Friday, December 27, 2030

#5: Between Grafwater and Clanwilliam

Brian dropped me some way beyond Graafwater, I'm not sure how far from Clanwilliam. We said goodbye while he readied to tip his load of stone. He'd offered to take me all the way to Clanwilliam and the N7 but I said no thanks, because at that stage I wanted to walk again, breathe and be free.  I was beginning to discover that hitching like this can be pretty tiring, constantly making mental notes during the conversation, trying to see.  So I was glad to be off on my own, and I started what ended up being a long walk.  
The country around Clanwilliam is famous for its Rooibos, a local herbal bush used as a popular tea.  I saw these now, rows of them in the veld, odd as the bushes are natural and hardy, like fynbos, and don't seem to belong in rows.  The walk was full of idle thinking.  I had a tune in my head, Megadeth's The Killing Road, and I kept air-guitaring it over and over as I strolled.  The weather at that point was dark and broody, certainly threatening rain, and in the distance I saw lighting flash on the plains.  I passed workers in the fields with trucks and wagons and they all waved and shouted and I waved and shouted back, behind an endless backdrop of bruised sky and rolling, open veld, flat topped kopjes and finally mountain and escarpment.  
I reached another stop 'n go and kept going, past the trucks, sedans and suburban 4 x 4's, happy to stroll and play my endless tune, leaving those guys behind. 
This place was full of bitumen, raw tar, the steaming smell of it everywhere, melted, rain threatening. I heard a loud engine whine behind me, louder because of the silence of the empty road, and turned to see a steam-roller churning up the hill, much faster than I thought was possible.  The driver was a man in overalls, a crumpled hat and a big, white smile.  He slowed next to me and I started to run, first trying to unhitch my backpack and throw it on, then realising my best bet was just to grab hold and pull.  I did and I found myself balancing on a thin platform next to him with my pack leaning out over the rushing tar, wanting to  pull me in. 
'Clanwilliam?!'  He shouts, sparkling eyes, a pipe in his breast pocket, around fifty years of age, the engine's screaming all the sound in the world.
'Yes! Namibia!'
'Eersterivier!' he shouts, pointing at his own chest.  
'Vredenburg!' I shout back. 
He's with the company too, also staying at Graafwater, one of Brian's men but he's much lower down.  A lord among labourers because he can drive the steam-roller, but nowhere near the status of a lorry priest, with his direct line to the heavens, and the bosses.  His name is Samson.  He drops me in the same way he found me, I just jump off. 


An hour later I'm standing in front of a sign that reads 'Cape to Namibia Route, N7' and an arrow pointing left.  This is it.  I can feel it, this is tangible.  Above me is the mighty highway upon which commerce and industry roars, night and day, running growth, production and economy up into the hot lands, the sour lands, the delta's and the jungles of Africa.  It's on this mighty road river that men travel, owl-eyed and huge with the power their machines wield, with their solitude and their long, long thinking while the kilometres roll by.  This is the artery of the right hand of Africa, bringing rich blood thudding upwards to her heart.  
I scramble along a worn footbath beside a deep, rocky gully, a beautiful sandy cave dwelling that on another day would be excellent for camping, and finally step over the knee-high barrier onto the N7 herself.  I drop my bag, tired after the two hour hike, and take a seat, collecting my barings for a moment. 
The road roars.  Massive long-haul carriers crush the air as they pass, sucking it right away in their howling slipstream, rocking me back and forth.  I see a little guy walking towards me, along this big road going somewhere.  He's about sixteen, barefoot, torn shirt and shorts.  We talk and he's alive, full of the energy of the road, the twilight, the limitless travel all around.  
'Where you going?'
'Klawer.  Where you going?'
I give him an apple as he walks away, freer than me, not even a bag with him, no piece of fear.  I stand and stick my hand out, once again, and try for the right expression.  It's dusk, so there's a bit of serious on the face, a tinge of worry because it feels dangerous. Sunset on the open road is the witching hour, a time when the eyes play tricks, when some have set their lights and others have not, and a hare or a buck or a flitting shadow could come darting into the crunching traffic, causing ripped steel and cart-wheeling, end over end crashes and death.  And so I stand, willing sanctuary, and I watch as mighty truck after mighty truck comes thundering down, as the sun sets on the first day of the hike.  

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