Thursday, February 21, 2008

The Road to Hell and Back

The hot view from the top of the Swartberg Pass towards Prince Albert. We turned off at the top on the road to Gamkaskloof, better known as Die Hel, or The Hell. Andre Brink can inform you in far more lucid and psychedelic detail than I can in Duiwelskloof [although this linked NYTimes reviewer thinks Devil's Valley is imagined. Someone didn't do their homework], available in English (though certainly losing its essence, I would imagine - I've only read the Afrikaans version). Or visit Vince's blog for gorgeous pictures and description of the drive...

The first part of the drive was through an area that had been burned, and we stopped often for pictures of flowers that had appeared after rains. There was water - something I had not expected. We were not in the Hell yet, and had another 30-odd kilometers to go, but the picture the name conjures is parched and blistering. Here we found the first champagne clear, bright water of the trip - and delicious to drink.

After about two hours we stopped at what I'd been dreading: the 6 kilometers of Hairpin Bends, mostly too narrow for two cars to pass each other. I was expecting fearful drop-offs, but it was much better than the nightmarishly difficult picture that had been painted. Of course our speed down here was about 10km/hour...This was where we would see klipspringers, I told Vince. Fine, he said. I'll look for klipspringers and you watch the road...

The Hell, the long green strip at the bottom, was verdant! There is virtue in sin.

Vince has written about the bottom. It was boring. As hell. Bump, bump-de-bleepity bump. Once you've seen 6 acacia trees you don't want to see any more. Claustrophobic. You could go mad in there. Apparently they did.

The beauty, for me, was the journey there, and out again. In this case I agree that the destination isn't everything. Or anything. It's a nice place to leave. Get the picture?

The road home. Clouds had been gathering above and behind us and, as we reached our favourite, burned-out sandy bit again, they turned gorgeous.

Rain poured onto the valley below, where Dennehof and more gins and tonics waited for us.

I would like to stand on top of this pass again. It's special. But I've been to Hell, and I'm not going back.


  1. It might have been Hell, but I definitely saw an angel...

  2. :-)

    But no bloody klipspringers!


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