So here it is. The first entry of what I hope to be a regular thing: the travel journal.
In late March my father and I donned our finest socks and trampled around in the middle of the Free State. This is that story told in 7 (count ‘em) entries.
There were delinquent dogs, fighting middle aged women, a shoe having a mental breakdown and an old lady with no sense of smell.
This is Part 1 of the Sungazer Trail Journal.
Day 1. Durban to Paul Roux.
It was the usual Sunday start in as much as usual can be applied to my family. I fought with admin and a new cell phone (the phone eventually gave in to my advances) and went swimming. Dad stared down the lawn. Out of fear it agreed to being mowed. The last time the lawn put up a fight he waged a month-long crusade against the wrong grass germinating. The lawn has learnt its lesson the hard way. Nothing screams totalitarian authority like a sixty-year-old in tired shorts adjusting a lawnmowers height. The grass has accepted its overlord.
Mom waved us goodbye on a level reserved for explorers leaving to the amazon basin. If she had a handkerchief, it would have been thrown. I am grateful Mom loves us.
The drive between Durban and Paul Roux was weirdly busy. We were buzzed a lot by a black BMW who could not decide which four letter word he most wanted to be. Between the trucks and the GP license plates Dad had plenty of practice exercising his vocabulary. His phraseology was pretty narrow – a lot of people were described as unpleasant but in a truly biblical sense.
The landscape is green. The Free State has had late rains meaning that the Cosmos Flowers litter the sides of the highway like an impromptu pride parade. I love it. Between the gunmetal blue storm clouds and the ragged green mountains, you would be forgiven for thinking that you were in the middle of a late Simon Addy painting. The traffic thinned outside of Harrismith. I think a part of Dad was disappointed by this. He settled for listening to me reading excerpts from Mark Forsythe’s Etymologicon. Who knew that “feisty” has its roots in the word “fart”? Now you will know why I will be calling so many people feisty.
Paul Roux is one of those towns where you go round a corner and there it is. Pressed elegantly into the face of a low sloping hillside, its tall green trees and sandstone architecture are the most prominent features at a distance. We stopped for coffee at the Rissiepit Koffee en Kuns. The owner was a tall gentleman who advertised that the establishment made the best coffee in town. This accolade was given to him by himself. Dad and I had a lovely little stop as we were regaled by stories of the towns haunted history (an annual event is the Spook Loop). In whispered tones we learnt how this nurse walks that street and this girl dances on that rooftop. My inner Cure fan was fascinated. A part of me really wants to see a small postcard town in the Free State become the Goth capital of South Africa.
After resisting the temptation to pet the daschund on the couch at Rissiepit any more we left for Dunlin BnB. It is one of those guest houses where you are greeted by someone but you are not sure if they actually work there. The woman showed us our rooms and promptly left. Dad and I could have absconded with the silverware and weird Victorian dolls. We didn’t. Interiors by Ed and Lorraine Warren.
Dunlin is a stunning little establishment. Like many “Highveld Chic” B&Bs it is just full of old crap. There are enamel mugs lining ancient cabinets and old Corgi Diecast cars on shelves groaning under the weight of years of varnish. Street signs and posters litter the walls as layer after layer of rusting bric a brac confuse you on your way to the toilet. Curiosities and clutter prop the house up so as to better intrigue and nasally agitate travelers. A photographers dream no doubt, made more so by the strange garden ornaments and bizarre addition of a semi-domesticated buck.
One of the assistants is a woman who has shacked up at what she calls the local youth hostel. It is the old age home. She has a side line in house sitting because “I fight back.” She has more teeth than a Jellyfish. Make of that what you will. Suffice to say she was an utter delight.
Dad and I settled in at the Pink Tricycle – the restaurant next door. Its aesthetic was no different to Dunlin. Weird crap everywhere. I sat on a chair designed by a squid who had heard what a chair was through the power of Charades. We ordered wine from the fridge while we waited for our fellow hikers – the Louren’s – to arrive.
We were enjoying our drinks out on the veranda when I peered into the restaurant. I was puzzled by the site of a little bald head bobbing up and down at knee height. I was aware that the proprietors’ children were playing indoors but something did not make sense. Only when the two year old came into view through the door did it click. There he was, all runny nose and chubby legs. He was adorned in his little cotton shirt and puffy diaper. He was also pushing a mop. A child of two feet pushing a five foot mop is as funny as you think it is. A parent who manages to teach their child that cleaning is playtime should write a book.
The Louren’s pulled up to two rosy-cheeked Durbanites. They are a sweet couple. I am worried they may not survive Dad and I. Hurricane Troskie is known to blow on and off while carrying all kinds of shit in its wake.
Craig, a coordinator of the trail, arrived to dish out literature and fancy blue buffs. The route was explained to us and I think the briefing went a long way to allay any fears. The night before is always defined by nervousness no matter your experience. As a family friend once told me, you only do something for the first time once. I think the moment we start walking calmer minds sets will sink in.
We were then ushered indoors for dinner. A very traditional Boer affair. It was marvelous. The starter was a bacon and cheese quiche lovingly arranged on shredded lettuce. I did not know quiche’s were inclined to nesting. This was followed by sweet potato bake, chicken pie, oxtail, beans and rice, all washed down with wine and lemon meringue. I am in my room typing this out feeling deeply contented and looking forward to the week ahead. A lot is to be said where your daily life is carried on your back. Strange how we heal through hurt.