By Mike Pothier
Photographs by Chris Marais
This is not really a Karoo story, but the Karoo comes into it fleetingly, and the ‘hero’ was an Isuzu KB bakkie. And the deep, black clay of a Lesotho mountain road played its part too…
In 1991 my wife, Siobhain, and I went on a honeymoon road-trip around the country. Starting from Cape Town, up to Calvinia, then across the central Karoo to De Aar; from there to Dordrecht and then up through the southern Free State and into Lesotho, where we stayed a while with friends at the university in Roma.
Our vehicle was about as far removed from a 4×4 or a bakkie as possible: a bottom of the range Toyota Corolla 1300.
The plan from Roma was to travel southeast and exit Lesotho at Qacha’s Nek, on our way to the coast at Port Edward. But we were unsure about the roads down in that corner of Lesotho, where the Senqu River winds its way through the mountains before entering South Africa and becoming the Orange/Gariep.
So we asked around and one of the locals assured us that the road was tarred all the way to Qacha’s Nek. As it was September, and raining on and off, this was good news. Too good, in fact – by the time we got to Quthing the tar was becoming intermittent, and hard to see between all the potholes; shortly afterwards it ran out altogether, with at least 100 kms left to Qacha’s Nek. And now it was raining quite steadily.
Them Spinning Wheels
But a Toyota is a Toyota, and for a long time ‘everything kept going right’ as they used to say. Until, somewhere quite deserted, with the road the only sign of human activity, we came to a long, steep incline whose surface was pure black mud.
About half way up the front wheels started spinning and the car slowly drifted backwards and sideways, sliding off the camber and into a shallow ditch. There was no damage, but I knew that there was no way the car was getting out of there on its own.
Even a Donkey Will Do
All I could think of doing was to walk up to the top of the slope and see if I could spot anything that might be helpful – a hut, maybe someone with a couple of donkeys. I didn’t hold out much hope for a tractor, not having seen one all day.
But just past the top of the hill, off to side of the road, was something almost as good: a Landcruiser, standing outside a small trading store. It was ancient and battered, but it was a Landcruiser and it was salvation on a wet, cold and increasingly dark afternoon. Assuming, of course, that its owner was in the trading store.
The shop’s interior was dark, and though there were quite a few people there, none of them was the one I wanted. For a while, thanks to my non-existent Sesotho and their rudimentary English, it seemed that the Landcruiser’s owner would soon make an appearance; he was somewhere around; or he might be; or maybe not.
One thing was certain – the keys of the Landcruiser were in his pocket.
Saved by a Trader in a KB
I was beginning to wonder about spending a freezing night on the floor of the trading store (and about how wise it had been to leave my wife alone at the car) when a vehicle drew up outside and in walked a khaki-clad, middle-aged man speaking Sesotho with a distinct Afrikaans accent. A boer, in the best sense of the word, and while I was glad to see him, I was even gladder to see his vehicle – a light-green, heavily loaded Isuzu KB.
Actually, he was not a farmer at all, but a travelling salesman, his bakkie full of boxes of sweets, six-packs of Coke, tins of Vick’s ointment, and those little orange packets of Boxer tobacco. He was up from East London, on his regular round restocking the trading stores either side of the border between Lesotho and the ‘Republic’ of Transkei.
As far as I can recall the KB was not a 4×4, but it didn’t seem to matter – he pulled us out of the ditch easily enough and saw us to the top of the slope. He also told us, having himself come up from Qacha’s Nek, that we would not find any more mud like that, but that we would have to cross a number of streams that were beginning to flow quite strongly across the road surface, and that we should stick to the ‘upstream’ side of the road while doing so (less chance of the being forced off the edge by the water).
Into the Transkei
We made it to Qacha’s Nek with no further drama, but it was late evening by the time we entered the Transkei, and no border officials were to be found.
Eventually, I came across a platoon of soldiers asleep in an outbuilding, all wrapped up in greatcoats and exuding an unmistakable odour. One of them woke up long enough to shamble over to the office and put a stamp in our passports.
If that KB hadn’t pitched up at the right moment, I wonder what would have happened. It wasn’t the first time that my off-road skills had been displayed to my beloved in a deeply unflattering light.
Vic West in our Sights
A couple of years previously, I managed to get a Nissan Sani stuck down to the axles in Cape Flats dune sand, with Siobhain as my passenger, while we were on a university welfare project. But she has stuck (!) with me for 28 years now, and our many other road trips have gone off without anything more serious than a few punctures.
Next week, we will head off to the Karoo again: nights in Calvinia, followed by Victoria-West, followed by De Rust, before spending a few days at Wilderness.
The Karoo section of this trip, as with many others over the years, has been planned with the help of your excellent articles in Country Life. And even if I haven’t yet graduated to a KB, at least I’m not in a 1300 Corolla anymore.
- Mike Pothier wins a Karoo Space wins an E-book package valued at R450. Send your Karoo KB stories to firstname.lastname@example.org and stand a chance to win as well!