The Bush

Yesterday was Sunday and it was warm. Joe and I decided to go hiking. We got a late start (slept late and needed provisions from the store) so we picked Suikerbosrand Nature Reserve. It’s 45 minutes away and easy to see in a couple of hours.

We got on the highway, looped around downtown Joburg, and exited onto a smaller road to the southeast. The midday sky was hazy and tinged with pink. I soon learned why — we rounded a curve and passed a steel plant belching acrid smoke.

A few miles later, the road bisected a township called Tokoza. On one side were lines of small brick houses with red tile roofs — the government-subsidized section of the township. On the other side was a sea of corrugated iron shacks, stretching as far as the eye could see. The view contrasted oddly with the Steve Miller Band hits blaring from my iPod.

Soon we arrived at the reserve, which houses the Suikerbosrand mountain range. Admission was R50 (about $7) for both of us. The center of the park is on the site of a 19th-century Dutch farm — one of the few in this area that wasn’t burned down during the Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902). The original house and farm buildings are now a museum. There’s also a lodge-style hotel that looked like a nice place to stay for the weekend.

The reserve. The grass around the hotel is intentionally burned to create a fire break.

August is a dry, windy month in this part of South Africa and it hasn’t rained all winter. The reserve was all yellow, brown, and black — yellow grass, brown earth, and black, charred ground from dry-season brush fires. The landscape was desolate, alien, and beautiful.

We found a trail and followed it up a hillside, stopping briefly to inspect the Marais family cemetery. The grave stones were in Dutch. Joe translated.

Graveyard.

It was near 2:00 — the sun got hotter and the wind picked up. We were hungry but not sure where to stop. Suddenly an oasis appeared ahead — a dirt clearing surrounded by a low stone wall and a circle of trees. It was an old kraal — an enclosure where the farmers kept their livestock.

View from the kraal.

We settled on the ground and feasted on avocado and cheese sandwiches, dried droewors sausage (more dried meat — yum!), and strawberries. It was completely quiet except for the birds. We heard a particularly lovely song that Joe said came from a canary in the tree above us. He couldn’t find it though, even with binoculars.

We continued up the hill, listening to the hiss of the waist-high grass in the wind. Nothing else grows there but fire-resistant aloe plants and the occasional stunted cabbage tree. We saw animal droppings — wildebeest and blesbok, according to Joe — but didn’t encounter another soul.

Up.

We reached the top of the hill and checked out the panorama. Not too shabby, despite the haze. We found a cairn — a pile of rocks created by hikers who want to make their mark on the landscape. We each added a rock and took lots of photos. The wind was howling by this time so we headed down.

View from the top.

We passed this dead cabbage tree on the way down.

We were back in the car by 4:00, sharing a Grapetiser. The late afternoon sun reflected off the asphalt as we drove. A woman walked along the shoulder, holding a child’s hand and balancing a load of firewood on her head. The Klipriviersberg mountains loomed in the distance.

Back at the Lucky 5 Star by 5:00. It was a good day.

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