Thursday, October 7, 2010

Confessions of a "Left side of the road" driver: Cape Loop Roadtrip

Pretoria, South Africa---

Confessions of  learning to drive on the left side of the road;

I rented a car in Cape Town and prior to this, my cousin Jason insisted that it would be a good idea for me to practice with them on our way to the Game Park.  Thank God for this.

I felt like I was in Drivers Ed all over again. As he gave me instructions and points along the way, like "Edee, move over more" and "Stay in the left and pass on the right"


The blinker is the windsheild wipers and the stick shift is on the left. Driving, you pull up to toll booths on the right and pay for parking to the right.  But as he was congratulating me about doing well only 1/2 block from their house. I edged forward, forgetting to look right and a speeding car would have wiped us out if not for his shout.  Deep Breath.

So, when I got to Cape Town, I was as prepared as I could be. I have already decided that my first destination would be out of the city and along to coast toward the Point/Cape of Good Hope.

Remembering my Road Rally days, I took a pen and marked up the outside of my hands with arrows matching how you drive to the left and a big "L" on my left hand and "R" on my right. The Garmin my cousins lent me was a lifesaver as well.

Everything went well except forget relaxing. A constant conversation with myself went; "keep your body in the middle of the road. Hug the line. Remember the majority of the car is to my left. Blinkers on my right. Don't freak that the on coming car in the wrong lane, he is correct." and then repeat.

My destination for the first night was a sweet little navy town called Simon's Town. I stopped at will, along the way when things looked interesting and arrived in Simon's Town well before dark and selected a hotel bordering the Marina in the middle of town so I could walk from there. It was a gorgeous warm day and I felt far, far away.

I had read about a famous dog name "Just Nuistance" who is the only dog that was commissioned into the Royal Navy. He was based there and there are many references to him.

In the morning, from my bed I heard a familiar boat noice. The rapid flapping of flags, or material. I swung open the curtains to find 30-40 knot winds and the marina flags flapping like a tropical storm. Rain. AND COLD. Cold? I had been told to expect 80 degrees and by feel of the window it was 60. 

I slowed my plans down and took my time, wandering around Simon's Town in hopes of finding something warmer to wear. I found a vintage, second hand shop and selected an obnoctious Man's leopard colored coat jacket. I could just imagine the fine speciman of a man that first bought this coat jacket. For me, it was cheap, warm and, well, African.

I drove on to the next point: Boulder Beach where a large group of African Penguins make their home. It was cold and they were huddled closer to the walk ways than normal.

After Cape Point (see post: Cape of Good Hope) I saw the Baboons (see post: Baboons!) and then decided to take the loop around the other side of the peninsula. Along the way I passed an Ostridge Farm and got out to join a German group that had pulled over as well. One older lady had her video camera on the female ostredge next to the fence while I watched the male race over to do the Male I-like-you dance (huge wings flapping from side to side) and then promptly climbed on top. I heard a series of "oh, oh my. Oh my. oh." from the women filming and had to laugh.

Further still I came across a surfshop in a tiny town. I decided to see if there was any cool things to send to my surfer friends back home only to come across the yummyist man I had yet to see on this trip. Roddy was South African but had spent time overseas and owned a sail boat kept in El Salvador. I, of course, was mezmerized by every word. (Deep sigh) After buying about 10 t-shirts and a bag made of sail cloth, I parted from Mr. Handsom and continued on as I knew I needed to get to Cape Town before dark.

And just when the part of the drive included winding roads on the side of high cliffs, the drissle from the day turned to driving rain. I didn't let it stop me. It was just so beautiful.

I got into Cape Town much later than I had planned and began looking for a hotel. I really don't know what exactly happened but I ended up very lost and every time I saw a hotel, it was on the other side of the highway or on a one way street the opposite direction. TWO HOURS passed. I had seen ALL of Cape Town in the dark rainy night. I was getting tired and driving on the left, with a stick shift was wearing on me.

Obviously it was wearing on me because somehow, someway I ended up on a highway going the wrong way. Nothing says Terror like seeing 4 lanes of traffic coming straight at you. Normally I am calm during tragic moments and then freak shortly after, this time I could feel my body WANTING to panic. I pulled over as far as I could with the exit behind me (that I had used as an entrance) and among the honking cars, waited for a window to do a quick u-turn. About this time I saw a police car flip on their light on the OTHER side of the highway. It was a race, how soon could I get myself out of this situation and hide verses how soon could he find a exit and loop around.

The traffic gave me a window and I exited the situation just as fast as posibble. After driving a little ways further, I noticed I was shaking. I decided that the first large hotel I found I would stop no matter what the cost. With a heavy sigh I turned off the motor at a nice City Lodge, a 4 star next to an enormous Farris Wheel.

Returning the Car to the car rental was a huge sense of relief. No damage. Only the reoccuring nightmares I'll have of my highway mishap.

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