Monday, March 24, 2014

day 4: royal natal national park

on sunday, our second day in the drakensburg, we woke up to perfect sunshine. our plan was for hiking, although neither of us is much of an accomplished hiker. we drove to the visitors' center in royal natal national park just a few kilometers from our hotel. there, we decided on which trail to do (spoiler alert: we picked "easy"! double spoiler alert: "easy" was not easy). we spent the better part of three hours proving we weren't athletes. 

such exotic trees along our hike. MB demonstrating the endless uphill trail!

about halfway through the hike, we crossed a road and entered a separate trail that led to the bushman's paintings, ancient sandstone rock art. although we had previously been on our own, it was under these circumstances we met our guide, elijah.

the view behind us from the trail leading to the bushman paintings. difficult to focus on hiking with this view!

how can i begin to describe elijah? born and raised in the zulu community just north of the tugela river. he exudes a passion for his heritage, but also for his ongoing legacy. before we reached the summit of our climb, marybeth and i had already been taught (and rehearsed) the three types of clicks found in the zulu language, identified and admired several types of south african trees, and learned the colorful history of his tribe. elijah described how the park was one of the few left in the nation where local people served as guides on the trails -- and how important this was for attempting to salvage the years of unwritten history of his people through teaching hikers like us one by one. 

elijah, the constant teacher

elijah also spoke of the utmost importance of education in his own life while relaying his concerns about what he saw to be the abysmal state of education in south africa. we spoke specifically about the monumental problem of HIV/AIDS; how previous organized attempts at educating his people, the zulu people, about wearing condoms to prevent transmission had back-fired into gestures of cultural solidarity in NOT using them. he described how the government subsidies to new mothers/babies had also back-fired in a largely uneducated and intensely impoverished population: girls were misguided and encouraged to become young mothers in order to obtain these grants.

although our conversation topics were heavy, we reveled in elijah's candid nature, his unique gift for the spoken word, and the passion with which he seemed to live the entirety of his life. he described his spiritual life (in fact, he had just come from church to give us this tour), his bachelorhood, and his dedication to growing both his army of tour guides... and his youth soccer team. 

at the summit of our glorious hike, we found the cave paintings! many on lower rocks have been faded over the years (by tourists and otherwise), but the ones on higher rocks were stunningly detailed and fascinating. 

the cave paintings: each is a different species and meticulously colored.

i feel lucky to have chosen the hike to the cave paintings today: lucky to have met such a kindred soul here in such a remote, unspoiled place; lucky to begin to start learning about the state of south african from a south african. he offered a voice for a group of people who often do not have much of one.

our new friend, elijah.

on our drive out of the park, we ran into a few furry critters hanging out in the road. apparently these baboons have been a bit of a menace for campers, but we were instantly drawn in by the mom helping her baby cross the road. another big baboon had planted himself smack-down in the middle of our lane, likely in an attempt to help their crossing. i know i shouldn't play with wild animals... but aren't you just a bit tempted here? don't worry, mom. i stayed in the car. 

road block: baboon style
mom and babe crossing the road

we ended our day with our exceedingly beautiful drive back to pietermaritzburg (identifying the following delightful signage). cheers, for now, friends! missing you all dearly, but -- as i'm sure you can tell -- living quite a colorful life here until we meet again.

cows: next 3 km!
! goats !

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