As die paaie jou roep, is die beste begin soms jou eie agterplaas. Vanoggend ry ek weer onder ‘n tonnel Raffia palms en boomvarings op ‘n nou teerpaadjie werk toe. Ons vergeet maar gou dat ons leef op ander mense se veraf droompaaie. Dit was baie droog gewees die afgelope tyd in Zululand en die welkome buie wat die laaste paar dae geval het, maak dat die grond in die woud weer ruik soos dit moet. Die see was vaal en omgekook vanoggend na gisteraand se donderbui. Maar hy sal weer reg wees vir daardie swem wanneer jy hier uitklim na die lang, stowwerige paaie.
When you drive up the North East coast of South Africa, starting at Durban on the N2, you may think that there is not much more to this landscape than the suffocating green of the sugar cane – sometimes wafting purple plumes, sometimes ablaze in a thick smoke of candy floss – and the blue flits of the Indian Ocean to your right and the bridges over the Tugela and the other rivers that make your tyres go gnk-gnk.
You bet that was a long sentence. It is because there’s that stretch of the road that you just want to get over and done with in one breath. The blue gum plantation flickering to your right as the road sign says it’s 16km more to Mtunzini Plaza – the toll gate where you turn off.
Turn off that road anywhere and the cane fields pull away. Suddenly there are bits of bush between the patchy hills of cabbages and mealies and palm trees. Those same banana trees that looked so frayed on the middle man of the N2, suddenly heavy with fruit and vervet monkeys. Coral trees hang their orange flowers over your way from their bare, grey branches. And when you roll down your window you still smell the ocean, but the hot dampness from the drooping grass blades hit you in the face. Welcome to Zululand.
The turn off to Mtunzini is to your right, about 140km North from where you started. The little village appears from underneath the biggest overhanging canopies of fever trees and umzimbeets you’ve ever seen. A lourie’s red wings disappear up the branches of a tree full of flowers. And you smell the wet earth and remember that you were here to write about nature.
Suddenly you find your feet sinking into the tunnel of that mole that poked it’s confused little nose out next to my exploding pot plant. A stripy flash of a tail turns a lizard into a snake, just for those few seconds when you glimpse its little feet with relief. There where you grabbed the trunk of a tree a little orchid is hanging on for dear life and you wonder why it did not pick the hole between the branches like the tumbling fern.
In this humidity everything grows faster and bigger. If you stay here until it gets dark and the drunken loops of bats flutter past your ear, you’ll swat away the kind of mosquitoes that used to ride the dinosaurs between these ferns. And if you’re lucky you’ll see one of those huge moths as big as your hand. mesmerizing the clicking gecko plastered below the ceiling.
Just put down your fan and sink into the heat that buzzes under the stars where the dark leaves cut the moon into bits of gleaming white. You’ll hear the owl calling.