Shades of Burundi, with verdant tea plantations and Secret Forests. Or overtones of Madagascar, with red earth roads and placid lakes mirroring the cloudless sky. Maybe Middle Earth, even, with it’s spider-webbed trees and roiling, potholed rivers and giant bonzai flat-crowns …
I cannot really make my mind up about my Fundudzi de javu, but what I do know is that I would re-experience it at the drop of a hat. This is the flip side of the Rainbow Nation, and one feels as if time has stood still in what used to be the homeland of the baVenda in those long-ago days.
People are friendly, the vegetation is like something out of an Edgar Rice Burroughs novel, and the days seems to follow one another in a never-ending wind-still and balmy summer.
Fundudzi Camp itself is filled with an African hubbub of village noise and fecund energy, with drum beats and dog baying and snatches of song drifting up from the village below. But move into the mountains beyond the little cluster of Venda huts, and you will find a playground of jaw-dropping proportions.
Mondi plantations intertwine with patches of primary forest where flat-crown and forest fever trees fight their way towards the sunlight, amidst a profusion of underbrush and snaking lianas and veils of bearded moss.
Saddle up your mountain bike and crank onto the tangeringe-brown gravel roads, or explore the cattle paths and trails on foot, and you are sure to lose yourself within a mind-bending landscape as wide as your imagination itself.
Birding and biking and hiking and trail running and off-road driving … it all blends seamlessly with the underlying mythology of the Venda culture. The Thathe Holy Forest is where their ancestors dwell, while the sinuous movements of the locals give you an inkling of the legendary python dance the maidens perform as part of their coming-of-age.
Fundudzi gave me a taste of this region, but to truly experience it, I will need to go back, meet up with Nelson Mphapha and Andy and the other AIR staff, and explore this mythological landscape at my leisure. You can get a taste of it too at www.africanivoryroute.co.z
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