It surprised me. It was going to be a hot day, I was never in doubt of this. Yet that was not what surprised me. It is their arrival at our village. I have already moved under a tree even though it is still early and that sentinel of the heavens, that fiery ball of hot white is already burning down relentlessly. I look up from the moist grass I am eating as I hear the sound of cars coming up the rutted track towards our village. Two 4x4 vehicles are slowly negotiating their way towards us. Strange. Strange because the only cars that ever come along here are the taxis to drop our villagers. Strange because it's Christmas Day and no one moves around today.
Moments later the doors of both cars pop open, almost as though it were a synchronized Olympic event, and a whole lot of umlungus* emerge from the cars. Still chewing the soft juicy grass I look on with interest. Strange, strange indeed. Maybe they are lost.
The village is quiet as everyone is sheltering indoors away from the increasing heat of our African sun. The only sign of life, besides the few of us grazing on the hill, are a pair of mangy looking dogs eating some leftovers they've discovered in a discarded tyre. It's almost as if the village has been abandoned.
"Woza ingane**," one of umlungus shouts out in stilted Zulu. The village remains still. One of the dogs looks up with a cursory interest before returning to its frenzied feeding of the scraps it's enjoying. The buzz of lazy flies fills the air as they rise up in protest agaimst the swish my tail as I attempt to chase them off. "Woza ingane," he shouts again, and this time there is a response.
Gogo^ is the first to emerge. Even though she is bent with age and walks with the aid of a roughly hewn stick smoothed on the top with years of use, she is somehow lightening fast when called. Age has not dulled her mind nor her sharp wit and curiosity. Behind her, like a bride's sweeping wedding trail, are a swath of wide eyed children. They peer out curiously from the safety of Gogo's shadow at this strange arrival. Soon more children and adults appear, seemingly rising out of the dusty village floor. Within moments the village is a buzz of people chatting and looking curiously on at the unexpected arrival.
"Merry Christmas," one of the ingane umlungus shouts, holding out a wrapped gift towards a shy young girl clinging to her mother's leg. For a moment she looks on, still unsure what this all means, but within moments her curiosity wins out over her uncertainty and she ventures away from her safehaven to take the proffered gift.
"Siyabonga," she says, as a huge smile splits her face revealing her lovely white teeth. "God bless you." Soon all the children are running to receive their gifts, and bubbling chatter and laughter fills the village. Parents stand by and smile their appreciation as their children run back to them to tear open their gifts. Their reticence is forgotten replaced by the excitement of unexpected gifts.
In moments new soccer shirts are being donned, and dolls pulled from their packaging. The village has transformed. Excitement, laughter, kids playing and adults chatting in the shade outside their huts replaces the stillness that just minutes before lay heavily over the village. Even the sun, which seemed so oppressive just minutes ago, seems to have lost its intensity as a cool breeze ripples across the grass making the small yellow flowers dance as if they are alive.
Gogo, leaning lightly on her stick, extends her gnarled hands and grasps the hand of one of the umlungus. She beams a huge smile, replete with missing teeth. A smile that demands a response and cannot be ignored. She says something that he does not understand but her reply needs no words, her face says it all. The umlungus smile back, and in moments they too are laughing - not just a shallow laugh, but a laughter bubbling deep from within the heart, a laughter born of receiving a real gift, one so unexpected, one found in the joy of giving.
I return to my moist grass as the umlungus clamber back into their cars followed by a waving, laughing, bubbling river of children. They young umlungus lean out the windows and wave farewell and the village children shout after them "hamba kahle"^^. This is Africa. She is beautiful. Her people are beautiful. And when they come together to share, to meet each other, to touch for a few moments, her beauty is complete. Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika - God Bless Africa!
Meaning of Zulu words:
* white person
** come children
^^ go well
I'm sitting under the cool shade of a huge oak tree while before me the beautiful berg river rushes over a weir before racing on its long journey towards the sea a couple of hundred kilometers away. A cool breeze rising from the river brings relief from the summer sun carrying with it the scent of the nearby pine forest and the shrill song of a million Christmas beetles. A flock of sheep leisurely eat the leaves from the plants on the water's edge while we await the children to return - it will be our turn soon.The river is calling. It beckons us with is cool arms to enter and experience it's adventurous, free spirit, as we ride its rapids on a tube and live the adventure. It has begun!
Just two hours west of our base camp in the leafy suburb of Cowies Hill rise the mighty uKhahlamba Drakensberg mountains. The Zulu name means "barrier of spears" as their majestic peaks stab proudly into the vast blue skies of Africa. Their Afrikaans name, Drakensberg, captures their ancient living presence - Dragon mountains.
From where we are staying at Eagles Lodge, in the aptly named Champagne Valley of the central berg, we look out at the giant peaks of Cathkin, Champagne Castle, and Sterkhorn dropping off towards the jagged crags of the Dragon's back. This beautiful barrier of spears is framed by an azure blue sky above and rolling green hills below. It's here that we will begin out AfricaTour warmup.
For 10 days we will explore the wonders and adventure of this majestic area. It's sort of a test of our Africa Tour as we see if we've packed the right things, how cleaning and cooking duties pan out (pun ;), how routine in the random works, and so on. We need to trial things before our first leg in mid Jan. And what a great place to begin.
The weather in this area of KwaZulu-Natal in summer can vary from intense heat to endless humid wet days to even a surprising hail storm or snowfall. We are blessed with the former as the berg delivers endless long blue sky summer days. The abundant rains from prior weeks have turned everything into a beautiful vista of velvet green punctuated by splashes of colour from the wild flowers that are springing up everywhere.
The mountain seems to weep as temporary runoffs drip down cliff faces. The cool shady forests that huddle around the rivers in the valleys are alive with the shrill cacophony of thousands of Christmas beetles singing their welcome of sun, summer, and fun.
It's late afternoon and the sun lances down with a lava like intensity from the sky effectively keeping everyone indoors or under shade. However while most holiday makers hide in their cool sanctuaries, we decide to head to our river swimming spot higher up in the mountains. While the sun's intensity is undiminished we bravely set out hoping the fact that it is now late afternoon will provide some respite.
Arriving at Monks Cowl we are surprised to find the parking lot nearly empty - testimony to the effectiveness of the sun's purging. However what the sheltering average person does not realise is that closer to the mountain a cooling shadow is cast by some gathering clouds. Are they the portent of a coming storm? With excitement we descend towards the river, luxuriating in the silence of a mountain all to ourselves.
Arriving at our swimming spot we are rewarded with some unexpected cooling shade as the early afternoon sun dips behind a copse of tall trees straddling the river's edge. We quickly discard our gear and leap off the high rock on the river's edge into the refreshing embrace of the crystal Berg water. In seconds all memory of the day's heat are washed away as we emerge laughing and energized. This is bliss!
After our swim in the cool river we sit drying on the large rocks on the river's edge. Here we soak in the palette of brilliant colours that compete for attention - the velvet green hills dotted with a few horses giving way to the majestic grey mountains rising to touch the deep blue sky. All the while the smell of the grass and fynbos mingle with the sweet smell of the river to rejuvenate our soul.
We head back to our car and the children decide that the weather outside is better than inside - and so perched on top of the car's roof carrier they get to ride high enjoying the view from on top as we slowly negotiate the road back home.
Back at Eagles Lodge we move our chairs outside under some shade so we can drink deeply of the stunning beauty of the early evening, and of course of the fruit of the vine too. No evening is quite complete without the soothing effects of fine wine tasting even finer in these champagne surrounds.
However the mountains many seasons are not yet complete. Out of what looks like a blue sky comes a sudden downpour, causing us to hurriedly scuttle under cover. Yet the inconvenience is far outweighed by the reward.
Minutes later as the downpour moves on further down the valley, God's hand paints a majestic double rainbow of striking beauty across the grey sky behind the house, its colours seemingly dripped from heaven itself. The rich smells of early evening intensify as the fresh aroma of the rain on the grass fills the air. It reminds us of God's blessing - for witnessing God's beauty in places like this is a blessing that words can never capture -
“Let my teaching fall like rain
and my words descend like dew,
like showers on new grass,
like abundant rain on tender plants.” (Deuteronomy 32:2)
This is our Africa Tour...let it begin in earnest!
Extricating yourself from the dusty, cluttered tendrils of 17 years of accumulation is no easy task. But such was the need as we packed up our entire home and sent it off to storage.
While packing up a home is a big task it is also a fascinating and therapeutic task too. Fascinating in the discovery of items long forgotten, such as a collection of toys I had saved from when I was only about 9 (kept safely alive in a box pricked with air holes ;). Therapeutic as the clutter of life is sorted, dumped or given away.
There is something hugely cathartic in the process, as more and more of life's needless baggage is stripped away. It is no easy process as each item is evaluated and some nostalgic or other reason is found for its continued storage. Yet despite this bakkie loads of our hoardings left our home to new homes or to the fiery pits of the dump.
Finally our home was clean, every room exorcised of years of clutter, except for a few items the tenants had asked us to leave. All our worldly accoutrements were either in storage, or in boxes in the one room we kept in our home or our new base camp - a single small room at M&Ps home.
It's interesting that our trip of 12+ months that lies ahead is not only a physical journey but one that will also take us to many unexplored mental spaces. How will it be to have no "home" besides our car? How will it be to sleep in over 100 different places in a year? How will it be to only have one small bag of clothing for a year - this one particularly is concerning the girls. How will it feel when the new and unknown is our routine?
These are new mental spaces we will explore in the journey ahead. But already we are experiencing paradigm shifts. As we have packed up our home we have experienced a strange sense of unloading. It's cathartic in a sense that we are letting go of baggage but equally it is disconcerting as we wonder if we will need these things we have relied on for so long. Already we are living out of cases and learning to need less and experience more. Already we have slept in over 8 beds in 14 days and learning that home is where your family and your pillow are.
Well, here's to new places, new experiences, new paradigms. Let the AfricaTour begin!
Braai, Beer, Berg...Bliss is the the awesome foursome especially on a perfect day like this. And today we grabbed the awesomeness to the full as our last full day. I'm sure this is the ideal spot to study the space-time continuum and the warping of time, because I have undeniable proof of time compression. Yesterday was a week ago!
Being our last full day we grabbed the opportunity to cycle to our newly found swimming spot right at the end of the road...a 3km uphill cycle and walk that leave you warmed up and ready for a dip. However afterwards there is the flying home - which is what the 5 mins of downhill feels like all the way back.
The parents were heading home so we had an early braai before bidding them adieu. The warm sun enticed us to go and try out the new hotel swimming pool with slide and caves. Nicky and kids also decided to finish the experience in the Cove - a nice heated pool, but I did not fancy the idea of sharing a "bath" with others who were wallowing in it. This premonition proved valid as they shortly returned with smirks of a near miss on their faces. Their hasty retreat had been initiated by some young kid saying to another "now you make me weewee"...Eish!
We topped off our day with a final hike up to Mushroom Rock for sundowners and a moment to be mesmerized by the beauty of God's divine tapestry. Wow!
We're looking at the most majestic Rhino, while experiencing Hippo and there is not an animal in sight. And that is why this possibly the most spectacular place on earth!
We're at Drakensberg Gardens in KwaZulu-Natal's southern Berg, staying at the amazing Fairways timeshare. I consider this the unbeatable holiday destination.
The ever present vista of the majestic Drakensberg mountains dominated by the iconic Rhino Peak, satiates your visual sense. A stunning walk along the river and into the mountains, a swim in the invigorating, crystal clear Hippo pool, restores even the weariest soul.
The smell of log fires, pine forests, and champagne air, which are the defining scent of this paradise, fills your lungs and your heart to bursting.
The gurgling sound of the peppermint colored water mingled with the the melodic song of doves, occasionally punctuated by the guttural call of a troop of baboons, reaches deep into your very being.
It's upon this divine tapestry that we are blessed to be a single thread woven by God's hand. A thread that is woven into a tapestry so amazing we can hardly comprehend it. It's only when we stop for just a moment that we realise the true wonder of what we have been blessed with!
This is Africa. This is South Africa. This is the mighty Drakensberg. This is perfect. This is a Gift!