South African Road Trips

[Editor’s Note: We have been without steady internet access for a month, a problem that was remedies today.  As a result, I am WAY behind in posting thoughts and pictures.  This post has been ready to go for some time, as these trips took place back in October.  But alas, better late than never!]

Over the past several weeks, we have squeezed a couple of semi-close road trips in.  Among the many extraordinary things about visiting South Africa is the enormous range of types of activities one can encounter.  In these two trips (picture albums below), trips that were 3 and 4 days respectively, we experienced the following:

TRIP 1 – Golden Gate Highlands, Clarens, Lesotho (lots of pictures HERE)

  • An incredible hike up the mountains of the Golden Gate Highlands National Park
  • Horseback riding through the Highlands
  • Cherry Picking in an orchard in the eastern Free State
  • Shopping and hanging out in the artists’ village of Clarens
  • Detouring into the mountain nation of Lesotho, a somewhat failed experiment that landed us at KFC when our phones stopped working as soon as we crossed the border
  • Learning how cheese is made at a dairy in the town of Tweezpruitt, confirming for Sadie that despite what Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote, most modern cheese is made with non-animal rennet



TRIP 2 – Cradle of Humankind, Lesedi Village, Pilanesburg Nat’l Park (lots of pictures HERE)

  • Visiting the caves of the Cradle of Humankind, the location where some of the earliest human ancestor bones have been found and where homo sapiens are thought to have emerged
  • Spending an evening and night at the Lesedi Cultural Village, an educational village with representative villages of several of the indigenous South African tribes, including Zulu (where we stayed), Xhosa, Pedi, and Sotho
  • Doing two days of safari at Pilanesburg National Park, seeing, most notably, lots and lots of rhinos and cape buffalo


That such a diversity of experiences can be had from two fairly simple road trips is remarkable to me.  Another great thing about road trips is that in driving through the country, you get a better sense of place.  Unfortunately, often times my desire to capture that sense of place leads me to spend more time than I ought to looking out the window, a tendency that leads first to my drifting off the road and subsequently to Meggan bringing me back to attention using various levels of zeal.

Within the car, a KielsAbroad road trip consists of me driving, Meggan navigating with the assistance of our phones, while the kids sit in the back entertaining themselves and each other.  Games with their lovies as main characters have been popular lately, and Sadie spent a fair amount of the drive to the Golden Gate Highlands “talking” on a house phone we found in our cottage and unplugged for a prop on the car drive.  There are stretches of game playing (“I went to South Africa and I saw an African elephant; I went to South Africa and I saw an African elephant and a baboon…”) or story listening (still can’t get enough of Curious George Goes to the Hospital, though our Kruger trip was highlighted by a full rendition of The BFG) or, perhaps most frequently, eating (cheese penguins, a stand-in for goldfish, are a particular favorite).

Outside the car, there are the various landscapes offered by our surroundings, which range from vast, flat farmlands in the Free State to green hills and windmills of the Eastern Cape to the edges of the Drakensburg mountains in eastern Free State and into Lesotho, complete with colorful rocks and endless views.  Near Kruger, we saw our first Jacaranda trees with their dazzling purple blossoms, a treat that we’ve witnessed in different climates at different times.  In our drives south from Cape Town, we are on the edge of the continent, cruising on thin roads chiseled into rocky, green cliffs and overlooking the ocean.

Aside from the scenery, there are other regular elements of our South African road trips.  These include stray farm animals, evidence of extensive mining for gold, platinum, diamonds (especially en route to and beyond Johannesburg) in the form of equipment and gigantic mine dumps that look like hills but are too perfectly groomed to be natural, and road closures where one lane of a two-lane highway is being worked on so vehicles going one direction are stopped for 10 minutes or so to allow cars going the opposite direction to pass before the same thing occurs at the other end of the construction zone.  There are also towns and townships along the roads – in many cases, the townships are obviously affiliated with a town so that it is clear that at one point, the “local population” was displaced into township settlements while white South Africans were allowed to stay in the town centers; in other cases, the townships are more isolated, popping up seemingly out of nowhere.  Along the drive, it is obvious that a rural township is near, not only because of the concentration of homes of varying quality packed together in coordinated developments, but also because there are numerous hitchhikers and walkers and hitchhiking walkers lining the sides of roads near them.  There are people transporting things, often on their heads, as they move near the road.  There are small vans that pick people up and drop people off along the way.

My favorite custom on the South African road trip is a gentlemanly practice of pulling into the emergency lane, where there is room, to allow an oncoming car to easily pass on a two-lane highway.  This is invariably followed by the passing car flashing its blinkers a few times, “thank you,” and the deferring car responding with a flash of its brights, “you’re welcome.”  I intend to bring this practice home, so look out for it.

My least favorite thing to have occurred on a South African road trip was being pulled over for speeding in rural Mpumalanga.  I was shown a laminated sheet of paper that suggested that the fine for exceeding the speed limit by however much I was exceeding it would be a thousand rand ($80).  It was clear immediately upon my producing my Tennessee driver’s license that the officer wanted nothing to do with the hassle of writing me up, particularly as I told him that I simply did not have that kind of cash on me (which was mostly true, since our cash was not technically on me, but stashed away in the glove compartment).  He suggested that I should pay him 500 rand and promise not to speed anymore.  I gave him the 300 rand I had in my pocket and was sent on my way.  It seems unlikely that 300 rand made it into the government’s coffers.



Spring Road Trips Pics –

Here are two albums from road trips we took this spring….

Golden Gate Highlands National Park, town of Clarens, and more


Click on the picture for an album of photos from our trip to the Golden Gate Highlands


Cradle of Humankind and Lesedi Cultural Village, plus a visit to Pilanesburg National Park


Click on Sadie for an album of photos from our trip to the Cradle of Humankind, Lesedi Cultural Village, and Pilanesburg National Park


Whenever we told anyone that we were going to attend a soccer (er, football) game, we were greeted with raised eyebrows.  Actually, let me clarify: whenever we told any white person that we were going to attend a soccer gamer, we were greeted with raised eyebrows.  The eyebrows differed in meaning from intrigued surprise to disapproving bewilderment, but they were all raised just the same.

In South Africa, sports – like so much else – carry a racial identifier.  Rugby is the sport of white Afrikaners, though there have been repeated efforts to make the team a source of national pride across racial lines.  These efforts have had mixed results, with highs such as the triumph in the 1995 Rugby World Cup, which took place in South Africa and featured Nelson Mandela rallying the nation behind the team, and lows such as this year’s efforts to get a court order to stop the South African team from leaving the country for its failure to make greater efforts to include black South Africans on its roster or in its player development. Soccer is the sport of the black South Africans.  Cricket seems to draw the most diverse crowds, though the national and professional teams are predominantly white – at the matches we’ve been to, there has been significant black, white, and Indian representation in the stands.  These distinctions are not wholly accurate, but they are generally true.IMG_1856

Undeterred by raised eyebrows, we set out to the stadium here in Bloemfontein for a soccer match between the local team, Bloem Celtic and the Kaizer Chiefs, a club from the Soweto townships near Johannesburg that is sort of the Lakers or Cowboys of South African soccer.  Continue reading

October Pics

It is hard to believe that we are well over the hump of our time here.  Although October was highlighted by a trip to Kruger National Park (pics here, post here) and a trip to the mountains of the eastern Free State (pics forthcoming), there was plenty of fun at home in Bloem also.  Included here are intricate sewing projects, highlights from our Halloween, and other fun around town.  Enjoy.


Click on the expert creators for more pics from October in South Africa…

Casual Interactions, v3 + Day-to-Day Pictures

Finally taking a breath to catch up on some of our pictures.  Included below are links to two albums – one is filled with the things we have been doing at home, including lots of Kiel Cottage snapshots and a surprisingly perfect sukkah; the second is filled with various things we have been doing around Bloemfontein, including our first cricket and netball matches.  We have really settled into a rhythm here and have been very fortunate to be able to interrupt that rhythm fairly often with terrific trips as well.

Also, in the spirit of including some of the minor characters who have played roles in our journey, I will build on previous lists of casual interactions (here and here) with a new one, focusing on 2 groups of people – neighbors and safari guides.

Continue reading

Mystery Mananga at Kruger

[Editor’s Note: I know all you want is the pictures.  Links to 3 albums from the trip are here – 2 are from Kruger itself and the other is comprised of the non-Kruger parts of this trip, including two stopovers in Johannesburg, a visit to a Shangaan village, and a trip to the Blyde River Canyon in Mpumalanga.  Enjoy!]

We settled on the first week of October for our visit to the most famous national park in South Africa, Kruger, because the university was off that week.  What we didn’t realize was that the week was also spring break for primary and secondary schools all over the country.  We were thus both surprised and worried when we got in touch with the accommodations at Kruger to find that there was nothing available in the park during the whole week.  Were two Wurzburgs not flying halfway around the world to join us, we could have simply changed our dates.  As it was, we had to find something – anything – to accommodate the 6 of us.

As I sat in a meeting a couple weeks before departure, I got a semi-urgent text from Meggan: “When will you be finished?”  As soon as I got out of the meeting, I called.  “I think I’ve got a place for us, but it seems a little too good to be true.  I need you to take a look at it.”  Once home, I followed her internet trail as best I could, working to figure out if this place she had found was (a) actually there, and (b) available.  After an hour of sleuthing, we determined that this place was either a very well-crafted hoax or a very poorly-advertised gem.  There were no trip advisor reviews, though there were photographs – whether the photos were of an actual place was anyone’s guess.  Payment could only be made through a specialized lodging site and could not be made until an invoice had been emailed to me.  As I entered in our credit card info, I felt about 70% certain that the place was legitimate.  I figured I’d leave it to American Express to deal with it if it was not, though Meggan pointed out that the greater concern at that point would be arriving to Kruger without a place to stay.  True.  There was always the giant van we were driving, I suppose.
Continue reading

September Pics – At Home and Around Bloem

Finally taking a breath to catch up on some of our pictures.  Included below are links to two albums – one is filled with the things we have been doing at home, including lots of Kiel Cottage snapshots and a surprisingly perfect sukkah; the second is filled with various things we have been doing around Bloemfontein, including our first cricket and netball matches.  We have really settled into a rhythm here and have been very fortunate to be able to interrupt that rhythm fairly often with terrific trips as well.


Click on Ben or Nelson Mandela for pics from September from around Bloemfontein….


Click on Sadie or one of South Africa’s perfect avocados for pics from September around our home….