along the Garden Route, through Knysna, Port Elizabeth, East London and Durban - to Ermelo. It is the main highway along the Indian Ocean coast and languidly stretches for 2,255 kilometres. The longest numbered route in SA.

Far out of the city, or so it seemed for someone who mostly travels on foot, and on the N2, I hit another traffic snarl, just before Sir Lowry's Pass: freedom and expansiveness were so close, but the end of my patience was much closer. 

I saw it as further confirmation that I was due for a road trip, alone. 

Another spontaneous, sharp right turn off the beaten track at the Gordon's Bay sign. 

At that moment my mind was made-up; I'd take the quiet and less-travelled, much slower and spectacularly scenic R44 route along the coastline. Travelling beneath the Kogelberg, on the coast edge, towards Hermanus I'd see how far I got before dark before I felt content to stop. 

Rooi-Els, Pringle Bay, Betty's Bay, Kleinmond. 

Then another right turn on to the R43 past Fisherhaven, Hawston, Vermont, Onrus, Sandbaai, to Hermanus. 


I always pack books with me on my travels. Never too many though, as I want there to be a vacuum for the books that I'm sure to collect along the way.

I'd recently been gifted Henri Nouwen's The Inner Voice of Love: A Journey Through Anguish to Freedom (1996, Doubleday). I had not yet even opened the sun-bleached hardback. As always it was meant to be and proved to be, invaluable company, even now.

As always, when you get yourself out of your own way - by slowing down, stopping, also pausing to (truly) listen, began a journey within a journey:

Work Around Your Abyss

There is a deep hole in your being, like an abyss. You will never succeed in filling that hole, because your needs are inexhaustible. You have to work around it so that gradually the abyss closes. 

Since the hole is so enormous and your anguish so deep, you will always be tempted to flee from it.
There are two extremes to avoid: being completely absorbed in your pain and being distracted by so many things that you stay far away from the wound you want to heal.

- Henri Nouwen (p. 3)


I took the photo from Gearing's Point, over Hermanus's old historical harbour. It was shortly before the sun disappeared behind the mountains and few people were about in the sharp breeze. I pointed the lens in the direction I intended heading the next morning.

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