I wake in the early hours, expecting to hear rain on the roof of the quirky, quaint and full-of-personality cottage we’re staying in. But it is quiet. I can’t hear anything at all. The heavy rain forecast all the way from Barrydale to Cape Town on the third and final day of our road trip seems not to have hit – at least not yet. The small town sleeps around me.
In the morning, we can see that it’s drizzled overnight, but the skies are dynamic and moving. There are even patches of blue, glimmers of hope. Perhaps it won’t rain after all. Realistically, we can’t expect the heat of day one, or the beautiful top-down weather of day two, but maybe it won’t pour the whole way.
“Let’s tackle the Tradouw Pass now, while it’s still dry,” I say to Matt, Rose and Emily. (Ron and Pam have gone up ahead in the Austin – they’re meeting friends in Riviersonderend for breakfast.) “If it stays like this, we could still see some of the views – it’s a beautiful pass.” We fill up with petrol and hit the road, agreeing to meet for breakfast about half an hour later, at a farm stall on the other side of the pass.
How wrong I am. While Barrydale is dry (probably only temporarily), the rain has settled into the pass as a cat settles into a nap. It is deeply at home, seeping into every nook. It’s not going anywhere. The vegetation around us is lush; the road is slippery.
We take a hairpin bend just as a car approaches from the other side and the Triumph, as Matt pulls it closer to the left, skids just a little. We both exhale. “Another reminder of the car we’re driving,” he says. “A modern car would have handled that without a problem. It’s going to be a slow drive to Cape Town.”
And it is: a slower, more deliberate drive. After breakfast, the rain really comes. A heavy deluge the Western Cape could only have dreamed of three years ago, at the height of its water crisis. The nearby, 480-million-cubic-metre Theewaterskloof Dam, we find out later, is at 101%. We hit some roadworks as the downpour worsens. Conversation slows with the car.
I check my phone to find a voice note from Rose, who is driving behind us. “Just a heads up,” she says, “when there’s a big truck between us, I can’t see you at all. You’re so small that someone could overtake a truck and not realise you’re in front of it.”
The note is a reminder that the freewheeling freedom of the Klein Karoo’s roads are behind us. As we near Cape Town and the traffic starts to get heavier, we realise that we’re a bit vulnerable in our small car: narrow, low to the ground, without seat belts.
When we first discussed this road trip with Matt’s folks, Ron reminded me that neither the Austin nor the Triumph has seat belts. I’d told him some time before about a serious car accident I was in when I was 20, and that it was my seat belt that saved my life. “I never get in a car unless I can wear a seat belt,” I said to him at the time.
It turns out that even non-negotiables can be negotiated, and my straight-from-the-heart joy at being in the Triumph has replaced my usual seat belt neurosis during this trip. I’m used to the sensation of not being strapped in by the third day and, despite the rain, I don’t give it too much thought.
With Cape Town very nearly in sight, we separate from Rose and Emily. If we break down now (which seems unlikely, the Triumph has been such a faithful steed these past three days), help is close at hand. We pick up the road to Stellenbosch to visit mutual friends for a few hours, but don’t stay long. This car is meant for open roads; we’d rather not sit in rush-hour traffic.
We drive up the street where Jen and Craig live – Matt’s second sister and brother-in-law – to find Jen standing outside filming us as we pull in. We all let out an elated squeal. Ron, Pam, Rose, Emily, Jen, Craig and their two boys, Douglas and Michael, come out to greet us as we turn off the ignition. Before we get out of the car, I lean over and into Matt. We look at each other and smile. We did it.
What a trip.