As a child, my first experience with the far North was filled with vivid memories of giant Baobab trees with smooth trunks. Each tree I had met on our frequent travels to Zimbabwe, became a persona. My little self greeted each and every one when we stopped to have some “padkos” along the way. Small as I was, I sensed that they held secrets, and imagined that they responded to me when I touched their old bodies. My second, and far more stronger awareness of mystical, ancient whisperings, was that of the rocky hills…
A dry season. The earth has turned into powdered dust.
Mama Africa has many faces.
As we approach the Mapungubwe entrance, a Dali-esque Baobab points its root-like fingers accusingly to the pale blue heavens. The Mopani shrubs break the grey-brown monotony with splashes of rust and yellow. The giant umbrella roof of the reception area is amazing. Stately almost, yet without any airs, it melts into the landscape. I sense the quiet as we get out. A powerful current of energy that is present and unchanging.
The SANParks staff are warm and friendly. We are issued with a map of the Park and the guard at the gate informs us of some Ellie sightings earlier on. We travel in an easterly direction towards Shroda dam.
As we turn onto the road, we are met by the vista of Mapungubwe Hill and the silhouette of a Pearl Spotted Owl. The dam across this lookout is as dry as cork. A few kilometres onward, a perfect specimen of Eland standing in the sparse shade of a sickle bush. The road winds downward into a valley. The views are forever – a purple grey haze of koppies as far as the eye can see. My childhood giants dot the road, awesome, battle-scarred by ivory tusks, their naked branches praying silently to an unblinking heaven.
Down in the valley, the magic starts. The Great Sculpturer took time here. A desert garden of breathless proportion. I hear unwritten stories told by the wind…
New to the Park, we took a road, winding along the border fence. Dense riverine vegetation surrounding it – the road was very narrow but we were so amazed by the trees that we only realized a while later we would be in trouble if an Ellie had to cross our path. There were bushbuck grazing and Burchell’s Cougal AND Ellies! But I always maintain that the Northern Ellies are far better mannered than their Southern counterparts. None the less, we quietly crept along with hammering hearts, as there was little or no escape route should they decide to play a bit.
We sighed with relieve as the road turned and broadened, but we were surrounded by lots of Ellies. In total about fifteen in splintered groups. We watched them play and drink at a waterhole for a while and then made a dash for it as soon as they walked off.
We travelled back on the road we came and headed for the Tree Top walk. The drive produced Zebra and a DONKEY! I need to remark that the animals were a bonus really, and my eyes weren’t really looking to find them – it was the rock formations, the play of sunlight and the vast quiet of the Limpopo Valley that kept me spellbound.
Again the trees at the Tree Top walk had this presence of eons of knowing. I touched a Fewer Tree and the silky yellow residue clung to my hand. The welcoming words of Rudyard Kipling at the gate entrance resonating in my mind. Baboons and Vervet monkeys played on the ground below. High up, we came face to face with the trees. I touched them and they touched me…The air was clear and crisp. The boardwalk meandering to the river made me feel like a secret explorer. And the birds, yes the birds came to greet us, some shy and some used to human meetings by now. We happily ticked off quite a few new sightings in our Sasol.
But the great Limpopo was dry. A yellow band that lay silently over the landscape. The few pools of water a last offering to a herd of Eland.