We had a lovely breakfast sitting outside on the terrace at the Chill Inn beside a little fountain, from where we could see for miles across open land to some distant hills. Sitting nearby outside the fence (it was around 7am) were about a dozen African men with what looked like lunch bags. Eventually, a car and a bakkie (pickup) showed up, each driven by a white man. The pickup driver was in working clothes and the car driver looked ‘boss-like’. The guy in working khakis negotiated with the African men then most of them piled into the back of the pickup and all drove off, presumably to do a day’s work. I couldn’t help but think of ‘The Grapes of Wrath’ and other depression-type stories where men would hire out for the day by waiting for someone to come by and pick out a crew.
After cleaning up our breakfast stuff, we then packed up and went into the town of Malalane. First thing I wanted to do was to put our camera cards in to get them downloaded to DVDs, as both our cameras are pretty much out of memory. At the photo shop I had a very uncomfortable experience. The shop opened at 8am and we arrived there at ten past. In front of me was a crowd of African people and there were many more inside, sitting down on a bench. I followed everyone into the store and stood at the back of the crowd when a white lady came out from the back of the shop and came straight to me and asked what I needed. I said “These people were before me” (gesturing towards them) to which she stiffly answered that “they will be taken care of”. I felt really embarrassed but didn’t feel comfortable in making an issue about it, so I handed over my cards and got out of there. Bruce was outside and I told him how horrible I felt about it but he has obviously been in S.A. too long because he simply shrugged and asked “Why?” It’s probably the first overtly discriminatory act that I have personally been involved in.
My next need, while waiting for the DVDs to be processed, was to find internet and we were directed to a brand-new diner where we were able to do emails but no-one knew how to access my USB flash drive (on which I had my trip notes) and I couldn’t figure out how to get to it, either. We had to find another place which was the one we should have gone to in the first place: very professional. The guy scanned my flash drive first for viruses before letting me put it in their computer (would that all places would do that!) but Bruce was getting a bit impatient by then, wanting to get on the road, so he sat out in the truck to hustle me along. So again, although it was a very fast computer with a great signal, I had no time to uplink any photos. Somewhat frustrating for me, as this is a part of our travels that I enjoy – in case you hadn’t noticed! :) I went back to the photo shop, where, luckily, the crowd had thinned out, and got our DVDs then we blasted out of town by 9:45am.
We were heading towards Nelspruit and then on up to the White River (Witrivier) area in the Mpumalanga region – an area that has been highly recommended by all as very scenic and we had suggestions for any number of places that we must see such as Pilgrim's Rest & God's Window.
We passed a ‘Manchester’ shop at the roadside near a place called Nelari. Those of our friends in Australia (and, I think, probably New Zealand) will know that ‘Manchester’ means ‘household linens’. It is named after the city in Britain that used to produce cotton and linen goods and Colonists who had departed for different parts of the world and ships would bring their linens from Manchester. (I wonder why the term has stuck in South Africa and the Antipodes, but not in Canada? Was it ever used in Canada?) Anyway, this store was curious to me because it was in a house that was surrounded by barbed wire and there was a security guard on the gate. (Those Africaan housewives: they must be a pretty rowdy bunch if they’re storming the place to buy some new linens!)
In White River we went to the 'iCentre' to get regional informal. It was in a beautiful complex that housed numerous upscale shops, restaurants, a winery and a theatre including one shop that sold the most beautiful fused glass. Of course, we were interested in it because of Brenda’s shop, but it was even more interesting to find out that the work was begun by a woman who went to Germany to learn the trade then came back and started programs to teach African women jobs that would give them income. The lady in the shop allowed me to take numerous photos (I told her it wouldn’t become ‘competition’ as we would be taking the photos all the way back to Canada) and she was fine with that. We stayed to have lunch in the beautiful courtyard after picking up all the information we’d need for our drive up through the area, watching kids playing chess on a huge game on the ground that they walked around.
From White River we proceeded to the town of Sabie, which began life back in 1871 when a stray bullet chipped a rock, exposing gold. Fortune hunters then flocked to the area. Our route started to wind up through hilly passes and heavily treed forests of pine and eucalyptus. In fact, it was starting to look very much like parts of British Columbia (apart from the eucalyptus), and I can understand why this area holds such a special place in the hearts of South Africans who, for the most part, live in rather flat open areas (the ‘Lowveld’). While I am enjoying the beautiful scenery and the drive, I’m also keen to see more of the towns and villages and people who inhabit them, which I haven't done yet. I feel as though I've missed a huge part of 'the experience' of Africa, even though we've been made to feel so welcome by our hosts, but we have definitely been in a rather cloistered environment since I got here. Maybe when I get to doing Bruce's blog for the first part of his trip he will have seen more (and got some photographs!).
We are following a gorge, the Blyde River Canyon, and stopped in to see a number of waterfalls, the largest and most beautiful of which was Mac Mac Falls. Late in the afternoon we arrived at the small town of Graskop which is perched on the edge of the Mpumalanga escarpment. Graskop looks like a simple name to say, but here’s what you have to do to pronounce it properly: You stick the ‘G’ in the back of your throat and sort of try to clear your throat while chucking the ‘r’ out right after this throat clearing exercise. Then you say ‘coop’ – not ‘cop’. For myself, I find Afrikaans a very difficult language, it being so guttural, and I have a hard time remembering the names of places. For example, try saying Magoebaskloof (and don’t forget the throat-clearing exercise for the ‘g’) and then try to remember the name of this place later on!
Graskop is in an area known as the Great Mpumalanga Drakensburg Escarpment that is 1,000 metres above sea level. It's a huge gorge with numerous waterfalls. I didn't find out until later that Graskop is known as much for its African silk farming (and weaving) as it is for its pancake parlours.
We found a really nice place to stay, not very expensive – about $400 Rand – called ‘El Shaddai’. We are the only people in this establishment although it looks as though it could house quite a lot of people. Set in a lovely garden, we have a bungalow with a bedroom, sitting room (with tv and dvd player), a fully equipped kitchen and, again, a very nice bathroom and we are able to pull our bakkie (truck) in under the car port and back it up to our French doors for loading/unloading.
Graskop is advertised as a ‘malaria-free zone’ (we were pleased to see). (Apparently the Kruger National Park is a malaria zone, however.) We are near a noisy road, but the sounds died down as the evening wore on – except for the hadedas. This is a large bird that, when it flies, emits constant loud, alarmed-sounding cries (much sharper than geese). Our friend Andre here said they make the loud cries when flying because “they’re afraid of heights”. :) There’s a very nice braai facility here and we had another great dinner. Somehow or other Bruce managed to consume most of two bottles of wine on his own(I didn’t even notice it going!) until he finally said “I think I may have had too much to drink” and promptly fell asleep. (Guess he wasn’t used to the plonque following our recent regrettable dry spell!)