Arriving in the Bushveld
Part 1, for part 2 see here.
The bush… well actually the African, or better yet, the South African bushveld. I’ve been asked many times what the bushveld is like. You know, I’ve never been able to describe bush life to my own satisfaction. Then being challenged to write an article about ‘what the bushveld is like’, I had to really rack my brain. First off, was to describe it to my own satisfaction and thereby, maybe the readers’ as well.
Ah, the Bushveld, the Memory of Magic
There are abundant trees in my kind of bush and if you know the mid-region – Satara/Olifants – of the Kruger National Park, then you’ll be well on your way to grasping the bushveld I know.
There are two ways to experience arriving in the bushveld. The one is by car, the other by light aircraft. More often, in the early years, before the camps were completed, I would arrive by car, or more accurately a 4×4, sharing the cramped space with all sorts of building equipment, supplies, provisions, even bags of cement.
Most people will come by road from the escarpment and most will drive via the Ohrigstad valley through the Strydom tunnel. Once through the tunnel, the road follows the Olifants River, then crosses the Blyde River, just before Hoedspruit. Take a right at Hoedspruit towards the bush I know, the Timbavati.
Having left the crisp Drakensberg – mountains of the dragons – air, you exit the Strydom tunnel and while descending, you slow down, winding down your window, for more air. It’s the smell that hits you first, coupled with the warmth that slowly warms your ears and face. The sky, although a strong blue, has become more soothing on the eyes and you find yourself not squinching them up anymore, as you slow down and relax. Simultaneously the air begins to feel noticeably heavier, with more volume and you get the sense there is more of it, causing a slow down in breathing, to accommodate the extra oxygen.
The Measure of Substance
Substance? I can measure the substance of the bushveld using my nose. What I smell I can see. A feeling of well-being comes over you, close and comfortable, assuring and securing, while exciting your very core into life and expectancy, as you sense new smells mingled with old in the air.
This smell/aroma is the overall scent of the Lowveld. The smell of the subtropical aroma of the animals, the trees, the earth, decaying leaf matter the fruits and flowers all mingled into one caressing sensation of ‘give me more’. The warmth of the air on everything around heightens the smells of all you can see and all you can’t. But you know it’s there because you can smell it and your spirit yearns to explore what this comfortable aroma is revealing to you.
Then suddenly you hear a kind of music, a high-pitched sound that resembles thousands of crickets hushed by the warmth on their wings. Those are Cicadas; a type of grass hopper that lives mostly in the longer grass. It is a high pitched and friendly greeting for the ears, soothing your soul, you begin to relax even more, causing all your senses to become even more acute and aligned for discovery.
Without you noticing, your eyes begin to dart around in anticipation of sights you’ve never seen before. There’s a group of goats whose kids are jumping in and out of an old low tree, playing king of the castle. Young herdsmen wave as you pass, old men under another tree playing stone games in the sandy soil look up in curiosity. Cows are grazing off in the distance; some other boys are playing with whips, while greyhound-type dogs stay their distance.
Chores of the Day
In front of you, along the side of the road are young and old women in vivid long colorful dresses, sporting brightly colored headdresses. They carry large calabash-shaped pots on their heads full to the brim, balancing with only one hand, going about the daily chore of fetching water. Appearing behind them is another group of woman, these less colorfully dressed, carrying small bundles of branches balanced on their heads for firewood. As you pass by, you hear the chattering and laughter of the women and shrieks of excitement from the children.
You’re also a novelty in this world of theirs, with your bull-bar and roof rack packed to the gills with 20 liter Jerry cans with spare tires wherever they can fit. As you slowly drive by they all begin to turn their backs on you, to prevent the dust you’re making from blowing into their eyes. Sometimes small stones are also thrown up by the bush track tires.
Indigenous African Music
Hey, look! There ahead is an African flame tree covered in electric bright red flowers and from a distance, looks like cotton candy on a stick, so you slow down to have a closer look. With your window still open, you hear a strange, twanging, melodious, floating sound that seems to be all around you. Sitting in the shade of a neighboring tree and hard to see at first glance, a young man plays an instrument made from a calabash with beaten wires protruding from the top. He is flicking the wires with his thumbs as he holds the body of the calabash in both hands and you slow down to a crawl.
This is an African piano. It produces a dulcet sound resembling a water-flow repeating itself, like a rippling brook. In the top of the tree sits an eagle, who seems to be enjoying the young mans’ music. And to the right, a little way off the road, you hear the cicadas. Then all of a sudden, they go quiet and there coming out of the tall grass, is a large horned kudu! The kudu pauses for an instant, then seeing you it darts away melting into the bush.
You have now arrived in the bushveld I knew.
Below a Kalimba – Calabash piano – being played.
Video Run Time: 2:05 min