Some places instantly evoke a powerful feeling, one that never goes away. One of those is the view from the east of the Strijdom Tunnel on the R36 in Limpopo. On one side are the rusty cliffs of the Eastern Drakensberg; on the other is the broad, flat expanse of the Lowveld as it stretches all the way to Mozambique.
It’s a view I got to know and love when I was very young. For most of my life, I have been very privileged to visit my favourite part of the world regularly. It’s a world of screeching francolins and chuckling hornbills, of zebras and giraffes and, if we were lucky, lions and rhinos – and if we were very, very lucky, leopards too. Lion luck, I called it. Sometimes we had it. Sometimes we didn’t, and we only ever saw impala and steenbok and duiker. Still, no matter what, there was always the possibility that around the very next bush might be something amazing.
At night, the fire would flicker in the dark as sparks rose into a sky full of stars. The lions would call and we would try to guess how close they are, and whether they would let us catch a glimpse of their tawny selves.
I miss this place so much. After more than two years, I had made plans to go again, and this morning they fell apart. My mother reminded me, as I should have known she would, that RaRa is under two and it isn’t safe for her to visit an area where malaria is endemic, even in winter. It would be utterly irresponsible of me to take her, and because she is still breastfed and refuses a bottle, being apart for more than a day is unthinkable.
I had invested a lot in these plans. I had allowed myself to get excited about them. They were something I was looking forward to, and that mattered because I’d forgotten how to look forward to anything.
I was frustrated for a moment or two. Angry, even. That I’ve shrugged and let go and moved on so easily surprises me. It’s a good thing. It means that the depression is not as bad as it was, and that I don’t need to hold on to a stake in some future ground as I try to pull myself out of the current morass.
Now, all I can think about is how utterly impractical it would have been to take RaRa there. A more toddler-unfriendly place is hard to imagine: the unfenced pool, the monkey and baboon shit, lurking predators like leopards, an open fire, raised decks where a child could fall. She would have needed constant supervision. There would have been no quiet sitting, listening to the birds or gazing speculatively through binoculars.
The malaria is never not going to be a problem, even in winter. The camp is never going to be suitable for children. Maybe it’s time to accept that I will never go back. This place and my love for it is in my past, and it was nice while it lasted, but it’s over now. The memories will have to be enough.