Kruger at Ground Level, Part 2: Vegetable

Announcements:

1) A story about my Kruger trip has been published on travelgurus.co.za. Please check it out.

2) 2Summers turned one today! I wrote my first 2Summers post exactly a year ago, six weeks before moving to Jozi. If you want to know how it all started, click here.

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On to Part 2 of my hiking adventure in the Kruger Park: the vegetable installment.

I experienced some pretty incredible (and adrenaline-inducing) animal sightings on my four-day hike through the Pafuri Triangle (see Part 1). But as I sat on the flight home and thought about it, I decided my favorite sightings in Pafuri were plants, specifically trees.

I don’t know what kind of tree this is. But I know it’s really beautiful. The trees dotting the plain below are mostly acacias.

The Pafuri Triangle covers 1% of the surface area of the Kruger Park, but comprises 70% of the biodiversity. Brian, our guide, pointed out loads of interesting plants as we walked, explaining why they grow there and what they can be used for. I’ve forgotten most of what he told us, but I do remember the way the plants smelled. There is a plant called a potato bush that smells just like its name. Another one smells like a cross between lavender and licorice. There is one versatile plant that you can use to brush your teeth and cure acid reflux. There seem to be countless plants used to treat infertility and erectile dysfunction.

This plant may look mundane but it has the coolest name ever: the northern fluffy-flowered jackal coffee. 

Enormous, breathtaking trees are the defining feature in Pafuri.

The sun shines through a grove of sycamore fig trees.

The nyala berry, jackal berry, and baobab trees are spectacular.

Fellow hiker Juliane provides some scale next to the trunk of a nyala berry tree. See how the tree seems to be growing out of a small hill? Nyala and jackal berry trees often grow on termite mounds. The termites aerate the soil for the trees, and the trees in turn provide protection from termite-hungry animals.

Besides showing the canopy of jackal berry trees that we slept under, this photo also shows what our camp was like.

Let me digress and tell you about camp. Each person (or couple) had their own tent, complete with a comfy cot and a cleverly designed “eco-loo” out back. The staff cooked around a portable fire pit and we ate at a communal table. The camp is moved to a new spot every two weeks to lessen its ecological impact.

This was the view from the eco-loo behind my tent: the coolest jackal berry tree in Kruger. Not a bad place to do your business.

The eco-loos — basically portable plastic toilets — are ingenious contraptions. I’m not sure how to accurately describe them though, and I didn’t think to take photos.

The staff awakened us each morning at 5:45 (it was cold and dark — thank god for Joe’s head torch) and we were out walking by 6:45. We would return to camp, exhausted, by about 12:30, have lunch, rest for a couple of hours, then go out for a less strenuous outing in the afternoon/early evening. Then a hearty dinner, coffee around the fire, and bed by 9:30, with a hot water bottle and the sounds of the bush to lull me to sleep.

Back to the trees. I’ve saved the best for last.

A baobab gateway. I’m not sure how old these particular trees are, but baobabs can live for a couple of millennia. There’s a baobab in Pafuri that is believed to be about 2,500 years old.

Baobabs are amazing. In preparation for this post, I had a chat with my friend Chris Green, a former wilderness trails guide who knows a lot about baobabs. Below are just a few of the things I learned. (Chris, please correct me if I’ve gotten any of this wrong.)

Locals refer to baobabs as “upside-down trees” because their branches look like roots. The baobab is also called “the tree of life” — a baobab can save your life in several dozen ways.

South African baobabs have served as navigational devices for Zimbabwean and Mozambican migrants. When crossing an area populated by baobabs, you must simply remember which tree is where and you can find your way across an inhospitable landscape in which you might otherwise become lost.

Baobab wood is spongy, which means it holds a lot of water. It’s hard to judge the actual size of baobabs because they shrink during times of drought. Elephants strip the bark off baobabs to get the moisture, and also to consume the fibre in the bark. People weave the bark fibre into cord to make rope and clothing.

This baobab looks like it’s dancing. The bark has been stripped from the trunk, to just about elephant height. The stripping is no problem — baobabs can heal and regenerate their bark.

Baobabs are often hollow. (Elephants eat the insides of the trees, and are sometimes killed when they eat too much and the trees fall over on them.) The hollows collect water. If you’re dying of thirst and come upon a hollowed baobab, the water inside can sustain you. There might be animals living inside that you can eat. Some baobabs also harbor huge bees’ nests. If know what you’re doing you can harvest the honey.

One of the largest baobabs we encountered on our hike. It’s hollow and a pair of wood owls live inside. We saw one of them fly out as we approached.

Baobab fruit doesn’t taste great, but it’s filled with nutrients and can be eaten. You can also eat the leaves, the tips of the roots, and the young branches. Chris says the roots taste like potatoes. You can roast the seeds to make coffee. You can burn the wood to make salt.

Baobabs are often sacred to the people around them. In some cultures, pregnant women give birth in baobabs. There have been villages in which every resident was born inside the same baobab.

Baobabs have served as pubs, post offices, jails, and toilets.

Baobabs can even cure erectile dysfunction! (Okay, Chris didn’t tell me that. But how could they not?)

Baobab sunset.

Next up: the mineral installment.

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20 Comments

  • Reply thebigbookofdating June 26, 2011 at 10:50 pm

    I am sitting in my bedroom wishing I could leap through the computer to this stunning location!

  • Reply Enivea June 27, 2011 at 1:02 am

    Congratulations on the publication of your travel story Heather – it makes great reading!
    Happy birthday too!
    I love the boab trees, and was thrilled to see how much space you’ve given over to them in this post. Northern Australia has boabs also – http://www.outback-australia-travel-secrets.com/boab_tree.html
    And yes, I always say the best way to really see and feel an area is to walk it – or view it from horseback.

    • Reply 2summers June 27, 2011 at 8:48 am

      Thanks so much. The Australian boab trees are beautiful! I can’t get enough of those trees. I hope to go to Madagascar someday, where there are six different species of them.

  • Reply Tilly Bud June 27, 2011 at 10:38 am

    Congrats and congrats!

    The baobab is my husband’s favourite tree. They are magnificent. I didn’t know all that, though. Going to leave this post for him to read.

    • Reply 2summers June 27, 2011 at 10:40 am

      Thanks, Linda. It really is amazing what these trees are capable of. Hope the Hub enjoys the post, too.

  • Reply Caitlin June 27, 2011 at 11:56 am

    Brilliant pictures! Looks like an amazing trip; pack me in your suitcase next time around 🙂 Can’t quite tell for sure, but I’m pretty confident your mystery tree is a boscia – a shepherd’s tree – gorgeous family of trees. They’ve adapted to transpire through their bark, so they’re always cool…and there’s a kind of butterfly – the brown veined white – that only flies north-east, its whole life; it passes through South Africa in huge groups every few years, having circumnavigated the globe, only landing on Boscia trees everywhere they go…

    • Reply 2summers June 27, 2011 at 12:00 pm

      Shepherd’s tree…Yes, that sounds familiar. That might be one of the names that Brian told us and I neglected to write down and promptly forgot. What a beautiful tree story! Thanks for sharing.

  • Reply Thapelo June 27, 2011 at 12:49 pm

    I love the last shot of – Baobab sunset. This looks great.Your Shots are Super…This looks very “National Geographic” type of Shot in a Travel Magazine -:)

    • Reply 2summers June 27, 2011 at 12:54 pm

      Thanks so much Thapelo! The Baobab Sunset is my favorite pic from the trip too 🙂

  • Reply cashancountry June 27, 2011 at 1:22 pm

    Hey Heather, great and up to your usual high standards! Thanks for the comments, I also thought of Boscia, they have 3 times the protein as other plants in their leaves, hence are browsed heavily. The ones on rocky outcrops are browsed by dassies. The trees respond by producing smaller leaves in tighter bunches.The shepherds trees are real survival trees, and the ones seen here are widespread all the way up Africa and the near and middle East. Their long association with people make them as interesting as the baobabs in the ways people use them. The Baobab photos are stunning. Well done.
    Chris

    • Reply 2summers June 27, 2011 at 1:29 pm

      Thanks, Chris. That shepherd’s tree certainly looks like a survivor.

  • Reply thirdeyemom June 27, 2011 at 2:30 pm

    Congratulations on your writing achievements! I also LOVE this series. I wish I could be there too hiking and camping through Kruger. I did a safari six years ago and loved it. I would love to do more of a camping one next time as opposed to staying at a luxurious lodge. BUt that was amazing too! 🙂

    • Reply 2summers June 27, 2011 at 2:52 pm

      Thanks, Nicole. Don’t get me wrong — I love the luxurious lodges too! Not that I’ve been able to afford to stay in many 🙂 Anyway, it’s great to experience Africa from a variety of perspectives.

  • Reply Kathryn McCullough June 28, 2011 at 1:45 am

    Gosh, Heather, those trees are breath-taking! Truly! And thanks so much for sharing details about the camp setting–these details always interest me–must be my nesting instinct! Happy birthday to 2Summers!
    Kathy

    • Reply 2summers June 28, 2011 at 9:17 am

      Thanks Kathy. I thought of you specifically when writing the description of the camp. I didn’t get the chance to mention the bucket showers — there were two of them behind the tents that we all shared. Also very neat but a bit chilly! I only showered once 🙂

  • Reply clouded marbles July 1, 2011 at 6:44 am

    A belated congrats on your blogday, Heather! I’m late to the party, as usual 😉
    Those trees are absolutely amazing. And thanks for describing the smells of some of the plants and the sharing of very interesting information.

    • Reply 2summers July 1, 2011 at 8:05 am

      Thanks so much, Riekie! You’re not late to the party, you’re just prolonging the celebration 🙂

  • Reply [email protected] July 13, 2011 at 3:47 pm

    Great post – I want to go there just to look at the trees!

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