Wow. The driving over the last couple days has been stunning. Moonscapes, desert, mountain passes, ostrich farms, townships, and very few other drivers on the road. The main focus of our route was to take on Swartberg Pass, 30 kms of dirt road over a mountain pass separating two deserts and ending in Prince Albert, a small farming village with an incredible amount of charm.
The pass is quite a civil engineering feat and quite an accomplishment, especially considering it was built in the late 1800’s (hit the link above for history and details). Our ambitions for our drive were more modest, we simply wanted to safely get up and over with our under powered 2WD rental car.
Driving the pass took about an hour or two – we lost track of time as we became awestruck with the views. It required more than average focus and attention given the soft shoulders, potholes, water bars, washboard stretches and other cars. There were a handful of other drivers – mostly German tourists in rental SUVs and trucks. South Africa seems to be super popular with German tourists and retirees given the time zone, weather and availability of direct flights.
Driving continues to be both fun and exciting. For the most part, the roads are in good condition, including the dirt ones, which you quickly encounter when you leave the main routes. However, obstacles are everywhere demanding constant attention. People appear everywhere and in the most unsuspecting places. Townships and informal settlements are spotted everywhere especially near industrial farms and agricultural areas, tourist towns, and even small villages. And near the townships, there tends to be a lot of foot traffic. Hitchhiking is very common and often commercial. On highways and at intersections everywhere, you will find folks along the roads with bills in their hands looking for rides.
Wild animals are about but generally in the heat of the day they are scarce. Yet, there are ostrich farms all over the place and it has been on the menu every night. Ostrich carpaccio is quite popular and very tasty.,.. and it does not taste like chicken.
We spent a night in Prince Albert after completing the pass and had one of the better dinners of the trip at Gallery Cafe. Prince Albert valley is a major agricultural area with wine, olive oil, and produce grown here. So restaurants are stocked with locally grown delights. We had a bottle of a blended red wine from Reiersvlei that was fantastic.
We have been staying at small inns and large B&B’s which have been great. Most have had pools to dip into in the afternoon when temperatures hit 100+, and we have noted a local custom of well stocked, no charge mini-bars and bottles of complimentary port wine in the rooms.
Next up: we leave the desert and head back to the coast.