Friday, January 22, 2010

Mpumalanga – A three day excursion

As promised in my previous posting, here is a detailed account of my observations and experiences during my trip to the scenic Eastern Transvaal – (now known as the Province of Mpumalanga). I was accompanied by two British friends who were due to fly back to the UK on 20 January 2010. Our time was limited and our funds were low, hence the reason why we decided to haul camping equipment with us on the trip.

Friday - 15 January 2010

We decided to leave as early as possible because of our limited time, and left Pretoria before sunrise at 04:30, travelling east along the N4 Highway. I had travelled this route on numerous occasions in the past, but that was many years ago when I still had family living in Graskop. That was long before the names of familiar towns on route had changed!

Signboards along the N4 prominently displayed the new names of towns with no mention of any of the old familiar places. Witbank had become Emalahleni; Nelspruit had changed to Mbombela; Belfast was now known as eMakhazeni; Waterval Boven was Emgwenya; Machadodorp had become Entokozweni, and Lydenburg had changed to Mashishing. Real tongue-twisters aren’t they?

I was quite surprised to later discover that there had already been 42 ‘official’ geographical name changes in the province of Mpumalanga. What has happened to President Zuma’s promise in 2009 that his approach to name changes would help build national identity? I only see ONE identity exemplified in all these name changes.

Sudwala Caves – Our first stop.

This is another natural wonder of our beautiful country that I have visited on countless occasions as a youngster. The only reason why I included this attraction in our itinerary was because my travel-companions had never seen these caves before, and also because it was conveniently on route to our destination in the town of Sabie, where we were planning on setting up camp for three nights.

The caves were a worthwhile stop. It also gave us the opportunity to stretch our legs a bit. We took the short one-hour tour, accompanied by our tour-guide, a young Swazi lady, who didn’t know what I was talking about when I posed the question: “What are the oldest human artefacts ever discovered in these caves?” I honestly thought that this was a valid and reasonable question, considering the fact that the Sudwala Caves are the oldest known caves in the world!

One of the extraordinary features of these caves is the magnificent chamber of the PR Owen Hall, which is of mammoth proportions, with astounding acoustics that lends itself well to music concerts. Click here for more info about these caves.

Sabie – Merry Pebbles Resort

We pitched our tent on the banks of the Sabie River on the grounds of the Merry Pebbles Resort. My biggest concern was the safety of our tent, trailer, and other equipment when we were out sightseeing during the day, but we were assured that the place was 100 percent safe and guarded 24-hours a day. The facilities at this self-catering resort are truly outstanding. The luxurious heated pool on the grounds was a place we regularly visited in the evenings, -- even while it was raining!

Saturday – 16 January 2010

After picking up an old buddy of mine who decided to retire in Sabie a few years ago and whom I haven’t seen in a while, we travelled to the nearby Lone Creek and Bridal Veil waterfalls. Our plans to travel to Graskop and the Blyde River Canyon on the same day were thwarted when my car’s battery decided to pack up. I suspect that the terribly rocky road leading to the Bridal Veil Falls may have possibly shook the last drop of life from the old battery. My Renault Cleo stubbornly refused to push-start, and was eventually towed back. All the shops were closed by the time we arrived back in town. This little setback, accompanied by drizzling rain, did not dampen our spirits. We also had enough beers in the cooler to keep us all going for several hours. We spent the rest of the day relaxing, sharing jokes and stories, and braaing meat at my friends home, while the dead battery quietly passed time on a trickle-charger.

By 20:00 that evening we realized that charging the battery was not going to help much. Besides the fact that it had long passed its expiry date, the cells were probably damaged anyway. Luckily my buddy loaned us a spare one and kindly offered to collect a new battery for us in Nelspruit where the shops opened on a Sunday.

Sunday – 17 January 2010

Our morning was greeted with light rain and misty weather, but this did not stop our plans to travel to the Kruger National Park via the R531 route through Graskop and Hazyview. “Hazy view” is a most appropriate term, as my fog-lights were kept on most of the way. Due to the heavy fog there was no point in stopping over at the Mac-Mac Pools or the Mac-Mac waterfalls on route to Graskop.

At Graskop we stopped over at Harrie’s Pancakes where we enjoyed a delicious and filling treat. We were seated at table number 13. It was a big mistake, not because of the unlucky number 13, but because it was located near a large window facing the main street, from where beggars and other shady characters kept staring at us. This was a nuisance that faced us in every single town where we stopped. The constant harassment by these locals eventually had me cursing silently in Afrikaans, a technique that seemed to work quite well – I must say --- Genoeg is Genoeg!

We reached the Kruger National Park by 13:00 and entered at the new Phabeni Gate near Hazyview. From there we slowly made our way to the Skukuza rest camp, hoping to secure seats on one of the many game-drives they offered. The weather was perfect for game viewing while travelling at a snails-pace of 20-30 km an hour. It was slightly overcast and not too hot. We were very lucky to see a variety of animals on our way to Skukuza, such as rooibuck, kudu, elephant, giraffe, warthog, zebra, baboons, monkeys, and one lonesome buffalo.

All the game-drives at Skukuza were sold out by the time we arrived there. The private tour companies were charging such extravagant fees that I could hardly believe my ears! We slowly headed back west on the H1-1 route hoping to see some lions, but these creatures avoided us. After spending some time sipping a cool refreshing beer, while trying to photograph a very shy hippo bathing in a pond, we finally departed at the Numbi Gate just in time to make the trip back to our camp in Sabie before nightfall.

Monday – 18 January 2010

With the Renault now fitted with a spanking new R800-00 battery, we decide to skip the treacherous mountains of Long Tom Pass, -- just in case ol’ Frenchy decided to rebel against the idea of towing a trailer up those hills. We decided to take the longer less mountainous route back to Pretoria via Pilgrims Rest, and travel from there to Lydenburg and then on to the charming and picturesque little town of Dullstroom.

None of us were keen on packing up the tent that Monday morning, and I must confess that this is what I hate most about camping…. The packing up and final departure!

After a brief visit to the Sabie Falls, our next stop was at Mac-Mac Pools where we utilized the Cadac-gas skottle-braai to make ourselves a hearty breakfast of French-toast, bacon and cheese grillers. I was pleasantly surprised with the cleanliness of the picnic area, and if it wasn’t for the time that was pressing us I would have definitely taken a dip in the crystal clear waters of the nearby pools.

As always, Mac-Mac Falls was a breathtaking experience. One can see why this beautiful natural marvel often features on postcards and the covers of nature magazines. Seeing that the fog had apparently cleared, I decided to take the Graskop route to visit God’s Windows and other scenic spots on route to the Blyde River Canyon, but when we reached the first scenic spot at Pinnacle Rock the fog suddenly appeared from nowhere and within a matter of seconds we couldn’t see zilch. We headed back out of the thick fog in the direction of Pilgrims Rest.

Our stopover at Pelgrims Rest took much longer than expected. This extraordinary museum-town simply cannot be explored fully in a matter of one or two hours. Although our short stay was pleasant, we again experienced constant begging and harassment by the local people. It was obvious that most locals roaming the street (there’s only one street in that town) were unemployed and that some were near starvation.

What does one do when three grown men, all babbling at the same time, insist on looking after your parked car, and don’t leave you alone until you give in to their demands? Others nag you silly for a few cents in exchange for washing your car with a bucket of muddy water. This is really becoming a major problem in this country, and I’ve yet to find a liberal mind who can explain to me WHY after 15 years of democracy and so-called ‘freedom-for-all’, there are more people living in poverty than ever before?

Come-on you liberals tell me why! I would love to read your comments on this blog --- please!

Vast stretches of the road between Pilgrims Rest and Lydenburg were so neglected and badly spoilt with potholes that I regretted ever taking that route. The further we travelled the more I realized that we were never going to make Pretoria before nightfall. At the entrance to Lydenburg we were greeted by a long que of vehicles waiting at a police roadblock. We were stuck at that roadblock for nearly one hour, as police officials took their time inspecting vehicles and checking drivers-licences. Once we entered the town of Lydenburg I felt more at ease with the fact that the place’s name had changed to Mashishing, because the old restful little town I knew had vanished completely! The place had transformed into an unruly, jumbled black nest, not worthy of the name Lydenburg. ---- Mashishing will never see me ever again!

We finally arrived home, all in one piece, at about 19:30 on Monday evening.

Ten Travel Tips – South Africa

Travel tips and tourist travel-guides for South Africa are available online on numerous websites. Google will obviously help you find the info you need, so I’m not posting any external links here.

The ten travel tips I am sharing here are my own, unconventional creations. Although the list is not complete, you may take these tips very seriously!

Tip No 1
If you’re a foreigner planning on visiting the country for the first time, then start planning early and use a reputable tour guide. Obtain tariffs and full details from at least three different companies, taking into consideration the specific regions and places you want to tour. The country is huge, so decide beforehand where you want to go!

Tip No 2
Have sex with your marriage partner and not the AIDS-infected locals while visiting the country, --- unless you feel suicidal. Leave our woman alone; they’re ours! Remember – masturbation is always the safest option! (Wow – never thought I say such a thing on the public domain!)

Tip No 3
If tour guide packages are too extravagant consider hiring a bilingual Afrikaans male to accompany you on the trip. There are plenty of them without work, and besides they know the country and the local people like the back of their hands. Many can speak the most common African languages quite fluently, and the locals admire and respect them for this.

Tip No 4
Try not look like a tourist, and do not advertise the fact that you are wealthy. This is asking for trouble! There is a HUGE imbalance between the wealthy and the poor in this country. The poor and shabby hate the rich and classy, and are sometimes inclined to express their dissatisfaction in a violent manner. Unfortunately, this is an established fact worldwide but the phenomenon is more prominent here in South Africa, depending obviously on the specific region or place you happen to be visiting at the time.

Tip No 5
The leopard hunts at night! If you’re a night owl, stick with your own kind in large numbers. Alternatively, utilize the daytime hours to tour and travel, and sleep at night behind locked doors. You know the saying, “Early to bed, early to rise…”

Tip No 6
The following are essential survival-tools when travelling long distances in a vehicle:

A cellphone (mobile phone) and car-charger (or spare fully-charged battery) for your phone.
A good pair of sunglasses.
A new map-book or GPS gadget.
An icebox or cooler for drinks.
A warm jacket.
A Leatherman tool.

Tip No 7
Ignore the local people’s constant begging for money at every stop you make. Growl at them if you have to. The grrrrr sound you make may just scare them off for good --‘cause it sounds Afrikaans. German, Dutch and Belgian folk should have no problem with this.

Tip No 8
Avoid talking politics with the Afrikaners. They’ve had quite enough of this!

Tip No 9
Beware of daylight robbery by the local folk. For example - they will charge you R160, without flinching, for a R5 bangle or simple stone ornament. These so-called curio-shops are popping up everywhere, especially at places where tourists are known to visit. There is no authority controlling the prices they charge!

Tip No 10
NEVER EVER STOP at a any isolated spot along the road, not even if there appears to be a recent accident on the side of the road. Staging ‘fake’ decoy accident scenes are becoming common techniques for criminals. If your driver wants to stop after warning him not to do so, then be prepared for the worst scenario. Remember, your life is more important than your valuables. WOMEN MUST NEVER TRAVEL ALONE WITH STRANGERS! This is the best defence against the horrific crime of rape.

From its rugged coastlines to its lush vineyards and windswept deserts, South Africa is one of the most remarkable places on Earth. The stunningly diverse landscapes and rich tapestry of humanity are all captured in this latest work from photographic master Michael Poliza. Settling here for seven years after an epic round-the-world trip, Poliza developed a deep affection for this dramatic land and its captivating peoples. Sharing every aspect of its topography, wildlife, cultures and landmarks, this adventurous photographer creates a fascinating homage to this compelling country.


Anonymous said... .....Click here to refresh this blog

stop mourning and stay away from this country if you think you are better than us. if you cant stand the changes, then lrave us in peace, and as for your tips they were designed for people like you, stagnant, nagative,selfish and narrow minded. how much has a black man sacrificed in his own land to accommodate a white man and how much more must he still sacrifice for people like you? we certainly do not need tourists like you because we will get better once who will come not only to enjoy the things of this beatiful country but also to experience the people of this country. for more information on msanzi the beautiful country - people look at South African Tourism and Parks board.

Tia Mysoa said... .....Click here to refresh this blog

Hey, whoever you are... Although I appreciate it when someone visits my blog to leave a comment, I don’t like ignorant fools like you telling me that this is the black mans land, in a tone that implies that it is his and ONLY his. If you read the posting properly you would have noticed that I am NOT a tourist (I was born here)... and so was my mother, my granddad, and so on... so don’t you tell me to get out of this country!

Have you ever gone to the trouble to discover were YOUR PEOPLE came from?
Click here to found out.

As for the tips...
They were meant to be accurate but also satirically humoristic, but I suppose you wont know what that means.

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