Updated: Aug 10
The last days in Prince Albert, we spent with Neuron who came to visit us. Early Friday morning, we said goodbye to the Dutchman, to Neuron who was returning to Cape Town and to a few other townspeople, bought warm woollen socks - and drove off.
I felt a bit like the character of a Western. We are the wealthy young couple who came to a poor town, spent money in it and connected with the locals, then left with a moaning engine, as the women of the town wave their handkerchiefs, and the children run after the accelerating vehicle which disappears into the horizon. Of course, it wasn't even close to reality, but I let my imagination go wild.
We travelled northeast for eight hours, listening to the audiobook Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela, who incidentally mentions many of the villages we travelled through. We made a few stops to look at the scenery or look for meteorites. Eventually, we left the Western Cape behind us. We stayed overnight at a small town called Dordrecht in the Eastern Cape, which lies among the Stormberg Mountains. We got there at night and slept in a small hotel. It was cold that night, and the air conditioning didn't heat the room, although it kindly provided us with an annoying noise that accompanied our dreams throughout the night. At least we had warm woollen socks.
We left early the next morning, bought coffee on the way and continued North. We stopped at a town called Elliot to gather strength and have the best coffee and breakfast we'd had in a while. We passed through small, colourful hamlets of Xhosa people, where T told me the fascinating story of his grandfather. He spent his early medical years in a village named Sulenkama not far from there, which he claimed was the happiest time of his life. From the quick glance at the area, I could see why. As an urban girl, I was enchanted by the simplicity of their day. T wanted dearly to visit this small outpost in the middle of nowhere and walk in his grandfather's footsteps. The will was strong, but our city car was not. Besides, we needed to get to the mountains before dark.
About an hour before sunset, the Drakensberg began to appear from a distance. Layers upon layers of rocks, soil and greenery, textures that changed with each movement of ours and the sun. Their great height inspired awe. We approached them, thrilled. These mountains are more beautiful than I could've ever imagined.
The landlord greeted us—a pleasant-mannered man with sexist and racist remarks and mannerisms that made us feel uncomfortable. Let's call him Whitie, I don't think he'd mind. He introduced us to the cleaner as her new Boss and Madam, and we wanted to bury ourselves. She could've been our mother.
However, with great pride, he described how his son was President Mandela's private pilot. I guess the boundaries between black and white blur as you get closer to the president's house.
The cottage is large and bright, with huge windows, clean and tidy almost as if it belonged to a Nazi. (Oops, sorry). But in the morning, our feelings had changed.
We waited impatiently to leave Prince Albert. We really liked the town, but the Dutchman's house was less comfortable, cold and had a fireplace that smoked the whole place out and smothered us. Whitie's house is much more pleasant and warm, with a much better fireplace and incredible sunrises from the bedroom window. Yet the heavy sensation in the stomach didn't leave us. From the moment we arrived, we didn't stop fretting over moving in, shopping and sorting out things, while keeping up with our work commitments. We didn't have a minute to breathe. But I guess the main reason was deeper. It's as if we finely realised that we were entirely alone, in the middle of nowhere, far from anyone we know in an infected world. All we have is a fragile internet connection, expired health insurance and each other.
After all this time and with everything we've been through, we conceded that we're not the bravest of adventurers. As hard as it is to admit, I think we need time to adjust. In some places, more than others.
Thank goodness we have warm woollen socks.