I’m driving solo through one of the most scenic routes in the world.
In the last two hours, there had been no boring bits from my starting point in Cape Town. The constantly changing landscape from wineries, golden farms and magnificent, crusty folded mountains towards desert-like stretches up north have kept me in awe.
Think Lord Of The Rings meets Mad Max. Close to disbelief, I shake my head and smile to myself, singing at the top of my lungs to radio pop ballads, while making waves with a hand out the window of my rented hatchback.
Driving deeper into the mountains, it’s been a while since someone’s passed me. These roads are mine.
Then without speeding, I drive over a hill and screeeeeeechhhhhh.
The whole car jolts, I try correcting the wheel but it zig zags, the car flips twice, I see nothing but flashes of things flying around me, the front mirror busts, I squeeze my eyes shut and have no time to think except for a subconscious “maybe it’s my time…”. A thought I later looked back on thinking that’s quite a calm departure to life.
The car’s deep enough in a ditch for passersby not to notice without careful attention.
The loud music crackles and silences itself, now I hear gas leaking. I know nothing of cars so assume shit, the car is going to explode!
My intuition kicks in. My vision is suddenly razor sharp, though my breath is heavy and fastening. PRIORITISE.
With the car luckily landing on its feet, I push the airbags away from me, unstrap myself and try hard to push the door open as dense shrubbery of the Karoo Desert locks me in.
I quickly throw my carry bag and smashed camera – you need the SD card! – towards the road then hike out of the shrubbery as fast as I can, not giving a damn about the branches scraping me along the way.
Thinking the car is a ticking time-bomb, I grab my gear and bolt down the gravel track for roughly 50 metres. I’m panting. It’s scorching hot. I dig into my bag and pull out my Kathmandu safari hat, pulling the drawstring tight. This means business.
I look back. Oh… no explosion.
So I head back and grab my small suitcase and bruised bananas – these will come in handy if you have to sleep out here tonight!
I found for certain that all that went wrong was a big rock on the slippery gravel road that I couldn’t see while driving over the hill. The car tyres also appeared to be worn out.
I look at my phone, oh great… screen cracked, no reception. And only 4% battery.
Everything’s on me, let’s walk. I decide to force myself into a meditative state to be patient.
Take long, deep breaths… Just breathe… You are strong… You are above your mind and body… You will carry on… Feel the warmth of the breath on your upper lip… Just breathe… Stillness.
What if no one really comes? The sun is about to set! I mentally prepare myself to possibly having to spend the night with wild baboons.
After 20 minutes of breathing dry air, trying relentlessly not to waste my entire water bottle, a miracle happens: a light flickers out in the distance. I stop in my tracks, my heart sinks. Could it be?
The sun reflection appears then dips and disappears through the sloping tracks behind thick shimmering heat. YES! IT’S A CAR!
I drop my belongings, clasp my hands on my chest, look up towards the sky – my eyes with complete devotion – and say out loud, “Thank you, Universe.”
The light comes closer. It’s definitely a car! I vigorously wave my arms (I’m too desperate for the thumbs-up thing).
Oh God, please don’t be weird rapey people, please don’t be weird rapey people.
My potential life-saver slows and stops in front of me while the windows wind down to reveal…
“HI!… I… MY CAR… OVER THERE… I WAS IN A CRASH… I…!” I cracked. I start sobbing, my breath fastening again. Where were these tears before?
A middle-aged holidaying South-African couple drive me towards my write-off car.
Kristen puts her hand over her mouth and gasps as her husband claims, “You my dear, are lucky to be alive.”
I force a smile back at him but my mouth instead stretches sideways.
“God’s given you a second chance, make the bloody hell most of it.”
Oh, I will.
Another car pulls up to see what’s wrong, this time a holidaying German family. I end up hopping into their 4WD to be taken to the nearest police station and medical centre.
The journey is dead silent.
After an hour, my breathing relaxes but I’m light-headed with a slightly blurry vision from the spike of adrenaline.
Then the pain kicks in, oh the pain. My head and neck feels like it’d been bashed, my stomach sucker-punched, my knee twisted. I look down on my dirty white jeans to find spots of blood. Where from? Oh, that’s why my hands are stinging…
The German husband notices my concern and swiftly hands me a water bottle and some band-aids to clean myself up, “Here you go”.
“Thank you,” I mumble.
“You probably need sugar,” as he tells his wife at the back to dig into their bags to find baked sweets.
The silence continues for another half hour. These poor Germans don’t know what else to say while I’m in shock mode but I can sense their genuine care.
I continue staring out the window of all magic hour’s glory with puffy eyes and finally say something: “Wow. This would’ve been a beautiful place to die.”
We both laugh. “Definitely,” he says.
I break the ice: “So what are you doing in South Africa?”
“This is a hiker’s dream,” he responds, acknowledging my icebreaker and continues describing the surrealness of worming through tight tunnels and in and around limestone boulders with such fervour, about not really having been anywhere on Earth unless you’ve walked it – to touch it, taste it, feel it. He ignites my inner passion – I suddenly feel a bit better – to join in on a never-gets-old conversation: sharing a true love for travel.
I look back and find his wife squished in-between her toddler and one year-old in a baby seat: “You hike with a baby?!”
“Yes, of course.”
“Well, we need to be more thoughtful. We can’t have overnight hiking trips as we need to stay somewhere close to civilisation in case of an emergency… And we need to pack a couple of extra things but hey,” he says while shrugging his shoulders, “we still do mostly everything we used to do.”
“Even through those tunnels?!”
“Yes, the baby is wrapped onto our back.”
I turn my entire body (ouch!) towards him and look right at him: “Jesus Christ!”
This evening, I settle into a lovely luxury country-home in a nearby small town to rest while waiting for Avis to send me a new car (all the way from Cape Town) to fulfil my rental time, as I thankfully purchased full cover.
The next day, I suck it up, hop back in, and do what I need to do to continue my original plan.
The flash backs appear but I ignore it, knowing to feel nothing about it – they are just fragments of memory. Previous mental training has taught me well. There’s just no point in wasting my emotions on sadness or fear, not for these passing precious moments of time in my life. Not in spectacular South Africa.
I feel deep compassion for the self, send love to my body and soul, and move on.
Besides the dreadful inconvenience of claiming insurance, shuffling my itinerary, cancelling and re-booking activities, needing to buy new photography gear – and more! – I can’t help but look back and think… Well, that was exciting!
Ah, the delights of travel.
Have any near fatal travel stories to share? Any crazy experiences that you now look back on and laugh at too? I’d love to know! Write me a comment below.
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Check out South Africa Tourism for more information on some of the world’s most scenic drives. I know I’ll sure go back to drive another route!
5 QUICK TIPS FOR OVERSEAS ROAD TRIPS
- Buy full cover (if applicable to the rental company) for peace of mind. I never thought something like this would happen to me, but it did – and I’m very thankful I saved myself at the start.
- Let friends and family know the exact route and date you’ll be driving prior to the journey. If something unexpectedly goes wrong, they’ll need to locate you!
- When travelling overseas, always read the fine print of your travel insurance to know exactly what you’re covered for. Some will have perks you might not be aware of.
- Bring a map (yes, the traditional kind!) with you in case of reaching destinations without reception or on roads less travelled that aren’t found in a GPS.
- Do your research on the country’s road rules. Respect and follow the rules for a happy drive! You’ll need to know what you’re getting yourself into.