Monday, 13 January 2014

Returning Home: South Africa Part 1: The Landscape

South Africa of course has some spectacular landscapes to show off but when we landed at King Shaka International Airport in Durban it was hidden behind fog and rain. I was desperate to see the rolling hills of the Midlands again but sadly the drive home gave me only glimpses of green through the mist before the sun set somewhere over the eastern coastline and darkness descended without fanfare. A muted return home after 7 years away and 5 years, 9 months since I had last been on South African soil.

Thankfully after a rainy first few days the skies cleared and the Natal Midlands showed us her best summer colours: clear blue skies, rich green hills and dark grey storm clouds later in the afternoons. This selection of photos can't show you all the beauty of the Natal Midlands because frankly, a camera can never capture it. What you see is only part of the beauty. The sounds, smells and feelings that go along with it make Kwa-Zulu Natal, South Africa and Africa a really special place to live, to grow up in and to return to.

On the first morning I woke up at 5:30am. Which is typical me. I knew it would happen. Even after only an hour's sleep in 24 hours of travelling. The sun was up, the birds were singing (more about them in my next blog post!) and the rain had stopped, at least for the dawn chorus. The rain drops on the thatch roof of our cottage glinted in the morning light and I couldn't resist taking a photo of it.

When the sun did finally show itself for a whole morning (a day later, I think), we decided to go for a drive along the Midlands Meander. The sky was so vast and we almost had a clear view to Underberg. I couldn't get enough of how big it all felt, how much space was out there.

Our first stop had to be the Nelson Mandela Monument that has gone up outside of Howick (my home town). It's situated near where he was captured and offers a beautiful view to the south. Previously there just used to be a plaque to commemorate where he was captured.

The monument itself (by artist Marco Cianfanelli) is made up of 50 specially shaped steel poles that when viewed from the right angle give you a flat picture of Nelson Mandela's face. I will talk more about this in another blog post.

Piggly Wiggly is a popular spot on the Meander with its variety of shops, food and craft stalls overlooking this scene on one side and my favourite old fishing spot on the other. The clouds in the distance brought a typical Natal Summer Storm which sadly didn't live up to its warning rumbles of thunder in the distance. But it was still good to stand in a field feeling the cool storm wind and smell the rain in the air and hear the thunder spreading across the sky towards us.

Midmar Dam is a favourite leisure spot for those living in the Midlands. There are places to fish, ski, swim and of course Braai (BBQ for those of you non-South Africans reading this!). It is also home to the Midmar Mile, the world's largest open water swim.

But our time braaing on the banks of Midmar was cut short by yet another Summer Storm. This one raged on in the distance for quite some time, waiting for people to pack up their food, bring in the boats and race for their cars before it burst. Sadly we left before it really did burst overhead, I would have loved to stay and watch it.

The veil of rain and lightning in the distance warned us of the intensity of the storm.

Rain hit the water as more clouds rolled closer to the hill.

Howick has a number of new developments on the hills surrounding the village. This one offered a lovely view of some of the Umgeni Valley Nature Reserve on the left.

The border of the Reserve.

One of Howick's tourist destinations is the Howick Falls or KwaNogqaza (The Place of the Tall One). The water thunders down 111m of cliff face into the Umgeni River below and runs through the Umgeni Valley Nature Reserve. There is a Gorge Walk down to the pool which I still have yet to walk. One day.

Local legend says there is a monster in the pool. It's called the Inkanyamba, a Loch Ness-type monster to some. No one knows how deep the pool really is though. A year or so before we arrived in Natal for the first time all those years ago, a flood carried a bus down the falls; it wasn't ever recovered.

Hilton is home to mists and fogs that are so dense, that driving can be scary and dangerous at times when all you can see ahead of you is the dim outline of another car's lights. But when the mist clears it offers beautiful views over the village and beyond and on a clear day (especially in winter) from some parts of Hilton you can see the Drakensberg Mountains.

World's View is aptly named. It offers a view over the city of Pietermaritzburg and beyond. These last photos were taken from my sister's house which is a little way away from World's View's viewing platform.

"But as the carriage rolled down the lowering hills to the dish-shaped harbour, Charis glimpsed the Isle of Apples floating serenely above its orchards across the bay. She sighed, feeling both pleasure and a little disappointment in the familiar sight. Nothing has changed, she thought, it is all exactly as it was the day I left.
This thought, comforting in its way, also produced a flat pang of disappointment. Something ought to have changed; I have been away seven years! she thought, and realised that she had vaguely expected her home to have changed as much as she had in that time..."
- Taliesin by Stephen Lawhead.
I read this passage when I was in South Africa and I realised that was how I had felt. It was strange being home and realising that everything looked the same. Well almost the same. From a distance the countryside looked exactly as I remembered it. But once I took a closer look I did see changes, from the Mandela Monument to the new developments on the hills overlooking Howick. It had changed. If I had only gone back home to see the countryside, to see the beauty Africa has to offer, then I would have been disappointed and felt cheated. But thankfully, that was not the reason I returned. To see the countryside again and hear the thunder rumbling across the sky and smell the refreshing rain was something I had missed and it was good to experience it all again.

There is a quote that does the rounds on the internet quite a bit these days. It says something along the lines of "We can leave Africa, but Africa will never leave us." Anyone who ever visits Africa takes a part of it in their hearts when they leave. More so for those who were born in Africa, who were brought up there. I spent the first 18 years of my life in South Africa and it's a hard thing to say but I know now it's not home any more. One reason I needed to go back was to confirm this, to seek closure on that part of my life.

Of course I will return again and again. But for now, I'm happy to be back in England. I'm happy to have spent 2 weeks back home in South Africa. But England is home.

Coming up:
Part 2: Flora and Fauna
Part 3: The People

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