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The long way home: A South African journey (part three)

24 May 2023 | Written by By Elsa Browne

The Joy Club member Elsa Browne shares the final days from her South African adventure with us, as she makes her way home…

You can read part one to Elsa’s South African adventures here

Back on the road, with our Family Mix playlist on, we head towards the Eastern Cape and the tar gently rises and falls in a long straight line all the way to the horizon through majestic landscapes and big skies.  

We pass turn-offs to Hobhouse, Wepener, Skaapkraal, Noupoort and cross the Orange River into the Eastern Cape which we mark with a coffee stop in Aliwal North. On the road again, more lyrical names beckon on the signposts as they come and go: Bethulie, Hofmeyr, Nieu-Bethesda, Keisie, Koo and Camdeboo.

I start singing to the tune of the Beach Boys song Kokomo:  

“Bethulie, Bethesda, come on pretty mama, Steynsburg and Schoombee, ooh I wanna be there … “

Then my mind wanders and I recall the South African folk song about “Sixteen Rietfonteins”:

“I am marking my map with South African names …  

For my map must be true when I travel  

To where I come from and not where I go…”  

In Graaff Reinet we find our overnight stop: The Whyte House. Our room is huge and cool and the garden beautiful and we like it so much that we ask to stay for ‘just one more day’ – three times, tired after two days of long stretches on the road. We hardly move due to the extreme heat with temperatures relentlessly in the 30s whilst the local people comment “It’s cooler today”. We flop about in the garden or float in the pool.

At the end of our last day we go to the spectacular and vast Valley of Desolation in the Cambedoo National Park just outside of the town where we look across to  an amazing rock foundation – The Pillars – and we are lucky to see a hundred or more eagles soaring high above and in front of us before they settle in a roost on their stone fortress against the setting sun.

At breakfast as we prepare to leave our host says “You absolutely must go to Meiringspoort” and we wonder what could be so interesting about a place with such an uninspiring name. We stop at De Rust for compulsory coffee and map consultation and we see that Meiringspoort is actually a mountain pass in the Swartberg, the gateway between the Little and the Great Karoo, a stunning road as we later discover, that follows the river that cuts through this canyon from many moons* ago in a geological masterpiece of mountain rock – the Cape Supergroup. (*500 million years). 

The undulating patterns and the colours in the towering rock all around us are staggering. There is no question that a big squeeze took place here when original continents shifted on mysterious plates and shoved and squashed the earth. We feel so very lucky to be here and to experience such beauty.

Back in the car Spotify sings “You never get to stop and open your eyes, one day you’re waiting for the sky to fall, the next you’re dazzled by the beauty of it all…” 

We rest in Prince Albert for the next three days. In this pretty, sleepy Karoo town the most activity I see is someone fixing a bicycle in the street, where the “leiwater” runs. (“Leiwater” is the Dutch or Afrikaans word for water in a small canal). 

I visit a local project where women of all ages make stuff to sell and support themselves and their families and I love that they sit here and chat and laugh and stitch and sew and look after each other. I buy the tea towels and the peg baskets with their names on the labels and a sock monkey and I praise them and they look at me with wide quizzical smiles and I wish I could sit with them for longer. (“Dear Candice Uithaler, the sock monkey you made keeps a little boy in London happy now.”)

Our final stop before Cape Town is classy Montagu full of Dutch gabled buildings and wonderful restaurants. We spend a few precious sunny days in Cape Town walking on the beach and watching the surfers and swimming in the rooibos-tea coloured-by-fynbos waters at Silvermine Reservoir, before ending our holiday with family in Claremont. 

On the plane home, I listen to Bonnie Raitt singing:

“I am an old woman, named after my mother, my old man is another child that’s grown old.” (from Make Me An Angel).

And I feel content.

Do you have an adventure of your own that you’d like to share? Go ahead and send it over via submissions@thejoyclub.com – we may even feature it on our blog!

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