We spent the night in the little town of Dundee in the midst of an area of KwaZulu Natal known simply as the Battlefields. We stayed in a cozy little thatched hut, which incidentally had been a stable at one time, at Battlefields Country Lodge. Instead of warthogs or monkeys waking us in the morning, we had chickens … a bit more mundane.
There are 82 battlefields, museums, old fortifications and places of remembrance along the Battlefields Route, the largest concentration of significant battles and war-related sites in South Africa. Here, midst the lovely rolling hills and farmlands of today, the bloody Zulu-Anglo-Boer wars were fought. It's always an eerie feeling to travel through such areas. If you've visited Gettysburg or Antietam in the USA, it's that same feeling of loss, conflict and horror. We watched the 1964 classic movie Zulu recently which recounts the 1879 battle at Rourke's Drift. Though perhaps the truth is a bit distorted, it was an interesting movie to watch after having just visited the area.
You've probably guessed that I read my Lonely Planet travel guide like a novel, taking in every word and description. I hate to miss anything of interest. So when I read that the Natal Museum in Pietermaritzberg (PMB to the locals) was covered in giant creepy-crawlies, I thought it might be worth a stop since we were passing through PMB on our way back to Durban.
The museum was good in some ways and not so good in others. Several of the displays were missing. Many displays were not labeled, so we had no idea what we were looking at. The fluorescent lighting was atrocious, especially since every other bulb was turned off. The museum boasts the “largest collection of African mammals under one roof”, 650 species of birds, a primate gallery and an insect exhibition. The displays were pretty mediocre because many of the specimens were old and tired. The museum opened in 1904 and some of the preserved animals were probably around then. Of course, having just seen so many living animals in the wild might have had something to do with our low opinion. The three-legged chicken was pretty interesting though, since we hadn't seen one before.
They also had a requisite dinosaur exhibit which was small, but well done.
The best part of the museum, however, was the African culture area and the San cave art display, in particular. San (formerly known as bushmen) have occupied the nearby Drakensberg area for millennia. Their cave paintings are at least 4,000 years old and represent spiritual aspects of San life. A cave has been recreated in the museum with rock paintings replicated on the dimly lit walls. It was pretty impressive and interesting.
PMB is the capital of KwaZulu Natal province. We strolled around the city center for awhile, midst huge 19th century buildings. It was at PMB's railway station in 1893 that a young Indian lawyer, Mohandas K. Gandhi, was forcibly ejected from a first class car reserved for whites. This was his first act of civil disobedience and the beginning of his passive resistance movement. A Gandhi statue now stands in front of the railway station commemorating the event.
Driving in South Africa is a risky business, to say the least. The drivers are aggressive and heavy footed and the roads are not always the best. Add to that driving on the left and a manual transmission and I had to salute David that we made it back to Durban in one piece ...nervous wrecks at times … but all in one piece nonetheless. We arrived at the Durban Marina in the late afternoon just as a huge cloudburst began. We sipped a glass of wine at the yacht club while waiting for the rain to subside, then quickly unloaded the car into a cart and headed down the long dock back to Nine of Cups.
She was patiently waiting there, showing off her new bimini and dodger which were installed while we were away. As always … it's great to travel and it's so good to be home.