Michel Muller

It’s quiet on the back country roads to Salt Rock Caravan Park in KwaZuluNatal but history, seeping from landmarks, speaks volumes

We like the sea, hey, sus, but not on our bacon and eggs. Ha. Ha. Winks. Yoh, this biltong’s lekka. How many more kays, doll?

Ag, Frik. Live in the moment, man.

I’m travelling light, skipping along until … screech, a train of trucks trip me up. The behemoths lumber and groan, most on the left. Still, it’s a different kind of driving, the pace set by the juggernauts, and the tolls. The Terrible Twins of the N3, Trucks and Tolls… Be gone ye Terrors of the Tarmac!

I turn off at the bottom of Van Reenen’s Pass, at Tugela, into the unknown, the R103. Patchy old towns, all pockmarked and rent, they sink into the landscape, a sigh away from oblivion.  I chug through Ladysmith, Aids Testing written in red paint on a decrepit wall.

There’s a Siege Museum in the town, the best Anglo Boer War museum in SA, apparently. The towns of battlefields and war, they’re meek in the lee of the tough glory days, the sukkel en stryd.

Ladysmith, Colenso – ask Fifi Meyer there, to tell you the story of the Colenso museum.

Next on the R103 is KZN’s second oldest settlement after Eshowe, Weenen, the place of weeping. The Zulus beat the Voortrekkers 6-0 there, twice, and Andries Pretorius himself built the Voortrekker museum.

Yes, they are something to cry about, those benign old dumps, but their shabby accoutrements belie the secrets and history they hold in the intricate intimacies of their gravel-road souls. The old trees, they’re singing something, I swear.

A cow crosses the road in KZN. Picture: Michel Muller

Muden. The R74. The swathes of sugar cane beckon, and soothe the eye; sweet skirts bow and rise, a slow satin wave, undulating; the homesteads on the hills, the forests; their stillness stifles. About ten kays from Weenen, just off the main road, there’s an isivivane, or a traveller’s cairn.

It’s a Zulu tradition to pick up a stone, spit on it and put it on the heap. It’s meant to bring good luck: you pick up a stone with the toes of your left foot, transfer it to your right hand, gob on it, add it to the pile. Right.

You drive, oblivious to everything but the voluptuous earth, the blue sky. The silence is the symphony.

You step out the car and the heat smothers and the grass tickles. Smells, the sounds. Smile. Feel. The dull drone of bees, many wings; shhhh, says the sugarcane.

You could die here. In the stolid heat; forget the whip of the wind. Hypnotic.

Stanger. kwaDukuza. Tunnels teeming green, they tangle in their keen display.

Shaka assassinated; there’s a heritage route. Settlers. Sugar. Luthuli. Museums, this, that.

In Umhlali, out of nowhere, a sign says Salt Rock. The car jerks a bit as I tap my foot.

I love the place.

Everything’s lush. The monkeys jump onto my stoep. They help themselves to my fruit, choosing the best in the bowl. Hop skip crunch. I love the way the monkey holds the apple. It’s got tiny, kid-gloves for hands. Beautiful silky-black hands, elegant, delicate, they clasp a red apple to cradle it. Pretty paws. They could be holding binos at the opera.