Remember when we didn’t have to wear seatbelts. When we’d curl up in the back of our parents’ Passat on the all the way from Joburg to Durbs, or ‘Maritzburg, in the school holidays – padkos, a blanket, and easy sleeping. The dik-dik-dik-dik noise of the cat’s eyes on the road. White and pink cosmos blurring into a whisper of colour. Blue sky for days.
Sometimes we’d go to the seaside, other times to my grandpa’s house on College Road in Pietermaritzburg but mostly to my aunty and uncle’s house in Underberg.
Glenhaven, where they lived, rested peacefully in a valley enveloped by a torrent of hills—not the soft, luscious, rolling kind found in the English countryside and imagined in Tolkien’s shire. These were African hills; jagged, irregular with rough grass, split apart by underwater rivers thrusting the earth aside to see the sky and overarching rocky faces—less romantic, with more force. Their beauty enveloped in their fortitude. On her first trip to the ‘berg with us, my best friend named one frowning rock face “Duke Nukem” (after the video game hero guy)—the rugged features of Nukem and his gang lorded over the river below, which was the life of the landscape; the river gods spreading wide their arms, forcing the land to abscond towards the heavens in fear and reverence.
There were trees and woods and rocks and enclosures, flourishing under the gaze of the blue and purple dragon gazing on from a distance; its back rippling through the stratosphere, Lord of the Manor. The Drakensburg gifted us acres and acres of its underbelly to explore.
We were free.
There were frogs on the river bank, algae in the water, crickets in the grass, unsure ground, hidden porcupine quills, gum boots or rainy days (which had to be kept outside, upside down, in case Puff Adders snuck their way in when you weren’t looking), cow’s milk straight from the udder, cattle poo…and nothing. Lots and lots of beautiful nothing.
Some mornings, a tractor would pass with a big flatbed trailer hauling all manner of thing to somewhere. My brothers and I would drop whatever we might be doing (which was, typically, not much) and blitz helter-skelter to catch up and hitch a ride to wherever. Sometimes we’d pile on top of river tubes that were going to the campsite, grabbing each other’s limbs so we didn’t fall off, other times we were squashed in between prickly hay bales; our feet dangling over the edge of the trailer, kicking rocks as we trundled on, our beady eyes on the lookout for squashed snakes that took their chances on the hot sand road.
But the best was my uncle’s bakkie – white with a three-tiered rail attached to the back rim, no canopy. The purpose of the rail was to stop stuff from falling out. Way more fun, though, than the safety of the bakkie’s bakkie, was the top of the rim. The very top. We’d balance, catch our grip and then, as if on cue, the bakkie would hurtle forwards at top speed, dislodging sand and stone with apocalyptic intent as we held on for dear life almost dying at any given moment. Life was its most vivid up there on that old bakkie rail. Wind and dirt forced our watering eyes closed and we moved by instinct, our bodies responding to the sways and jerks of the adventure.
We were on top of the world.
Sometimes I catch a glimpse of that place, and if I do, I grab hold before it disappears into the distance of childhood.
Author & Storyteller: Andrea Zanin
Andrea is a writer, wife, mother and dreamer; also the author of this website. She moved to London in 2006 to earn £s, travel, see bands and buy 24-up Dr Martens—which she did, and then ended up staying. Andrea lives in North London with her husband (also a Saffa) and five children. She loves this grand old city but misses her home and wishes her children could say “lekker” (like a South African) and knew what a “khoki” is.