Weekend Wanders

What an exciting weekend we’ve just had! A relaxing country getaway, a charming old mining town, and a quick safari – we did a lot in just 3 days.

The weekend started with a two-night stay at our landlady/friend’s country retreat set on the rolling hills of a large trout farm in Mpumalanga, near the town of Dullstrum. The house itself was stunning, perched on top of a hill with a wraparound porch offering wide views of the sunsets and lightning storms.IMG_2851.jpg The food was great, the wine was flowing, and the company was even better. Our stay there was perfect and just what we needed.IMG_2854.jpgWe were up bright and early Sunday morning to head to the town of Kaapsehoop for Spencer to compete in an orienteering race. Just fifteen minutes before we arrived, we pulled up to the scene of a nasty head-on collision, moments after it happened. One of the drivers was trapped in the crumpled front of his car, and two stunned children sat in the back. We pulled them out and sat with them in our car as we waited for help to arrive.

Both children had bumped their heads, and the younger boy’s face was swelling quickly and he had clear signs of a concussion. They had been on the way to celebrate their parents’ wedding. Neither had been wearing seatbelts. Of all the crazy things that happen on the roads in South Africa, the lack of child restraints is by far my biggest pet peeve. Children crawling around cars, babies out of car seats, tiny people riding in front seats; I cringe every time I see it. Seriously, South Africa, buckle up your kids.

It was over 45 minutes before paramedics arrived with the jaws of life, and more than an hour before an ambulance showed up and looked at the boy. When we finally left, the boy was on his way to the hospital and the driver was still trapped in his car, but alive. It was a harrowing morning, but it could have been a lot more traumatic.

Our day took a much more pleasant turn at this point. We made it to Kaapsehoop just in time for Spencer to run in the last open spot. As he ran, I explored the area. Kaapsehoop is a tiny old mining town plopped in the middle of nowhere. Picture-perfect mining cottages line shady dirt streets and little shops sell crafts and antiques. It was one of the cutest places I have seen in this country, made even more special by the fact that it’s not in our guide books and no Joburgers seem to have ever heard of it.

As delightful as the town was, the geography surrounding it was even more fascinating. Kaapsehoop is situated in the middle of rock fields. Ancient quartzite boulders in a variety of geometric shapes are scattered haphazardly across the fields and piled absurdly on top of each other, giving the place the feel of a giant toddler’s building block city.

Adding to the beauty were the wild horses that roamed freely through the fields. No one is quite sure where they came from, but they just seem to add to the mystical feel of the place.IMG_3009.jpgAs orienteerers scampered around me, I wandered through the rock fields until they abruptly came to an end at a sheer drop down into the valley below. The view below was stunning. South Africa is full of surprising natural wonders like this that just sneak up on me and take my breath away.img_2979Spencer had a great run, we enjoyed a nice lunch at a bohemian cafe, then we were back in the car on the road to our final destination for the weekend, Kruger Park. We were going to Kruger with one and only one goal in mind – to spot the elusive leopard.

Within the first hour, we had seen some sleeping rhinos, grazing buffalo, elephant families, a hippo, and a resting hyena. On a sunset guided tour, we spotted the laziest lion of all time, giraffes, and plenty of antelope. After the sun went down, I saw a few hippos wandering out of the water. Even more special, I found a tiny bushbaby jumping through the trees.

That night we camped for the last time in our beloved Jeep, at the Berg-en-Dal Rest Camp, and were up at first light to continue our hunt. We had some up-close encounters with elephants, but no big cats. Eventually, we had to leave Kruger and admit defeat. We never saw the leopard, but I’ve decided this is just South Africa’s way of making sure we come back.img_3081

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