Baobab – Lovely Trees in the Venda Area

Baobab an Cattle anlong the Road, South Africa

Baobab an Cattle anlong the Road, South Africa

The sun has passed its highest point and has finally managed to break through the thick grey cloud layer that has been lingering statically all morning. Immediately temperatures get uncomfortably hot. The rainy season has started in South Africa – even in the Limpopo Province. But not all the areas receive rain. To the north, in the area of the Venda people, only little rain has arrived so far – the area is groaning under a heat wave.

This is where I intend to drive to today. First, I plan to visit an extraordinary attraction: the “Sagole Big Tree”, a Baobab with gigantic dimensions. The following day, I will accompany Dr. Sarah Venter, baobab ecologist and entrepreneur, and Baobab fruit collectors from the area. We intend to plant and measure small baobab seedlings.

Good Preparation is King

Loading my small car does not take long – most of the luggage is food items and water. The baobab area I will be heading to is remote and shopping opportunities are rare. Since I do not drive a SUV, I have to accept a longer but therefore paved route – which I definitely prefer at this stage.

During one of my previous trips I had to take a detour with my regular car. The route turned out to run through deep sand. I had to gently push two dozing donkeys out of the way. They had made themselves comfortable on my path. I did not want to get stuck and therefore stopping was not an option. The donkeys did not seem deeply disturbed – they leapt out of my way and continued dozing as if nothing had happened. I felt bad for quite a while but honestly – sand has never been my friend. I did not want to encounter a similar situation today.

Map to Sagole Big Tree

Handwritten Map to Sagole Big Tree

Good Orientation is important

My hostess had drawn a map of the route by hand. Not for the first time I wonder whether it was a good idea to do the trip on my own. Of course, I would never admit that – I take the map gratefully and hope to remember all relevant turning points in time. Street signs as we are used to in Germany would be easy – but here one cannot rely upon them. Sometimes the signs are nailed to wooden poles. If termites happen to pass by, the wooden posts are history because they love to feed on wood.

In these areas it is best to take note of salient landmarks: a huge hospital built in the middle of nowhere, vegetable stands next to a relevant turn, an extraordinarily shaped baobab or a broken down and forgotten truck. Navigation devices are indeed a useful invention and I carry one with me just in case – but for it to work properly I would need a recognizable place name which I do not have…

Baobab near the Road, South Africa

Baobab near the Road, South Africa

Relying on Intuition

The road winds through small villages and I pass chopped down forests, drive through valleys and over hills. Many young people walk along the roads – they have to cover long distances to school by foot in this area. Although the landscape is pleasant and everything seems to run smoothly, I still feel a little uneasy. I have no idea what to expect.

The estimated distances on my hand-drawn map turn out to be quite optimistic. Fortunately, I am adventurous and follow the road and my intuition until turning seems to be the right thing to do. Once I have to ask a friendly man at a gas station and he seems happy to help me.

Baobab an Cattle anlong the Road, South Africa

Baobab an Cattle anlong the Road, South Africa

There is not much traffic – as I expected in this remote area. I come across my first baobabs – the sight always makes me happy – some even grow in a little baobab grove. The last few kilometers are easy because a signpost announces the direction to the “Big Tree”.

Baobab Forest, South Africa

Baobab Forest, South Africa

Finally Arrived

The sun has progressed far on its way to meet the horizon when I finally arrive at Zwigodini village – my destination for today. I check in and hope that the promised air conditioning works. Temperatures are much higher here than in Louis Trichard – the city which repeatedly changes its name and is now called Makhado.

My thatched cottage is stuffy and resembles an oven. To simply open one of the windows is not advisable – particularly during the rainy season (with or without rain). Anopheles mosquitoes have their high season and transmit malaria. I feel no desire to share my bedroom with this kind of visitors.

The Big Tree Lodge, Venda Area, South Africa

The Big Tree Lodge, Venda Area, South Africa

Baobab Excursion Spoiled

I take my luggage inside the hut and grab my camera. By now I am desperate to visit the “Big Tree”. While I step outside I see a huge black cloud threateningly piling up above the hill behind my hut. It is approaching fast. Did I actually bring rain?

I hasten and drive off. Presumably nobody expected visitors at the tree this late today. After calling several times a tiny man slowly walks out of the gate house. Making myself understood is difficult – English does not help. I use sign language, pay the entry fee and get permission to visit the tree.

My joy lasts five full minutes – then a thunderstorm is in full swing and rain poors down on the dry ground – the sight is nerve wracking. I get out of the unpaved area quickly before the soil gets soaking wet and soggy. My promising excursion comes to an abrupt end, I am disappointed and return to my hut.

The bad news do not stop here – the hut is still unbearably hot and due to the thunderstorm which is certainly good for nature we have to deal with a power cut now.

Sagole Big Tree, Baobab

Sagole Big Tree, Baobab

At the End of the Day: Hunting

Under different circumstances I certainly would appreciate my candlelight dinner – but not today. The tiny candle is the only source of light and I cannot see what I eat. But the food is tasty. The kitchen staff has prepared some vegetables with rice for me and a small salad.

Sleeping proves difficult as one thunderstorm passes after the other and it is still way too hot in the hut. Although I kept the windows firmly shut a mosquito must have forced its way into my hut somehow. With the support of my headlamp I start my hunting mission.

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