Return to the Stevens Family Homepage
Return to the Stevens travel home page
Return to the South Africa travels page
Previous episode | Next episode

Two Weeks in South Africa, 1999

Klein Drackenveld to Barberton

So I was soon out of the cocoon of the park and back into the real SA world of bottle shops and hardware stores, asking directions on how to get to where I was going given the limitations of the maps I was carrying. I started my journey on roads leading past industrial wastelands but it became apparent that I was nearing mountains and soon I was in them. Here the scenery became dramatic on the roads, switchbacks leading uphill, until I was at the Bryce Canyon area, a swarth of earth hewn from the mountains leaving a huge canyon in its wake, with views from the surroundings, stunning, worth the stops. The first vantage was over the part of the canyon containing the Three Rondavels, three cylindrical outcrops overlooking a lake formed by a dam, with an island in the middle sporting a rock called The Sundial, impressive when looked down on from above. Continuing around the canyon as far as Graskop yielded views from the highway giving striking vantage on the plunging topography.

In Graskop I had to make another decision. I was toying with the idea of driving back into the park from there and sleeping in the car at Skukuzu again, then driving south and out Crocodile Gate, then west a bit, and south into Swaziland, which would have got me there late morning next day. But at a tourist office in Graskop I was told that it would take me about 3 hours to reach Piggs Peak in Swaziland, an hour and a quarter down to Nelspruit, south to Barberton 40 kilometers, and then 60 km to the border from there and a further 20 into Piggs Peak. This would put me in Piggs Peak at sundown, about the time I would have expected to get inside the gates at Skukuza. Unfortunately, the lady giving me this advice had never actually made this trip, as became apparent when, having made it to Nelspruit by 4:30 and to Barberton by around 5, I started up a grade so steep that holding 60 kph was impossible, and therefore just reaching the border by dark was in question. Furthermore, the "tar" ran out ten minutes later and I was on rutted dirt track weaving in and out under the cable car carrying asbestos 20 km from the B... mine just over the Swazi border back down to Barberton. I was wondering if I was even on the right road and stopped to ask a black fellow waiting there for an onward ride. He didn't speak English but helpfully communicated to me that the gate at the border had closed at 5 anyway, so there was no point in proceeding further. I wheeled around and retreated back to Barberton.

My only qualm about returning to Barberton was that I had previously stopped there in order to buy petrol, and it looked to be a dump. This was because, at the first road intersection for Barberton, I had without knowing it turned in to the black township which, I was surprised to find, had no petrol station. I had asked someone where there was petrol (there were a lot of black pedestrians about), and he had indicated I should continue 3 km up the road. It really surprised me at the time that there could be a big town on the border with Swaziland that could (a) have no obvious place to buy petrol and (b) look so tawdry. But of course, I discovered, as I returned to the town from my foray up the road to Piggs Peak, I had simply wandered into the black township. The more exclusive part of town was easily found from the Piggs Peak side, and it had the usual boulevards and gardened roadways that one would expect, and of course the blacks from the township at the filling stations providing the usual service one would expect, cleaning windows and checking oil for tips.  They really tried to make it seem that they would rather be doing nothing other than making small conversation with you as they squeeged your windscreen, but the undercurrent of us and them was ever-present in such places in South Africa. Since I'd seen the squalor in which they lived juxtaposed on the modern surroundings in which they worked, it set me thinking again.

Being white, I could easily locate a bed and breakfast and gain quick acceptance by the gentrified family who maintained it. It was pretty much out of the question in South Africa to consider traveling at night -- the roads were bad enough in the day time. Fortunately, the b&bs I found in RSA were generally available (at sundown) and of exceptionally high quality, with bath and shower, and much better than hotels you would expect to pay more than $50 for, and cost around $20-$25 per night. The family in Barberton for example, had a house in a quiet neighborhood at the end of a cul de sac, with a garden with constantly bubbling fountains, and a guard dog of course. Their house was full of African artifacts and stolid old-world furniture, as well as mod cons and numerous guitars and easels with paintings in progress. The lady of the house, a svelt attractive Afrikans woman, nice dresser when she went to work in the morning, played guitar for her church group. Her house was complex, tidy, and organized. When I left it in the morning, I passed African laborers walking in from their township on their way to their jobs in the Afrikans part of Barberton. As a tourist, I felt I was an observer, an economy apart from the bipolar economy in operation here.

Next episode:
A first day in Swaziland, winding up at the Mlilwane Game Reserve

Return to the South Africa travels page

Use your browser's BACK button to return to a previous page

For comments, suggestions, or further information on this page, contact Vance Stevens, page author and webmaster.

Last updated: December 20, 1999