I haven’t travelled to a place without a Spur for a while. Even Dar Es Salaam had a Spur. But that’s the point, sometimes. Go to a place without a KFC, morning traffic or radio stations you always understand. I headed off to the Blyde River Canyon in Mpumalanga, South Africa.
I needed a walk in a place I’d never walked before.
The trip between Germiston and Dullstroom is a drag, but after that, every hour and 10 potholes further, the area becomes brutally more beautiful. Bossies become plantations and forests, streams become waterfalls and rivers and dongas become ravines and gorges and canyons. Gorgeous. Can Africa be more majestic than this?
You have to keep your wits about you while driving, but after a while, you get high on the pure oxygen, dodging the potholes becomes a game and the random appearance of mist or cows just adds to the adventure. The pop sounds of 947 fade away to make space for the exotic tunes of LMFM. Dorothy, you’re not in Germiston anymore, baby.
It is a topographically complex area of Fauna and Flora, due to the extreme variation in altitude and rainfall. Rainforest and Grasslands live side by side. Baboons, Dassies, hippos, crocs, Impala, Wildebeest and Zebra are in the area.
As well as the group animal, the Two-Toned Kie’s. Not my favourite species of Homo Sapiens, but I admit a bigotry in this regard. Two-Toned Kie’s often travel in little troupes. They wear two toned shirts and shorts. And speak Afrikaans in the diminutive form. Now I am aware that in the Human Fauna, there are freedoms regarding speech and that you should be allowed to express yourself sartorially as you please, but some okes are abusing this privilege. I feel strongly that after the age of 40, men should not be allowed to wear shorts – definitely not when matched with a two-toned shirt! And do you have to speak like a little child?
“Kom my familietjiekie, kom ons neem ‘n kiekiekie in my broekiekie gemaak van khakikie.” Kiekiekiekie! Fok.
Also, I noticed a larger presence of Chinese in this area. What made them stand out for me was that many appeared to be ‘local tourists’ like myself. They braai-ed at night at the resort I was staying, turning the meat expertly, did not overdo photograph-taking at scenic spots and drove their own cars. There were the Asian bus Tours, but they were a different Fauna. I am not sure whether it was an accurate observation or just an extrapolation of limited facts in a short space of time.
I wondered about this as I drove through Dullstroom, Pilgrim’s Rest, Sabie, Witrivier, past Bourke’s Potholes God’s Window – it’s all there. Adventure sports, fishing, sight-seeing, horse-riding, you can do all of it, but soak up the area at a leisurely pace.
Read up on your history. When overlooking God’s Window, ponder how our forefathers were slaughtered and slaughtered others in the name of Gold. In the name of property. In the name of Greed. And here we are, black, white and yellow, taking selfies side by side. On a good day, you can see the Kruger Park and Mocambique from here. On a very good day, you can see into the past. Don’t just look. Think.
If you pack your cooler box properly, you can just drift for a few days, having a picnic under a waterfall or a spontaneous outburst of a brunch in a forest or an insightful sundowner at a lookout point over the canyon.
If you do not have a well-packed cooler box, like I did (not), and you wake up Sunday morning realizing the shops and liquor stores where you stay are closed on a Sunday, you use the excuse to take a 50km drive to see what the closest town has to offer. Maybe someone will be kind enough to sell you booze illegally. Around here, 50km is a spin around the block.
I arrived at Graskop around lunchtime, scouting for a place that would sell me ‘take-aways’. I noticed something unusual. The complete absence of car guards or beggars. Nothing like the flock of tenacious window-washers of Pilgrim’s Rest. None of the magical manifestations of car guards and hawkers of Dullstroom: before you switch the engine off, three car guards are surrounding you. Graskop? Nothing. Hmpf. I wondered about that and then saw a sign:
“ NO TAKE-AWAYS” said the placard in front of The Biker’s Bar. Bingo!
A herd of bikers were passing through I ordered a drink and surveyed the scene. The drink was prompt and, well, as neat as you could expect for a biker’s bar. Except there was a parrot in it.
“Er, waiter, there is a parrot in my drink.”
“Yes, it’s name is Bobby, madam.”
They have a parrot at The Biker’s Bar who walks on the bar counter and takes sips of your drink. It knows its limits, which is more than I can say for many of the clientele. The parrot’s owner was a beautifully bunioned specimen with squint eyes. Just when I thought I was focusing on the correct eye, I found a different eye looking at me. I think he did it on purpose. I turned my attention to the bikers.
They were passing through Graskop on the way to Whiteriver for the Rhino Rally. “Support our cause” they urged:“It’s to save the Rhinos’”
“No, I don’t believe in the cause.”
“Not even baby Rhinos?”
“No, I am on the side of the poachers.”
I bought us a brandy to avoid a fight.
Rhinos don’t interest me. I was more interested in the phenomenon of the complete absence of Car Guards in Graskop, but the increased presence of Chinese in the area and I voiced my observation.
“It’s obvious – the Chinese are eating our Car Guards.” said the biker.
I almost spat out my brandy.
“Well, they are already eating our dogs and cats, what is to stop them from eating our Car Guards?”
What? Indeed. The wisdom of the brandied Biker. Can’t beat it.
In the absence of car guards to eat, I took my take-aways and ordered lunch at Canimambo, an authentic Portuguese Restaurant. I had prawns so big and fresh and juicy, you could taste Mocambique – because that’s where they came from a day ago. Canimambo gets their seafood from Mocambique via a supplier in Nelspruit. Stuffed with garlic and parsley. Brilliant.
You won’t get this type of authentic cuisine at a Spur or Ocean Basket.
I found my walk. It was the Leopard Trail in the Canyon. It meanders around the lookout at the top of the Canyon. You can see the 3 Rondavels and the dam. Quite extraordinary. It is an engaging walk, compared to Suierbosrand in Heidelberg, the greenery and the rocky trail forcing you to concentrate, but overall a friendly trail. I got lost, which is annoying, but this is a mere triviality when compared to turning the corner and you see the whole Canyon opening up before you in all its glory. II literally had to breathe in and out a few times and blink. Here is this majesty right in front of you. Not on TV. Not in a picture. Places like this actually exist. I fired up my camping Gaz and made some coffee. After all, I suppose it does not matter which route you take up and down a mountain, as long as you get to where you want to be. If you are content with where you are, you are not lost.
It’s important to get lost sometimes. Preferably in an exotic new place. Also, when you travel in South Africa, travel with small money. Places like God’s Window ask R10 for entry and I see the WMCs pull in with R200 notes or a credit card, so the poor guys controlling the entry points scramble around desperately looking for change.
And please, don’t eat the Car Guards. Feed them. That R5 or R10 that you won’t miss is their bread and butter. It’s their ‘business’. It’s the only marketable skill they have in a country with a calamitous history and a desperate future. Travel with change.
Our country needs change.