Monday, December 5, 2011

The Favours of the Road


Think small, inconspicuous and less than attractive thoughts”, I repeated to myself, as I leaned in close to the truck door. After my last hitchhiking experience, I felt like I might be truly pushing my luck in jumping into another big rig again. At least there was only one person in this truck though.

But maybe that’s a bad thing”, my brain whispered to me.

“Shush!” I demanded. “Nervous thoughts will only make me look more vulnerable than I already am.

And so the dialogue with myself continued, as we drove along. Mango didn’t seem to notice though. He didn’t seem to be overtly threatening. His eyes stayed on the road and small talk was minimal. He asked me where I was headed and when he heard that I was thinking Springbok, but eventually Cape Town, he suggested that I just skip Springbok entirely. He himself was going to the Cape Town area. If I decided to just continue with him, I could have one continuous ride all the way from Keetmanshoop to Cape Town – no small feat, as there was over 1000 kilometers between the two. It would give him company along the way and be a direct trip back to Cape Town for me, leaving more time to visit with relatives before leaving Africa.

My brain whirred in thought. It was a fantastic offer and for R50, I couldn’t beat the price. A bus would have cost me at least double that and if I got out of the truck, I would then have to scavenge God knows how many more rides in order to get closer to where my flight would be departing in two weeks time. Plus, the sooner that I got to Cape Town, the more that I would be able to squeeze in, like a visit with aunts, uncles, cousins, a trip up Table Mountain, out to Cape Point, my Dad’s birthplace of Hermanus and maybe even another wine tour!

Of course, I could stay in the truck, watch Mango turn into a super sleaze ball and/or worse. I did not know the man and from experience, was leery about trusting anyone now.

Were my guardian angels still in place? Was it time for me to be tested again? If I fell asleep, would I wake up? All thoughts that had me sitting on the far edge of my seat. But I had listened to fate before and this could be another gift presented. Was this Africa’s final offer of faith? Time would surely tell, but was I willing to wait and see?

As the miles flew underneath the truck’s wheels, conversation ebbed and flowed between Mango and I. He smiled, but hands did not cross over to my side of the truck. We chatted, but it was sparse due to limited language between us more than anything. He seemed a simple man, doing his job and nothing more. My presence in the truck was a kindness and the norm for travel on African roads. I suspect that some ladies paid their fare in “favours”, especially when they travelled alone, but I continued to hold out hope that I would not have to pay this fee for my passage. My hope was that I served more as company, extra pocket money for his troubles, and distraction to keep him from being bored or falling asleep. Accidents along African roads had become legendary in traveller’s tales everywhere I went. Keeping a solo driver alert was more than just a perk at times – it was often a lifesaver.  

The border approached and decisions would soon need to be made. You never knew how long you would be held up at the border, but once across it was only a few hours further to Springbok. The longer I travelled with my new companion, the more comfortable I became. Was it worth it to skip Springbok altogether, and a potential visit with cousins, in order to get to Cape Town faster? A deep breathe told me to take one step at a time and enjoy the world going by my window until the universe told me different. 

And Namibia flew by. 

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