Thursday, December 23, 2004

The Road to Stilbaai

Stilbaai, also known as Still Bay, is a little seaside hamlet on the Garden Route, about 200 miles northeast of Cape Town. This picturesque little town with its collection of vacation homes, rondawels[1], and thatch roof cottages, is located at the estuary where the Goukou River and the Indian Ocean meets. To get there you have to veer off the N2 between Riversdale and Mosselbaai, and head east for approximately 16 miles.

The first time I ever visited Stilbaai I was hitchhiking and got dropped off at this intersection. As it goes with the young and the overoptimistic, I had no idea how close I was to my destination. The last time I looked at a map was the day before I left, and I was sure I was only a stone’s throw away from my family - some of which I have not seen for over a year.

It was just after midnight and there was a new moon. Riding high on confidence, and with the stars to guide me, I decided to head for the coast. I could hitch a ride while walking, rather than hang out at the crossroads.

Two hours of brisk walking ensued, and slowly my spirit was starting to turn. Only two cars had passed me by since the start of my journey, and rather than being of nice Christian disposition they seemed to speed up when they saw me. It was the end of the hippie era, and looking like one of the twelve apostles might not have worked in my favor.

Another two hours passed and I realized that I was done for - I was going to walk the whole way. By now, four cars have passed me by; I could almost set my clock to them. Little things started to bother, my shoes were chafing, my jeans kept on slipping, and I had a sore knee - from tripping over, what could only have been, the white line in the road.

I was thirsty. Twice the road passed within shooting distance of a windmill, but since I could only see the eyes of the livestock and not the actual beasts themselves, my nerves insisted that I stick to the road.

Later I could discern the first glimmer of light. Now the traffic also started waking up, although mercy and sympathy were still out cold. The lone wanderer was left to his thoughts, and was fast losing faith in basic humanity.

With increasing visibility came another problem. I needed to let nature take its course. But here the road was boxed in between cliffs, and with cars buzzing by every few minutes there was no place to go. Perhaps if I could make the bridge I saw in the distance, I could duck underneath. But when I got there, folks were fishing off the side.

Around seven, I reached the outskirts of town. On a desperate gallop and with moments to spare I made it to an outhouse at the back of a derelict building. I must have spent a good thirty minutes recouping, and finally regained enough composure to venture out on the last leg of the journey – to the telephone booth across the road.

After taking a day or so to recover from my all-night ordeal, I realized that I had been mistaken. The world was good after all! Between friends and family, and with plenty of braaivleis[2], boerewors[3], and potjiekos[4] the days were full of lazy fun and joy.

I was happy and content.

Jan Tik
[1] A circular building, architecturally related to the African hut, consisting of brick or clay walls, and often with a thatch roof.

[2] Barbecued lamb chops.

[3] A kind of South African sausage made from roughly equal amounts of beef, lamb, and pork, and laden with roasted coriander and other spices. The best varieties replace the approximately 10% of fat content with the tail fat from a lamb.

[4] A three-legged African pot containing a mixture of fresh food over an open fire.

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