I drive like I ski. That is, not very well. I like to think of it merely as lack of practice and thereby neatly sidestep the issue of ability, but now a full 12 years after obtaining my driver’s licence (at the third attempt) I actually own a car. Not only that, but I am living in a city where public transport is minimal and as a result I find myself driving at least a little bit almost every day. Much to my surprise I am enjoying being a part of the Capetonians’ cheerfully haphazard driving jamboree.
Pushing the envelope on my own abilities, not only do I find that I can quite comfortably accelerate to a speed that requires fourth gear within minutes of being on the freeway but also my grip on the steering wheel is so much more relaxed that I regain full feeling in my hands within a few seconds of stepping out of the car. I still tense when going round bends at speed – as with skiing, something deep within me is drawn by the call of the off-piste – and my parking is far from parallel, but over all I am definitely improving. So it was unfortunate when I discovered a whole new distraction recently.
As I was driving back home from a jaunt around the botanical gardens at Kirstenbosch recently I remembered a promise I’d made to Neill, my dear despairing and annoyingly-good-at-driving husband, to check my rear view mirror more frequently. Throwing a token glance upwards I found myself transfixed, momentarily, by the sheer beauty of the scene behind me, cut, framed and bordered so precisely by the black plastic. Now I no longer marvel at the extraordinary head-bobbing, wheel-weaving antics of Cape Town’s drivers but wonder that the road system works at all. Of course it is spring at the moment and everything is lush and luxuriant and blossoming and verdant but to be in a car on a city road and yet have views of such staggering grandeur leap out at you just when you are making a mental note to add hoover bags to your shopping list simply isn’t safe. The Cape Town Traffic Department should put out signs:
‘Warning – Views. Approach with Caution.’
But it’s not just the views – the harbour, the sunsets, the city bowl, the ocean, not to mention the mountain and its surreal effect on clouds – these are all breathtakingly impressive, but it’s the detail that clinches it, the flora and fauna that add depth and reality to the whole scene. Here in the city it is quite normal to see wildebeest and klipspringer grazing on the slopes of the mountain, while at the sides of the road arum lilies bob gently and strelitzia stand rigid, screaming in orange. Banks of agapanthus blooms line even the freeways and the upper slopes of the city are brimming over with myriads of blue and white heads bursting up through the foliage like startled Muppets. And now the jacaranda trees are in bloom and drifts of purple-blue blossom waft down each street….
Lucky then that the roads in Cape Town are so good. If they were ski slopes, they would all be broad, beautiful green runs, perfect for beginners like me. But seeing is believing. Head over to Cape Town and we can go for a drive… if you dare.