I am on the last day of the overland safari and our guide, Haimbodi “Hofni” Holni, greets the group as he always does regardless to time of day, “Good Morning!” Hofni is the perfect road mate—continually upbeat, a gigantic curiosity for the world and a genuine interest in people. As usual, mix a group of a dozen strangers together for a eight-day road trip and all does not blend well like whirled peas. There is always one that tries to spoil the casserole. But in spite of an alcoholic loudmouth who tried to seize control, Hofni kept the ship upright for the 600 miles from Victoria Falls to Jo-burg and a 500-mile round trip Jo-burg-Kruger National Park trek. I treasured every day that we ran together.
Our truck, Pavarotti, now growls westbound under the control of Dennis, a Jo-burg driver who I talk to often during our road stops about the oppressive days of apartheid in South Africa. We are headed to the Great Escarpment, a prominent geological formation rising over 10,000 feet, 3000 meters. It is also known as Drakensberg in Afrikaans, or Dragon Mountains, due to its steep sided blocks and soaring pinnacles. This is what 20 million years of massive geological uplifting can do…
The first stop is God’s Window, an overlook that plunges 2300 feet/700 meters. On a clear day GW boasts a view eastward to the Lebombo Mountains on the South Africa/ Mozambique border. Today, however, the haze is thick and I turn my attention to an eco-niche rain forest behind that is surrounded by arid mountains. My Japanese friend from Pavarotti, Yokari, relishes in this verdant green landscape. It must remind her of her distant homeland.
Next up is Bourke’s Luck Potholes named after a local prospector, Tom Bourke, who predicted that gold was here. Unfortunately for Tom, he never found any at this spot. Other gold seekers found a seam located just a short distance to the south of Bourke’s claim. All he ended up with was the name of this place. It is a beautiful confluence of two rivers, the Treur and Blyde, and it marks the start of the 20 mile/33km-long gorge called the Blyde River Canyon known as the largest ‘green canyon’ in the world due to its lush subtropical foliage. The geology here is impressive. Plunge pools, potholes and giant kettles are craved out of the sandstone as the river snakes its way west.
Hofni declares the last stop at the Three Rondavels, spectacular peaks that resemble the traditional beehive-shaped huts that still can be seen throughout the South African landscape. But these rondavels tower nearly 3000 feet/700 meters above the surrounding countryside. A local motorcycle gang hangs out here. So do a few young tourists tempting gravity and rock stability on an outcrop a lifetime away from the bottom of the Blyde River Canyon, one of the larger canyons on the planet.Before I know it, Pavarotti is back in the flatlands on a four-lane highway speeding toward Jo-burg, a city of 11 million souls. A red dot of a sun disappears into the city’s smog as we approach. My African odyssey has ended.