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Going Nowhere Slowly

Through the Window

SOUTH AFRICA | Friday, 16 May 2014 | Views [401]

Through The Window - Mpumalanga, South Africa

I’m writing this while sitting on the back of a closed white bakkie[1]. As I peer outside, I notice the cliff-hugging route that curves for kilometres ahead. As above so below are vast fields of nothing but granite grey rocks.

After some raucous bumps, the bakkie takes a sharp left turn and the jarring gravel merges to leathery tar. The sign ahead reads MPUMALANGA. Two kilometres further and the sign boards read THE PROVINCE OF THE RISING SUN. Rumour and rich folklore of the siSwati [2]native tribe tells that this is the region where the sun makes its debut every day before wrapping South Africa in its warmth.

The bakkie coasts for hours through the monotonous national route which feels rather lonely with the exception of dust plumes for company. Suddenly, there is a dip in the temperature and the bakkie slows down as we descend upon a mountain. Not far off, human life makes an appearance. There are make-shift shacks loosely scattered on the roadside. Old women sit cross-legged on the floor selling avocado pears while young men hover around carrying carts of Nik-Naks [3]and Coke. The bakkie halts at the robot [4]and young boys rush over to the windows holding up mobile phone charges, key rings and sunglasses. The bakkie driver shakes his head and prompts us to wind-up the windows and lock our doors. The robot reflects green and the bakkie is off the leathery tar road and joins a silky cemented freeway. Whichever side you look, lush trees fill the space followed by upper class hotels and shopping malls. A roundabout leads us to our destination, the Kruger National Park Resort.

Mpumalanga forms the basis of South Africa’s tourism industry. The province is crammed with historical and mythical figures. Tucked in Mpumalanga’s hills, lies the infamous Kruger National Park, this is said to be the size of Israel. While there are other nature reserves and trails surrounding the Kruger, there is also a gold mine. It is in this very region that spewed the “gold rush frenzy”. In 1873, alluvial gold was discovered and mined which led to the development of Pilgrim’s Rest. But there is more, the first rock paintings by the native San Koi tribe were discovered in the reserves that lie on the eastern side of the region. Of course, no trip to Mpumalanga is complete without looking through God’s Window.

It is midday and the sun seems to be pouring its heat on us. As our bush ranger wipes his brow, he tells us that the animals will be cowering in the shade so look up for the cheetah and be observant near rocks for a pride of lions. After an hour of slow drifting on sandy roads, the safari vehicle makes a safe road stop. We all get out for a queue to the loo or a taste of giraffe meat before plonking ourselves back in the open vehicle. As we exit the driveway, we see a massive voluptuous Rhino cross the road with her young trailing. Cameras start clicking, people wiggle around and the kids start pointing. Not far off, vultures guard the sky and our bush ranger announces a kill has been made. Using the bird scavengers as a GPS navigator, we locate the crime scene of a springbok carcass. The vehicle silently manoeuvres around the tree and it is here that we gatecrash a lion and lioness’ buffet. That is a grotesque beautiful sight to behold. The sun backs down and the temperatures become crisp. Hyenas cackle along the fields and territorial elephants move away from the water towards dry land. The Kruger National Park awakens and the animals begin to roam as the predators are blood-thirsty and the prey animals are on the run. Striped pyjama wearing zebras trot nearby while birds of varying feathers swoosh past. The Blue Buffalo chews its food aware but undisturbed by its audience and the long-necked giraffe seems to shy away from the paparazzi. At the very last kilometre of the safari drive, a pride of lions stare at us from their cliff. The golden coloured large felines seem to like the attention but they also seem quite hungry. Unfortunately, there was no cheetah or leopard spotting.

 I gobbled my breakfast at the quaint self-catering cottage inside the Kruger National Park Resort. This resort is nestled, about fifteen kilometres away from the main wildlife reserve. Who knows what you will see when you open your bedroom curtains and front doors. As I swish strong coffee in my mouth, I notice an Egyptian duck waddling past the kitchen window while a young buck digs behind the bushes. Today isn’t dedicated to animal sight-seeing – today I am panning for gold.

The dusty rolling roads lead us along a slim route which passes small tin roof houses and the skeleton of a steam train track. If you look up the word “antique” in a dictionary, you will see Pilgrim’s Rest. While the mining was forfeited in the 1970’s, everything else froze in time prior to that. As you enter the tumbleweed prone town, Edwardian era houses line the road while cannons, bronzed wheelbarrows and mining paraphernalia stand proud near buildings. It feels like the set of a good ol’ Western Hollywood production but that idea goes poof as an old Boer meisie [5]invites you inside her shop. A quick glance at the notice board indicates that this is a period dress-up shop where you can have your vintage photographs taken. Across the shop’s stoep [6]another Edwardian building is sited. It comes across as slightly more pompous but a plaque on the wall explains that that building once belonged to the mine manager. A speedy mini tour of the house turned museum makes me extremely grateful that I was born in the Y Generation. As I leave the tiny matchbox town of Pilgrim’s Rest, I cannot fathom the “gold rush frenzy” that took place here. Today it’s a fishbowl of tourists but in the significant period of history it was a playground of rich, foreign, influential and adrenaline pumped characters. Almost all of those characters went on to mould the South Africa we know today and placed Mpumalanga in a definite position of economic and social power.

Prior to the colonization of South Africa, different people held power. These were the San people also affectionately called the Tloue Etie. They occupied the Batwa Valley and most certainly left their mark on a rock that resembles a humongous mushroom. On the road to Batwa Valley, the conservation drastically changes from dusky dessert to deciduous fauna and flora. I highly recommend comfortable walking shoes for this part of the journey if I had to do it again as the Batwa Valley has a lot to offer and at the end of it all, a hot spring bath completes the adventure.

Before I hightail [7]it back up the jarring rocks in the white bakkie, a short visit to look through God’s Window is on the itinerary. I’m speechless. There are no complete sentences to describe what lies around me. Even the most poetic wordsmiths will not be able to conjure such exquisite panoramas. Waterfalls, the plushest of lush canyons, the vast array of gorges, plunging necklines of terrain and flocks of birds doing their thing makes you ask yourself, how did I end up here feeling so damn lucky?


[1] Large SUV

[2] Native South African tribe

[3] South African crisps

[4] Traffic Lights are called Robots in South Africa

[5] An Afrikaans word meaning girl

[6] Afrikaans word for porch

[7] Colloq. Up and Go

Tags: gods window, gold rush, kruger national park, mpumalanga, pilgrims rest, rising sun, san tribe, south africa

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