13 Nov SOUTH AFRICA: A DIAMOND IN THE ROUGH
What is the mother tongue in South Africa?
None. Yep, there isn’t a single one. There are actually eleven official languages of South Africa: Afrikaans, English, Ndebele, Northern Sotho, Sotho, Swazi, Tsonga, Tswana, Venda, Xhosa and Zulu.
If you are looking for a real-life, live-in zoo, one of the few places in the world left where you’ll get the real experience, is in South Africa’s Kruger National Park. The National Park stretches its boundaries between three beautiful African nations – South Africa, Zimbabwe and Mozambique. With thousands of species of birds, game and big cats, Kruger is where you could see the only wild white lions, leopards, rhinos and whole lot of giraffes all in one day.
Although, that is not all that this is all there is to see in this huge and diverse country – from the tropical East coast there is Indian influenced Durban, to the South there is wine country and elegant symbol of Table Mountain in Cape Town and to somewhere in the middle there is historically charged and complex Johannesburg, with famous Soweto Township.
Coming to South Africa, you experience extremes of all kinds – of poverty and wealth, of racism and diversity, of untouched nature and curated capitalism. Knowing this and soaking in the experiences as an observer, you can really begin to appreciate the deeply complex cultures and society spread throughout this beautiful and wild land.
I travelled to South Africa in 2010, with my best friend Ashleigh – who was visiting her generous and welcoming extended family in Johannesburg. When she invited me along, there was no chance I would say no. The trip took us across South Africa and then also to Zambia. With our kind local guides including her amazing three teenage cousins, we soaked in all that South Africa had to offer. We were met with nothing but kindness, helpfulness and open arms.
SOUTH AFRICAN (XHOSA)
- “I am because we are”
a quality that includes the essential human virtues; compassion and humanity.
In Johannesburg, we travelled to Soweto for the day with a local guide, where we spent time driving and then walking through Nelson Mandela’s former neighbourhood. We were met by some of the most generous and humble people I have ever met, inviting us to their home – offering us some home-brewed malt beer and giving us a tour of Kliptown – a primary school deep in one of the most poverty stricken areas in the township. The contrast of lack and generousity were heavy – the school had no electricity or running water. The village had one single water pump to service thousands of people, who had to collect water each day with old plastic bottles. There were no toilets, no sewerage, no power and homes were make-shift shacks of corregated iron and other collected materials, which we were told got very hot in the blistering summer and very cold in the bitter winters. Yet they did nothing but give, offer us drinks, to visit their homes, to take a tour of the school, to take photos, to give us information and a warm hug at the end of it all. We were so humbled. The school itself was run solely by donation of others – there was a demountable building full of clean water and food reserved for the school children, books brought by visitors like us and a solar powered TV which somebody had donated so that they too could experience the upcoming World Cup, hosted around the corner. The organisation’s details are here, should you like to make a donation to such a worthy cause. http://www.kliptownyouthprogram.org.za/
Back in Johannesburg, we prepared for our wildlife experience by visiting the Lion and Rhino Park – a fenced reserve with a vast variety of native animals (as the name gives away) which allows locals to self-drive through to come face-to-face with these beautiful creatures. The facility mainly functions as an education centre for conservation and is home to breeding programs to battle the long and ongoing poaching war against the prized, native fauna. Here we met our first white lions – cubs to be precise! We also came into contact with a baby rhino being raised by humans – as it suckled on a bottle of milk. There were cheetahs, leopards and other big cats just outside the car window- as we gawked at their sheer power as the prowled alongside us.
Though, the absolute highlight of our time was no doubt the Safari trip to Timbavati Reserve in Kruger National Park. Timbavati is not only surrounded by incredibly breath-taking savannah but it is an open reserve which means wild animals stroll across with no fencing (yes, even in the camp where you take cautious steps at night in case some stray lions have made there way near your room looking for their dinner, whilst you were in the dining area eating yours). It is also one of the few spots in the world that you will ever be able to see extremely rare wild white lions in their natural environment. As you approach the park, you pass antelope, kudu, zebra and giraffes in abundance but to spot one of the ‘big 5’ (lions, leopards, rhinos, elephants and buffalo) it takes one of the twice daily trips in the open top jeep, armed with a ranger and tracker, deep into the scrub to get a sighting. We spent 4 days heading in and out at dawn and dusk – and although we were advised that as it was spring, the foliage may limit our viewing, we ended up being spoilt with cubs and calves of all types making an appearance. On day one we were fortunate to spot the wild white lions eating a carcass they had mauled earlier, with a hyena eagerly watching from behind, awaiting a break into the action. We spotted (yes, spotted) a leopard behind a bush as it came out to our full view, sitting on a large boulder displaying its pattern to the world. We also saw endless elephants with their tiny calves, who curiously approached closely to our vehicle. We later saw the buffalo as they relaxed in the muddy outcrop, tiny birds in tow. But for me the most humbling experience was on the final day, where we had finally found rhino – we watched a territorial war between seven vs one male, which quickly escalated into eight rhino vs us as they stampeded the jeep. Yikes. But we did all make it in one very messy piece. The rest of our days were filled with hammock siestas, swimming in a luxurious pool (again – in the middle of an unfenced savannah!) and nightly feasts of local ‘pap’ – South African maize pudding, with wild vegies and other delicacies. We came away feeling, humbled by the greatness of nature and the strength of these beautiful beasts, which (almost all) approached us ever so gently and with grace.
The trip to South Africa only reinforced my expectations that I would come across untamed landscapes, creatures great and small, and communities of those who truly personify Ubuntu.
My highlights were definitely:
- Hiking to the Cape of Good Hope to watch the turqiouse Indian Ocean mix with the deep blue Atlantic
- Drinking home made beer out of a traditional pot in the home of a local Kliptown, Soweto resident
- Each and every trip of Safari, being spoilt by views of creatures of all kinds – and seeing the big five
- A walking Safari, at Timbavati, knowing that we are completely in the hands of the vast and powerful nature around us
- Horseriding through the hills of Johannesburg with our beautiful family hosts
- Bottlefeeding a baby rhino at the breeding centre
- Waking up to the spectacular view of Table Moutain (and its ‘table cloth’ clouds) in Cape Town
Here are some of my favourite snaps!