I’d been told to expect elephants, giraffes, zebras, rhinos, and more. And I suspected that if we did, it would be fun. But I had no idea how exciting it would be.
For fifteen years my husband’s cousin John and his wife Veda urged us to visit them in South Africa. When we finally went early in March, they started our “tour” in Kruger National Park. Venturing out in an open bush camp vehicle with our guide, Raymond, we were immediately caught up in scouring the veldt for signs of wildlife. Our granddaughter, back home in Canada, wondered if we would see giraffes and we saw many. Did you know giraffes have the same number of vertebrae in their necks as we humans? We probably won’t tell Claire (who has just turned seven) about the giraffe we saw being devoured by a lion. She’d probably rather hear about the elephants we heard shushing through the grassy riverbed outside our camp one night, or maybe the monkey that stole my toast right off the breakfast table one morning. It was fun, as we went along, trying to guess which animals each of our grandchildren would like best.
When we weren’t busy with animals (including kudu, impala, klipspringer, warthog and others new to us) and various birds (hornbills, rollers, storks, fish eagles, vultures, etc), there were lots of new trees for us to admire and learn about: marula (whose fruit is used in the liqueur amarula), tamboti (the milky sap the tiniest bit of which will burn your skin and blind you), and the buffalo thorn among them.
Fascinating plant life continued in the Capetown leg of our trip. There we visited the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens and the Tokai Arboretum, and took a hike across the fynbos, which contains more different species of plant life than anywhere else in the world. Learning about which plants were indigenous to South Africa and the problems created by those imported from elsewhere, I couldn’t help thinking of Cornelia Oberlander (subject of the bio, Love Every Leaf for anyone new to my blog) and wondering if she’d visited this part of the world.
Cornelia came to mind when we met our hosts’ son, Stephen, too. Stephen Carver is a passionate visionary with his hand in many exciting projects. We stayed on his farm near Sedgefield for three nights, with cattle, donkeys, horses, and eland just outside the old labourers’ cottage where we slept. He kept an office in another of the cottages. One day he proudly showed us around the environmentally friendly campus of a green business college that he helped establish. Stephen has also taken on the Outward Bound camp near Willow Point as an extension of the Eden Campus. There, students will be involved in eco-tourism projects. I’m sure that Cornelia would be delighted to know that this arm of the Outward Bound project that her uncle, Kurt Hahn, established, is now being used in this way.
Stephen’s brother, Boody, is also involved in green education, working to help elementary and high school students to grow vegetables in township schoolyards.
The landscape of South Africa is almost indescribably beautiful: beaches with their gorgeous sand and surf, mountains with layers of rock (sometimes red) twisted and folded, vineyards with their grapes dangling in the sun, and the simple clean lines of Cape Dutch architecture. It’s a country with 12 million refugees and so ramshackle housing was a feature too, but in galleries we visited, we saw those neighbourhoods made into appealing works of art, too.
Hardest of all to say goodbye to, as was the case a month before in Liberia, were the people who were so important to our enjoyment of South Africa, some family, some not, who all generously shared with us their hospitality and their visions for and interpretations of various aspects of life in their complex society (the complexity of which I have not even tried to address here), in their stunningly beautiful country.
(Please come back in April for links to pics!)
Kathy Stinson is the author of the classic Red Is Best and the award-winning The Man with the Violin. Her wide range of titles includes picture books, non-fiction, young adult fiction, historical fiction, horror, biography, series books, and short stories. She has met with her readers in every province and territory of Canada, in the United States, Britain, Liberia, and Korea. She lives in a small town in Ontario.