Last Sunday I set out on a trip down memory lane. The passing away of my father necessitated a trip back to South Africa for his funeral and since my wife was unable to fly and I didn’t have any commitments to hold me back, I immediately thought “I want to visit the place Dad was born” – Tarkastad, in the Eastern Cape. I have no idea why I had this compulsion as typical of parents of that age, my father had never spoken of his childhood and never taken us to visit his hometown – I had no idea where it was and it had always merely been an entry in his identity document opposite “Place of birth” and for some strange reason I simply felt it was something I had to do.
A plan was hatched, enabled by the generosity of a good friend who provided me the use of his motorbike, a BMW 1200 GS, to complete a loop of some 2,500km that would take me back to where it all began (for him at least), incorporating some places I knew and many I did not. I bought a map (yes, a paper one ……..no GPS used on this trip) and began to plot a route, taking advice from friends that knew the area I wanted to cover and also knew my passion for exploring good roads with a bit of adventure on the way. Some thought I was a bit crazy to do the trip on a bike while the bikers were a bit green with envy and would like to have joined me if they could. But I specifically wanted this to be a solo ride, one that gave me time to reconnect with my past and take time to savor the country of my birth – I am after all and always will be, African.
As I set out on that sunny Sunday from Hillcrest just outside of Durban, I paused on the side of the road to take in the view of “The Valley of a Thousand Hills”, still largely unchanged and thankfully sparsely populated, the rolling hills forming an endless sea of green stretching away to the horizon on all sides. I cautiously gunned the engine as this was the “Bavarian Bierfrau” I had previously written about and she demanded a respectful touch and a gentle hand on the throttle. As my journey continued towards my overnight destination of Kokstad, I passed through farms where the distinctive smell of creosote from freshly planted wooden fence posts filled my nostrils and the memories of my youth came flooding back. Taking a brief detour through Highflats to visit the first farm I lived on as a child, I stopped on the side of the road and killed the engine. Memories threatened to overwhelm me as my senses came alive with the air full of the pungent smell of a wood fire burning in a local hut, the shrill insects of the African bush taking over from the roar of the motor, the unmistakeable chatter of Guinnea-fowl in the distance and the distinct call of the “Piet-my-vrouw” (no idea what the proper name for this bird is) reminding me of lazy days spent fishing in the dam I was looking down on. Hours spent reading books under the willow tree and long walks with the dogs through the lush green pastures behind our old farm house. I never knew why my father suddenly uprooted us all from our city life and moved us out to the middle of nowhere. At the time I merely accepted it as a new chapter and later in life I came to realise that he had given me the gift of a childhood that could never have been achieved within the constraints of the city – the country life with its freedoms and endless possibility was a place where the imagination of a young boy could run free and every day held an adventure waiting to be explored.
I fired up the engine – perhaps the reason was at the end of the road, or not, it didn’t really matter if there was no reason, I would be eternally thankful all the same.