No matter how many times you travel the same road within your lifetime, although it appears to be that same dull road with the same dull scenery, it is always different. The people that occupy the sidewalks are different to yesterday’s sidewalk dwellers, the afternoon sun that streams through the trees and cause momentary blindness is different to the way that the sun hit the trees the afternoon before, the mood that you are in today is different from yesterday & although you could probably drive that road in your sleep, which is not advised, each time that you travel it, it’s different. Unique. If you open your eyes that little bit wider, you’ll see it differently too.
I have my parents to thank for instilling a thirsty adventurous spirit within me and of course through a lucky childhood of local travelling, they have enabled me to see the immense beauty that often goes unnoticed by many whether it be within my own house, city or country. My favourite family holidays & memories are not the ones where we were fortunate enough to travel overseas, but rather the ones where my parents would put my brother & I to bed early the night before we left on a road trip, falling asleep whispering to each other about the up and coming holiday and making our very important plans, which for my brother involved which one of his slingshots would have the longest shooting range and for me, it involved which clothes my doll would look the best in.
With this overwhelming sense of excitement for the trip ahead bursting out from our little tummies, we would fall asleep patiently waiting to be woken up early the following morning and carried into the car by my parents where we would continue our snooze tucked up beneath our fluffy blankets whilst the familiar humming of the car engine became our favourite sleeping remedy. As the sun started to rise and kiss our little faces awake, we would wake up to the new day a few hours away from home often surrounded by snow-capped mountains only just beginning our trip to wherever we were going. I love that road.
For my entire life, no matter how near or far away our destination was, my dad would make a flask full of coffee and tea and stop anywhere remotely scenic on the side of the road to drink it in about three large gulps, often letting out loud sighs of relief and constant reminders as to how good his tea tasted while we all froze in the car with all the doors and windows wide open. He used to, and in fact still does, take in these huge breaths of air as soon as we were away from city pollution and then let it out slowly, encouraging us to do the same. More than that, he would instruct my brother and I to follow suit and smell the air around us whilst describing in detail how he could identify the smell of the vegetation, the mountains, and the Earth. Through the constant remarks along the lines of ‘Look outside guys, it’s absolutely stunning.’ made by my Mum sitting perched in the passenger seat. Each and every time we travelled that same road, the same routine took place and it was through this that they unintentionally and thankfully instilled within my brother & I to always look at life with fresh and eager eyes, to always take a moment to reflect on how beautiful and big nature is, and to refresh our thoughts and memories. It is due to them that I quietly internalise my surroundings when in nature and when I look across to my brother, I know that he is doing the same.
So when my significant other, Ben, suggested that I join him on his little road trip up to Johannesburg to get his new baby, Pumba the Land Rover Defender kitted out by one of the leading 4×4 companies, Front Runner, I was keen. Super keen! After finishing exams the previous day, we celebrated a little too hard the night before as the act of trying to stand up for a long time the next day was a little too much to ask, let alone the thought of driving for 1400km. But before we knew it, we were on the road. Although we left a little too late we had committed, under packed and under hydrated as we started our journey along the not so scenic drive up the N1. We drove along that same road that I remember vividly as a child and once again, it was just as beautiful as I remembered, even in my punishing and self-induced state. After pushing on through the night past endless amounts of trucks, lightening, road works, heavy rain and Ben’s horrid selection of rap music, we finally made it to Johannesburg in one piece and were warmly welcomed into the Front Runner family. We were treated to an awesome dinner where the conversation circled around travelling across Africa, how to rebuild Land Rovers and picking the brain of one of the most well-travelled humans I have ever met, who also happens to be the brains behind Front Runner, Stan. You see, when you meet a person who knows so much about travelling within their own country and continent that they build their own navigation application (Tracks4Africa) as well as a series of only twelve 4×4’s within the world that are capable of almost anything (named the Entdecker, google it), you follow their travel advice when it is given. And that we did. And rewarded we were.
From Johannesburg Ben and I headed towards the mighty Drakensberg, a mountain range so beautiful and green (season depending) that at times it was almost hard to take it all in. We were far away from civilisation, cell phone reception and air pollution that the stars shone so bright at night that it felt like we were looking up at a painted canvas. Our route followed the eastern side of the border of Lesotho, winding through dirt roads and mountain passes taking us to places of epic proportions that I never even knew existed and submerged us amongst the scattered rural villages that oozed with happiness, simplicity and friendly faces that made me question how so often, those with the most are often the unhappiest. For these people their lives are simple, uncomplicated and although lacking infrastructure and commodities deemed of utmost importance within our modern world, they were completely self-sustainable with the little that they had whilst being situated in some of the most beautiful settings within South Africa and were home to some of the happiest and most genuine smiles I have ever seen, a rare find amongst city-dwellers.
Our diet for dinner largely constituted of cous-cous and buttery sweet potatoes done on the fire at night and for breakfast we lived off hard boiled eggs and plunger coffee, which thanks to Ben was high up on our shopping list, a saviour to start the day even better than before. In many of the campsites we were the only campers around for miles surrounded by breath-taking scenery and paying next to nothing for the night. On one glorious morning, I sleepily unzipped the tent to receive a welcoming cup of coffee coming from the sizzling gas burner and boyfriend down below, to instead find a herd of zebra stumbling and grazing through our campsite keeping a watchful eye on us whilst scratching their bums on the laundry line. Side-note: No, this does not mean that in South Africa we have herds of zebra freely roaming around, it simply means that we were camping inside of a nature reserve which happened to be home to a herd of friendly zebra, buck and amazing birdlife.
From the Drakensburg, we drove a day towards the coastline, down through the amazing Transkei towards our final destination, Storms River Nature Reserve. In one day we had left the hills and mountains behind to find ourselves sleeping next to the crashing waves and the calls of eagles had been replaced by the all too familiar squawking sea gulls. We loved this place so much that we extended our trip and delayed coming home, an easy decision after having dense forested woodlands and waterfalls on one side of our campsite and the ocean a mere 100m on our other side.
This trip made my eyes that much wider and my heart that much bigger, learning more about myself and my relationship whilst strengthening both. During the never-ending drives, I would often drift deep into my own thoughts of our childhood trips to these places and how they have changed since. Although I had traveled many of these roads for the first time, I am already so excited to travel them again and see the things that I missed the first time around. I cannot wait to breathe in the fresh unpolluted air and look up into the night sky so dotted with stars that the blackness is consumed by twinkling lights. I’m excited to put our phones down for a while and put everything on hold, commitments, decisions, work and worries and be transported into the bigger picture of life where we are but tiny stars in a big black world, all trying to shine as brightly as we can. It took me this trip to fully realise the extent to which my parents and family played such a large role in shaping who I am today and for giving me the opportunities to let me fall in love with my own country from a little girl/tomboy, and I thank you for this invaluable piece of myself. To Ben, there was no one else that I would rather experience this with, we learnt a lot about ourselves, each other and life, we laughed a lot and grew a lot. And of course thank you for fully sponsoring me on this trip, I hope that one day I will be able to repay you in epic road trips, all expenses covered 😉
Lastly, a very special thanks to Front Runner and Stan for showing me more of my own country and for giving us a never forgotten first road trip in pure camping style. Without you this trip would not have been possible. Hopefully we can one day navigate those roads without a map! And for everyone reading this, I hope that the next time that you travel along that same road that you always travel, you will look at it with wider eyes and be inspired. Because that although that road is the same, it’s different!
To follow our adventures on YouTube, go check out Ben’s daily vlogs of what we got up to here.