Continued from Part I
Mbabane to Zululand
From Pretoria to Mbabane (Swaziland), it was 346 km. Next stop would be KwamBonambi in Zululand, about 281 km away.
Bazbus, the van, came right on the dot and drove us south. The route was scenic with waving grassland and laid-back lifestyle of the people. The area was dotted with lagoons and mangrove swamps flanked by rolling green hills. One the way, we also passed by cattle farms, tea-plantations. There was an abundance of bird-life, African plum and wild fig trees. The van driver was giving a running commentary of the area and informed us of the incredible diversity of birds such as Cuckoo, Jacana, Snake Eagle, Yellow-billed Stork, Goose and Eagle
We passed by a small town of Pongola located amid extensive cultivation of sugar cane and fruit-plantation. Louwsburg was another small town known for cattle and maize farming. We stopped by a small informal shop known as ‘spaza’ offering traditional medicine. Many young boys approached us and offered ox-wagon-ride to villages famous for their bee-hive huts.
By the afternoon, we reached KwamBonambi meaning “a place where the chiefs gather”. We stayed in ‘Jungle Lodge’ hidden in bush vegetation and indigenous forests. The place was run by a mother and daughter. Here I had the best food in most hygienic conditions. The place was also well decorated. I was told that the daughter had a husband, but he was kicked out as he did not match the overall decor. The mother had reduced her own husband to safari guide, and the two women were firmly in command.
Next day, I asked for the location map of the hostel but was informed that since it was located deep in a forest, no map would hold good. Instead, I was asked to befriend with Bossy, a male-Dachshund puppy. Bossy would keep an eye on me and when I say “Home” would lead me back to the lodge. It worked well for all the four days I stayed there.
I went to see Hluhluwe and Umfolozi Park. It was off-season and there were only two persons besides me on a tour truck otherwise capable of accommodating 30 people. It was severe cold and free blanket were provided by the guide.
Hluhluwe (pronounced something like “shloo-shloo-way”) is the oldest game park in Africa. It has a large variety of birds and over 50 types of mammal including the “Big Five”: lion, leopard, elephant, rhinoceros and Cape buffalo. The visit was memorable as there were rare scenes of grazing white rhinos, water buffaloes soaking in mud puddles and zebras snacking in a pack. The guide warned us of an elephant said to be “musst” as we could hear his stomping in our proximity. “They are highly unpredictable when they are ready to mate,” the guide tried to increase our knowledge.
Zulu Cultural Village
A cultural show is packed with dance and drama depicting history when there were consistent conflicts – clan against clan as well as kingdom against kingdom. The village showcased living style and ethnic souvenirs. Highlight of the day were topless young girls performed the dance to attract a suitable match. The price of a bride, I heard, is eleven cows, and one cow can be bought for about $300. Unfortunately, I hadn’t the time to enjoy a blissful marriage.
In a ceremonial reed dance, the girls selected their reeds. They carried them towering high above their heads – in a long, slow procession. The girls presented themselves to “ceremonial guests” dressed only in loincloths and beads. In September each year, there is an annual Royal Reed Dance Festival. It is held at the king’s royal residence, Kwa-Nyokeni Palace, and is attended by thousands of people from all over the world. The reeds are carried by more than 25000 maidens “who have been invited to the king’s palace to take part in the traditional ceremony, which celebrates their virginity and their preparation for womanhood.”
My next hop-off point was Durban. On the way, I passed through the St Lucia wetlands, a region known as a great eco-tourism destination. The wetlands stretch 80 kilometers from Sodwana Bay in the north to Mapelane in the south and are surrounded by ocean beaches. It looked like a modern city with well-maintained food-stalls and shop. I stayed for overnight and had chance to go on boat-safari. The boat left from the town jetty and took the tourists close to Hippos and Crocodiles. It was amazing to see a large number of hippos swimming in the water and crocodiles lurking in the reeds. On the top of it, one could see Kingfishers, Fish Eagles and Herons. St. Lucia Wetland Park had been declared World Heritage Site.
I liked Durban as there were many Muslims hailing from Pakistan, India and African countries. It’s a big, lively city, and I had an opportunity to see Indian films at the local movie houses as well as visit museums, the aquarium, and the planetarium. Also, I saw Gandhi Museum which contained historical relics of the great leader. He arrived at the age of 23 in May 1893 but was ill treated by the white ruling class such as being thrown off a train, denial of hotel rooms and ‘push-off’ a sidewalk – all because of his color.
After a week in Durban, I moved on to Coffee Bay on what used to be called the Wild Coast of Transkei. Here high cliffs fall to a narrow bay skirted with golden beach and aquamarine surf.
Next was Cintsa, located about 35 kilometers northeast of the city of East London. Here, atop a hill, I found a beautiful hostel called Buccaneers Retreat. As time was running short, I moved on, briefly stopping at the city of Port Elizabeth. On our way to Cape Town, the van stopped at a look-out from where we could see the Bloukrans Bridge. The bridge was stated to be home to the world’s highest bungy jump at 216 metres. For me, a bungy jump represents the final word in adrenalin sports so I’m kind of a little disappointed in myself for not having a go.
I thought I would stay a while in Cape Town and unwind, but it was cold and cloudy. There were no outdoor tours, and it looked as if everything had come to a standstill. I got panicky and planned my return without waiting for the sunshine – which came two days later.
I went cross country to Johannesburg where I had a conducted tour of Hillbrow, a once famous entertainment and bohemian district that has become notoriously unsafe in recent years. I saw massive hotels like Holiday Inn closed down and chain stores abandoned. Johannesburg seemed to me a dying city. In 30 days I had only a glimpse of South Africa, and I would love to go again. But there are many other countries I have to see, and I feel age creeping over me, hence, it is all the more urgent to visit unseen places. Next stop, Cambodia, Laos and Strait of Malacca . . . by bus of course, as far as possible.