GPS Roulette: “Danger” is my middle name

A guest post by Willie for Notes from Africa

GPS devices are amazing tools, but should not be trusted implicitly if used as a travelling aid. A healthy dose of common sense is still required when using this modern marvel, which has become such a big part of everyday life. Somebody I know tells the story of cars that have, on a number of different occasions, driven into a river because the GPS base-map mistakenly indicated a bridge over a river crossing instead of a car ferry.

So sometimes it would be good to follow my own advice, not to trust the GPS’s. Not of course to the extent of a friend’s mother-in-law who once started a heated argument with the austere German GPS voice issuing, in this case, perfectly good route advice.

For my work I sometimes travel to more interesting far-flung destinations and I recently took along my routable marine GPS on such a trip. The marine GPS does not have a voice synthesizer and you need to follow the instructions on the screen. I also had my cell phone along with a navigation function, although the cell phone triangulation is not of much use off the beaten track, it does have a voice synthesizer with various voice options installed -“BBC Newsreader” is not much fun but provides more info than “Surfer Dude” who seems to be high most of the time.

One of the towns marks a major turning point in the route to my destination. Getting confused with the poor signage at a set of major road works and roundabouts, I took a wrong exit and starting following an alternative route to my destination. The marine GPS immediately started re-routing me to get back to my previous route. BBC Newsreader starts to get snippy so I switch to Surfer Dude who agrees that the new route is “way out” but still “cool”. I decide to “phone a friend” and ask Lisa to look up a Google Earth travel recommendation, she resorts to a manual system (map books – can you imagine that?!) and gives me conflicting advice. Back to the marine GPS – I respond appropriately and re-route myself with a nice U-turn. With the plethora of mixed signals I must add I had already travelled a good distance down the alternative way.

Off the beaten track – thorn trees lining the road. ©WMB/

Closeup of thorn tree ©WMB/

The marine GPS recalculates the route and recommends a “right turn on unpaved road”. The gravel road appears to my right and looks wide and well maintained; I decide to go for it. I cut Surfer Dude because by now he sounds more lost than normal. The road extends straight ahead into the horizon and I continue. Paging to another GPS screen to check upcoming directions it reads “unpaved road to unpaved road”, most informative. First the cell phone signal bars grow shorter and disappear and then the car radio fades away. I plug my iPod in and select shuffle songs, deciding not to skip any songs but to endure every song – might as well throw caution to the wind, “danger” is now my middle name!

The road deteriorates . . . ©WMB/

The road turns from straight to winding and starts showing damage from recent rains. After about 45 kms I pass the first and only vehicle (a big sturdy looking off-road truck), and the farmer and his wife give a friendly wave and look pleasantly surprised (their GPS must be working as well). After another 25 kms a church tower appears in the distance, the tell-tale sign of a small town coming up. Passing the farmers co-op, the ubiquitous church, some houses and a Pep Stores, the GPS directs me past the tar road leading out of town to – you guessed it – “turn right on the unpaved road”. Now the road is much more interesting and I decide to see how far I can drive without having to engage 4-wheel drive – danger is after all my middle name. The road is lined with mean looking thorn trees and I reach a mountain pass appropriately called “Doringkloofpass” (translated: Thorn Ravine Pass). The scenery is spectacular and the road winds past some lone sentinels indicating the edge of the road, a steep drop off on the side. It unfolds to wintry grass plains coloured in crisp monotones, dotted with naked poplar trees. I eventually reach the tar road and continue east, reaching my destination barely later than originally planned.

Two days later I am heading back home. I get to a road sign, the GPS dictates “continue along paved road”, I ignore the instructions and turn onto an unpaved road, the sign reads “Doringkloofpass 57 kms” – danger is after all my middle name.

Typical Eastern Cape scenery. ©WMB/

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Categories: Guest Bloggers, Random


I am a forestry scientist living and working in the Southern Cape, South Africa.


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8 Comments on “GPS Roulette: “Danger” is my middle name”

  1. July 16, 2012 at 8:44 am #

    Love it! What a marvelous adventure tale, Willie, thank you for sharing your experiences with the GPS. We use one too, a Garmin Nuvi, when we go into unfamiliar territory, although I usually try to check possible routes and alternatives on Google Maps first. My favourite feature is the “recalculating” one – I’ve found that invaluable for keeping me going in roughly the correct direction, even if I disobey ‘her’ instructions.

    Our GPS doesn’t have a ‘way out surfer dude’ option… nor a ‘snippy BBC news reader’… what a pity…

    • Willie
      July 17, 2012 at 6:23 pm #

      Hi Reggie, glad you enjoyed my “wild ride”. I have a Garmin 76 CSx, which is good for kayak fishing but not so much for travelling. I have been looking at the Nuvi and it is maybe time to make a change, especially after my last adventure. 🙂 I love all kinds of technology and it is nice to look at, for example, remaining distances when travelling. I am looking at downloading an Afrikaans voice option for my cell phone to see if she is friendlier than the BBC newsreader. Wonder why the voice options are mostly female…The following researcher comments on this. I think his final conclusion is seriously flawed.

      “It’s much easier to find a female voice that everyone likes than a male voice that everyone likes,” said Stanford University Professor Clifford Nass, author of “The Man Who Lied to His Laptop: What Machines Teach Us About Human Relationships.” “It’s a well-established phenomenon that the human brain is developed to like female voices.”

  2. July 16, 2012 at 9:44 am #

    Looks like danger is, indeed, your middle name. Great story telling, Willie. I had to laugh–sorry, couldn’t help myself. And LOVE the “phone a friend” part–and LIsa’s consulting what I guess was an ACTUAL atlas. Imagine that!

    This post is definitely Freshly-Pressed worthy–high praise, as I’m sure you know, living with a blogger who has earned the distinction a number of times.

    Have a great week. And congrat on the snow!


    • Willie
      July 17, 2012 at 6:24 pm #

      Hi Kathy, thanks for the complement, much appreciated. Glad you enjoyed the funny bits. Heard recently about the “law of anecdotal evidence” – it means that nothing is worth doing if you do not have a story to tell about it afterwards. I think that this is a great way to live your life, to look for adventure and stories everywhere, especially in everyday experiences. For this trip I made it back just in time to avoid heavy snow falls north of us, unfortunately.

  3. July 16, 2012 at 1:59 pm #

    Great photos!

    • Willie
      July 17, 2012 at 6:25 pm #

      Thanks Debra!

  4. July 17, 2012 at 8:42 pm #

    What beautiful photos … so evocative of the place!! I feel like we’re on a walk together….

    • July 23, 2012 at 8:21 am #

      Thanks Betty! There is going to be an upcoming post with more photos of the Eastern Cape.

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