As roads do, one led us to another during our year in South Africa.
It’s time to describe some of our 15,000 kms on secondary, tertiary and national highways… occasionally shortened by a few planes… always keeping to the left (and just a few times stealing a few pics from previous trips).
Here’s a look at a few of our favorites:
Ixopo, where Alan Paton set his first and most famous novel.
“There is a lovely road that runs from Ixopo into the hills. These hills are grass-covered and rolling and they are lovely beyond any singing of it. The road climbs seven miles into them, and from there, if there is no mist, you look down on one of the fairest valleys of Africa.”
These words are the opening words from Paton’s 1948 Cry the Beloved Country. They inspired us to make a two thousand kilometer drive to see the valley he wrote about, sharing the narrow road with taxi vans carrying way too many passengers way too fast; and only after traveling half-way on a 24 hour Greyhound to Umtata with much appreciated frequent Super Shell pit-stops …. I suppose this idiotic idea for a trip is like our visit to Cochin that led to 3000 Years of Jewish India.
At the end of our most difficult journey, we spent a week in a boma in the former Transkei, near Nelson Mandela’s childhood village.
In his Long Walk to Freedom, Nelson Mandela writes: “I was born on 18 July, 1918 at Mvezo, a tiny village on the banks of the Mbashe River in the district of Umtata, the capital of the Transkei…” From there, Mandela, son of a Xhosa chief, took a road less traveled…
We never made it to Mvezo (the potholes were too deep), but did spend a week in a boma overlooking the Indian Ocean in the Xhosa village of Bulungula, about 30 kms from there, four hours from Umtata, the nearest city and near where he grew up. With the time saved on the aborted drive to Mvezo, I helped a village woman prepare her family’s daily meal by gathering fire wood, fetching water, and chopping cabbage.
We visited Inanda, a township near Durban, where Madiba cast his first vote.
Invited to visit Durban and not knowing more about it than its fame for curry, we phoned Dr. Lindy Stiebel who had introduced us to Alan Paton’s Pietermaritzburg on a previous trip.
A professor of South African literature of international reputation, and creator of KZN (KwaZulu Natal) Literary Tourism, Lindy took us on rarely traveled-by-tourists roads, beyond those leading most visitors only to uShaka Marine World and Water Park.
A highlight was the place Nelson Mandela selected in 1994 to cast his first vote. The voting took place in a school founded by John Dube, who wrote the first isiZulu novel, Jeqe, The Body-Servant of King Shaka, and founded the ANC, the political party led by Mandela – still governing South Africa today.
Interestingly, Dube’s theories on equality were formed while visiting Booker T. Washington at the Tuskegee Institute, and his conversations on frequent walks with his Durban neighbor Mahatma Gandhi. (For more, see granddaughter Sita’s Memoirs of Sita Gandhi about growing up on the Gandhi farm in what is now suburban Durban, Phoenix Settlement.)
Howard’s dream was to go to the real southern most point in Africa…
To set the record straight, the Cape of Good Hope is not the southernmost point in Africa (nor is it the place where the Atlantic and the Indian meet). The southernmost point in Africa is a forlorn coastline town called Cape Agulhas, about four hours south and east of the Cape Point site on the Cape Town tourist maps. There’s nothing much in Cape Agulhas but a plaque, a few other tourists, the southernmost bar, the southernmost restaurant, and hundreds of ship-wrecks.
Of course, we followed many roads to experience awesome natural beauty.
We spent a week in Swaziland in a self-catering cottage at the end of a gravel road up a steep hill below execution rock, in Swaziland’s first nature reserve. From the mountain above, ancient warriors threw criminals to their deaths.
We made sure we behaved since we were staying very close to the king’s palace and I didn’t qualify as a virgin maiden for his annual Reed Dance when he chooses a new wife. Really.
Coastal Mozambique roads are sandy – often impassable without a 4×4.
Dhow sail boats serve as fishing boats and transport women from the villages to trade in town. Tides along the coast come in quickly, so it’s a good thing that local women know how to carry their goods the traditional way, on their heads.
We drove across many deserts…
The road to the Sossusvlei sand dunes in Namibia is about 10 hours from the capital city of Windhoek. We wish we had known before we went about our friend Janine Hobbs’ grandfather Israel Goldblatt’s Building Bridges (not roads). Incredible tales of his experiences with the Namibian nationalist movement. (Must ask Ann and Wendy in the Darling book store to track it down.)
Roads in Namibia are so pot-holed that all drivers are warned to drive with two spares…and the roads so remote that vehicles carry spare petrol, too… To get to the dunes, we rented a bakkie (pickup truck in South African usage) but discovered it had only one spare. We had no choice but to depart Windhoek with only the one. We made it to our lodge without even one flat… and much to our delight and surprise, a plane arrived the next morning with that second spare.
So many more deserted desert roads!
Namaqualand, the Karoo and the Kalahari… Once again we were often the only car on the road. They were much as I imagine the American mid- west before McDonalds – vast, empty plains, nothing but sheep and goats and an occasional windmill, and from time to time strange rock formations and distant mountains. (I just read Recipe of Food and Murder by Sally Andrew; set in the Klein Karoo, it’s a knock off of Alex McCall Smith’s The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency, set in Gabarone, Botswana… but still lots of fun.)
On some trips there were no roads at all!
Occasionally there was a hike or flight in a four passenger planes above animal highways – Blyde River Canyon offered easy walks to waterfalls.
In the Okavango Delta, hippos blocked our mokoro’s channel. In Chobe’s Savuti Swamp there were so many zebras, elephants, giraffes and wildebeests grazing together, the scene made me think of early American painter Edward Hicks’ Peaceable Kingdom.
Victoria Falls is an easy flight from Joburg, and soon (we hope) Cape Town. Once we arrived, we hired a guide to drive us across the small border bridge between Zimbabwe and Zambia, past dare-devil bungee-jumpers who didn’t seem to care where they were. The roaring falls rained on us and formed rainbows in the mist. Raincoats were the order of the day, unless you were 10, then getting soaked was part of the fun.
Diamonds and Gold!
It’s well worth a four hour drive from Joburg in any direction to learn the story of diamonds and gold …diamonds in Kimberly and gold in Joburg’s Witwatersrand and remote Barberton and Pilgrim’s Rest. Howard is reading Martin Meredith’s Diamonds and Gold and Wars. Essentially, it’s the story of South Africa.
And if you are really adventuresome (who knew we were?), drive over the nearly impassable pass to Swaziland or plan a visit to a DeBeers mine in Port Nolloth in northwest Namaqualand… We visited the diamond mine on our first visit to South Africa – and learned so much, and won’t ever forget how hard it is to find a diamond.
And ah, just ordinary everyday landscape is so beautiful!
Everywhere, past newly planted wheat, oats and canola, grape vines after harvest, and even in winter, flowers …
White roses, pink Proteas, red and yellow spiked aloes, blue phlox-like stems, bright orange Birds of Paradise and soon, if there has been enough winter rain, carpets of wildflowers everywhere.
And the most beautiful site yesterday, snow at the top of the mountains to the east as we drove through cow pastures and winter wild flowers on the side of the back road to Cape Town.
Finally, the most awesome sight of all, Table Mountain.
Always on view – unless occasional clouds – from just about any road within 60 kms of Cape Town. Yesterday, we weren’t disappointed.