My mountain

Impulsively, while, chasing flowers, in September, I booked and paid, for accommodation, at the Sanipass Mountain Lodge, to celebrate my birthday, in December.

I did not think twice, about the heavy price, I just did it. “Why can’t I drive my Jag up a silly mountain” was my daredevil thought.

My dad was a rally driver, and his favorite rally, was the “Roof of Africa” rally. I remember him and my mom, coming home after a week away, full of stories, about the experience. Somewhere, is a photo of them, winning a place, at one of these races. I remember the photo well. Him, in his red Total jacket and my mom in a yellow dress. I can’t remember whether, they drove a Volvo or a Toyota. But they did it.

Over the years, I’ve heard many stories of the Sani Pass. I guess, in my “me-time” trip, I just, had to, do, one more challenge, on my tick list, before 2018, kisses me, goodbye.

Now, if you know me, you’ll know, that two, of my biggest fears are: steep, curvy mountain passes and gravel roads. Well, the Sani Pass, is both.

When, I got home after, the “me-time” trip, I told the Mackem, what I did. On investigation, we realized, that the lodge, was on top of the mountain, and not on the bottom, in the Underberg, as I originally, thought.

I read review after review, on the Sani Pass and the F-Pace. I even contacted Jaguar SA via twitter, to find out if it is possible. But needless to say, to this date no response. I even studied the difference between 4WD, All wheel drive an 4×4. It also, should be noted, apart from, BMW’s advance driving course and Jaguar’s skid and collision avoidance course, I have no off roading or 4×4 experience.

As the festive holidays, approached, I grew more and more apprehensive. On top of it, the warning, from the Lodge that, only 4×4’s are allowed to go on this track and that your passport, may not expire, within 6 months of the trip. We discovered days before the trip, the Mackem’s British passport expires in March 2019. Bugger.

Any way, on the 27th of December, we left the “zoo” (what, I affectionately, call, all the pets, brought home, that became, my responsibility), in the capable hands of my daughter and her boyfriend, and we started the journey to the mountain, me with fear in my belly and the Mackem driving.

Picture: enroute on the Coal Dump road on the R35 towards Bethal.

The day grew warmer and warmer, and as we pass through the Laing’s Nek Pass, (incorrectly spelled, as the original owner was William Timothy Lang, and the Pass was called Lang Nek Pass), the temperature reached 38C.

We stopped in Lady Smith to fill up, and off course, a Wimpy burger. You can not go on holiday in SA, without stopping at a Wimpy, somewhere, during your trip.

I took over the driving, and fear and excitement were tingling in my fingertips. At this point, I was still convinced the Mackem, was going to drive, up the mountain.

We joined the busy N3 and turned off at the Midmar Dam, near Howick. Suzie (GPS) got us, a bit lost, and we drove through a township, where we, were the object of much; stares, waves and comments. Two whities, in a Jaguar F-pace, is probably not, a common occurrence, here.

Finally, we were on the R617, on our way to the Underberg. The road was nice enough, but, with spluttering, coughing, smoky vehicles, on the road, progress was slow. We, turn off to Himeville. Then, Suzie, directed us, towards, the SA border post. I was still thinking, we will swop, driving seats, at the boarder post, as the sign came up, saying: “border, 13km” and according to Suzie, we were 21km, from our destination.

And, suddenly, a sign, “only 4×4’s allowed”, and we were on a dirt track. The road become narrow, with road work signs, and very, very bumpy. I could see, a white Toyota bakkie (LDV) in front of us, going at snail space. I changed from normal drive to wet drive, and start climbing the rocky road. Some places, I stopped for vehicles, coming down and other places, vehicles, gave way to me.

I was now driving my biggest fear. I stopped, to allow the Toyota, to make some head way, and let the kids know, that we were, in the Pass.

While waiting on “a bridge” for on coming traffic (2 vehicles coming down) , an idiot, driving a golden Toyota Land Cruiser, overtook us. I was thinking, this person probably know the road.

Kilometer after kilometer, we rocked and rolled, slowly over boulders, eroded roads and loose stones. Finally the border post. I needed the loo. Without too much trouble, our passports were stamped and off we went. I was still thinking, well that was easy! If the rest of the 8km, looked like this, I would be fine.

That thought was sort lived. Left, slow, right, slow, in the middle, slow, all over the single lane road, trying to find a way over the rocks. I turned on the ASPC, and between 20km per hour and 40km per hour, we were climbing, the mountain. I remembered, my training, slow into the curb, accelerate out. Not to fast, or, we will lose control. Steadily we climbing, at some places, we are climbing so steep, you have no idea, what is in front of the car. The Mackem, kept shouting:”keep right, there a ditch on the left” and I answered: “There is a cliff on the right”

With 3km to go, I decided to stop, to take in the view, and calm the the nerves.

Last 3km, and I can see the the dreaded hairpin bends ahead. “Ok, deep breaths, here we go again” me pep talking, myself.

We were scarcely back on track, and a string of vehicles come down, forcing us to stop in a “wider” corner. “I can do this! I drove a Datsun Go on gravel and sand roads, I can, yes, I can” me thinking.

and then a fully loaded taxi going down, wait what? No 4×4?

Into the first hairpin, the rocks were loose, there was no grip, and some rocks looked like mountains! But I steered left, turned, slowly right, accelerate, and bumped up the first corner, just as the car stabilized the next curb, was there. Steadily, steadily, I went up.

Finally we saw the border post. The Mackem started screaming like a girl. In the chaos, I drove through the border post, and had to make a u-turn to stop. Our passports stamped, and we checked in at the highest pub, in Africa for a drink.

and as I looked at my phone, this message from an old school friend

I did it!


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