It’s reassuring to know that there are areas of South Africa, only half an hour from Pretoria, which are not only out of cellphone range but are also, incredibly, not on Google maps either.
My tiny adventure happened on the Lord’s day of the week, which meant I was beyond help, because nothing is open on Sundays in rural areas; obviously, nothing untoward is supposed to happen then.
All that actually happened was that the back tyre on my motorbike went flat.
I was in Tweedespruit, north of Cullinan, visiting a beautiful valley where an elderly German couple reside. Rolf was busy sharpening his fishhooks in anticipation of catching bass when I arrived late in the morning.
He told me how he was trying to get some sort of communication going with the outside world, as there are no landlines and cellphone reception is practically non-existent. Without contact with the outside world, he cannot book clients to come and camp or hike on his pristine property, Frogs. But to establish an internet and phone connection he has to pay R15 000, quite a lot of cash … a bit of a Catch-22 situation.
I went down to the river after drinking some home-made, delicious ginger beer made by his wife, sat by the stream, smoked a small joint, played with a stunning dog that came to join me, swam, and then meditated a tad.
I realised that the city of Joburg had once again filled my being with fear and tension, and prayed the valley would help to release it. A kingfisher came and went; I was drawn to the world of insects; once I noticed one, a large black and yellow bug, I saw many more.
Returning to my trusty steed, I noticed the back wheel was completely flat. This would normally not be a problem, but being in this remote valley, it quickly turned into a challenge of note – how to get back over 100km to Joburg, or how could I get the wheel temporarily repaired?
I returned to Rolf’s home on the bike, and was told that across the road from their tiny farmhouse lived the musician Fredie Nest, who owned a compressor which could fill my flat.
Alas, upon finding his home, the compressor was unable to fill the tyre, as the valve appeared to be truly fucked. But what a place! Ancient, incredible cars and boats stood in rows by a man-made lake, replete with a slowly revolving water wheel.
Fredie’s wife and his servant tried their best to help me, but to no avail. I was told to stand, first in the peach orchard, then next to the lake, to try and obtain cellphone reception, but my phone indicated there was not the slightest sign of contact with the outside world …
They also told me that, even if I did manage to phone someone, there was no way to give them GPS co-ordinates, as there were none for where they lived. I checked this when I got back to the online world, and true as Bob, that area of the map is just a blank: no roads, streams etc.
So I drove to Cullinan, to see if anyone there could help fix the tyre. The bike handled the flat tyre quite well, and though I braced myself for a fall at any moment, I was able to get up to about 60km/h once I hit the tar roads.
In Cullinan I was directed to a disheveled smallholding, but the tyre repair business there had closed, and there was not so much as a puncture repair kit left – just one patch, but no glue to hold it in place.
One of the guys who had gathered around my bike suggested I ride to Rayton, about 10km from Cullinan, and buy a puncture repair spray, which fills your tyre with a foam which is supposed to get you to get to your destination. This I dutifully did, along with a miniature crew of helpful petrol attendants, but the spray just blossomed out of the bottom of the valve onto the garage concrete and did no good at all. All the repair places were closed of course, it being Sunday.
So I rode to Pretoria, where a friend of ours stays, and from there I phoned my insurance company, who sent a roadside assistance crew to get me to Joburg. Retha, who had just got back from India, told me how she and her partner got stuck in Mumbai. Apparently the guy in charge died, and the whole city came to a standstill – even the ATMs closed.
Bal Thackeray had over two million people at his funeral, many of them weeping openly, yet he was a man who publicly proclaimed his admiration of Hitler and who had made statements like “Muslims are spreading like a cancer and should be operated on like a cancer”. I have never understood how fascists arouse such love from the general public. It’s like Zuma, he just can’t do any wrong, no matter how long the list of mistakes he makes gets.
Franswa – a man with a pronounced Malmsbury “brrrray” arrived with his wife and a trailer, and we set off for my home, with her sitting in the back of the tiny, stuttering bakkie, next to the tools and cans of petrol; Retha gave her a cushion to ease the trip.
Along the way Frrrranswa told me of his job – he gets R50 per job, while his boss, who owns the car, makes R300 minus costs – and has to be on standby 24 hours a day. He gets called out to Mamelodi township in the middle of the night. Big guys phone me because they are too lazy to fix a flat, he told me. Anyway, he said, this job is better than sitting at home just drinking beerrrr.
And he often gets tips. But, after sitting for half an hour on the freeway waiting for an accident to be cleared from the road, I was so tired and hungry after five hours of nursing my bike home, and so distracted by the paperwork I had to fill in for being towed, that I forgot to tip him.
I did however find a video by Fredie Nest, called Krummelpap. Check it out on http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Qwt4c4FnNQ!
Some things just never change in SA!