Today we take the road west towards Phalaborwa gate, stopping at the Nhlanganini dam and the Sable dam hide for a spot of hippo, croc and bird watching. If you book ahead, and are brave enough to spend a night in the wilderness protected only by a few slats of wood that make up the hide, you can even sleep over here.
Although the facilities are fairly rustic, it’s a magical way to enjoy the nightlife of Kruger after the gates to the traditional camps are closed. But if the hippos are in fine grunting and honking mood, don’t expect to get much sleep. Or if the hyenas catch a whiff of your braai, or ...
Along this road too, about 40 kilometres from Letaba, you can dip into some cultural history at the Masorini archaeological site, which dates back to the Iron Age. It was occupied by Northern Sotho iron smelters and forgers from about 1300 to the late 1800s and has been reconstructed to give people like you and me a peek into the past.
A guide explains how the smelting furnaces used to work, with the floor sloping down towards the centre so all the ore would collect there. Once it cooled, it would be carried further up the hill to be forged into tools like hoes and spearheads.
Women weren’t allowed in the smelting area for fear they might jinx the process; the job of turning rock into iron, as if by magic, was sacred and entrusted only to men.
Another reason, the guide explains, is because women might have married into another tribe and taken the secret of how to smelt iron with them – something that would have put a dent in their trade with the Portuguese and Venda to the north.
The village included huts for some smelters and workers, the chief and his two wives, but the rest of the people lived on the plain not far away. Living huts have been reconstructed on original floors using buffalo dung mixed with clay, and their midget-sized doors constitute a clever trick. You’d have to bow your head to enter, so if you were a stranger, they could chop off your head.
It’s a sobering thought.
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