Sunday, December 29, 2030

#2: The Vredenburg turnoff to Veldriff.

A white, double cab Nissan Bakkie stopped just as soon as I started.  That felt good, charmed. I did my same back door front door trick and when I got in saw that this man was older, perhaps in his late sixties, wearing shorts.  We sped off and I began the preliminaries.
'Hoe gaan dit vandag?' – ‘How’s it going today?’
'Ag, redelik.' – ‘Oh, alright.’
He had that grizzled, hard, heavy look.  An Afrikaner I thought, because Afrikaner's generally seem heavier.  But there was something more.  He was shaky in some way, uncertain.  A timid Afrikaner?  It was doubtful, but possible.  He wore steel rimmed spectacles and a hearing aid nestled behind his large, old man's ear. As I watched him I thought perhaps a touch of Parkinsons, a tremor in the hand and sort of a light stutter when speaking.  I tried to relax.  I remembered I had once hitched a lift with a man with Narcolepsy, who told me so while he was driving, saying that he tended to fall asleep around strangers. I had watched as his stranger's foot juddered against the pedal.  I saw that this guy had a glass ashtray stuck to his dash-board, just right of the wheel.
'I like your ashtray,' I said.  
'I keep it there so when I'm filling up I can just throw it in the bin,' he replied, giving me a shy smile as he mimed the throwing of the butts, 'that's why the car doesn't stink.'
I sniffed and thought that although there was a tinge of smoke, it could be much worse.  I noticed that some money had fallen out of my pocket and tried to pick it up, but it fell into a slot around the handbrake.  
I asked him if he'd ever leave South Africa.
'Why not?'
'I'm very happy here.  We have retired here to Veldriff, and this is a wonderful town.  There is so much, more than enough to do to keep you busy.  I'm a member of the boating club, I've got a boat at the marina, and I'm a member of the yachting club, and the fishing and the bowls.  My wife and I have a social calendar that is full to the brim.  But if I wanted I could take it easy too.'
He was warming up just a little now, but still the hesitancy and the tremor were there, the touch of something.
'Another great thing about the town is there are no vagrants.' 
He pointed around outside the cab and I looked.  What I saw was the dry of the west coast bush, the smallness of its little white buildings, their modesty and the flat acres of the open country spreading down to meet with the open sea, and further, the open sky.
'You see it?'
'I don't know.'
'There's no industry.  There's no jobs here.  So no one comes here.  We are a quiet community.'
He was right, it was the outsiders here that had money.  Locals lived as their parents had, only their clothes were different, and their cellphones. 
'Ek wil n boek oor Hitchhiking skryf, oor... die...' – ‘I want to write a book on hitchhiking, about… the…’   
I struggled. I started using my hands a lot, I caved in and used English words like 'psyche' and 'country.'  
He watched me, nodded, then said, 'I get you.'  He said it in English.
Right then realisation dawned.  He didn't have Parkinsons, he was English speaking, struggling to speak Afrikaans.  
'I love the west coast,' he said, 'it’s better than the garden route.  In the garden route everything is there for you.  You don't have to look for it.  It’s right there.  Beautiful.  The rain forest, the lagoon, which is great, but it’s not like here.  Here the land is more essential.  I prefer the ecology here.  These plants,' he sent a hand out and across the empty ashtray, 'have to survive.'
'I think I know what you mean,' I said. 'For me the west coast is special because it grows on you.  It’s not pretty when you first look at it. It takes time.'
As we crossed the bridge into Veldriff, over the widening mouth of the Berg River, he gave me some advice.
'You can take the R–399, that goes from in town, just ahead here...', he said, '...which will take you straight to Piketberg.  Or, there's the coast road that goes all the way up.  Dwarskersbos, Elands Bay, Lamberts Bay, then Clanwilliam.'
'What should I take?'
He shrugged.
'Straight to Piketberg there's a lot more traffic.  You should probably take that.'
'In my mind I had it that I would go up the coast as much as possible,' I say, 'so I'd rather take the coast road.'
'There won't be a lot of traffic, that I can promise you.'
'I don't mind.  I don't have a time limit.'
He nodded and drove.  He was a lanky man, thinner and longer than the first.
'Don’t tell anyone about Veldrift,' he said as he dropped me off, right on the coast road that I was to take, 'we don't want all sorts of people coming here.' 
I laughed then looked for the money I'd dropped in the beginning.  He watched me, wondering what I was doing, rooting in the slots between the seats, moving his hanky aside and seeing his lighter and a spare. 
'I dropped this two rand when I got in,' I said, holding it up. He nodded and I made sure that there was no lie in me.  To end our time with me stealing little bits of change would be, well ... odd. 
I walked away, off into the heat.  I looked around at the west coast.  There was no deep green out there, nothing lush. It wasn't pretty.  Nothing undulated, everything was crooked, cracked. An essential place.   I walked hard, happy to sweat.  The heat reminded me that I was free of every humdrum thing. 

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