South Africa is one of the largest and most populous countries in Africa, and one of the benefits of its size is diversity. The country has beautiful beaches, dramatic mountain ranges, bustling cities, peaceful farmlands, and everything in between. And the population is equally diverse — South Africa is home to people of African, Indian, European, and Southeast Asian descent, and within those categories you find even more variety. Most white South Africans are either Afrikaans or British, but there are also former Rhodesians, Lithuanian Jews, and smatterings of other Europeans, Americans, and Australians. Black South Africans come from from more than ten different tribes, each of which has its own language and traditions. On top of that, South Africa has a sizeable population of refugees from all over Africa, particularly Somalia, Angola, Zimbabwe, and the DRC. The country has eleven official languages and probably twice as many unofficial ones.
After five months in Africa, all I had seen of SA was Cape Town, Kruger, a bit of the Cederburg mountains, and the Johannesburg airport, so I was happy that my Swaziland / Mozambique tour included a few days in the Mpumalanga province of South Africa (even though I’ve still only scratched the surface of SA — more time there is definitely on my list for the next Africa trip). The landscape in Mpumalanga, which includes the Drakensburg mountain range (the highest mountain range in Southern Africa) and Blyde River Canyon (the third-largest canyon in the world, after the Grand Canyon and Fish River Canyon), is absolutely stunning.
Bright, flowering trees and waterfalls along the way don’t hurt the views either.
This part of the mountain range is known as the three rondavels. Rondavels are traditional circular huts with pointed thatched roofs, and you can see why the peaks on the left of this photo got that name.
We stopped for a few hours at the Bourke’s Luck Potholes, which are naturally-occurring formations of colorful rock created by erosion from the meeting of two rivers.
In Mpumalanga, we also stopped by the Moholoholo Wildlife Rehabilitation Center, which provides a home for orphaned or injured animals and breeds endangered animals in captivity. The center releases its animals into the wild when possible, but it is frequently impossible to do so.
This warthog was taken to Moholoholo at birth and raised by the staff there. They tried to set him free, but he wouldn’t leave. Now he roams freely on and around the grounds of the Center, enjoying lots of attention and petting from visitors. Here he is burrowing for roots in the ground, which is a favorite meal for a warthog.
Here’s a baby white rhino who was born premature and abandoned by her mother after birth. She requires 24-hour a day care and attention, which she gets from a rotating group of volunteer “moms.”
This honey badger was killing geese on a farm, and the farmer called Moholoholo and asked them to take in the animal so that he wouldn’t have to kill it to protect his livestock. I’ve seen a honey badger once before but was too scared to get a really good look at it (in case you’ve somehow missed the youtube video, honey badgers are vicious and terrifying), so it was fun to watch this one racing around its pen, trying to eat everything in sight.
This crazy cat-looking thing is called a Serval, although I think its Afrikaans name, Tierboskat (“tiger-forest-cat”) has a little more je ne sais quoi.
These are African Wild Dogs, also called Painted Dogs, which were bred in captivity and temporarily loaned to Moholoholo. There are only a few thousand left in the wild on the entire continent, partially because they are nomadic hunters and haven’t been able to adapt to the limitations that cities and farms have placed on their hunting grounds.
On our last night of the tour, our group said goodbye with a celebratory dinner, followed by celebratory shots around the campfire. The shots were Melktert (milk tart) — vodka, condensed milk, and cinnamon — in honor of a popular Afrikaans dessert, courtesy of some of the lovely South Africans on the tour. It sounds kind of gross, but honestly it was pretty delicious.
Four of us had one more night in Johannesburg, so we took Joburg’s new and exciting (and extremely clean!) Gautrain — named for the province, Gauteng — to Mandela Square, a giant mall with some nice restaurants. Have I mentioned before on this blog that African cities love malls? If not, I’ll post more about that another time. I only spent a day in Joburg and didn’t get to see much, but what I did see was much nicer and more pleasant than the horror stories I’ve heard about the city would have led me to believe.
In conclusion, that is one giant statue of Nelson Mandela.