The bushveld is best experienced cold. It’s only then when the dryness of this rugged part of pot-holed Africa smells best, with burning firewood that last had water pushed through it some eons ago. It’s painfully dry here, all of it; the streams that kriss-kross this landscape have all been sucked dry except for the odd few pools beneath a rare and pretty shaded oasis. When you find one, even in winter you swim. Such is the nature of Africa’s sun.
The winter bush is the best bush. It’s when you can see the most animals as they try their best to warm in the sun; the shade here drops the celcius of the blood quicker than a leopard strikes – but even in winter, you will be very lucky see the most elusive of cats. Trust me, this past weekend I fine combed the koppies that no doubt harboured them but saw none. Not one! Yes, I suppose they wouldn’t be as alluring if I saw them often but annoyingly, I have never seen any before, anywhere. Not ever! Such is the cat’s stealth.
This region of the North West province is about an hour and a half from Johannesburg and it’s certainly a drive well worth it. The best road trips pack the most into the smallest distances and as one that is full of great things to see, the trip to the Magalies region via Hartebeespoort, is fantastic. Yes, it’s a barely a road trip, barely, but a drive nonetheless that takes you from the dusty smog of Johannesburg to, what Joburgers always and incorrectly call “real Africa”. Real Africa, of course, is all around us and always, but there is something indeed very “real” in this Africa that does seem to transport you to another time, to a time when its beasts, in all their majesty, roamed this place without the fences to strangle their most ancient of migrations.
No doubt, just for a moment this weekend, just a tiny and awesome moment, I was a part of that “real Africa”, of that unending safari adventure, of those koppies that lead to koppies, of that dryness that gets only drier. We walked for five hours through the magalies bush. For five hours I was a part of it, of those rocks that had settled there before Africa was even called Africa, before the leopard had even evolved its most annoying of elusive traits. I was a part of it all as my ancestors had been and like them, I was as humbled by it as I trekked through it, dry mouth and all, burning red in the low hanging winter sun.
There is nothing quite like home, is there? There is nothing quite like the dry African bush and there is nothing quite like the feeling of being lost in it. The reason is simple. This is the identity of us. This is what formed us on Africa’s tip. The dryness of the koppies will forever be ours and the thorn bush that grows from its cracks will forever be sharp with our belonging. Because this is who we are. This is why we are Springboks. This is why we eat biltong in the shade, braai for breakfast and mix perfectly good brandy with a glass of coke.