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Making a pig's ear of it

Today was another bus day and not one we were relishing. Yesterday’s walk was the first we had done in a while and being such a steep uphill climb we were both feeling a bit stiff this morning. Spending all day sitting in the car is not really the best way to stretch out aching muscles but we need to push on. We have both really enjoyed our stay at Wits End in the Drakensberg and it is definitely somewhere we would come back to if we found ourselves in this part of the world again.

The people at the hotel in Dundee had shown a route to follow from here that wound through small villages rather than just heading back onto the main highway. We made our way back through Winterton which had come alive being a normal business day. There was still little to endear us to the town itself which now had a busy market set up along the side of the road on the way in. I think there were more impromptu stalls set up on the grass outside the market building as there were “official” stalls. Lots of people were milling around looking no doubt for the latest bargain and it was a very colourful sight to see.

We followed the R74 through Bergville and around the side of the Sterkfontein Dam. This is a huge reservoir at the foot of the mountains which no doubt is used as a base for water sports. Around the other side of the dam we worked our way through the QwaQwa Highlands National Park and into the Golden Gate Highlands National Park. This took us again through wide open landscapes with rugged peaks ahead of us and quite a climb to get over the mountains.

On the other side was the small town of Clarens, again a recommended stop. It is now home to “artistes” who have moved here from Johannesburg and Cape Town. In some ways it reminded me of Niagara on the Lake in Canada. The town has a large central square with a very neat and tidy and very green lawn. Around the square are small boutiquey shops, cafes and restaurants. The rest of the town seems to be made up of B&B’s. It had a very quiet and relaxed air about it and we decided to stop and have a break here.

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Hadeda ibises on the lawns
Market day in Winterton

Not a lot seemed to be going on here really. It’s full of little art galleries and the other main commercial attraction in town seems to be real estate. On our way out we stopped at the local butchers expecting to walk inside and find fly covered hunks of meat sat on dirty looking wooden slabs. We were in for a surprise. A very neat and clean shop opened up before us with a wide range of tasty looking meats and vegetables. Biltong was being air dried at the back of the shop and a range of old meat mincers were displayed on the wall. Some wag in the shop has dried a pair of pigs ears and attached them to a frame so that unsuspecting passers by, Stef, can be semi-transformed into a pig.

From Clarens we headed up to Bethlehem and back onto the main highways. The rest of our drive was pretty uneventful and we were simply clocking away the distance to Kimberley. Senekal and Winburg came and went and we joined the toll road to get down to Bloemfontein. South African drivers lived up to their reputation all the way. As we worked our way around Bloemfontein the chap in front of me started to brake for no visible reason. Fortunately some sixth sense stopped me from pulling out and overtaking him as around the next corner a car had broken down and was just sat in the outside lane. Three rather large women were handing around by it in the central reservation but none of them had thought to walk around the bend to warn oncoming cars. I suspect that others were not as lucky as us and that at least one car piled into the back of them.

Route 8 took us from Bloemfontein out towards Kimberley and it was along here that I first noticed the dual town system that still seems to be in operation. As we came close to Petrusburg a village of shanty shacks and Mandela Microwaves lined the left hand side of the road. There were simply dirt tracks leading into it and no signs from the main road to tell you what it was. It seemed to have shops, schools and even a church but it was almost as if it was meant to be hidden from view (not that you could realistically hide a village of that size). About a kilometre further up on the right hand side, tarmac roads led off to the leafy lanes of Petrusburg where everything looked clean and neat and tidy and well organised. This was where the affluent, and presumable white, people lived with the shanty town being home to their black workforce. It was a sight we have since seen several times driving around.

We finally made it to Kimberley for about 6:30, just as the light was giving out. We’d called in advance to book into self catering accommodation at the Bishop’s Lodge which our booklet calls “a cut above the rest”. It was a modern block building and we had a clean and functional room but one that was totally devoid of any character. They seem to have built a block of suites, each comprising of an ensuite double room which comes with lounge and small kitchenette and then a separate en suite room with two single beds. The settee in the lounge also folds down to a bed but six people living in that amount of space would probably drive you nuts.

Compared to our bungalow at Wits End it was a poor relation in terms of charm and facilities and an expensive alternative too. But it had everything we needed and we were soon rustling up a tasty dinner. We had a couple of games of gin rummy but sleep got the better of both of us and we soon went to bed.