The real Africa, the Africa that casts a spell over its visitors, is closer than we realized. We, my son Jonathan and I, had a date with a game reserve only 170 kilometers from Johannesburg. On our way we called at our local supermarket to load up with meat for a braaivleis (Afrikaans for "burnt offering", or "barbecue"), and other perishables like milk, cheese, bananas, etc. Then we hit the N1, the Great North Road, that stretches from Cape Town to the Zimbabwe border at Beit Bridge. Getting through all the traffic on the way to Pretoria was a nightmare. The freeway is being expanded from three to five lanes in each direction, which will be a relief once it is completed, but at present it is a nightmare.
Once we were past Pretoria the traffic thinned out, the road was fine, and it was a joy to travel. We were thrilled at the prospect of visiting Limpopo again, the province in which I had done so much evangelical work. On reaching the Total Petroport we decided to take a lunch break as recommended on a road safety billboard at the side of the road. It is considered good practice not to drive more than two hours without a refresh break. On long trips I tend to fall sleep at the wheel, so for me it is good practice to have frequent stops to freshen up. On this occasion Jonathan was doing all the driving. I had to stay awake to make sure that he did not fall sleep.
This Petroport is a haven of useful facilities for the traveler. There is a service station, a shop called Bon Jour, and a Steers Restaurant which spans the double highway. While having lunch I took a photograph of the highway, looking south towards Pretoria. This was for the benefit of friends in America, who are interested to see conditions in South Africa.
Refreshed, we continued our journey. Shortly after leaving the Petroport there was a sign welcoming us to Limpopo. With the change of province the road surface improved, becoming very smooth. For the whole distance of 100 kilometers the road is almost dead straight, having only three light bends. The condition of the road is excellent, probably the best in South Africa. The road crosses a vast plain known as the Springbok Flats. There are only gentle undulations, no hills of note. According to the history books this plain used to be home to large herds of springbok and to many lions. There is still a lot of virgin bushveld, so that that it is difficult to believe that springbok once roamed there. Springbok like open country like Botswana and the Northern Cape. There is also much farming activity. Cattle are to be seen, as well as fields of maize, wheat, and grain sorghum. Cotton is also grown here but we did not see any.
We left the N1 at the Bela Bela off ramp and proceeded towards Settlers on the R536, a distance of 4 kilometers to the main entrance to the Sondela Game Reserve. Here we were given a blank receipt form for an unspecified conservation fee, which would have to be paid at reception, which was 4.1 kilometers from the entrance. The speed limit in the reserve is 30km / h. The road winds through the dense bush. I had just remarked to Jonathan that we had not seen any game when a herd of black wildebeest emerged. Their road manners were excellent; they waited for us to pass before crossing the road. Shortly after that we had two impalas dancing along the road in front of us. Arriving at the reception center we were treated to a glass of orange juice and a pancake by a beautiful blue-eyed young lady with long blonde hair. We handed in our receipt for the conservation fee. After paying the R100 it was stamped and we were informed that it was our gate pass. Without it we would not be able to leave the reserve.
On the way to our chalet we passed some people near a kudu. Jonathan remarked with astonishment that they were feeding it. At our chalet was a neat carport with an A-section roof of shade cloth. As we were unloading, three kudu's came to inspect the new arrivals. They were very inquisitive and very tame. The large bull kudu stand a little distance away, keeping watch. Every now and again he would tap lightly, silently, on the ground with his right foot, apparently a signal understood by the two kudu's that had their noses on the wall of our verandah. First one kudu came timidly and put its nose on the wall, then the other, seeing that the first was safe, came and joined in. Considering that we had seen a group of people feeding a kudu we thought it safe to feed the kudu's that had approached the wall of our verandah. First we gave them some cauliflour. That went down very quickly. It was followed by some broccoli and then by a piece of apple. Those disappeared fast. The kudu's were remarkably disciplined. They showed no sign of fear and allowed us to stroke their noses without flinching. Unfortunately, that was the last we saw of them.
Our chalet was very comfortable. The center part furnished the lounge, dining room and kitchen. Each wing contained a bedroom and a bathroom. The dining room table was set with six places. Each place had enough dishes for a five course meal. The chalet was served each morning by three maids, members of the local Tiwana tribe. As we were only two, we never had to wash dishes or make our beds or clean the house. Visitors would be well advised to include a fly spray in their baggage. That was something we could have done with, but had overlooked when packing.
As we were having supper, Jonathan thought he could hear a monkey in the loft room above the kitchen. He proceeded up the wooden staircase in semi-darkness. When he came down he reported that there had been a monkey there. The fanlight was open and the monkey jumped out when it saw him. He closed the fanlight. The next morning our maid informed us that it was not a monkey but a bushbaby. She referred us to a notice on the refrigerator door, which stated that bushbabies (Lesser Galago, the world's smallest primate) were often found in the chalets, and this was considered a privilege for the guests.
We spent a comfortable night and had a late breakfast. We decided to braai our meat. There were two braai facilities. The one on the verandah was built into the chimney. There was a warning warning us not to use it as there were owls nesting in the chimney. Inside the chalet was a fireplace with a similar warning. So owls had right of way in our chalet. The external braai facility was very suitable. We had with us a very good boerewors and some excellent lamb chops. I had expected them to last us the whole week but Jonathan had other ideas. Come bedtime we had ate them all
During the day we had visits from a number of nyala's. They were not as obliging as the kudu, rarely keeping still long enough to be photographed. They were happy to have us in their mid but unlike the kudu's they did not allow us to touch them. They romped about in the vicinity and we found their presence companionable. I did manage to get a few photographs. A male declined to scratch his hip with his mouth and still still long enough for a photograph. The nyala were our most frequent visitors and we certainly enjoyed their company. The birds also made us feel welcome. The bird life was not as prolific as at some of the other reserves but there was a good variety. There were hoepoes, gray louries, mousebirds, hornbills, and many that we were not able to identify. The guinea fowl and pheasants were ubiquitous but difficult to photograph as they were always on the move. It would have been a good idea to have bought one of those many "Birds of South Africa" books with us, something else we omitted to do.
Having finished our meat the previous day, we decided to visit the local shop, which was in the reception complex. On the way we passed a large sign reading "Owls!" We did not see any but this is another place where they obviously enjoy right of way. The shop is called Bosveld Kombuis (Afrikaans for "Bushveld Kitchen"). Here we obtained a supply of meat and soft drinks. As we emerged from the shop we noticed a game viewing vehicle. It is typical of the vehicles used in the game reserves for game viewing. They are not very comfortable. The passengers sit high up and have large roll and pitch moments. On previous trips to other game reserves we have occasionally taken a ride in one of these vehicles. In mountainous country they often follow 4X4 tracks, which are very uneven and make for an uncomfortable ride. The passengers cling to the handrails to keep themselves steady, the only exception being Jonathan. Jonathan served with 1st Parachute Battalion during the South African Border War and he has an uncanny ability to keep his balance. He is also very observant, his sense of direction is always correct, and he always knows exactly where he is, without using a GPS. He is very good company in the bush.
Jonathan was enjoying the scene while sitting on the verandah, when a bushbaby perched on some of the woodwork supporting the roof and stared at him. Talking of bushbabies, the script on the refrigerator door says that they can jump 7 meters (23 feet). They jump around in the trees at lightning speed, jumping from tree to tree in long flat trajectories. They move so fast it is almost impossible to photograph them.
Jonathan was preparing to get the braai going when it started to rain. At first there was a fine rain swirled around by a strong wind. Then with lightning flashes and loud crashes of thunder it rained very heavily. The paths become fast-flowing rivers. There was also much hail. Hailstones sliding off the roof of the verandah piled up in large heaps on the ground. Soon, as far as the eye could see, the ground was covered with hail. Several times, for short periods, the electricity supply was interrupted, then, with a great flash of lightning and crash of thunder, the electricity supply cut out completely. It was 4:30 in the afternoon. The sky was dark with clouds but the rain was abating slowly. Jonathan was determined to braai the meat. I went to bed while it was still light enough. A flashlight should be considered essential on these trips, another area in which I had folded up. I could smell the delightful aroma of meat on the braai. The lights came on at 03:39 on Friday.
A word of warning about Africa's spell. Women in midlife are particularly vulnerable. Perhaps it is because the remoteness and the adventure of being there with the wildlife gets to them. They feel they have missed something, now is the time to start a new life. One form is known as "game ranger fever." Many a handsome game ranger has been attacked by a woman with this malady. Most treat it as a joke but it could lead to a charge of sexual harassment, or even rape, or even worse, to marriage. Women be warned.
A good pair of hiking boots is essential if one intends to walk the hiking trails. They should be worn the boy scout way, with hiking socks and an inner sock. I have found that pure silk socks, obtainable from suppliers of men's evening wear, make a good inner. Turning the hiking socks down so as to cover the tops of the boots, will ensure that no little stones can enter the boots.
To avoid sunburn, and possible solar skin damage, a wide brimmed hat should be worn and the exposed skin treated with a sunscreen cream. This is important owing to the low latitude and high altitude. Failure to take these precautions could cause you to end up with skin cancer, requiring cosmetic surgery, as in my own case.
We agreed that what we liked most about this trip was just being there in between the animals and the bush. Once again Africa had cast its spell. There was the sensation of being one with God and His wonderful creation, of latent adventure, of remoteness from the turmoil of modern city life, of Africa calling, "Come and I will reveal my hidden treasures to you."