The time felt right for a road trip. Due to more incompetence from the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, I still didn’t have my new driver’s license; which meant it was Mandy’s turn to learn how to drive on the left.
Luckily, it was Saturday morning when we picked up the car and the streets were empty. Mandy hasn’t driven at all on our travels and she pulled out of the lot cautiously. As we crept up to the first stoplight, she suddenly jammed the brakes so hard that I almost hit my head on the dash.
“Sorry, the brakes are really sensitive,” she said. And to prove it, we screeched to a halt again at the next light.
“You can’t drive like this,” I told her, “we’ll get hit as soon as we’re in traffic.” But it didn’t matter, we kept lurching to a stop like a nervous student’s first day in driver’s education. If the problem really was the brakes, then this car was undriveable.
“Hey, is your left foot on the brake?” I asked her suddenly, looking down
“What? Oh yeah…I guess,” she answered sheepishly before beginning to laugh. Disoriented by sitting on the right side of the car and driving on the left — plus, normally used to driving stick — Mandy had automatically placed her left foot on the brake as if it was the clutch. Once she returned to the customary one-footed driving style, we pulled smoothly onto the road and didn’t look back.
We headed south out of Cape Town along the coast. We had planned a five day loop and our first stop was Cape Agulhas, the southernmost point in Africa. Cape Agulhas lies off the tourist trail. In fact, most people advise bypassing it and taking a more direct overland highway to save a few hours, “There’s nothing to do there. It’s desolate and empty.” The route itself is known as “the Road to Nowhere.”
True, it won’t appeal to everyone, but “nowhere” is exactly where we wanted to go. Our around-the-world trip has fostered an appreciation of extreme locations, which tend to have an aura and unique beauty completely their own.
As we drove, the cities disappeared behind us. Soon, the only signs of civilization were fences protecting grazing land and the occasional cultivated field. The pavement ended and we bounced along a dusty dirt road. Our only company during that stretch were countless hawks and an ostrich running alongside us.
We passed through the town of L’Agulhas and continued along the ocean until we reached a tiny, small town grocery store. The standard on-the-go backpacker meal is bread, cheese, and a tomato. The Streib-Little version substitutes an avocado for the tomato whenever possible. The avocados here were bright green with a shiny skin, a variety that we’d never seen before. I asked the cashier how to select a ripe one, since “we don’t have these in the U.S.”
“You don’t have avocados!?” she asked excitedly. Before I could clarify that we just don’t have this variety, she launched into a passionate sermon about their health benefits.
“….they’re high in fat, but it’s the good fat,” she concluded after a few minutes.
“They’re really good with salads,” added a customer in line to check out.
“Or, you can put them on sandwiches,” said a woman standing behind me. “You’ll really like it.”
They were too well-intentioned for me to correct them, so I just nodded and mumbled, “thanks.” Then, the kind store owner walked back with me and picked out their best avocado for our meal.
Everything about Agulhas National Park is beautiful. Rolling treeless hills covered in wind-resistant shrubs and succulents to one side, and seriously rocky beaches and pounding dark blue surf on the other. This is where the Indian Ocean and the Atlantic Ocean meet. In theory, you can stand simultaneously with one foot in each ocean and I felt obligated to try. The jagged rock formations of the beach and heavy waves made it more difficult than I’d imagined. Some might argue that the end result (two wet shoes) probably wasn’t worth the effort scrambling over stony outcroppings for fifteen minutes, but I’d do it all over again. One foot (possibly) in each ocean? This was historic.
Mission #1 accomplished, we moved on to Mission #2: stand at the southernmost point of Africa. The sun was beginning to set, painting the landscape in a golden glow, perfectly offset by the hard stone and cold, dark ocean. A winding boardwalk led half a mile down the beach to where a small monument had been erected. That there were almost no other people in such a vast open space added even more intensity to the scene.
Afterward, we continued down the road in search of the ideal dinner spot. As we rounded a bend, the beach flattened into an area where we could park. There were a few local families having picnics and fishing. Twenty yards off the coast lay the hulking skeleton of a Japanese tanker that had run aground years ago.
We sat there, at the southern tip of Africa, watching a timeless scene unfold: the relentless tide advancing underneath a darkening sky. As the sun sank further, the sky transitioned from dark blue to a dramatic spectrum of jagged oranges and reds. The landscape shimmered in the evening’s last angled rays of sunshine before completing its transformation into shadowy, looming silhouettes.
It was silent except for the crashing surf. There was a warm breeze and we were alone with only each other and our thoughts. It was the most comfortable isolation that I can remember: the barren landscape, a shipwreck, and a perfect avocado. The hours merged into one single moment that was over before we were ready.
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