Setting off from home in Haarlem at about 08h00 on 2th August 2009 in my 1976 Peugeot 404 on the 650km journey to the east of East London, I had two goals in mind. The first was to find my old friend Joe Coetzee, working as the Resident Engineer on the N2 upgrade near the town of Komga.
I do so love walking in on friends who are not expecting me to see the look on their faces. I was not disappointed, but got a surprise in return when his 2IC was introduced as Ray Hamilton. Our lives were linked by a whole list of coincidences, beginning with being at school together at Pretoria Boys High. We’d re-met when he was surveyor for the road construction company LTA and I for SNA, the Consultants on the Warmbaths-Nylstroom job, and again in Maun with his family as he was on holiday there while he lived in Gaborone. To top it off, his wife was also Sheila and his son also named Ryan.
The second was to spend the night with and catch up with Bruce Barichievy, who featured in a lot of my adventures throughout the Seventies. I wasn’t to know that I would only see him one more time as he passed away a few years later, so I treasure that visit and our evening of reminiscences together.
While traversing the old Transkei the next day, the towns en-route were crowded with locals and Bruce had warned me to be careful not to bump anybody or I’d be caught up in a mob. All was well until near the old Natal border past Mount Ayliffe when the Peugeot’s clutch packed up. I cruised to a halt half way up a pass and pulled well in to the kerb. There was a long and anxious wait while I phoned Dave Gardiner to find me a tow service in Kokstad which was only some 20 km away. Dave was a childhood friend whom I had not seen for years, but was dying to meet again at his home in Durban.
I arranged with the Powerhouse Towing & Auto to rescue me and managed to beat them down from over R900 to R750-00. While waiting for them to send a truck an Indian fellow, about 25, stopped to offer me a tow as he said it was a dangerous place for hi-jacking. I thanked him and refused as I had already made the arrangement and also arranged to hire a car from Avis in Kokstad. Then he tried to force R200-00 on me when the tow-truck did arrive! A weird, but touching, kindness from a stranger.
The first buildings in Kokstad were a filling station that housed Avis, so the truck driver dropped me there and took the Peugeot off to their workshops. My ride was a natty new little Mazda 2. I got directions to Powerhouse and went there to collect my case and box of books and to pay for the tow. Then I hit the road for Port Shepstone. It took me an hour and a half driving through a lot of mist over rolling, forested hills, by which time it was dark.
Then the nightmare really began; I took the N2 highway up the South Coast to Amamzimtoti. I had phoned Dave who told me what off ramp to take, but it was difficult to read the signs. I stuck to the fast lane to avoid the trucks and left my lights on bright to see the signs, regardless of the poor oncoming traffic. And drove at 140kph or faster most of the way. Take the next off ramp after ‘Toti, I followed Dave’s directions to his Bowls Club’s carpark and phoned him. He told me to put my hazard lights on, the only way he could find me. Neither of us would have recognised the other; it had been 44 years since we met! He is the chairman of his club and it is his birthday, so all were very friendly. His wife is Noreen, a severe looking woman, but really very pleasant. We had a couple of beers and took some home when we left, me following him back. They live in a 13-storey condo near the beach called Belfry Towers in Doonside. We caught up for an hour or two, ate a pizza and hit the sack. I was very comfortable in their spare room.
On Saturday, sunny and pleasant, I went to a small shopping centre about 4 kms down the road on the beach front to meet up with Dave who had brought his mum and we all had breakfast together. She was Rollo Brent-Meek’s cousin; she reminisced about her days in Warmbaths, as did Dave and I.
My next target was to attend the wedding reception of friends, Amanda and Brad Drew from Maun, Botswana, so I set off through Pietermaritzburg to Greytown. I booked in to a hideously expensive B&B, but sold a book to the receptionist to help pay for the room.
It was a great reunion with the couple and their parents, all of whom I had met in Maun. I took my leave of them all on Sunday afternoon to return to Durban. Just before dark, I found and booked into the Nomads Backpackers situated just down the road from where I would take my books on Monday. The youngster at the desk put me in a dorm that holds 14, but there was only one other inhabitant. When he heard that I own the Backpackers in Uniondale, he said there would be no charge as that is their policy – free to other Backpacker staff. Later, when his boss came in, she put me in a double with en-suite bathroom!
The Musgrave Centre was just up the street from the backpackers. Adams Bookshop is on the second floor. The shop personnel were not very friendly but I took to the buyer in a back office. We chatted and she promised to display my books well and send promo sheets that I supplied to their other branches. I left 5 of each PURGATORY ROAD and THE BARROS PAWNS with her and an invoice. Powerhouse in Kokstad phoned to say that they had located the spares needed for the Peugeot clutch so I abandoned collecting them in Durban where I had located them after various phone calls to spares shops and garages. 404 spares are getting increasingly scarce.
It would be unforgiveable if I did not go to visit old friend Dawn Coen in Underberg, not far from Kokstad. She said I’d be welcome to stay the night, which I did after I checked on the Peugeot in Kokstad – it would be ready at about ten the following morning – then headed north to Underberg, about 115kms. There was a bit of mist, but not too unpleasant. It was a delightful stay-over steeped in reminiscences and humour.
After a brief call with Dawn to see her second daughter, Sophie at her work the following day, I headed back to Kokstad through the magnificent mountain scenery, and returned the Mazda to Avis. A driver from Powerhouse collected me. I settled the bill and headed west again in the Peugeot, crossing the Transkei without incident.
I had arranged to meet Joe Coetzee again, where I left the Peugeot at his flat in Komga.He took me the 45-odd kms to Kei Mouth where he has a house. (His wife Monique lived in Pretoria where they have another home. She worked in a hospital there and he flew up once a month.) We had a great evening at The Bushpig pub.
On Wednesday I awoke early to see haze over the sea. Joe locked up and we returned to his flat in Komga where he treated us to a bacon and egg breakfast before I hit the road back home. With the Peugeot going well I arrived in the late afternoon.