You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me." - C.S. Lewis.
It was my first time renting a car. Paying for 10 days rental, the day before being in the same country as my new ride, was intimidating. When my mate told me that it would be much cheaper to prebook, the thought of saving money helped me type my card details into a web page, never knowing how fine the fine print might be. I was sure I'd heard of Hertz before so off went my card's CVV code. I landed at Cape Town International Airport feeling confident. I had a spring in my step, keeping pace with the business men coming home after a day of meetings in Joburg. The only difference was that I wasn't wearing leather shoes, but they all know slops are more comfy
I got to the Hertz counter, not knowing quite what the desk girl would need. There I was, I gave the chick slouching behind the counter my Passport, ID book, drivers license and the piece of boarding pass that air hostesses try to read your name off while smiling at you professionally. I smile, trying to look confident, hoping that I didn't give my credit card details to some 13 year old hacker the day before. All the lady asks for is my surname and I slip my ID contents from her counter sheepishly. She types away on her keyboard, quickly and fluently as only a girl behind a counter can, as I look on in amazement telling myself I too will dedicate myself to typing with all four fingers. She then makes me sign a Latin hieroglyphics contract that could possibly mean they are entitled to experiment on any children that I have in the future.
Starting off to my new VW Polo, thinking perhaps I need to wear a golf shirt while driving it and have a short blond comb over to fit in with the cool cat Polo drivers of Cape Town. I arrive at bay 82 but I don't see a Polo? I look around, press the key that's in my hand and a Toyota Etios Cross blinks at me. (Scratch of the head). I'm about to drag my luggage the 300m back to the office, when I realize that an Etios Cross has about 5cm more ground clearance then a Polo. That's when it transformed, in my minds eye, into a 4x4, dirt road eating, road tripping machine... even though the boot could only hold my check in bag
My sister messaged me while I was in the air, saying that she was jumping on a flight from Durban and that I should wait for her at the airport. I bounced into my new beast with excitement, hitting my head on the door frame while squeezing in and adjusting the seating to a normal human length, thinking of the tiny granny that was probably in here before me. In my new surrounding, feeling like the captain of a jet plane, I started to fiddle around, making myself familiar with the surroundings of my new toy. As one does, started to look into all the little compartments, secretly dreaming of finding something that the last occupant may have left in their hasty getaway for their departing flight. I tested the lights and gave the engine a run. The thing with these new cars, I thought, is that they are so quiet that half the time you don't quite know when you have stalled the thing. You have to pull away from a stop street hoping that she still purrs, while for some reason squinting your eyes and lifting your shoulders
After collecting my sister, still feeling a bit laden after eating myself into a food coma at Spur, we left for Hannah's place. It took me a couple of stop streets, indicating with my windscreen wipers, and I was settled into my cockpit.
The car...Young Etios (as I never called her) drove so straight and smoothly that I kept taking my hands of the wheel in amazement... wondering why a bakkie doesn't do that!
We hung at H's place for a few days while I went to my visa appointments (UK and Saudi Arabia), one in each RSA passport that I have. With both passports with the embassies I was now confined to the boarders of South Africa for the first time in a year. Relieved by the impossibility of being drafted off to some distant land, we were both incredibly happy with the idea of not having to worry about me getting a flight itinerary in the mail and interrupting our dinner dates for at least a week. I still had "Young Etios" on the leash and she was wanting to be set free of the city... free like so many of us want to be, unshackled from 'normal', unshackled from the same parking bay, day after day, the same stretches of congested road... free to go and feel alive, feel worth, feel insignificant...
But ask the beasts, and they will teach you; and the birds of the air and they will tell you, or speak to the earth, and it will teach you: and the fishes of the sea will declare to you, who doesn't realize in all these, that the hand of the Lord has made this? - Job
As all good stories start, the storm of the decade was brewing, and we were looking at Google Maps for routes. We all wanted to go up the West Coast and due to the predicted storm, it was likely to snow inland. On the way back "home" (I have been at Hannah's house more times this year than mine...work...roll of the eyes) we would cut inland, in the hopes of making a snow angel, have a snowball fight and drink hot chocolate with marshmallows while in mittens, or whatever you do in the snow, (I'm from KZN). Up until now, Young Etios, who ran on nuclear power while driving in town as she didn't use any fuel, only had 4000km on the clock. So new, there were still the clear stickers on some of the dials, the kind you get on your new phone or watch, the ones you keep on for the first few days, not wanting your new watch to get scratched. When I dropped her off Young Etios had done over a 1000 km more. Luckily I had selected free unlimited miles or my bank account would be lower than my so called 4x4's clearance.
We headed out of the city and onto the beautiful, straight, empty roads that run up the West Coast. Most of these are perfect tar roads. And I kept piping up, thinking I was a Top Gear presenter, stating how well engineered the roads were and how pleasant they were to drive
he enjoyment of the drive was also due to having my girlfriend's legs on my lap and my sister rapping to us about her latest flavour of the month.
There is something strangely wonderful in a straight open road and in the freedom and relaxation of not having to check your mirrors and blind spots every 3 seconds. There is also great pleasure in the ability to maintain some eye contact during the conversation and being able to appreciate the way the passing scenery occupies the mind and keeps it from becoming bored, like a baby watching a mobile. Up the West Coast there are plenty of little, old forgotten sea towns, and the mind is never short of beauty to behold. Each one has something unique to offer and there are countless farmstalls to give you a taste of the land as well.
I must say, being in the car with two girls was great, firstly because I never went hungry and secondly I had no chance of falling asleep at the wheel. The female specimen is amazingly capable of keeping a conversation going for long periods of time and this was where it was most useful. The girls kept me entertained for hours. My favorite was teaching Em the basics of manual photography, and the two famous people games that we play while driving.
The giant swell that we had seen hitting Capetown wasn't really doing much up the West Coast. Being my first time up there, I was expecting to see Eland's bay heaving with giant waves, but due to the direction that the cold front had hit the continent, it didn't create much excitement. Having seen the stretch of coastline that was on our list, we started inland.
Setting up Google Maps for small Afrikaans towns that the lady on Google Maps pronounce in her American accent worse than I did made me laugh every time. The temperature was dropping and the sun was starting to hide more and more behind the grey cotton wool that we hoped would produce snow. I still have the comical image of my sister hanging out the window holding my dive watch on temperature mode hoping the degrees Celsius would go into single digits.
Our first night inland was in the Cederberg Nature Reserve. On arrival, pulling out half a pine tree that young Etios had managed to get stuck in her undercarriage after only 100 meters of gravel and grass track to the cottage, we unpacked. We had a quick hike, short but as most hikes in the mountains end, with a great view. Back at the cottage I got my alpha male on and made a fire, that wonderful bushman TV that engages all 5 senses in a hypnotic state. I was in my element, forced to make fire, to survive while in the icy house, that is a childhood dream right there.
I secretly hoped that it would continue to rain outside so that Young Etios could wash off all the gravel road that stuck to her coat, after my antics of trying to drift "the rental". In the back of my mind the Hertz lady was saying something under her breath about valet cleaning services charges...
The next morning we went further south towards Ceres and hopefully to where the snow lay not just on the mountain tops. Now it rained hard for about 4 hours while driving Young Etios was shining after that al natural shower.
We came over one pass not being able to see more that 100 meters around, the following day we realized that if we could have seen, there would have been snow very close to us. The next morning we could see snow on some of the peaks and now we had to get there. It was the climax of the trip, we had to find snow and Young Etios had to get us there and prove herself as a true rental, able to get to places no car owner would ever take his car that he has paid for with his own, hard earned money.
The Cederberg mountains were beautiful and being able to blame the lack of communication on the nonexistence of cell signal was quite wonderful. We were tucked away in an old farm cottage for our 3rd night. Nestled between two peaks. The rock formations of these mountains are spectacular, rock slabs balanced one on top of the other with perfect precision
Ceres was where we ended up finding the snow and although Young Etios thought she was the worlds best 4x4, in actual fact she wasn't even pulling with 2 legs, our best combined efforts to actually reach said snow was courageous to say the least. With great enthusiasm we hit the farm roads, the now muddy, wet gravel, at one time getting lost in what I think was a peach orchard. All these roads led to the base of a snow capped mountain. We were soon seeing more cars all heading in the same direction. At the base was a farm house with loads of muddy cars parked outside and people in ugg boots. Feeling confident and not wanting to muddy my slops, we proceeded, singing Bon Jovi's "Living on a Prayer", confident in my Mozambican sand driving skills and the youthful vigor of Young Etios to get us to the snow. That's when we started to notice the size of the other cabs on the track. Then came a river, that was easy... then came the 4x4 sign, and a fairly treacherous single 4x4 mountain track wound up vertically ahead. Thats when I knew that we had to turn back, not due to and lack of skill or mechanical will power, but due to a the single track. With 40 cars in front of us and 30 behind us, if we did get stuck higher up the mountain there would be no way of turning around due to the following line of 4x4s in an ant trail behind us trailing up the mountain.
Turning around was no easy task as there were about 30 cars lined up behind us on the one way track...we had to take control. H and Em made their way back down the mountain on foot to try and stop the next round of 4x4's driven by Afrikaans farmers. Thankfully and as I secretly expected, the Afrikaans farmers were delighted to be pulled over by two beautiful girls in tights. I felt a bit hard done by, having to do the drive of shame back passed the 4x4s, as though we had failed.
Back on the tar roads I was driving through every water puddle trying to wash off all the mud that Young Etios had been rolling in.
When we arrived back at H's place and had unpacked, it rained heavily, thankfully.
Moving the car the next day, to collect my passports, left an orange outline of mud the same shape as Young Etios on the pavement.
After a horrible goodbye to my two favorites, H & Em, I was off to give Young Etios back while on the way hoping that the fuel bar would stay on full so that I wouldn't have to top her up... it did.
I dropped her off, hung around with the Hertz guy and his little checklist book as he examined Young Etios, hoping he wouldn't look at the mud dripping from the undercarriage. I ask if everything was in order and went to the check out counter.
It's now 2 week later and I am still waiting for my R9000 deposit to be lifted. I have been charged with 2 or 3 extra R200 bills...
Trying to decipher the Latin hieroglyphics in the receipts, who knows, I guess they looked under the car and found half of the West Coast's sand dunes down there, and I think Young Etious must have gulped a mouthful of fuel in the parking lot to get me back for turning around on the 4x4 track.
Valet cleaning and fuel top up I guess.
ALWAYS TAKE YOUR MAGNIFYING GLASS WITH YOU... fine print...