Alright folks, it’s time for another history lesson! You might remember from school, or from playing Oregon Trail, that during the 19th-century hundreds of thousands of Americans loaded up their wagons and headed west to the American frontier, to strike out new homes for themselves and fulfill “Manifest Destiny.” As it turns out, around the same time thousands of South Africans were making similar wagon journeys across their country. These were the Voortrekkers who undertook the Great Trek during the 1830s and 1840s.
Wedged between Zimbabwe on one side and South Africa on the other, the Tuli Block is a narrow strip of land on the south-eastern edge of Bostwana. It is where we finished up our Botswana road trip, and despite the crippling effects of a drought, it is also where we had some of our most exciting animals encounters to date.
My favorite African animal is the rhinoceros, so I was very excited that our first night’s stay in Botswana was that the Khama Rhino Sanctuary. Khama is a wildlife sanctuary east of the Kalahari that is committed to saving the quickly vanishing rhino.
There is a place in the middle of Botswana that is unlike anywhere else on earth. It covers an area the size of Connecticut, and it is as featureless and devoid of life as the surface of the moon. These are the Makgadikgadi Pans, one of the largest salt flats on earth. It is also where we spent a night as far removed from the rest of world as is possible on this planet. Continue reading “Makgadikgadi Pans”
My parents made the big trip out to visit us, and we didn’t let them have a moment of rest. As they had already been to South Africa twice before, we decided to take them along on a road trip to Botswana. For two days, we drove north through the middle of the country, across the Kalahari Desert. It was the end of winter, the dry season, and the great Kalahari was desperately parched. The landscape was nothing but flat, dusty plains as far as the eye could see. We would go hours without passing a single town, the only signs of life being forlorn donkeys and cattle, and even they looked achingly thirsty.
I have been researching illegal gold mining in South Africa for the past few months, trying to understand this illicit industry and see what drives people to become zama-zamas (illegal miners). To help me get a better sense of what their underground lives are like, Spencer put me in touch with Lloyd, the owner of the mine he used to work at. Lloyd granted me a useful interview, and then invited us to visit his mine and meet with some of the illegal miners working on the property. We jumped at the chance, as it was also a great opportunity for Spencer to revisit the site where he worked from 2010-2011.
1000 years ago, a city formed where no city had existed before. On the top of a steep rocky outcropping, a king lived with his many wives.
Back in May, we visited the Bushbabies Monkey Sanctuary just out side of Hartbeespoort, North West Provice with Rebecca and our nephew Jacob. Set in an enclosed forest on the side of an escarpment, the sanctuary is home to dozens of squirrel monkeys, spider monkeys, capuchins, and lemurs. Most of the residents were rescued from the illegal pet trade, or adopted from homes of owners who got tired of having a monkey around the house. They were cute, curious, endlessly entertaining, and most of all, mischievous.
A year ago this week, Spencer and I were about as far away from South Africa as geographically possible. We were 10,000 miles away in Alaska, experiencing a wilderness totally unlike Africa.
Back in February, I posted about my goal of seeing as many UNESCO World Heritage sites as possible. Since then, we have managed to visit 14 sites, across five countries. We still have two more to see here in South Africa, plus at least four more countries to visit before we leave, to try and make a dent in the 937 sites left to see.