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 and corrugated iron roofing material on the roof rack.
Most people will come by road from the escarpment and most will drive via the Ohrigstad valley through the Strydom tunnel. We will take the tunnel this time. 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 and Timbavati country.
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. Ever so slowly you begin to relax while the eagle that was attached to your shoulders leaves, to await your return trip. As if on cue, the air becomes noticeably heavier, increasing your volume of oxygen, giving you an elated feeling, indicating there is more of it. Subconsciously you slow down your breathing to accommodate the extra oxygen. This aids in a greater sense of calm. So much so you begin to dose off. More coffee. This is time for more of that strong peculated coffee. Now nearing the end of your trip you can splurge on that which was once piping hot.
The Measure of Substance
Substance? I can measure the substance of the bushveld using my nose. What I smell I can see. A well-being envelopes, close and comfortable, assuring forgetfulness. Excited expectancy pervades your nostrils with new smells mingled with old memories.
This aroma is that which causes your ears to tingle, this is the Lowveld. Subtropical smells of wild life, of animals, trees, of the earth wafting up mellow damp leaf matter. Fruits and citrus flowers all mingle into one caressing sensation of ‘give me more’. You bathe in the warm moist air, heightened by smells you remember and some you can’t. You know it’s there because you can smell it and your spirit yearns to explore what this soothing aroma is revealing to you.
Suddenly a sound comes to your ears. Sound of music? Can’t be. Ah, this is not music, but the high-pitched sound that resembles a thousand operatic crickets hushed by the warmth on their wings. These are Cicadas, like a large red eyed cricket, living mostly in longer grass near the waters edge or snuggled close to swamp land. A sound soothing to your soul, it strangely causes 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 more boys are playing with whips, while the 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, which is 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. Not a friendly thought of course.
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 once more. 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