Some time ago, I wrote an article listing some tips for starting your own travel blog. I followed up this piece with my own attempt and, much to my surprise and delight, it was met with approval from the travel blogging community at large.
So, when my wife and I recently went on a weekend getaway to a remote part of South Africa, I knew I had to take another crack at it.
The Tonteldoos (“tinder box” in the Afrikaans language) Valley in South Africa’s Limpopo province is a place that seems to have been created with winter in mind. Besides the noticeable drop in temperature as we make our way along the 20km stretch of dirt road, the cheerful glow in the windows of the many cabins scattered throughout the valley – already in the grip of winter twilight – tells us that, inside, fires are already roaring.
As the black, icy shadow cast by the surrounding mountains and foothills continues to grow, the horizon turns a startling and magnificent shade of purple. Along with the mercury, the signal bars on my cellphone continue to drop until there is nothing left. We belong to the Tonteldoos Valley now.
This is flyfishing country, and early on the day after our arrival a father brings his young son to participate in that age old rite of passage, that sacred bonding ritual, in the dam in front of our cabin.
The boy, perhaps ten years old, catches the first fish and excitedly exclaims: “It feels like a freaking whale!”
His dad clearly approves and, glowing with paternal pride, high fives his offspring.
I so enjoy this display of machismo, that I am quite sad when the pair departs, having caught but one fish.
My feelings of despair are ameliorated, however, when a flock of sheep comes trotting by in perfect formation like the world’s fluffiest army. The bleating squadron quickly disappears into the hills, seemingly unperturbed by our presence, and again a great silence settles over the valley.
The calm of this place is so complete, that even the clinking of ice in my drink seems strangely disruptive and out of place. A bird calls, a cicada chirps, and all is right with the world.
As night falls in the valley, the temperature plunges to new depths and the deep, impenetrable black of the country sky places in sharp relief the brilliance of the stars, of which so many are visible that they seem to form a solid sparkling blanket.
Nowhere does one feel simultaneously so insignificant and yet so very connected to every breathing soul than under an African sky on a clear winter’s night. It’s as if the universe itself has a pulse, and my heart beats in time with its ancient rhythm.
Dawn in Tonteldoos is a different matter altogether. Whereas nighttime is solemn and sacred, daytime in the valley is a time for play, it is a celebration of life and the magic that it holds. Trout leap with reckless abandon from their watery abode as if trying to catch the sun which has only just begun to drive the shadows from the hills; a brazen troop of monkeys comes looking to feast upon whatever the weekend holidaymakers have left behind.
What I feel when we depart from Tonteldoos early Sunday morning isn’t so much sadness as it is a sense of having left something unfinished, somehow incomplete.
We’ll be back, I vow as the valley closes its gaping maw behind us, and next time you’ll tell me more of your secrets, and I’ll tell you more of mine.