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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, September 3, 2010 - Volume 38 Issue 36
Week 9: We go on 'holidays' in Mpumalanga and see some very spectacular scenery
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Week 9: We go on 'holidays' in Mpumalanga and see some very spectacular scenery

It was a great feeling on Monday morning to be on the road again. We were off to Mpumalanga in northeast South Africa. It is our '1st holiday' thanks to our friend Sharon. For those who are a bit confused with my wording, taking a holiday in the rest of the English speaking world is the same as the American 'vacation'. 'Traveling' is not a vacation. To me, traveling is getting up in the morning, having a destination in mind, not being really sure how you are getting there, and never surprised if you get side tracked and don't get there at all. And traveling is often hard work and can be very tiring. Not so the vacation!

No more local crowded buses at 5:30am. No more trying to figure things out. No more wondering if we will be on time to catch the connecting bus to get to our next destination. We loaded the Mercedes with our picnic basket and blanket, and then filled the car with our computers and everything we had. Off to a our reservations at the Pine Lake Inn Chalets, a 4 star resort on the water in White River, about 15 miles north of Nelspruit.

Nelspruit (pronounced 'nellsprate') is one of the larger cities in South Africa and was one of the venues for the World Cup. It is also one of the fruit growing areas of the country. White River is pretty much a small, non descript town having many resort hotels around it catering to those heading north to the spectacular Blyde Canyon and surrounding waterfalls, and those traveling to the Kruger Park, one of the most famous game reserves in Africa.

Oh no! Are we in Africa anymore? The Seattle Coffee Company?
About 1 ½ hours into our trip we arrive at Milley's, a combination gas station, food store, restaurant and gourmet store, on the side of the highway. And what is this? The Seattle Coffee Company? There are no Starbucks in South Africa, yet, and seeing this sign was very unexpected. The staff at SCC were completely unaware of the history of the company. If you are, here is the link: http://www.brandchannel.com/features_effect.asp?pf_id=391

Waterfalls, waterfalls and more waterfalls
Staying in a 3 bedroom villa, (Pine Lake Inn Chalets) on the side of the lake was certainly different than a backpackers lodge. Even more different was the cloudy, overcast sky. We are now 9 weeks into our travels and had never even experienced a cloudy day. Louis and I got in the car Wednesday morning and drove up through Sabie with our destinations being Mac Mac Falls, the Mac Mac Pools, Lone Creek Falls, Bridal Veil Falls, Berlin Falls, Lisbon Falls... And the falls go on. Going up the highway with some very steep grades, it was all misty and cool. We had the windshield wipers going. It looked like Scotland and felt like Scotland. And sometimes my unawareness is striking. It took until I was reading the information about the Scots at Mac Mac Falls that I said to myself "duh!".

We were hoping Thursday's weather might be a little better as we were going to travel back through this area and continue north along the Blyde River Canyon. And our day sightseeing was cut short by our appointment with the "healer".

Off to the healer
Sharon had booked a "healing session" with Dorene Allsop of White River for late in the afternoon. It was timely as Louis had just emailed his doctor at home, worried about his now chronic cough that had started three weeks ago when we went to Groot Marico. Doreen was a spry 87 year old "white, English, retired nurse". Hardly what I would have envisioned as an "African Healer". The fact that her home and property was one of the only unfenced and unelectrified places I had seen, was the only suggestion that "things were different". The "session" with Dorene was about 1½ hours long and was termed a "body balancing". 3 days later, Louis's caugh was gone.

Some of the more spectacular scenery in the world?
On Thursday morning we loaded the car with our picnic basket and headed out. It was sunny and perfectly clear. We had just driven by the reception for our hotel and we got side tracked watching all the monkeys playing and chasing each other around the roof tops. A wonderful way to get a great laugh and start the day. We headed up the highway, my usual "head mantra" of keep left, keep left almost gone. Here in Africa you drive on the left, which initially takes a little getting used to. It also takes some getting used to the highway speeds. 120 kph or about 72 mph. This is on very good but steep and curvy roads. It is the custom here to drive up the shoulder to let faster vehicles go by. I felt I had turned into "Grandma". We thought bus travel was crowded, fast and dangerous. You should experience the drivers here. Passing on blind curves, tailgating, and excessive speed. Having said that, South Africans as a whole are some of the better drivers I have experienced in the world. Courtesy and a thank you when passing by hitting your emergency flashers is a must.

The Blyde River Canyon is the only "true" canyon in South Africa and it is spectacular! We stopped first at the Bourke's Luck Potholes. The potholes are one of those natural phenomena you marvel at. Water falling from "pothole" to "pothole". A sort of cross of being in Yellowstone and being on the edge of Yosemite. We were then off to the Three Rondavels. The guide books calls it a "cinemascope vista". Its breathtaking looking down into the canyon and across the lake and up the valley. We had gone from "Scotland" to "Peru" in 50 miles.

Louis tells me that I drive people crazy when I keep insisting that they stop the vehicle so I can take a picture. Today I was driving myself crazy. Jamming on the brakes, pointing at incredible rock formations and vistas and then trying to find someplace to pull off the highway and walk back and get a picture. Almost every bend in the road and it was "wow, look at that!" And often frustrating when you are watching a whole group of baboons running down the side of the highway and you can't find a place to stop.

Africa is a land of extremes and traveling here is no exception. On one side of the road was the awesome scenery and vistas. On the other side of the roads, over hills, valleys and mountains ware the "tree plantations". And often a "shanty" town. We were in logging country, big time. Weyerhaeuser eat your heart out. The panoramas of the tree farm here, dwarfs anything I have seen in Washington State. Miles and miles of pine trees at every level of maturity and huge logged "tree cemeteries" as Louis calls them. Some moments, it made me feel great sadness and even some anger. Sometimes even the tree plantations made for spectacular scenery with the red African soil, the dark greens of the trees with a strip of golden grasslands in between.

And then there was the smoke. They love to burn in South Africa. The vegetation along the highways is still cleared by burning, fields are cleared by burning, garbage in burned, and heating of homes is done by burning wood in a fireplace. Unfortunately the smoke, even hard to breathe in some areas, certainly diminishes the awesome panoramic views.

This was the case when we stopped at God's Window. An unbelievable vista across Africa, made up of an incredible mountain valley, sheer cliffs, strange and wonderful rock formations, tree plantations and fires with smoke in the distance. God's Window is made up of a fairly large tropical rainforest which you can hike through. An amazing walk, with the sound of birds and the smell of plants with new spring blooms and feeling oh, so tropical. Spring is coming and it is getting warmer, 25C-28C (80F-85F) but still chilly at night. The perfect time to travel Mpumalanga. We had first planned to be here in the summer and had to make plans to take a drug regime to avoid getting malaria. No worries of malaria this time of year. We were just a little south of the Tropic of Capricorn.

Back to Joburg
On Friday we left to go back to Joburg with one more stop in mind, the Sudwalla Caves in the heart of Mankelekele Mountains. After a couple of kilometers of a steep switch back road we arrived at the caves. Although not breathtaking in beauty as some of the finest caves in the world, they were well worth visiting. We hiked for about an hour on a guided tour and were amazed at the different caverns and rooms. The cave had its history too. It was once used by people from nearby Swaziland who were loyal to one of the brother's who was to become king. They fled here from the armies of the other brother, as they fought for control. This area of South Africa is settled heavily with "Swazi" people.

We headed off to Joburg on the toll freeway. This may be Africa, but some things never change. I was so glad we were going against the Friday afternoon traffic leaving the city. The traffic going the other direction was hardly moving... oh, so I-5!

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