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Published: March 21st 2018
The past month we have spent at what feels to us like a more African part of South Africa. The Eastern Cape and Kwazulu Natal are provinces where we ended up in rural areas, small villages, sleeping in traditional rondavels (roundhouses) or camping in the middle of nowhere or in the huge nature parks close to animals. The Wild Coast as it is called is in large part undeveloped and very rural.
The small village of Nqileni is a very typical undeveloped village, there is no running water and no electricity. People generally don’t really own stuff and most don’t have a formal job. The village consists of wide spread scattered colourful rondavels covering the beautiful hills where the Bulungula river reaches the ocean. The Bulungula lodge is created as a community project and gave us the opportunity to spend some time here, eating the traditional food and sleeping in a traditional house. We walked through the village with one of the appointed village guides and met with the headman of the village, a traditional healer and had a traditional beer (a fermented drink with an acquired taste) in the local shebeem (bar). Our guide (a young modern woman) explained
us all about the modern Xhosa life in which the exchange of a number of cows from one family to the other is a very important part of the wedding of two people as is the installation of solar panels at every individual rondavel so that people can charge their mobile phones.
We continued along the coast to a surfers town called Coffee Bay and then to a scuba diving town called Umkomaas. We did two dives and where a bit disappointed because all that Umkomaas is famous for was not present when we were diving but the mid dive encounter with a school of dolphins and a young was unforgettable.
We drove inland to the extensive Drakensberg mountain chain with some of the highest peaks of South Africa. We first spent a few days and nights in the Northern part where we hiked one day to see the spectacular Amphitheatre mountains from up close. We then moved to the more Central Drakensberg area where we hiked a day in the Giants Castle mountain area and where the next day we walked to the well preserved, beautiful and interesting Bushmen paintings caves.
Durban for us was a
practical base for a few days to get sorted with changing our rental vehicle, visiting a doctor and organising our Mozambique visa but we also got to eat the best Indian food of the country because the biggest Indian community in SA lives here. It was so good to have a huge, thin, crispy dosa and an explosion of tastes in a curry.
Durban is an example of a big South African city where the differences between the white rich and black poor people are enormous. It seems to us a lot of the problems nowadays (violence/criminality) are very related to the situation created during the apartheid regime (like the lack of proper housing, education and work for a huge part of the population). The segregation in SA nowadays and the racism in some individuals has been hard to grasp by us the past few months but below the surface (and sometimes very above the surface) it’s always there. We have found it difficult to have a proper calm conversation about segregation and racism in South Africa with some white (always) men in this country because we cannot understand their racist ideas and beliefs. It is intriguing to us
to try and understand where these ideas come from and how their ideas are still fuelled today by their current experiences and by their perception of the news in the world.
A bit heated and complex but interesting discussion made clear that the guy we were speaking with was actually scared all the time and he has been scared almost his whole life, for all sorts of things, including the fear for being kicked out of the country because he is white, including the fear of being clubbed and robbed when exiting his electric gate and including his fear that all Western European countries are now taken over by extreme religious groups. He warned us, very seriously, regardless our disbelief and counter arguments, that in a few years countries like the UK and the Netherlands will have the Sharia law implemented and this will have dire consequences. He says, although living in a small rather closed white enclave in this huge country rather far away from the rest of the world, he is well informed by all the news he gets directly via Facebook from his well informed friends in these European countries. To us he was an example
of a typical racist populist using only the wrong information resources to feed his own beliefs.
From Durban we headed to Hluhluwe-Imfolozi, one of the bigger national parks in SA. We took our time to explore both the northern part Hluhluwe as the southern part Imfolozi and loved to self drive through the park, encountering a lot of rhinos, giraffes, buffalos and elephants up close. We were once again truly impressed by the beauty and the abundance of wildlife.
Kosi Bay is the most northern part of the South African coast, close to the Mozambique border, where the N2 highway we have used on and off from Cape Town redirects inland to a small village called Amsterdam. The only cool things in Amsterdam are the name signs so after a selfie we continued. At Kosi Bay we stayed at a nice place with a swimming pool so we relaxed a bit and went on a boat trip to the connected lakes in the estuary where we could snorkel between the mangroves and where we spotted hippos in the lakes.
A long day of driving got us to Kruger National Park. The past few months many people had
convinced us to visit Kruger even though it is the most commercial and developed park of the country. One part of the park is nicknamed The Circus and another part the Zoo and we expected tar roads everywhere with traffic jams of touring cars and safari trucks. At Lower Sabie, the first camp we stayed at, the only food option was a Mug & Bean coffee shop which to us felt totally out of place.
But then we left for our self drive game drives and got impressed by what it is all about, the wildlife. The variety and numbers of animals were above expectation, there are a lot of nice gravel roads that cross and loop through the park and we did not see more than a few vehicles at one moment gathered to watch the animals. We moved to Satara camp while spotting more animals and camped at a beautiful spot directly at the inside of the fence that keeps out the animals. In the evening the hyenas walked along the fence and at night we could hear lions, hyenas and jackals. After two nights we moved to our last camp Letaba and camped close to the
perimeters of the camp again. We woke up early and drove a lot of kilometres criss-crossing the park looking for lions and our patience and perseverance got rewarded as we saw lions every day, lying on the tarmac road in the darkness before sunrise, or just being lazy and playing with each other in the grass waiting for the temperature to drop again during the day. One morning game drive we saw a pack of wild dogs, who just killed a kudu, ripping the animal apart, sharing the prey with a hyena for an instance, until the rest of the pack arrived and they got into a fight, ending with the hyena being chased away by the wild dogs. The whole scene took maybe ten minutes before the wild dogs had completely ripped the impala apart and swallowed big pieces of meat and intestines and it was a fascinating, raw and a bit disgusting spectacle to watch.
The last early morning game drive we did, after a huge elephant chased after us after crossing the road, we came across two male lions which after a few minutes started to walk on the gravel road in front of us. They
were not hindered nor distracted by our presence and took their time to stroll on the road, marking their territory. Finally after about 40 minutes of observing the beautiful lions they took off into the bush.
We drove to Johannesburg to pick up Ineke, Merijns’ mum, who flew in from the Netherlands to see us after more than a year of travelling. With Ineke we picked up our road trip where we left it and headed to Swaziland. In the kingdom of Swaziland we went to Hlane Royal National Park where we had booked a very nice accommodation called the Big Hut. In the middle of the park, with antelopes walking between the huts, a waterhole just outside the fence and with no electricity at all but a gas powered fridge and oil lamps lighted by the attentive staff every night this was as much the African bush experience we could wish. With a guided game drive we saw a lot of big rhinos taking a mud bath and there were some hippos and rhinos in the waterhole close to the camp. One moment there was even a family of rhinos approaching the camp and as we were looking
at them from quite a short distance they were looking at us on the other side of the thin fence.
We left for St Lucia where at the streets, the parking and in the garden to our apartment we were warned for hippos at night. They are supposed to come out of the river to feed on the grass which is everywhere in the small town but we were a bit skeptical. One evening while we were having a drink in our apartment we suddenly became aware of a huge hippo just outside our window. The hippo was just munching on the nice green grass between our apartment and the swimming pool, not paying attention to any of us watching him and taking pictures. We visited the iSimangaliso Wetland Park for a day and again saw some beautiful rhinos and a lot of hippos in the water.
A small ride along the coast is Sodwana Bay where we wanted to spend a few days at the beach and to fulfil a wish of Ineke to go scuba diving. It had been many years since she had last been diving and although she always wanted to do it some
time, this time never came until now. She first spent a few hours in a pool doing a refresher course and the next day we went out to the ocean together. This was definitely a very special and memorable moment for all of us, diving with the three of us, together with my 72 year old mum. The diving was good, the reef was healthy and beautiful and the underwater life was varied. Two dives were logged in our logbooks as mother and son buddy pair. It was an adventure and so worth it. It was tiring and so gratifying.
Now we are sitting in the garden of our cabin at a rustic bush camp. This is one of the last days before our 90 day visa for South Africa expires. We will bring Ineke to the airport of Johannesburg for her to return to the Netherlands and after a few days in Joburg we will leave South Africa and start exploring the rest of this continent, beginning with Mozambique. We have not spent this much time in one country before during this trip and we have really loved every bit of the beautiful country, every day, although confusing
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