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The Road to Hell

by Tamlin Wightman / 11.08.2010

Splashy Fen is KwaZulu’s premier outdoor music festival held annually in the Drakensberg. Whispers of music and mud stomping kept finding me here in Cape Town until I finally said to a friend, “Hire a care – we’re going!”

We were only 21 and to hire a car you have to be 23. Boo. So we joined the convoy up with local band Captain Stu and the Llamas. I knew them from high school so they agreed – even donating a suitably mature band member to drive our car.

It was the Easter weekend. Easter is not a good time to travel. Thousands board buses home to celebrate the holiday. They travel overnight with sleepy Taxi drivers who often play fatally with fate. Then there are truck drivers.

It was full moon the night we took to the road. We chose the quick N1 supposedly free of potholes and animals. And followed the rest of the band in the Volkswagen van in front of us.

Our driver kept saying, “Look at the moon!” He was short and stocky. Not exactly Johnny Depp. A four-eyed kid with light ginger hair. Luckily his personality made up for it! Oncoming trucks raced past us. Without street lights, the moon glow was beautiful.

“Try my glasses on,” Not-Johnny said. “You’ll see it completely differently.”
We took turns and the moon looked pretty – so perfectly round and clear. We marvelled at our shitty eyesight until our Driver mentioned: “I’m actually blind without them!”

We shot back his specs and yelled at him. He just laughed and started rolling a joint – one handed while steering. Our rental swerved into the opposite lane. The terrifying truck lane! We yelled some more, and he laughed. Jesus, we have the driver from hell, I thought. My friend buried her head in her hands on the back seat – like Mizaru, one of the 3 wise monkeys who “sees no evil”.

Not-Johnny then emptied the contents of his stash onto his lap. “Caffeine pills,” he said, swallowing seven washed down with Coke. He pumped the volume on the CD player and – ironically – “On the Road to Hell” by Chris Rea belted out. God, it’s a sign, isn’t it? I thought. The Full Moon. The ADD driver. I’m not meant to go to this festival, am I? I humoured the kid and sang with him.

Our friends up front veered to the right to overtake a 16 wheeler. But the truck sped up and another came flying from the opposite direction. “They’ll be squashed!” I roared. The van accelerated but uphill with little power then somehow squeezed through the middle of both trucks and raced ahead. Our guy decided to do the same. Not only did the truck we were overtaking speed up – but the one zipping towards us began to race another truck trying to pass on its outside. Both were zooming at us. We were trapped. The Movie would be called Three Trucks and a Rental Car! The ending would be messy. But our Driver copped out thankfully and fell back in behind the truck on our side – crooning along to Chris Rea.

Several hours in his caffeine high crashed. We stopped at a Wimpy. The Captain Stu guys fuelled up on burgers and shakes and we headed off again. A new driver at our wheel after we lodged several ashen-faced complaints. We got the lead singer this time! Darling Nick drove us through the night. Somewhere around Lesotho the most beautiful sunrise happened. Somehow the light of day made everything seem better. We entered the festival gates – once the band was stripped of its collection of weed and beer – ready to party. No prizes for guessing if we ditched the rental and flew home.

*Image © Andy Davis.

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