When I began to consider places to stopover on my road trip after Cape Town, Clanwilliam turned up on the map as a good option. It fell on the route to Tankwa Karoo, the national park I wanted to visit, and its attractions were not of the sort that draw scores of tourists. There was a dam nearby, a wilderness area ideal for hiking, and a few rock art sites. Clanwilliam’s modest size caught my attention too: I was curious for a glimpse of small-town life in South Africa.
The rental car, a 4×4 Nissan X-Trail, was delivered to my hotel on Monday morning. Waiting for the car in the hotel lobby, I read in a book guidelines for driving in South Africa:
- The faster you drive through a red light, the smaller the chance you have of getting hit.
- Indicators will give away your next move. A real motorist never uses them.
- On average, at least three cars can still go through an intersection after the light has turned red. It’s people not adhering to this basic principle that cause the big traffic jams during rush hour.
- Under no circumstance should you leave a safe distance between you and a car in front, or the space will be filled by two Golfs, a BMW and a Getz, putting you in an even more dangerous situation.
- Never, ever come to a complete stop at a stop sign. No one expects it and it will only result in you being rear ended.
I had noticed that South Africans drive on the wrong side of the road (in Germany we do the right side), so I stayed alert within city limits. After Cape Town, driving north on the N7, factories and barns and small settlements gave way to a flat, dry, and mostly uncultivated landscape. Two hours later the road climbed over a line of hills and wriggled back into a valley. I stopped at a service area to withdraw cash, and in the shop, which stacked unfamiliar biscuits, chocolates, fizzy drinks, and newspapers, I asked for a map of the area. At first the lady at the counter seemed not to understand. I repeated myself.
“We do not have maps here,” she said.
She meant the shop, but it could have been the country: after Cape Town I did not find a map anywhere.