Its Friday afternoon, and my leg is endlessly bouncing as I sit waiting in anticipation. Glancing out of the lounge window I can see the red VW Golf, sagging with the weight of our life, which has been packed and stuffed with our belongings in every available crevice. I look at the clock for the millionth time in the last 60 seconds, its nearly noon; our cut off time for being at the border. The second hand of the clock is moving so slowly I wonder if the clock may be broken, I stop myself from checking the battery. George should be back soon, hopefully with the final paperwork we will need to start our lives in South Africa. I part the lace curtain and stare at the gate, willing it to open so our journey can begin. Then the phone rings, George is coming home, but there were delays at the government offices, of course, we will have to wait until Monday to leave for Cape Town.
The weekend drags. We are fugitives, waiting for our release. In hiding from our friends and family; we had already said our goodbyes and don’t want to give reason for anyone to doubt our intentions of going. Cape Town will not be a “Swazi plan”. We stay inside, willing ourselves to sleep until Monday morning comes.
Monday morning is like de ja vu. I sit on the couch bouncing my leg, staring at the gate, waiting for George to return home. My fingernails are nubs, and my heart feels like it’s trying to escape through my chest. I am about to start walking to the border, if only to release some energy, when George returns. “Its time to go” he says, the words drifting through the air like perfume.
The drive to the Swaziland/South Africa border seems longer then usual, but they are playing our song on the radio. Our smiles are infectious, and for some reason we can’t stop high-fiving ourselves—something we have never done before. High-five for the song on the radio. High-five for the impressive packing that is nearly overflowing into the front seat. High-five for the sign that says 10km to the border.
Our energy continues past the border and a few hours into South Africa. Every song on the radio seems to be our favorite song we have never heard before. We dance and do our best to sing along to the words. Then without warning, the radio began to fuzz, and we lost our station. The “red rocket”, as we were now calling the VW Golf was imported from Asia, and only had a few low frequency stations, and we had just lost the only station we could get. But the sun was shinning, and my hand is surfing the wind passing outside my window. We pass small towns and farmland stretching out in front of us in every direction. There is a storm in our review mirror, that can’t seem to catch us. Whenever we stop for a moment, the rain trickles on our windscreen briefly, and then we are off again. Its like the rain clouds are chasing us south, encouraging us to head toward the sunlight.
By the time we get to Bloemfontein, the halfway mark, we are exhausted. Lack of radio has left us like zombies, and we tried desperately to fill the vacant, hollow noise inside the car with noise. When conversation grew restless, we tried the knobs on the radio, eventually arriving at merely one static station, some news broadcast in Lesotho, a language neither of us can understand. We are only halfway to our destination, and already I feel my backside forming to the hard bucket seats. We have traveled 8 hours, and my eyes are burning from watching passing headlights on this endless stretch of highway. Our bodies sag with the need for a recharge, but our brains are too excited for sleep, they are urging us to keep going, just a little further- striving to get us to the city at day break. We pull over for coffee; maybe some caffeine will clear our heads enough to make a proper plan.
We decide not to tempt fate, we must get a few hours of sleep before we carry on. Our budget is nearly non-existent, and we decide R350 will be a nice meal in Cape Town tomorrow, so why waste it on a hotel? We are adventure seekers on a mission, we will do what any seasoned road tripper would do and sleep in the car, and so we park in the back of the petrol station off the freeway. Our seats refuse to recline against the piles of luggage in the backseat. We try slouching down, using towels that wouldn’t fit into bags as pillows. Three minutes later our backs are complaining so we try extending our feet onto the dashboard. George’s legs go across to my side of the car; my legs are draped over his. His knee keeps turning on the radio filling the car with endless meaningless chatter, and I can’t stop laughing. We struggle on, tying our limbs into knots, I’m on sure if we will be able to untie ourselves in the morning. When we get situated enough, a car parks next to us, releasing several loud children who for some reason feel the need to inform everyone in a 10km radius about their bladder issues. They stay next to us for longer then we could handle, with no apparent agenda other then to keep us awake. We start the car and move to another area of the parking lot and retie ourselves into some kind of tortured comfort.
Fifteen minutes later the car starts again, and we are back on the road, failing to find any kind of peace. The road is straight as an arrow, and drenched in complete darkness. The one lane highway is torture on our struggle to keep going. One moment we are full speed ahead, then the taillights in front of us grow larger requiring us to brake to meet the speed of the semi truck in front of us. We count the headlights passing, praying for a break and then press the gas petal full force again. This game carries on, until 2 headlights become four, and we compromise with our weary brains for rest, pulling over on the side of the dusty highway.
I was startled awake by the key turning the ignition. The sun is slowly creeping over the stark, flat horizon in the distance casting a beautiful sepia hue over the landscape. Some time in the night, we had made it to what would be our last stretch of the journey, crossing the Karoo Dessert. It would take another 8 hours of driving before we reached the mountains that shelter Cape Town on its northern border. The dessert naked with beauty and only covered by a thick blanket of white puffy clouds that draped low over the hills in the distance. As we drove closer to the mountains that had been teasing us for hours the clouds lifted to the peaks, and hung there, as if there was a cloud making machine, spewing out fresh cotton puffs from the top. When we reached the main string of mountains, and passed through two large peaks, the white clouds that were billowing over the cliffs on the northern side, turned grey and dark with rain into the southern skies. These clouds didn’t break for several hours, but only seem to sink lower and lower to the ground, until we were completely surrounded by an eerie fog, and then without warning we escaped through the wall, like traveling through a worm hole to another galaxy.
The landscape is different now, green, lush bushes are creeping closer to the road. The red mountains have turned grey, and are jetting up from the ground all around us. The road becomes windy, and the clouds have regained their rightful place in the blue sky, high above us. There are vineyards appearing in the distance, and we are certain with each new bend in the road, the skyline of Cape Town may appear.
The road widens, and traffic appears from seemingly nowhere. We begin the dance of large city highways everywhere, bobbing and weaving, merging and passing. Taking spaghetti weaved exits, and on-ramps. GPS is set to our new apartment in the southern suburbs, and after nearly 16 hours in the car, we are confident in our navigation skills—and it’s a good thing because our phone GPS died as we entered the city.
When we arrive on our little street, the house numbers are not in order, and we struggle to find our front door. The houses are small, and stacked on top of each other like little dollhouses packaged together on a shelf at the toy store. There are huge trees shading the fresh tar road, and we can hear people busy in their tiny yards busy with projects, hiding behind tall privacy fences. We locate number 45 in between 37 and 50, we find no one is home; the time to explore is now.
Just around the corner is the main road of Kenilworth, lined with a shopping center, a few franchise restaurants, clinics, vets, and lines of cars. Overwhelmed from our journey, our bodies ached with discomfort from our now outstretched legs, as if they have forgotten how to do this thing called walking. We find a small bar with a beer garden, and decide it would be a good place to waste some time. The beer is cold, and has never quenched our thirst this well before—they must make it differently in CT we think to ourselves.
Later that evening, we surprise ourselves with a second wind. Our small apartment is taking shape with a few items from home, and now we want to see what CT has to offer. Our dear friends Matthew and Franco come to pick us up. Entering Franco’s KIA Rio was like entering into a racecar, or a space shuttle, or a death trap. The gas was heavy, the brakes were heavy, the spaces were too narrow, my heart was in my throat, and all 10 of my fingers were tightly gripped around the headrest in front of me. Matthew is talking so fast, he might as well be speaking Chinese, and all my brain is left to register is the blurred lights passing outside my window. I try to catch a few signs along the racetrack, to gain some reference to where I am in the world, but fail. We are suddenly off the highway and onto a narrow street meant for 2 lanes, but with a string of cars parked along each side, we are constantly dodging oncoming traffic and pedestrians. There are so many people on the street! For a moment, I forget that there are usually many people in a big city, but my Swazi brain cannot compute this at the moment. The ocean is beautiful, when I can catch a glimpse, or focus on anything but the loud, booming music coming from the speakers, as Matthew plays DJ with the volume knob to the beat. We take a shape right turn, causing all people, and lights to disappear in an instant. It takes me a moment to adjust, we are parked, and we are alive.
Our first meal is at the Waterfront, on the Wharf. With the Ferris wheel glowing in the background, I feel as if I am on Navy Pier in Chicago for a moment. Time is moving in and out, and once I am finished eating, an overwhelming desire to sleep is upon me.
For the next few days the four of us tour Cape Town in Franco’s space ship. Time slows down and I spend every car trip re-associating myself with this massive city. For some reason CT is nothing like I pictured it. Possibly because I have always under estimated anything “city like” in Africa. What has been described to me as urban before, has never come close to matching my own experiences—but this city has left me eating my words. I come home, laying down new roads traveled on my map, connecting dots, and putting together the many neighborhoods like a giant puzzle.
The first few days I am like a tourist, taking it all in, taking pictures and marveling in the amazing mix of international food options. Cape town is the most beautiful city I have ever been to. Flanked by the Atlantic and the Indian ocean and a plethora of bays, there is no shortage of beaches or scenery. Table Mountain sits in the center of the city, like a compass. Signal Hill (on the northern back of Table Mountain) faces towards the north, and leads us home every night to our small valley in the Southern Suburbs. Lions Head sits prominently on the southern side of mountain, facing the ocean. Below it sits the posh, wealthy area of Clifton and Camps bay, lining the cliffs above the ocean with multi-million dollar homes.
Traveling east on this costly road, along the 12 apostles mountain range leads you to Hout Bay, an amazing little fishing area, now home to many artistic dwellers. They have craft market every Sunday with some of the best food, wine and craft beers I have ever tasted. Along this bay there is also fishing port where fresh fish and seafood can be bought, while casually observing the many seals that hang around begging like dogs for the scraps.
A bit further down the road is the southern peninsula, which has quickly become one of our favorite spots in Cape Town. Muzienburg sits on a quiet bay, and is always littered with surfers of every kind. The white sand beach stretches on for miles, and is dotted with colorful lines of beach chalets from the early 1920’s. The surfer vibe fills the air with a kind of carelessness peace that is contagious.
If you follow this bay north, across from Muzienburg the charming beach towns continue. This coastal road walled on one side by a steep mountain that extends higher then visible from a car window, and leaves you wishing for more ground on the other side with a steep drop to the crashing waves of the ocean below. The road eventually parts with the seaside, and begins to wind through the mountains, giving way to green pastures and vineyards. Wine country is all around us. Vineyard after vineyard with wine tasting and tours at every corner.
Its now just shy of a month in city and already it feels like home. We have spent everyday exploring a new area, and then going back for seconds or thirds. There are surprises everyday, and we have been left trying to figure out which aspect of our personality to call on to fit with an area to live in next month. It will be a difficult choice, but I am certain there can be no wrong answer. Today George started his new job, as a real estate agent. We have been joined at the hip for nearly a month straight, living in a small square box, and exploring in a small hatchback. Watching him walk out the door today, I was torn; happy that our new beginning is really starting now, and a little sad that I won’t have anyone to high-five today. Change is good. In fact if this adventure has taught me anything its that sometimes a little crazy is good- for we have been rewarded on every step of our journey this far, and I know that the good luck will continue through 2015 and beyond.