The road from Grahamstown to Cradock is a familiar one. Most times that I have escaped the humdrum of small city life for the bright starry skies of the Karoo, or the blinding neon/xenon radioactive lights of the e-toll gantries of Gauteng, this is the way I go. Slightly less prepared than I usually am on a solo trip, I set off mid afternoon, on a new type of adventure. Anxiety gnawed a little at my stomach, like a half-satiated rat losing interested in stale crusts. This is not to be my safety blanket road trip. I have to talk to people. I have to knock on doors and introduce myself. No, I don’t have a boot full of encyclopedia, but I am on a mission to visit every Royal Hotel, and I have to start somewhere: Tarkastad.
Tarkastad lies on the edge of a verlore* triangle of the Eastern Cape. Half way between Cradock and Queenstown, and a third of the way between fokkol en nêrens**. The road is deathly quiet. I can tell that this is usually the case, judging by the surprised Larson-esque looks on the faces of cows as I drive past. Scenic beauty second only to the plains of the Free State, the R61 delivers. The only thing that let me down was the aircon on my Honda, which gave up the will to chill two weeks before my trip. Driving with your windows open is quite lekker, though. As long as you keep your mouth closed.
Dusty and hot, I cruised the main street of Tarkastad, looking for the Velveteen Watering Hole, which hopefully would, once I got over the Purple Moo Moo*** state induced by hours in a hot black car with no aircon, materialise as the Royal Hotel. Well, the hotel appeared, but the doors were firmly shut. I felt a sense of relief, that I didn’t have to introduce myself as a blogger who had not yet written anything constructive, but also a sense of dread that there was no cold beer to be drunk, and no story to be written. Not here, anyway. I kicked a few stones, got back into the sweatmobile, and found some accommodation at the delightful Stepping Stones. If you ever travel to Tarkastad, look up this place. It’s really basic, but the host is lovely, the rooms are spotless and very comfortable. This does not, however, solve the dire hunger and thirst problem staring into my groin. (That’s how tall the problem is) The only eatery/drinkery kind of establishment I could find is The Rhino Inn. I’m not going to mess around with pleasantries here, because there aren’t any. I did not feel at home in this pub. I ordered a pizza, drank 4 beers, and went back to my room to shower, read, and then sleep.
The following morning I went back to the hotel, and there was still no sign of life. I drank a chocolate Steri-Stumpie on the stoep, and headed for Bethulie…
**fokkol en nêrens – nothing and nowhere
***Purple Moo Moo – A state of delirium experienced by sailors of yore who drank sea water, named as such by a character in a book by Willard Price.