I was born and raised in Worcester, in the Western Cape of South Africa. But I spent most school holidays in Namaqualand – my ancestral grounds, where once upon a time my grandfather farmed at the foot of Spektakelberg pass, and where some of my cousins still harvest dates from the huge palms on the farm each year. After grandpa died, my grandma lived in Springbok most of her life, and it is at the house where she lived next to “Die Geel Winkel” (“The yellow shop”), where I built childhood memories that last a lifetime. Namaqualand is known for its large rocky hills, and I loved hopping from one large rock to another, carefully eyeing out the blue headed lizards, as I am sure they were eyeing me out as well, and of course, at my slightest move they would disappear.
The town’s central kid’s play park, built around such a “koppie” (little hill), was conveniently situated just across the road from grandma’s house, and each holiday, as soon as I got there, I would seek out some kids my age as playmates and then basically only see granny at meal times. The peripheral fence was lined with pepper trees, and these small red pepper corns were chewed as if they were sweeties by all of us. I also got the princely sum of 20c from my grandma every day, which in those days could buy me a small glass bottle of Coca-Cola, as well as a delicious slab of chocolate eclair. I am surprised that I still have all my own teeth! What with the eroding effect of Coca-Cola and the chewy, teeth-breaking, sticky eclair every day!
I got to love finding beautiful stones of all colours, shapes and sizes amongst the rocks, and still have some of these treasures I picked up then, more than 40 years later.
Ouma lived in a rambling old home – I remember the kitchen in particular being a very dark, window-less room. But the warmth of Ouma’s lap, her love and “regte boere-kos” (real farm-fare), could light up even the darkest corner to my receiving little heart in those days. Traditional fare would include goat meat cooked in water until it was really pieces of very fatty meat and potato, devoid of colour, drifting in a watery brine, served with sour-dough bread and butter made from goats milk. My ex-husband used to curse me years later when we visited my aunt, and the smells greeted him long before we entered the house. As a city slicker, this was one too many for his palate! To me of course, this was angel’s food.
And so it came that at age 9, when my winter holiday with ouma was due, and no lift to be found to Springbok, my mother booked me onto a “luxury bus” for the trip. The whole family, including my sister 10 years my senior, came to see me off early evening from Cape Town station.
Amongst the “going-away’ gifts was a large shopping bag full of a variety of sweets and crisps, enough to last me for the whole holiday. I was scared, that I do remember, but the only other thing I do remember of the actual trip, was that I almost got left behind when we stopped for a toilet break and I allowed all the older ladies to get in the queue before me. When I got out of the loo, the bus had already started to edge forward and I had to dash to get back on!
I arrived in Springbok, outside the local hotel, in the dark at 6 am the next morning, expecting my uncle Izak, to be there, waiting for me. That was what my mother had arranged with ouma. Only problem was, all the other people who got off the bus with me, were long gone, and there I was still standing with my little suitcase and one heavy bag of sweets, no bearings as to where my gran’s house was, no cellphones in those days, too shy to ask at the hotel, and close to tears. A scared little 9 year old. I eventually plucked up the courage to start walking, thinking that in the first light of day I may find my way. I stumbled along for a while, trying to carry suitcase and sweets bag, but soon realised that something had to go. And I then emptied the contents of the sweets bag, right there in the street, crying at the loss of all the yummie goodies going to waste. Wearily I shuffled along, noticing house-lights going on around me as people started to wake up. Luckily a good samaritan, on his way to work, stopped and escorted me to grandma’s house. He did not see me to the door, but left me standing in front of the house. I knocked to no avail, and then walked around to the back door, where, in the dim morning light in the dark kitchen, ouma was sitting drinking her first cup of coffee for the day. She nearly fainted of fright when she saw me, and asked where Izak was. By now I was crying uncontrollably from sheer relief to see her, that I could barely explain the story. She rushed down the passage to his room, where lo and behold, she found him still snoring away in bed! His story afterwards was that his alarm clock did go off, but that he turned it off, turned over onto his side and that was the last he remembered. I never quite forgave him.
So it came to me booking a one-way trip down to Cape Town, after more than 40 years as well, on one of the local bus services, The GreyHound. Filled with trepidation and worry that it would be cramped, perhaps dirty, uncomfortable and a long journey, I had little hope when it came to boarding time on Sunday night. On top of it, the bus ran a few minutes behind schedule. Kobus and I sat in the dark main street of our little town, with my mind telling me I was in for a rough ride, until the bus pulled up behind us. I was the only passenger to embark, and after the bus-driver loaded my big suitcases in at the holding compartment, Kobus helped me to get on and to my seat.
To say I was pleasantly surprised, would be an understatement. The bus looked like some posh nightclub, with mirrored ceilings and fancy lighting! The seats were large and super comfy, with a decent recline and foot rest which made for a great night’s sleep. For the not-so-tired, there was a constant stream of movies on a big screen in front of the coach, until midnight, and then all lights were switched off to aid all to sleep. Next morning dawned after a smooth ride and coffee and biscuits were served by a cheerful hostess. Although the bus stopped for pick-ups or drop-offs in all the small towns, longer breaks to stretch legs and go to the loo, were given at all the larger petrol service stations.
At the very low cost of busing down to Cape Town, this will definitely be my preferred mode of transport in future – a wonderful surprise, and one that locals and tourists alike could use more.
And no, I did no have to wait long for my colleague to collect me, and by the time I got off the bus, I had eaten all the goodies I had packed in my little cooler box the day before, so no disaster ending!
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